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Raleigh, W.Va.'s iPad Initiative Fares Better Than L.A.'s

The county's success is attributed to ongoing re-evaluation by a curriculum committee and an original plan that allowed for choice among curricula.

(TNS) -- In August 2013, Raleigh County officials launched the “iRaleigh Initiative,” delivering 9,030 iPad2s and 1,120 iPad Minis to each elementary, middle and high school campus, at a cost of $135 per student.

In Raleigh County, the school board paid around $12 million for implementation and signed a five-year capital lease with Apple. Five annual payments of around $1.5 million are due in July of 2013 through 2017, with annual payments totaling $7.2 million. The $7.2 million is included in the $12 million, according to Raleigh Schools Superintendent David Price.

Funding came via Step 7 Technology funds, excess levy technology funds and state aid, and savings from an implementation of a Distance Learning platform for homebound students and for alternative education.

In June 2013, the nation's second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District in Los Angeles, Calif., entered a $1.3 billion agreement with Apple to place an iPad in the hands of every LAUSD student at a cost of more than $700 per student.

The LAUSD iPads came loaded with curriculum from the world's largest curriculum provider, Pearson, a London-based publishing and education company. Pearson served as an Apple subcontractor as part of the agreement.

Both 1:1 initiatives were met with skepticism by parents, teachers and other community members in the respective districts.

LAUSD was in the national spotlight, tentatively regarded as the first technology-based classroom district in America. Those in education and technological circles have watched to see how the technology-education merger would fare.

Southern California Public Radio reported Thursday that LAUSD officials are seeking reimbursements from Apple and Pearson on the millions they'd already spent on the iPad initiative. According to the report, only a few pieces of the Pearson curriculum were available when the iPads were deployed.

The federal Securities and Exchange Commission had also opened an informal inquiry into whether Los Angeles officials followed legal guidelines when using school bond monies for the iPads, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had launched an investigation into whether Pearson or Apple had had an unfair advantage in the bidding process.

In Raleigh County on Friday, Assistant Schools Superintendent Kenneth Moles said that the 1:1 initiative in district schools is progressing much more smoothly than the failed LAUSD measure. Moles attributed the local success to critical and ongoing re-evaluation of iRaleigh delivery by a curriculum committee and an original plan that allowed for choice among curricula.

Moles reported that the committee has re-evaluated and made changes to the original plan, which called for replacing traditional textbooks with digital texts over a five-year period.

“The committee has chosen to go with a blended curriculum that means there will be some digital resources but there will also be a hardback text to go in the classroom,” Moles reported. “For what we have envisioned now, we believe that the blended curriculum is what will best serve our students.

“There will be a hardback text to go in the classrooms.”

In 2013, Jim Brown, who served as Raleigh schools superintendent at the time and was a driving force behind iRaleigh, announced that Raleigh officials had nixed the route LAUSD had taken with a "canned" Apple curriculum and had instead decided to purchase and load state-approved curriculum on student iPads in phases. Beginning with social studies texts, officials would follow the established purchasing time table for new textbooks and replace each with a digital text.

”As we move through each of the adoptions, it's very much planned we will be using the electronic version," Brown stated in 2013. "...I can tell you the days of having the hardback textbooks is going away quickly.

"Vendors cannot continue to provide both an electronic version and a hard copy, so as the trend starts to take hold nationally, vendors will shift to eventually providing electronic textbooks."

Brown resigned in 2014, and current Superintendent David Price was appointed by the school board.

Moles said it became obvious that a purely digital curriculum wasn’t yet practical in Raleigh County.

For starters, the social studies digital software from vendors Pearson and Houghton-Mifflin didn’t operate as seamlessly as planned with the student iPads.

“We have experienced, on a much smaller scale (than LAUSD), some issues with the textbooks not working as well as we might have liked on this device,” Moles said, adding that a middle school social studies digital text from Houghton-Mifflin and an elementary social studies digital text from Pearson didn’t function “as we expected it to in the first year.”

By the second year, Moles said, the curriculum committee had decided to go with a blended curriculum, and both vendors provided workbooks or textbooks to go with the digital text.

“I think that this is why we are now using the words ‘blended curriculum,’” said Moles. “That is what we really want to be.

“We want to have digital resources available to us because we know those digital resources can be more interactive to a student. We also know that there are certain content that must be delivered traditionally.”

He added that language arts books which will be purchased this year will be purchased in a blended format.

Moles emphasized that although it’s undeniable that technology engages students and is vital to classroom discussion and student engagement in the modern world, the iRaleigh team did not ever envision student learning in Raleigh County “going totally digital.”

He said it was always expected that traditional books would continue playing a key role in Raleigh classrooms.

While LAUSD may be canceling its contract with Apple, Moles said the relationship between the Raleigh school district and Apple has remained strong. An Apple tech specialist regularly visits each county school and assists teachers in delivery of their individual educational projects to students.

He said iRaleigh is still on a learning curve and will likely remain on a curve since technology is constantly advancing.

“We learn something new every day, as it relates to this project,” he added. “Sometimes that learning leads us to say we’re headed in the right direction. Sometimes what we learn tells us we need to step back and modify.”

The most significant modification was to professional development, said Moles.

“The development that’s offered now is content-specific, programatic, level-specific, tailored to the individual teacher’s wants and needs,” he said. “That’s the biggest change we’ve made.”

Two of the bigger changes addressed “simplistic” oversights: iPad breakage and students using iPads for non-educational purposes.

Moles said the number of students breaking iPads has decreased this year, as students have learned the responsibility the iPad creates and as school officials have purchased sturdier cases at the high school level. Similar cases are expected to be purchased for middle school students’ iPads this year, he said.

He said iRaleigh tech specialist Jeff Webb has also masterminded a security plan that gives school officials significantly more control over the devices and how students use them.

Some information has been changed or corrected since this story was originally published.

©2015 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC