Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The LA Times' Steve Lopez on the defenestration of Stuart Magruder

I've never seen a project hit FUBAR as quickly or as completely as John Deasy's iPad initiative has. Almost invariably, when you see something crash and burn this badly, you'll find with a little digging that:

There were people in the organization who anticipated the problems;

They were repeatedly told to shut up.
Supt. John Deasy and the Board of Education have been salivating over the chance to get their hands on some of that money to buy a digital tablet for every student, teacher and administrator. Last year, they began purchasing tablets for classrooms, and now they would like to tap about $1 billion in bond money to finish the job.

But there have been questions about the legality and efficacy of using the bond money for portable tablets with an estimated three-year life span in a district with an estimated $50 billion or so in needed repairs and upgrades. And even more questions about whether the district has a well-considered plan, or a get-out-of-the-way compulsion to plow ahead as quickly as possible, with Deasy leading the charge.

Nobody expressed more concerns than Magruder, an architect who was appointed to the oversight committee two years ago. He thought the district's legal justification for buying tablets was flimsy, and that was just part of his objection.

"My primary concern was that there clearly was no strong pedagogical idea behind this program, and they were literally throwing all this technology and money at teachers and students, expecting great things to happen with no proper preparation," Magruder said.

There's not enough space here to itemize all the issues raised at various times by Magruder and other committee members, along with members of the media.

But to name several:

Why iPads versus other, possibly less expensive tablets or laptops?

Why did the need for detached keyboards, at a cost of millions, seem to be such an afterthought?

Why did the district buy software sight unseen and only partially developed?

Why had there been so little teacher training and preparation?

Why so little consideration of who would be responsible for lost and damaged tablets?

And how useful could the tablets be if, by one legal interpretation, students wouldn't be allowed to take them home each night?

"I'm invested in this," said Magruder, who has two kids in L.A. Unified and got a first-hand look at the problems when his daughter's school was included in an early phase of the iPad rollout.

Magruder didn't find the programming engaging, compelling or linked to a larger curriculum strategy in a way that had been explained to teachers, parents or students.

"Technology doesn't solve problems unless humans and teachers use it well," said Magruder, who noted that the software company did manage to neatly promote itself to students with a logo on its programs.

"Not an 'M' for math or an 'E' for English, but a big 'P' for Pearson," he said.

Scott Folsom, another member of the oversight committee, and Tom Rubin, the committee's consultant, both told me they thought Magruder and others consistently raised important questions in a fair, thoughtful and constructive way, forcing the district to slow down and rethink some of its plans.

But that was Magruder's downfall. In raising inconvenient truths, he exposed and embarrassed district officials. Three weeks ago, the petulant school board threw a little tantrum and refused to reappoint him to the committee, a move that's being challenged by Magruder, the oversight committee and the architect association that nominated him to the board.

1 comment:

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