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I Will Not Go Quietly

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on September 1, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Today is Sunday, August 31, 2014 and Day 228 of Year Five. The first three weeks of the school year have passed. In reality, it has only been thirteen days. “Thirteen. Bad luck.”—Paden (Kevin Kline), upon being reminded by Cobb (Brian Dennehy) of the favor of a loan, “Silverado”.

And it was only Day 12, on Wednesday, August 27, that we had what I like to call the Impressive Child-Beating Ceremony or Back-to-School Night--my nod to the Impressive Fainting Ceremony in “Catch-22”. Parents came, expecting grades. Parents came, asking about whether I used Engrade. Not many, but some, as well as some kids.

I replied in the negative. “We were told we’ll all be using MISIS for grading in a few months.” There were smiles at that. Yeah, they were buying that. [INTENSE SARCASM ALERT] When we can’t even figure out how many kids are even enrolled, we’re going to be posting grades… “In the meantime, I’ll be using a spreadsheet, like I’ve been using…” ever since the Rand Corporation Think Tank down at the Dark Tower (District headquarters) decided to “improve” Grademax until it became useless… “I don’t want to start on one system and then switch to another a few months later. I have my district email address in your child’s syllabus and on the board over there. How many of you are online at home?”

Very few hands went up. That happened all night.

Uh oh.

So much for the “groundbreaking effort to provide an iPad to every Los Angeles student, teacher and school administrator…”

When the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools purchased the iPad model with 16GB of memory for most of the teachers and administrators at Roosevelt, I stared at it, puttered with it, then, when the Partnership “gave” us MacBooks the next time around--I still think these were bigger “now-shut-the-Hell-ups,” I handed my iPadito back to my administrator; he said he had a better use for them for labs or suchlike. I rejoiced that I wouldn’t have to carry the cursed thing to Professional Development meetings.

“Partnership.” There’s a kindness.

Higgins: “It’d have to be somebody in the Community.”

Joe Turner: “Community.”

Higgins: “Intelligence field.”

Joe Turner: “Community! Jesus, you guys are kind to yourselves. Community.”—“Three Days of the Condor.” The novel was originally titled “Six Days of the Condor.” It was a favorite novel and movie from my post-high-school days and has been getting a lot of airplay of late, so it’s hard not to draw comparisons. For “Community,” I’ve been wanting to substitute “Partnership,” or on a larger scale, “Reformers.”

I find myself becoming more suspicious, less trusting. After all, these people are supposed to be working for the benefit of children, operating with money from the public, for the public good. Certainly they wouldn’t act like heavies in a spy movie.

Would they?

“LAUSD report faults iPad bidding”  “The groundbreaking effort to provide an iPad to every Los Angeles student, teacher and school administrator was beset by inadequate planning, a lack of transparency and a flawed bidding process, according to the draft of an internal school district report obtained by The Times…The bidding process — and events leading up to it — were singled out for particular criticism. The report concludes that the district needlessly limited its options on price and product, and raises questions about whether the process was fair…”

Maybe they would. Shades of “Wall Street” and Gordon Gecco.

We’ve waited 10 months for this, 10 months since School Board member Monica Ratliff began chairing a committee made up of LAUSD officials, parents and even teachers. It was supposed to remain confidential, but the L.A. Times got a hold of it early “…from sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to release it…”

Joe Turner: “Just look around. They’ve got it. That’s where they ship from. They’ve got it all.”

Higgins: “What? What did you do?”

Joe Turner: “I told them a story. You play games. I told them a story.”

Higgins, realizing they’re standing outside the New York Times: “Oh you… you poor dumb son of a bitch. You’ve done more damage than you know.”

Joe Turner: “I hope so.”—“Three Days of the Condor”

The report “applauds the goals and potential benefits of the technology push…” (You’re not supposed to put a student down for a wrong answer. I guess the same applies to a Superintendent “Good try, Johnny. That wasn’t the answer we were looking for, but good try. Who’s a good little superintendent? It’s you, huh?”;) and “stops short of accusing anyone of wrongdoing…” (“We had some guys that got over-zealous. Over-zealous. The O-Zs, we call ‘em…”—from comedian Robert Klein’s Watergate routine) but does “offer a carefully worded rebuke of the $1-billion-plus technology effort in the nation's second-largest school system…”

You were bad.

