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L.A. Unified halts contract for iPads

Ohanian Comment: John Deasy's name first appeared on this site in 2003. Then, he was superintendent in Santa Monica and rightfully complaining about NCLB. Then, he moved across country to take charge of Prince George's County and ever after, when his named popped up, the circumstances were, at best, dubious. I summarized his career appeared when he was about to take helm in Los Angeles: : LA schools Boss to be John Deasy, of fake degree and Gates (and Broad) foundation fame.

As for the Apple-Pearson iPad deal, with Gates Foundation connections, see my Connect the Dots, April 2014.

None of this ever seems to interest education reporters.

Here's one comment from the newspaper site: Corruption, malfeasance, bid rigging, double dealing and incompetence at the Administrative Offices of the LAUSD? I'm SHOCKED -- absolutely SHOCKED!


Here's a column Can Supt. Deasy survive LAUSD's iPad fiasco? by Steve Lopez at the Los Angeles Times--about the news item below. Remember Lopez's wonderful series of columns about his unlikely relationship with schizophrenic cellist Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, which became a national best-selling book by Lopez --and inspired the film The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez. Lopez brings that 'voice' to these remarks about Deasy,

A real writer caring about education issues. Deep sigh.

Can Supt. Deasy survive LAUSD's iPad fiasco? -- Los Angeles Times, by Steve Lopez

So, remember that $1-billion plan to get iPads for each and every Los Angeles Unified student the district has been working on and steadfastly defending for a couple of years now?

Forget about it. The deal is off, creating a new round of L.A. Unified chaos just as another school year begins.

The announcement came just days after the release of emails detailing Supt. John Deasy’s cozy contacts with Apple and curriculum software manufacturer Pearson before they were awarded large contracts.

Deasy, who has denied any improprieties, actually tried to put a positive spin on the long-running fiasco when he announced that the deal with Apple was kaput. The decision, he said in a memo to school board members Monday night, will "enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances. . . . We will incorporate the lessons learned from the original procurement process. . . ."

You'd think all had gone according to plan, but make no mistake:

Despite the upbeat, moving-on tone of that message, the Deasy pullback is a defining moment in his tenure. It was nothing short of a forced surrender to critics who have argued for months that Deasy charged ahead on the iPad project as if he knew best and everyone else's job was to get out of the way.

And what did that get us? A commitment to spend tens of millions of dollars on pricey tablets and on software programs that hadn’t even been developed.

And the iPad fiasco is not the only problem bearing down on Deasy.

He's got a newly radicalized teachers union calling for his scalp in the middle of contract negotiations. The two sides are miles apart on a range of issues, including salaries, teacher evaluations and the ever-rancorous philosophical divide over the corporate and nonprofit influences on public education.

He's potentially lost his reliable majority on the school board with the election of George McKenna to an open seat.

He's got the possibility of a new round of investigations into the Apple/Pearson deals by the L.A. Unified inspector general because of the emails.

And the school district, which years ago ditched a disastrous $120-million computerized student tracking system, is now trying to figure out how to fix persistent problems with the new $20-million system that replaced it. Early glitches have sent some parents and teachers into a tizzy over ridiculously large class sizes and misplaced transcripts, among other mishaps, and Jefferson High students staged a sit-in.

But getting back to iPads, Deasy's white-flag moment follows not only the email release, but also comes in the wake of a damning report on the bidding process by an L.A. Unified technology committee. A draft, obtained last week by my colleague Howard Blume, covered what critics have been telling me and others for more than a year -- that the rules of the bidding process appeared to benefit Apple and Pearson, and that there was at least an appearance of a conflict of interest on the district's part.

And the emails really make you want to hold your nose.

"I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one," now-departed Deasy deputy Jaime Aquino wrote to Pearson in May 2012, two years before the contract was approved.

Aquino, if you have forgotten, had been an executive with a Pearson affiliate prior to heading up Deasy's tech implementation plan.

Deasy -- who graciously appeared in a promotional video for iPads before the contracts were awarded -- later jumped in on that same email conversation.

"Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly," wrote Deasy, later adding he did not want to lose "an amazing opportunity."

Deasy maintains that the emails were not about the larger, $1-billion tech plan but about "a pilot program we did at several schools months before we decided to do a large-scale implementation."
Even if you believe that, along with Deasy's claim that "nothing was done in any inappropriate way whatsoever," his contact with Apple and Pearson raises countless questions about whether a legitimate bidding process was ever an objective.

"You should make every bidder think they have a slim chance of getting the job," said Stuart Magruder, the school bond oversight committee member who briefly lost his post for asking too many questions about all of this. Deasy "didn't do that. He created an environment where Apple and Pearson probably didn't have to be as creative as they could have been."

Or as thrifty. As Magruder noted, the district agreed to a far higher cost per device than what other districts were paying. Magruder also argued that he believes the main objective with digital devices has always been to facilitate more test-taking rather than better teaching and deeper, more meaningful learning experiences for students.

