Los Angeles schools slow rollout of iPads amid security concerns

Reuters

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES, Nov 10 (Reuters) - The Los Angeles schooldistrict is putting the brakes on a project to give an iPad toeach student, a $1 billion initiative that is the largestrollout of its kind in the nation and has been plagued bystudents hacking the devices' security features.

District officials have already provided their devices toover 25,000 students, and under their original plan would havefinished distributing tablets to the last of its 650,000students in late 2014.

Superintendent John Deasy has described the rollout as acivil rights initiative designed to give students in hisdistrict, mostly from low-income families, access to a 21stcentury tool common in middle-class households. Students aresupposed to use it to take standardized tests, do homework, readcurriculum, play learning games, capture video and more.

But they also want to use the devices for fun. In ahigh-profile setback, some 300 teenagers from three high schoolsfound a way to bypass security protocols on their iPads earlierthis year to access Twitter and other sites the district seeksto block.

Students have since been barred from taking the iPads home.Following that and other concerns from school board members,Deasy has proposed delaying by a year, to late 2015, thecompletion of the iPad rollout.

One board member, Monica Ratliff, has questioned whether alaptop and not an iPad was a better tool for high schoolstudents, and has sought a school board vote in mid-2014 onwhether to go forward with the plan. The board, at a meeting onTuesday, is set to consider the idea of a mid-year vote.

The Los Angeles rollout would be the largest distribution ofmobile computers to schoolchildren attempted in the UnitedStates, and its efforts have gained widespread attention asdistricts across the nation experiment with ways to equipstudents with such devices.

"It is certainly ambitious and I have to credit them forthat," said Richard Culatta, the U.S. Department of Education'sdirector of the office of educational technology, adding thatany such program was bound to experience "bumps along the road."

NOT ALONE

Los Angeles schools are not alone in choosing the iPad ormobile computing devices.

In a 2012 survey of over 364,000 U.S. students by ProjectTomorrow, more than 28 percent of pupils in grades 3 to 12 saidthey had access to a school-provided laptop. Some 18 percent ofthird through fifth graders said they were given a tablet, withlower rates for older students.

Some school districts, such as in Virginia and Nevada,encourage students to bring their own devices to school foreducational use, Culatta said.

The Los Angeles district, the second largest in the nationafter New York, has struggled in recent years with decliningenrollment and test scores that lag the California average.

Officials have said one reason for spending $1 billion oniPads, including $366 million to upgrade Wi-Fi networks andother technical infrastructure at schools, is to give studentstechnology they can use to learn at their own pace.

In higher grades, they can use iPads with click-in keyboardsto write and research essays.

At home, students will be able to access most of the Webincluding Wikipedia and news sites, but not social networkingsites where cyber bullying is a concern, schools officials said.

Student Jayla Hill, 10, told the school board this monththat the tablet lets students who may have missed a concept,like math division, to review on their own.

"I feel like the iPad helps me because sometimes the teacherpressures you to get the answer, but the iPad sits there andgives you all the time in the world," she said.

Officials have sought to reassure parents concerned aboutbeing held liable for the tablets by pledging to replace forfree those that are lost or stolen.

"We're doing kind of a groundbreaking rollout, we all knewthere would be attention paid to it and that's not a bad thing,"Los Angeles school board member Tamar Galatzan said last month.

"If folks want to go back to the day of using a piece ofstone and a chisel, we can," Galatzan said.

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