The L.A. Times: “Among the findings:

“•The initial rules for winning the contract appeared to be tailored to the products of the eventual winners — Apple and Pearson — rather than to demonstrated district needs.

“•Key changes to the bidding rules were made after most of the competition had been eliminated under the original specifications.

“•Past comments or associations with vendors, including by L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, created an appearance of conflict even if no ethics rules were violated…”

(Joe Turner: “Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth.”—“Three Days of the Condor”;)

“The report suggests that from the beginning district officials, including Deasy, made decisions that created an appearance of impropriety, clouding good intentions… The superintendent recused [?] himself from the bidding process because he owned Apple stock, which he has since sold. But he seemed to signal where his preferences lay in a promotional video filmed for Apple in December 2011, as a school pilot program using only iPads was set to start…” Promotional video, eh? Like a … commercial? Like… being the spokesperson for a product? John Couch, Apple's vice president of education: “‘This would be the first time we will have shared these things with an educator or superintendent… If you believe, as we do, that these things will help catapult us forward towards the vision we both share, we would also like to request interviewing you on video.’”

“‘We had decided to adopt iPad technology, as we were trying to provide ways for increasing student engagements,’ Deasy said in the spot…” Sounds like a commercial to me. “The device, for example, had to have at least a ‘10-inch multi-touch display…’” By the way, the model of iPad the district agreed to buy was almost immediately superseded by a newer version on store shelves. And was still much more expensive than various notebooks.

Why? What made this feature sooo important, especially when it was later discovered that an additional keypad was needed? And that the keyboard would cost more money?

“In an interview last month, Deasy stressed his conviction [there’s a loaded word] ‘that every youth regardless of ZIP Code will have access to technology… I wanted this to happen as quickly as possible,’ he said…”

We call that a sense of urgency in education parlance. It’s a phrase which can be waved like a banner or brandished like a dagger, all in the name of a desired change. I’m sure “status quo” will make its appearance, too. It was so urgent that the iPads distributed to 47 schools, including Roosevelt High, where I work, “suffered a series of setbacks,” as the L.A. Times put it. “In one, students at three campuses deleted security filters so they could browse the Internet — prompting officials to prohibit the iPads’ use outside of school…” (“LAUSD halts home use of iPads for students after devices hacked”,0,6974454.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lanowblog+%28L.A.+Now%29"%20 )

Then there was the incomplete curriculum from testing giant Pearson. “The report noted that the district insisted on a new curriculum that would align with recently approved learning goals adopted by California and most other states, known as Common Core. No one wanted a recycled curriculum masked by a fresh label… Given the short time frame, only a major corporate player could promise to deliver a full new curriculum. But during the bidding, neither Pearson nor several other vendors had such a product to submit. The district based its decision on a small number of sample lessons, the report says…”

So much for being data-driven.

How about dollar-driven? “‘I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one.’” That’s then-Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino, who was an executive with a Pearson affiliate before gaining that post, emailing Pearson on May 24, 2012. (“LAUSD had close ties with Apple, Pearson execs, records show” ) By the way, he joined the District in July 2011, and LAUSD ethics rules required him not to become involved in Pearson contracts for one year. Looks like he didn’t make it. And by early 2013, he was involved in overseeing the bidding process. By the end of last year, he was no longer in LAUSD.

Isn’t he working for Pearson now? No, wait, it’s New Teacher Center. It doesn’t help that he won’t respond to interview request, either.

By the way, the questions of Deasy and Aquino to Apple and Pearson were brought up before. Steve Lopez was making those pointed observations back in September of last year: “New problems surface in L.A. Unified’s iPad program”,0,6616782,full.column

Just sayin’.

Making sure Pearson had the lowest bid created at atmosphere where the District cut itself off from vendors who may have had products that would have worked. The report suggests that this might have been a less expensive way to go with voter-approved school construction bonds. “The Pearson part of the deal also attracted critics because, for example, the school system was paying full price for a curriculum that still was under development during the first year of a three-year license…” One year of that three-year period has already passed and we weren’t able to use said licensed curriculum. Now how about that?

