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LAUSD ditching Pearson iPad program software, demanding multimillion dollar refund

Los Angeles Unified may be headed toward a show down with Apple Inc. over the software installed for a controversial iPads program.
flickingerbrad via flickr
Los Angeles Unified may be headed toward a show down with Apple Inc. over the software installed for a controversial iPads program.

Los Angeles Unified told Apple Inc. this week that it will not spend another dollar on the Pearson software installed on its iPads and is seeking a multimillion-dollar refund from the technology giant.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the nation's second-largest school district could take Apple to court. 

"While Apple and Pearson promised a state-of-the-art technological solution for ITI implementation, they have yet to deliver it," David Holmquist, the school district's attorney, wrote in a letter to Apple's general counsel. The ITI, or Instructional Technology Initiative, is the district's newest name for its iPad program.

Holmquist said the district is "extremely dissatisfied" with the work of Pearson on its technology initiative to get computers into the hands of each of the district's 650,000 students.

"As we approach the end of the school year, the vast majority of students are still unable to access the Pearson curriculum on iPads," he wrote.

Pearson and Apple representatives could not be reached for immediate comment, but Pearson said last year it held up its end of the deal when questions about the software arose.

"The course content has been complete for over a year," wrote Pearson spokesman Brandon Pinette in an email to KPCC in September. "Yes, there are important enhancements to add as there always will be. We will add twice a year. No digital product should ever be considered complete."

L.A. Unified's $1.3 billion iPad program has been fraught with problems, including issues getting the technology to work in the classrooms and questions about how the tablets were procured.

The FBI launched an investigation into the iPad purchase in December, carting out 20 boxes from the district office on bidding material, communications and other records involving Apple and Pearson. 

An investigation published by KPCC last August found former Superintendent John Deasy and top district staffers had close ties with Pearson executives before the contract was awarded.

District officials purchased Pearson's software even though it was unfinished, and teachers complained the material seemed rushed: lessons were missing math problems and reading material and included errors. The software also lacked many interactive elements that were promised, teachers said.

“[Pearson] missed the whole point of technology — individualized  instruction, all the material in the palm of your hand," said Ben Way, a math teacher at Alliance Cindy & Bill Simon Technology Academy, a charter school that also purchased Pearson's iPad app. 

Pressing restart

LAUSD board member Monica Ratliff said with Pearson software issues unresolved, students have turned to other resources.

“Because Pearson just wasn’t working out for them,” Ratliff told KPCC. “We paid a lot of money for that curriculum, and we want our students to be able to use it. I think it's imperative that Pearson to step up and fix the curriculum, or give us back our money so we can buy curriculum that does work.”

The district planned to shop around for other software and devices, but a LAUSD spokeswoman said there is no available information on whether that is moving forward.

Leslie Wilson, the CEO of One-to-One Institute, a Michigan-based nonprofit that helps schools adopt student technology, said starting over is often a school district’s best bet when problems persist.

“We are always telling students mistakes are a part of life,” Wilson said. “Obviously, some mistakes are on a much grander scale, much more public and much more notorious, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop and start over.”

Wilson recommends choosing devices based on students' needs, not on trends or sales pitches.

A new software deal would need the approval of the school board members, several of whom are facing reelection and are working to distance themselves from the iPad fiasco.

“I hate to say I told you so,” said board member Bennett Kayser, who voted against the Apple and Pearson deal, but later approved the purchase of iPads without the software. “But that’s what happens when you try to do something in a hurry and not plan for it.”

This story has been updated.