L.A. Unified's Struggle with Technology Efforts Continues, Report Finds

While the district still has a lot of work to do, it's making headway on both infrastructure and computer challenges.

by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times / September 3, 2015 0

(TNS) —  Despite some progress, serious problems persist with technology in the Los Angeles Unified School District, including limited classroom use of iPads and other computers, ineffective support for teachers and partial access to the Internet, according to a new report.

The researchers also found limited use of online curriculum provided by Pearson, for which the district purchased a three-year license, at the added cost of about $200 per device.

The results were sobering but not altogether surprising. District officials have acknowledged difficulties with technology. The school system abandoned a $1.3-billion effort to provide an iPad to every student, teacher and campus administrator as too expensive and unsustainable. And Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has characterized the district as lacking a sound and complete instructional plan for the use of technology.

Cortines took over last October, after John Deasy resigned under pressure. The iPad effort had been a signature Deasy initiative but he, too, had accepted a scaled-back program by the time of his departure.

The review was conducted by Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research, which the school system hired to conduct the evaluation.

Although there have been steps forward, the district has not yet arrived at a solution for several organizational and technical challenges, the researchers concluded. Ongoing challenges and areas where less progress occurred included: deploying devices in a timely manner, communicating with schools, coordinating efforts with other instructional initiatives and clarifying a vision for technology use in instruction.

And while L.A. Unified recently claimed that all schools had state-of-the-art wireless systems, the researchers found inconsistencies: 40% of elementary schools did not meet the district's bandwidth criterion, an issue that needs further attention by district technology leaders. Furthermore, school-based staff reported frequent difficulties with wireless connectivity.

On the positive side, the district has developed more training for schools and provided more technical support. And more schools used devices, including 26 that sent iPads home with students and reported no major problems.

Under the original plan, all schools were supposed to send the iPads home, but that plan was immediately canceled after students quickly figured out how to delete security filters intended to limit their Internet browsing.

The Internet filter is stronger now, and teachers have used digital citizenship units to encourage responsible computer use.

Schools still faced delays, however, in receiving and distributing computers; some did not make use of them until February.

Under the initial district strategy, all teachers were to shift to Pearson online curriculum. Instead, the district has demanded a refund for the curriculum from Apple, for whom Pearson was a subcontractor.

Still, many teachers had access to Pearson curriculum and could have taken advantage of it. Few did.

The use of the Pearson digital curriculum app was generally low, the report said.

The Pearson content was most used for elementary math instruction, and Pearson already was the district's textbook provider for elementary math, so its approach and materials could have been familiar to teachers in those grades. But the researchers found no use of the Pearson materials in a sample of middle and high school classrooms.

Pearson has consistently defended the quality of its materials, noting that other districts have continued to use them.

The awarding of the Apple/Pearson contract became the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation last year. Current and former district officials have denied any wrongdoing.

©2015 the Los Angeles Times, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.