Open Letter to LAUSD Board Members Regarding iPad Purchases

Open Letter to LAUSD Board Members Regarding iPad Purchases

The following letter was sent to the LAUSD Board (emails below) and has been shared with K12NN. The author’s concerns are undoubtedly shared by many but s/he prefers not to self-promote as well as protect her/his privacy. Accordingly, the author’s name is not included. –Ed.

marguerite.lamotte@lausd.net | (213) 241-6382
mónica.garcia@lausd.net | (213) 241-6180
tamar.galatzan@lausd.net | (213) 241-6386
steve.zimmer@lausd.net | (213) 241-6387
bennett.kayser@lausd.net | (213) 241-5555
mónica.ratliff@lausd.net | (213) 241-6388
richard.vladovic@lausd.net | (213) 241-6385

Dear Board members:
I have many questions concerning the actual implementation of what is now called “the Common Core Technology Project.” They range from the validity of purchasing equipment for a building (under vague laws governing expenditures on construction bonds) that is then allowed to leave the premises to the exclusivity of one single software vendor in all three Best-Or-Final-Offers entertained by the District for this project. However, I’ll leave those questions to others.

What is really more of a concern of mine is that using the iPads in such a massive scale is going to create a sizable raw data stream. This stream includes, but is not limited to, statistics on personal use (email, web access, social media, games, etc.) and school-related use (access to educational sites, access to sites maintained by the various educational vendors providing software, access to and performance in intermediate assessments, etc.). Conceivably, the iPads could also be used by student’s family members for activities not sanctioned or envisioned by the District.

This raw data stream can certainly be data-mined and the emerging patterns will be of some financial benefit for some if not properly controlled. Many privacy concerns can be raised and, more importantly, liability issues can be laid at the District’s door-step. Has staff shared with you how they intend to provide access to this information? Have the proper legal steps been taken to secure and control access?

Alternatively, the data stream created by in-school use can be used to extend the supervisory reach of the District on its students, faculty, and administrators. It is highly likely that this could turn into a contentious issue if the data is used to discipline students for not performing assigned tasks, or to enforce on teachers that all of them must be teaching according to some pre-ordained script, or to exert control over how administrators go about their management duties. Et cetera.

There is another aspect that has not been truly shared with you, at least judging from the presentations done to the Board so far. That is the issue of how all those iPads will be accessing content in the Internet. The District has policies on access and usage, but none of them applies to a device that will not be accessing the Internet exclusively through District servers.

Presumably, all the iPads could be configured, in a non-user-modifiable manner, to use District servers as proxies to access the Internet. However, I do not think anyone has considered that this will be an additional load on the District’s computer resources and, if contracted to a third party vendor, a significant financial burden. If that were to happen, you will again be faced with the fact that a significant data stream will be available to a third party that might attempt to monetize it in ways neither you nor I can dream of.

There is also considerable interest in some quarters about what the District is going to do to provide access to the Internet at the homes of students who cannot afford it. Staff claims to be in negotiations (with whom?) to allow the iPads to go to student’s homes. But if the student does not have Internet access, isn’t the District required to subsidize such access, probably under the Serrano decision or the Schiff-Bustamante Instructional Materials Program? At least that is what has been presented to a certain municipal committee of the City of Los Angeles. Testimony was given that it would cost the District $1.5 million per month to provide such service to all Title I-eligible students (at $40/student).

Given these very valid concerns, I urge you all to not rush into approval of any further phases of this grand experiment until the current phase has been fully evaluated in all its permutations and aspects by outside experts in all areas of their use. LAUSD is in effect becoming the testing ground for technology and educational software companies while LAUSD foots the entire bill. This is unacceptable.

As I write this, I have been informed that staff intends to distribute iPads to all faculty and administrators on January 2014 if the Board approves Phase II. That’s another $20 million-plus “investment” in a project that may or may not produce the desired pedagogical advances but is assured to bring new problems caused by the mere use of this technology.

Thank you for giving appropriate consideration to my concerns.

Best regards,

An LAUSD parent/taxpayer

I'm Cynthia Liu, Owner/Founder of K12 News Network. I'm the proud product of public schools through post-grad, the mom of a child in public schools, and the daughter of two teachers. Connect with me professionally on LinkedIn.

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1 Comment

  1. Follow Aquino’s Yellow Brick Road… – redqueeninla - September 16, 2013, 5:09 pm

    […] to blithely rubber-stamp an ill-conceived plan to blanket the district with itoys. There are too many questions, concerns and hesitations about the rollout of a purchasing contract of this unprecedented size.  […]

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