The real reason iPads aren’t disrupting education more: The Textbook Mafia

My kids are at the exact right age to be subjected to the ongoing experiments to bring education into the 21st century. Two of them have each had at least one full year of using iPads daily as part of instruction, while my youngest used an Android tablet as part of her first grade experience last year. All three of my kids are incredibly tech-savvy so it is interesting to see their perspective on technology in the classroom.

According to LA Times, the Los Angeles Unified School District is ending their program to provide iPads to every one of its 640,000 students.

Writing for Gizmodo, Darren Orf commented, “Good. The Los Angeles United School District just dodged a $1 billion, tablet-shaped bullet.”

What Happened?

Well, it depends.

According to the LA Times, the issue has nothing to do with the merits of using iPads in the classroom, but instead, the issue is much more conventional:

Last week, a draft report of a district technology committee, obtained by The Times, was strongly critical of the bidding process.

Among the findings was that 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. The report found that key changes to the bidding rules were made after most of the competition had been eliminated under the original specifications.

In addition, the report said that past comments or associations with vendors, including Deasy, created an appearance of conflict even if no ethics rules were violated.

According to Orf however, the LAUSD iPad program had other issues:

But tablets aren’t the PC slayers we thought they’d be, and laptops—specifically Google Chromebooks—are offering a cheap, cloud-collaborative solution for students. Even more importantly, they come with a keyboard. Feel like typing a ten-page research paper on an iPad? Yeah, me neither. Tablets are just not the best be-all-end-all solution to foist upon students, especially in such massive districts like LA, where every school faces its own unique set of challenges.

LA’s program has been pockmarked with problems from the beginning. 2,100 iPads were recalled last September when students hacked the device, and earlier this summer the district said it was going to switch up its digital offering by allowing students to choose from six different Windows and Chromebook options.

Missing the Point…

Setting aside the potential conflicts of interest or allegations of inappropriate/unfair bidding processes, the real issue has nothing to do with Apple versus Google versus Microsoft.

The real issue is the Textbook Mafia.

You know what doesn’t come readily available on the iPads being used in classrooms? Textbooks. You know why? Because the publishers of textbooks won’t invest the money and resources into affordably priced digital versions of textbooks. Why should they? Over many decades, these companies have successfully created a government-funded oligopoly that leaves individual districts with few alternatives.

Don’t believe me? See what happened when an independent publisher tried to produce textbooks based on “open source educational content”

Last year, my daughter’s backpack going to and from 5th grade was about one-third of her entire body weight, leading to tremendous repetitive strain. If she were an employee, her employer would probably be liable for subsequent injuries.

An iPad weighs a little over a pound and a fully functional Chromebook is going to be under 5 pounds. The weight of a digital textbook is negligible.

In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, it is fairly obvious that Jobs was on a mission at the end of his life to disrupt education the same way he did the music business. Unfortunately, that torch hasn’t been clearly passed yet. Perhaps by the time my youngest reaches secondary school, the idea of schlepping heavy textbooks back and forth to school will be just a quaint memory.

Sort of like how I remember what it was like walking uphill in the snow both ways to school…



Image courtesy Wikipedia