While officials from LAUSD defend both Supt. Deasy and former Deputy Supt. Aquino (“…no scoring was revised at the request of Aquino or the executive committee…” “it’s not unusual for LAUSD to work with private companies in developing materials or testing devices…” or limits), it doesn’t help appearances that Pearson (which has had to pay the state of New York $7.7 million as a settlement), subsidized a July 2012 conference in Palm Desert and handed out iPads “for district use.” Or that Pearson was working with District officials to develop curricular materials, and that later some of these same “officials” were involved in evaluating bidders for the computer/curriculum contract. It also doesn’t help if you change the bidding rules during the process.

“In June 2013, the school board had a choice of three finalists: All included a device paired with a curriculum. All three used Pearson. Two were for iPads, from different vendors… District staff asserted that the Apple/Pearson bid was both the lowest in price and highest in quality…”

The Board rubber-stamped this in June 2013. Pearson would provide its incomplete curriculum. Apple would supply the iPads which would be used for not only accessing the curriculum developed by Pearson, but which would be used for the pesky Common Core tests. Keyboards not included.

It didn’t help LAUSD that in January 2014, the Board decided to disband the iPad watchdog committee (“iPad watchdog committee set to disband

Decision to end schools' iPad panel raises questions about oversight of the program that has had a bumpy rollout.”,0,7334041.story#ixzz2rbixXnSt ), that they send committee member Stuart Magruder, an architect and L.A. Unified dad packing in May, for asking inconvenient questions, such as “whether it's appropriate to use bond money — which is paid back over 30 years — to buy electronics with a life span of three to five years….” And for having concerns such as “‘I cannot for the life of me see how an elementary school kid needs an iPad, and how that's moving the pedagogical ball forward.’” (“L.A. Unified watchdog back on the job” )

By Monday, August 25, Deasy had hit the Escape button: “L.A. Unified halts contract for iPads” “L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy suspended future use of a contract with Apple on Monday that was to provide iPads to all students in the nation's second-largest school system amid mounting scrutiny of the $1-billion-plus effort…”

“‘Moving forward, we 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 [project],’” Deasy wrote to the Los Angeles School Board.

“Moving forward…” When my re-enactment buddies talk about advancing to the rear, that’s a retreat. This is advancing to the rear. It’s not just the questions being asked about the coziness of LAUSD top officials and two corporate giants. (Just read the lovefest emails between Apple execs and Supt. Deasy in “LAUSD had close ties with Apple, Pearson execs, records show” )

Steve Lopez thinks so, too. “Can Supt. Deasy survive LAUSD’s iPad fiasco?”  “You'd think all had gone according to plan, but make no mistake: Despite the upbeat, moving-on tone of that message, the Deasy pullback is a defining moment in his tenure. It was nothing short of a forced surrender to critics who have argued for months that Deasy charged ahead on the iPad project as if he knew best and everyone else's job was to get out of the way… And what did that get us? A commitment to spend tens of millions of dollars on pricey tablets and on software programs that hadn't even been developed…”

“This decision [will] enable us to take advantage…” [Someone sure took advantage already] “…of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances…” Such as students preferring taking the new state tests on other devices because the screen size of iPads is small and the iPad keyboard covers part of the questions. By the way, that was being mentioned back in October: “More questions on L.A. Unified’s iPad program, but few answers”,0,3182287.story#axzz2ieJgIJgS

The schools which were part of Phase I, the schools which got the iPads in the first place, will have them re-deployed. Whether or not the students get to take them home or not, fears of “hacking” and other problems are still under debate. That’s under the old contract, which affects 52 schools.

Does that mean the iPads which have now had one-third of their lifespan pass as they sat in boxes or carts, and the unfinished Pearson curriculum, which was licensed for the same length of time, be used? Or does LAUSD plan to buy new models and start the circus all over again? And to remind folks, the original cost per iPad was to be $678. Howard Blume pointed out last year that, with taxes and a mandatory recycling fee, the cost rose to $744. Looks like we’ll get our money’s worth out of that recycling fee…


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