By Karen Weise, Bloomberg BusinessWeek | http://bit.ly/1qaInh3
Students work on a math equation using Chromebooks | Photograph by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
December 3, 2014 :: Los Angeles Unified School District’s $1.3 billion plan to blanket schools with iPads has finally crashed. The district had already suspended the project, and now, as the FBI investigates the lucrative contract for supplying the tablets, the district has cancelled it entirely.
The 2013 effort to bring Apple (AAPL) iPads to the district had a noble goal—that every student, regardless of income, should have access to great technology. From the get-go, though, the program was plagued. Students almost immediately hacked their way out of the security controls the district had on the iPads, and more seriously, the contract itself came under scrutiny for whether Apple and the education software company Pearson (PSO) had an unfair leg up on the bidding process.
That scrutiny escalated yesterday as the FBI seized 20 boxes of documents related to the contract as part of a federal grand jury investigation. (Apple and Pearson declined to comment to local press.) With public perception souring on the deal, the district said it was scrapping the old iPad contract and would negotiate a new one, according to Southern California Public Radio. The district would also start offering schools another choice: Google (GOOG) Chromebooks.
LAUSD is not alone in turning to Google’s product. In the third quarter of this year, Chromebooks for the first time surpassed iPads in school sales, according to IDC data reported by BuzzFeed. This may have something to do with it: “The curriculum for the iPads adds about $200 per device for a three-year license,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The cost of the iPads is $768 apiece; the Chromebooks with curriculum are expected to be $100 to $200 less.” So the Chromebooks could cost as much as 20 percent less, something that could add up in a district looking to get devices into the hands, potentially, of 600,000 students.
Beyond money is a question of what makes for the best educational outcomes. As Bloomberg Businessweek’s Devin Leonard explored in a feature a year ago, tech companies are in a race to get in on the education market, and at the same time, educators are trying to figure out how to make the devices useful for students. The devices have different offerings. A charter school network in Los Angeles, for example, found that the Chromebooks allow more flexibility using online and cloud-based programs, whereas the iPads offer more structured, directed apps—each of which could work for different situations. Though it may have taken a scandal to get there, the changes in Los Angeles show that one iPad may not fit all.