Solutions in Search of Problems

The soap opera that is the Los Angeles school district’s quest for technology continues.1

There really isn’t anything in that article of interest to someone not living in Southern California but some of the statements by the players in this drama are very revealing of how many of our leaders view the place of technology in schools and learning.

For example, the head of the district’s facilities division, responsible for purchasing equipment, noted that “We’re just looking for devices.” in discussing the suspension of the infamous iPad contract. Which highlights one huge error in our approach to instructional technology.

We go shopping for “devices” without knowing how they will be used. We buy “solutions” before clearly understanding the problems they’re supposed to solve.

Then there is this little portion of the purchase.

The district also wanted authorization to spend $16.5 million to buy computers for every middle and high school teacher as well as for office staff. The immediate purpose is to help teachers use a new online student data system that malfunctioned across L.A. Unified at the start of the school year. The computers can also be used for instruction. [emphasis mine]

Also not unique, using computers for instruction as an afterthought.

However, as with discussions of just about any aspect of American education these days, we eventually get around to the primary reason anyone wants to spend large amounts of money on digital devices of any kind: standardized testing.

New bidding has yet to begin, however, and the district said it needs $25 million more in computers right away to be ready for state tests. Those exams will expand to their full length this spring, requiring twice as long, about eight hours, to complete.

A longer test means more computers will be needed at campuses where students are sharing the devices, said Gerardo Loera, who heads of the office of curriculum, instruction and school support.

Especially at high schools, with students moving from period to period and having to fit in Advanced Placement exams and other tests, scheduling the state testing with limited computers is “like an engineering project to pull it all together,” he said.

But members of the oversight committee challenged a district option to limit testing to two hours a day, all in the morning. [emphasis mine]

Oh, and there’s also the matter of the “lack of an inventory of devices the district already owns”.

Of course, none of this happens here in our Lake Wobegonish, overly-large school district. We never throw lots of money at devices (tablets, interactive whiteboards, clicker systems, wireless “slates”, etc.) without having a solid plan for using them to improve instruction. None of our schools suck up every computer in the building (not to mention instructional time) for days and weeks of standardized testing throughout the year. And then ask for more.

That kind of stuff only happens in places where the local media actually bothers to investigate what schools are doing with public money.


  1. Thanks to Will for the link.

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