The ongoing billion dollar iPad fiasco in Los Angeles public schools ought to be a good moment to reflect upon why public schools tend to suffer from such poor management.
From today's Los Angeles Times:
Confusion reigns as L.A. Unified deals with glitches after rollout of ambitious an-iPad-for-every-student project.
In contrast, I've been going off and on for 38 years to the Van Nuys Department of Motor Vehicles. You may remember it from such television shows and movies as The Simpsons and The Simpsons Movie. It used to be that you never knew which endless line was the right one to wait in. And the employees (see below) liked it that way.
Yet, guess what? Over the years, even the Van Nuys DMV has gotten better organized and more helpful.
Strikingly, I've never read anything about DMV reform, yet it seems to have sort of happened.
View of Van Nuys DMV from Vanowen
In contrast, I've read thousands of articles about Education Reform. Titans of industry like Bill Gates and Eli Broad have devoted themselves to Education Reform. The LAUSD is run by certified Education Reform stars from the Gates Foundation and other prestigious organizations.
Van Nuys DMV staff
And still ... chaos. Why?
... Schools Supt. John Deasy, who has pushed for the iPads, remains undeterred and said the project is essentially on track.
"It's an astonishing success," Deasy said in an interview Tuesday. "I couldn't be more pleased to get [the iPads] in the hands of students and teachers. The feedback has been extremely positive.
"This is a civil rights issue," he said. "My goal is to provide youth in poverty with tools that heretofore only rich kids have had. And I'd like to do that as quickly as possible."
Perhaps one reason why DMV reform has progressed but Education Reform is so prone to confusion is because DMV reform is not a civil rights issue. It could have been called one: the long lines always seem to have disparate impact upon the Latino population of the San Fernando Valley, much of which could be found standing in line at the Van Nuys DMV any workday between 9 and 5. But it wasn't.
In contrast, Education Reform always turns into a "civil rights issue," which causes the Brain Freeze characteristic of anything having to do with race, IQ, and children in modern America. In turn, this attracts fad-mongers and the professionally gullible to the ranks of education management, and repels people who know what they are doing and are capable of projecting the consequences of proposed policies.
That said, I'm not all that against iPads in public schools with competent managements. A lot of education ought to consist of drilling at each individual student's level of competence. Individualized tutoring works better than anything else, but it's always expensive. Computers make possible individualized drilling. The iPad, with its printing recognition capability (it has that right, like a 1998 Palm Pilot?), sounds like a good form factor for drilling in math. Non-touch screen traditional PCs work okay with the right math drilling software, but math has evolved over the years to work best with chalkboards or paper and pencil. Keyboards can be made to work okay with math programs, but the iPad-like tablet resembles the kind of slate that Abe Lincoln worked Euclid's proofs upon.
However, I have no idea whether good software is available for the iPad yet. Most educational software is junk.
In the past, computers in the classroom have mostly been a waste. About a decade ago, the public school where Glaivester taught got a laptop for each student. He found 50% of his teaching time was suddenly devoted to troubleshooting PC problems.
Over the years, though, operating systems have gotten better (Windows Vista excepted), and now computers, especially Apple products, have high uptime rates.