Hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles Unified students are relying on the district's iPads this spring to take the latest California state test – or at least that was the $1.3 billion plan.
"We unfortunately haven't been able to use many of the [iPads] that were delivered," said Wil Page, a sixth-grade teacher at Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Feliz.
"They were here all last week trying to get the iPads working and that really never got off the ground. We are [instead] using MacBooks that are seven or eight years old," Page said.
Such is the state of the district's troubled iPad program as news broke this week that officials have demanded a refund from Apple Inc. for Pearson software lessons on the tablets that students can't use and that the Securities and Exchange Commission is examining the use of bonds to pay for the tech project.
So far, LAUSD has spent $100 million on 120,000 iPads and 18,000 laptops as part of its $1.3 billion plan to equip all 650,000 students with a computer. The $100 million cost doesn't include teacher training, installing Wi-Fi and the thousands of hours of staff struggling to get the program off the ground.
Los Angeles is not alone in moving to integrate more tablets into the classroom. School districts across the country have snapped up iPads, Chromebooks and other computers for students' new digital exams aligned to the Common Core, a set of K-12 teaching standards adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia.
LAUSD's technology adoption was two-fold: students needed tablets for testing, administrators said, but they could also access digital Common Core learning material from Pearson, the textbook giant.
So far, Page and other teachers said it's failed students on both fronts.
"It was a broken promise," Page said. "At our school site, we've done what we've can to get up to speed."
For teachers like Page, that means spending after-school hours developing their own class material, shouldering the costs of additional computer programs or turning back to dated textbooks.
The frustration many teachers have with the iPad program stems in part from their disdain for its architect, former Superintendent John Deasy. Deasy, who championed the firing of ineffective teachers and the expansion of charter schools, had an adversarial relationship with the teachers' union.
However, teachers' exasperation with the iPad program escalated when it inhibited their work in the classroom, as detailed in an L.A. Unified report (see below) recently obtained by KPCC.
"Teachers were unable to pre-plan instruction; students 'ran out' of content," according to the report.
At issue was Pearson's Common Core software, the report explained. The software was purchased in 2013 before it was fully developed. The complete course work was not delivered until 2015.
"Teachers are unable to utilize data to provide differential and personalized instruction to meet the needs of all learners," according of the report.
LAUSD said this week that it is "extremely dissatisfied with the work of Pearson" on the technology project and demanded a refund amounting to at least $3.3 million from Apple, which had subcontracted with Pearson for the software.
The district said last month that only two schools were still using the Pearson software, but in its demand letter this week, the district said it was ending all use of the software.
Pearson representatives said they stand by the quality of their work.
"Pearson is proud of our long history working with LAUSD and our significant investment in this groundbreaking initiative to transform instructional practices and raise expectations for all students," the company said in a statement on its website. "This was a large-scale implementation of new technologies and there have been challenges with the initial adoption."
Apple has not yet responded to requests for comment.