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L.A. Schools Chief Halts Massive iPad Contract Amid Questions

John Deasy, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified school system, abruptly suspended the district's contract to provide iPads to students, amid questions about the fairness of the process through which the massive project was awarded to Apple.

The decision comes following new scrutiny about contacts between Deasy and a then-top lieutenant and two companies at the heart of the contract—Apple, and Pearson, which is providing curriculum on the devices—according to the Los Angeles Times.

The questions were raised in a draft report of a technology committee for the district—the nation's second largest—which strongly criticized the bidding process used for the estimated $1 billion project, reported the Times, which obtained the document.

The report concluded that rules for awarding the deal favored Apple and Pearson, and that changes to the bidding process were put in place after most of the competitors had been eliminated, according to the newspaper.

In a memo to school board members written Monday, Deasy said the district would issue a new request for proposals for personal computing devices, and that the system "will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple, Inc."

"Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding [the technology project]," Deasy wrote, adding that the district will be "revisiting the criteria on which [the] original specifications were based."

The schools chief added that he expected the "current contractor and subcontractor to participate" in the new bidding process.

iPad.jpgThe 640,000-student Los Angeles school system's iPad project has been dogged by various controversies since its inception last year.

Some of those focused on technology breakdowns and security snafus with the devices, but other questions were broader. Pearson's curriculum software, which was loaded into the devices, was not complete at the time of the rollout, leading teachers and others to question its usefulness, as my colleague Ben Herold reported.

While the sheer size of the L.A. Unified effort makes it unusual, districts around the country have launched similarly ambitious plans to give students their own devices for use at school, and in some cases, at home.

Some of those projects have been beset by tech breakdowns, leading critics to questions whether districts were getting ahead of themselves in launching digital projects before they had the capacity to see them through.

Deasy has been a major backer of the iPad project, and the recent controversy prompted critics to blast the deal as ill-conceived from the start.

A teachers' union, the United Teachers Los Angeles, urged the district's school board to "take swift action to uncover the truth" behind the iPad contract. 

"Educators are troubled that Deasy is putting more power in the hands of private entities, and less in the hands of parents and the public," the union said in a statement, arguing that the benefits from the iPad rollout to date have been minimal.

Check back on Digital Education blog for new developments on the L.A. Unified decision.

Photo: Students photograph themselves with an iPad during a class last year at Broadacres Elementary School in Carson, Calif. --Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/AP


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