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LAUSD's tablet plan doesn't compute

Editorial

Supt. John Deasy wants to provide a tablet computer to every teacher and student. But he doesn't have a real plan; it's more like a notion — and that's not enough

October 05, 2012

Superintendent John Deasy wants to buy every teacher and student in Los Angeles Unified School District a tablet computer within a year or two — 700,000 of the electronic devices, he figures — and pay for it with bonds that were passed by voters to build, repair and update school facilities.

Deasy isn't the only one eager to use bond money to buy tablets, though L.A. Unified's purchase would be uniquely ambitious in its size and reach. In fact, though the legality is somewhat sketchy, this is becoming as much a trend as starting up charter schools.

So far, though, Deasy doesn't know which tablets he's interested in buying or have an estimate of how much they might cost. He hasn't figured out whether students would take their tablets home to do their homework and, if they do, how the district would keep them and the devices safe (it would be widely known that students were carrying expensive equipment around) or who would pay if the tablets were lost or broken.

Despite the lack of details, Deasy is forging ahead with a request for "conceptual approval." The school board will discuss the matter next week, and the bond oversight committee will consider it the following week.

The problem is that the superintendent has yet to develop a concept worthy of approval. It's more like a notion at this point.

Spending money on tablets would be a departure from the usual school bond expenditures, which traditionally fund construction of new schools and renovation of buildings so decrepit that teachers have to place garbage cans under leaky ceilings during rainstorms. The money can be used for in-school equipment such as desks and computer wiring but not for instructional materials such as textbooks, copied worksheets, papers and pens. When voters supported L.A. Unified's bond measures in recent years, it's safe to assume they didn't have tablets in mind.

That said, it might be time to expand the definition of equipment that can be bought with bond money. In the near future, standardized testing and in-class lessons will require computer use, though this doesn't necessitate a computer for every student.

We'd love to see the best, most helpful equipment in the hands of L.A. Unified students, but Deasy has not laid out a persuasive argument for this purchase. Though it might sound preliminary, "conceptual approval" puts the district on a path from which it's hard to deviate. The oversight committee needs to take its role seriously as the bulwark against imprudent expenditures of bond money; it should require the superintendent to do his homework and return with a better proposal.

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