- - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

How can a school district that can’t learn from its mistakes teach the kids anything? This is the question weighing on the minds of attentive parents in Los Angeles, where the Unified School District’s failed $1 billion iPad giveaway has been “cured” by handing out laptop computers instead.

Putting an iPad in the hands of all 660,000 students was a tall order, but the school district made it a top priority. Instead of struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic, the administrators figured they could hand out high-tech gadgets and call it a day. That complies with the requirements of Common Core, the one-size-fits-all approach to learning that has invited wide controversy, frustration and anger.

The Los Angeles gadget giveaway originally came with a $1 billion price tag, or around $1,515 per student. That’s $768 for each iPad (certain models are available at the Apple Store for a lot less), plus the cost of educational software and another half-billion dollars to update the wireless networks. (The district was “wired” with Internet access for $500 million several years ago.)

Costs ballooned when the education bureaucrats, who apparently only speak and understand educanto, learned there was an additional $60 million in annual fees to renew software licenses for the iPad curriculum. Paying for all of this meant dipping into a 25-year-bond fund meant for building and repairing schools. Taxpayers will be paying for the next 25 years for a machine that typically has a three-year life span.

Teachers are particularly puzzled. A survey by the Los Angeles Board of Education finds that only a third of the teachers like the iPad curriculum. Many decry as irresponsible the decision to redirect $1 billion from building and repairing schools. The decrepit condition of the schoolhouse is on display at the “Repairs Not iPads” Facebook page, which was set up by a teacher. Leaky roofs, unusable restrooms, broken desks and classrooms with no air conditioning are common.

No one should be surprised by what happens when elementary school-age kids get sophisticated and relatively delicate electronic devices. The machines are quickly cracked, battered and broken. Inner-city parents struggling to get by have been told they’re responsible for repairing or replacing damaged or missing machines. Since the iPads are now the textbooks, many thousands of students who misplace or lose their iPads will be unable to follow along in class, or do their homework, because their parents can’t afford a $768 replacement.

The tech-savvy (which includes nearly everybody under the age of 16) pose a different problem. On the day they got their machines, more than 300 students managed to circumvent security measures and use their “educational device” to chat on Facebook, send tweets and watch YouTube videos. Every iPad in the entire district had to be returned until the problem was fixed.

Now the administrators understand their public relations disaster. To fix that, they’re allowing some students to keep their iPads while others get a laptop. That’s an additional $40 million. The rush to infuse classroom learning with technology is not limited to Los Angeles. Schools districts in Texas, Missouri and North Carolina all attempted similar initiatives, and all had similar results.

All have failed to learn the most important principle. While it’s great to help children understand technology, they must learn reading, writing and a little arithmetic for Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to make sense. A little history would help everybody, too.

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