"There are all of these adults fighting among themselves and doing nothing to actually get the kids educated," Magruder said. "And so many skirmishes between us seem to drive more skirmishes."

So here we are, back to square one after a couple of wasted years, with Deasy calling for the process to begin all over again. It's almost as if now he's in a hurry to make everyone forget the past.

But it remains to be seen whether the superintendent, having lost a great deal of credibility, can survive the political fallout and learn enough from his blunders to lead the way more capably.

"I think that John Deasy lives by the sword and suffers by the sword of urgency," L.A. Unified board member Steve Zimmer said. "I wouldn't want him to not be urgent, and not be impatient, but sometimes there's a cost to that."

by Howard Blume

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy suspended future use of a contract with Apple on Monday that was to provide iPads to all students in the nation's second-largest school system amid mounting scrutiny of the $1-billion-plus effort.

The suspension comes days after disclosures that the superintendent and his top deputy had especially close ties to executives of Apple, maker of the iPad, and Pearson, the company that is providing the curriculum on the devices. And an internal report that examined the technology effort showed major problems with the process and the implementation.

"Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple Inc.," Deasy wrote in a memo sent to the Board of Education on Monday.

"Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding the [project]," Deasy wrote.

Under the contract approved just over a year ago, Apple had been expected to provide iPads with Pearson as the subcontractor. School board members were made to understand that the initial $30-million contract was expected to expand to about $500 million as the project rolled out over the next year or so. An additional $500 million would be used to expand Internet access and other infrastructure issues at schools.

The purchases were being approved in phases, which gave Deasy the option of starting over.

But Deasy, who has been the main proponent of providing the iPads throughout the district and who has defended the project repeatedly, was coming under mounting criticism for his handling of the contract and for the implementation of the program.

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.

Deasy immediately defended the integrity of his staff and the original process, but also noted that he hadn't read the draft report because a copy had not been provided to him.

Emails and other documents, some of which were released under a California Public Records Act request Friday, showed detailed -- and numerous -- contacts between Deasy, Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino and the corporate executives.

It appears that the officials began discussing the school system's effort to supply students computers equipped with online curriculum at least two years before the contract was approved.

In one email, from May 24, 2012, Aquino seems to strategize with higher-ups from Pearson on how to ensure that it got the job.

"I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one," wrote Aquino, who was an executive with a Pearson affiliate before joining L.A. Unified.

Deasy was one of the last to participate in that email exchange and made his comments after Aquino's, which covered several topics.

"Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly," Deasy wrote. "I want to not loose [sic] an amazing opportunity and fully recognize our current limits."

On Sunday, Deasy said that the conversations were only about a "pilot program we did at several schools months before we decided to do a large-scale implementation. We did work closely on this pilot."

Deasy said he recalled that Aquino also offered another major vendor, Amplify Education Inc., a similar opportunity.

"Nothing was done in any inappropriate way whatsoever," the superintendent said. "Of course I talk to people. I would be expected to."

Aquino left L.A. Unified at the end of last year and has not responded to interview requests.

It remains to be seen if Deasy's action will satisfy critics. The teachers union Monday called for an official investigation of the original contracting process -- the union and Deasy have clashed before and are now in tense contract negotiations. And a source close to the district said L.A. Unified's inspector general is planning to conduct additional interviews.

An earlier inquiry by the inspector general was reviewed by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which concluded that no charges were warranted.

But the rollout was troubled from the beginning, and critics also found fault with the process that led to the selection of Apple as the lead contractor and Pearson as its main collaborator.

In the memo, Deasy said his decision also related to the changing marketplace. The original contract, for example, immediately came under fire because the model of iPad the district agreed to buy was almost immediately superseded by a newer version on retail shelves.

Deasy addressed that problem somewhat by getting Apple to agree to provide the newer model for the same price. The Pearson part of the deal also attracted critics because, for example, the school system was paying full price for a curriculum that still was under development during the first year of a three-year license. In his memo, Deasy also alluded to issues that arose during testing.

Some schools reported that students preferred taking new state tests on devices other than the iPads because the small size of the iPad screen made reading more difficult and because the attachable keyboards weren't as well integrated into the device.

Even before Deasy's action Monday, L.A. Unified had decided to try out other devices and other curricula at the high school level. Some devices still are being deployed this fall under the old contract, reaching students at 52 schools, according to the memo.

And under the recently expanded approach, 18,000 laptops are being purchased. Deasy wrote that he expects Apple and Pearson to be among the bidders in the new process.

"We will incorporate the lessons learned from the original procurement process," he said.

"We look forward to refining our processes and ultimately achieve our vision to equip every one of our students with a personal computing device to help them succeed in the 21st century."


Twitter: @howardblume

— Howard Blume with Ohanian comment
Los Angeles Times





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