The giant technology developer Apple announced this week that it will donate iPads to students in more than 100 schools in some of the nation’s poorest communities, using a selection process guided by a number of major professional education organizations.
The grants are the company’s vehicle for delivering on its committment to provide $100 million toward President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, which promises to bring next-generation broadband to 99 percent of American students by 2017.
Apple’s multi-year commitment includes partnerships with content providers and professional development to help teachers effectively use the technology they receive—technology that includes iPads and MacBook Airs for use by educators and an Apple TV device for each classroom.
Apple unveiled a new website to explain how its support for schools will work. The company relied on input from 15 education organizations in deciding which schools would be finalists for receiving the grants. Some of those organizations, in turn, released their own statements promoting the announcement to their members, and to broader audiences. Among the organizations are: AASA, The School Superintendents Association in Alexandria, Va.; ASCD, formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Va.; the Council for Exceptional Children in Arlington, Va.; the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washingtion, D.C., the National Association of Elementary School Principals, in Alexandria, Va.; the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in Reston, Va., and the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, located in Washington, D.C.
Schools in 29 states will receive iPads for use by every student and teacher. All schools receiving these grants have 96 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, according to ACSD, one of the organizations that helped choose the winning schools.
The $100 million in grants from Apple “will help schools—especially high-needs schools—reach the level of accessibility needed for our students to learn, create, and ultimately, compete in the 21st century economy.” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García in a statement.
JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the secondary school principals, commended Apple for for committing to provide ongoing professional development to teachers and to guaranteeing that participating schools have sufficient broadband connectivity to make the digital conversion.
On its site, Apple indicated that it is working with Wi-Fi providers and cellular carriers to ensure that every school can reliably access the content that will be provided by delivering “tailored curriculum solutions at no cost to the schools.” Partners to provide educational content include:
- Common Sense Education
- DreamBox Learning
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Renaissance Learning
In the fine print, Apple indicated that the number of content providers, and the nature of their work, could change over time.
Apple’s commitment to the ConnectED program, which will play out across 114 schools, comes on the heels of the company becoming ensnared in the Los Angeles Unified school system’s ambitious and controversial effort to provide iPads to students across the 640,000-student district. Questions about the security of the devices and an incomplete curriculum developed by Pearson and preloaded on the devices dogged the project almost from its inception, as did controversy surrounding the district’s process for procuring the technology. In August, then-Superintendent John Deasy abruptly suspended the district’s $1 billion contract with Apple to provide the devices to students.
Against that backdrop, Apple’s ConnectED donation is likely to generate close scrutiny. This company’s plans for ConnectED shows signs of lessons learned from the LAUSD experience—particularly in the support Apple says it will provide for teachers’ professional development, as well as for connectivity, and the use of content from multple sources.
The major donation also comes at a time when tablets like the iPad are facing stiff competition in the education sector from Chromebooks—mobile devices with Google operating systems that mainly use cloud systems for storage.
Sales of Chromebooks will jump by 79 percent from 2013 to 2014, and will reach 5.2 million units sold this year, according to Gartner Inc., a research and advisory company. My colleague Ben Herold wrote about one prominent high school switching from Apple products to Chromebooks after seven years, and Futuresource Consulting Ltd., a research and forecasting company, reports that all tablet sales dropped from 45 percent of total K-12 sales in 2012 to 42 percent in the second quarter of 2014, while Chromebooks rose from .7 percent of the market to 29 percent in the same timeframe.
The ConnectED project will give educators and others the opportunity to evaluate a large-scale rollout of iPads, and their performance in classrooms, in another context.
- Obama’s ConnectED Initiative Gets Major FCC, Corporate Financial Support
- Hard Lessons Learned in Ambitious L.A. iPad Initiative
- Switch from Mac to Chromebook Puts Acclaimed Philly High School at Center of Ed-Tech Debates
CORRECTION: This blog post was corrected to indicate that 15 organizations were part of the selection process, and updated to add the names of three more that issued statements in support of it.