Review Examines L.A. Schools’ Decision on iPad, Pearson Purchase

Associate Editor

A public radio station investigating Los Angeles Unified School District’s purchase last year of Apple’s iPads, devices that were coupled with an embedded curriculum, has found that at least two other proven education technology products, already successfully used in the district, were given low scores and inaccurately categorized in the procurement process.

Education Week readers will recall that L.A. Unified selected the Apple product, along with a math and English/language arts curriculum from Pearson PLC, from among 19 hardware and software pairings submitted by vendor partners. The ambitious project has had a rocky rollout, however.

The initial contract, valued at $30 million and ultimately worth $500 million, was announced in June 2013. Its sheer size makes it the nation’s most ambitious education technology project to date.

Ben Herold from Education Week looked at the procurement in a story last year, along with a Q-and-A with the district’s chief facilities official. The Pearson curriculum was attached to all three of the top bids for the L.A. project: the highest-ranked one, with Apple; and the next-two highest-scoring bids, with other hardware providers (HP’s ElitePad and Dell’s Latitude 10 tablet.) 

The combination that came in fourth was an iPad package paired with a combination of five other educational products from, Houghton Mifflin, Achieve 3000, Lexia Learning Systems, Mind Research, and Amplify, a company that, like Pearson, was still working on its full curriculum at that time. By bundling the software products, the fourth-place package met the district’s requirement that the bidders offer K-8 math and K-12 English materials.

Annie Gilbertson, a reporter for Southern California Public Radio’s KPCC-FM, managed to piece together district records that evaluated the bidders. She also conducted interviews with administrators, teachers, and students, according to an article she wrote on the station’s website.

Gilbertson contacted the five software companies whose products were bundled by Apple for the fourth-highest scoring package in the procurement process, to learn more about their products and what was included in their bid.

Of those, Lexia Learning Systems, which produces Lexia, a game-based language-learning program owned by Rosetta Stone, and Mind Research, which produces ST Math, responded, according to her article entitled, “LA Schools iPads: Officials chose incomplete software over competitors.” (KPCC’s publisher does not allow links to be embedded in other websites, so links to the article do not appear here.)

She concluded that the district’s evaluators’ low scores for those two companies’ products were inconsistent with the experience of LAUSD educators already using them, and inaccurate in their assessment of the adaptive and game-based capabilities for Lexia and ST Math.

“Unlike Pearson’s bid, many of the losing software packages were fully developed and already being used at dozens of L.A. Unified campuses. Principals report the programs are boosting student learning, helping bring struggling students up to grade level,” wrote Gilbertson.

The L.A. project has come under scrutiny because of its cost, $768 per “loaded” iPad; the fact that the district didn’t know how much the curriculum cost as part of that bundled price; and the fact that the curriculum is licensed for three years, not owned by the district after it made the purchase.

Meanwhile, the LAUSD board approved spending another $115 million for more iPads to be used for standardized testing scheduled to take place in the spring of 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Gilbertson’s article can be found on the KPCC website, http://www.scpr.org/.

 

 

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