Sunday, January 25, 2015


Susan Ohanian's Testing Outrages (Susan Ohanian Speaks Out)

Picture book could warn LAUSD board against buying 30,000 iPads

by Susan Ohanian

It's billed at "one of the most important purchases" in the Los Angeles school district's history, with the potential to "change how teachers teach and students learn." What is it? A plan to put an iPad into the hands of every student in Los Angeles.


Hysteria over and overselling of technology is nothing new. George Templeton Strong (1820 -- July 21, 1875), American lawyer and diarist, began keep a diary at the age of fifteen. He wrote nearly every day of his life for the next forty years. Excerpts from this diary are featured in Ken Burns's 1990 documentary The Civil War. Commenting on the laying of the transatlantic cable, Strong's words inform our age as well as his.

Newspapers vie with each other in gas and grandiloquence. . . . Moderate people merely say that this is the greatest human achievement in history.

Gas and grandiloquence. We see it every day in the coverage of Common Core. Start with the New York Times editorial team.

I think of the learning possibilities of buying every kid in Los Angeles public schools a copy of Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. Inspired by a passage in Henry David Thoreau's Walden, itis charming and funny--and packs a punch about different approaches to living one's life. The book is billed suitable for 4-8. I'd say it's suitable for 4-80--and beyond. As W. H. Auden observed, "There are good books which are only for adults. There are no good books which are only for children." [Take a look at the current exhibit at the New York Public Library.]

D. B. Johnson delivers K-12 workshops on the book. The fact that these workshops take place in independent schools reveals once more what the rich kids get while public schools are busy test prepping and lining up to deliver the Common Core. In these workshops K-12 students meet together and talk about the issues the book raises. And don't miss Johnson's observations in Seven Questions Over Breakfast with D.B. Johnson.

Here's the passage from Walden that inspired Johnson's book. It's a passage we all need to think about before running out to buy 30,000 iPads. The school curriculum desperately needs to change, but will 30,000 iPads inspire the change we need?

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. . . . We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. . . .

Or that some other princess or media entrepreneur has a baby.

Thoreau then segues into the Fitchburg story. A friend suggested that since he loved to travel Henry should earn the money to buy a train ticket to Fitchbur 30 miles away-- where they could meet. Henry comments:

But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot.

He suggests a wager to his friend, "Suppose we try who will get there first."

Read Henry David Thoreau. Share D. B. Johnson with people you care about, young and old.

W. H. Auden, whom I had the privilege of hearing in a professional development course my first year in teaching, reminds us:

Evil is unspectacular and always human, and share our bed and eat at our own table.

Can you believe it? The New York City Department of Education sent teachers to hear great poets. Auden begged us high school teachers not to teach William Wordsworth's daffodil poem--not because it isn't a great poem--but because kids should know that poetry lives, that living people write poetry.

Auden also said that "One cannot walk through an assembly factory and not feel that one is in hell." I read about these 30,000 iPads and the district confidence that they will deliver some miracle curriculum and feel that Los Angeles school are lining up to be assembly factories of hell.

Of course schools need to change their creaky ways; they've desperately needed a revolutionary change for at least 50 years. But the change needs to be much more fundamental than connecting to the Internet for inspiration.

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes [or new machines]. . . . If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. -- Henry David Thoreau, Walden,

LAUSD spending $30 million to buy 30,000 iPads for students
San Jose Mercury News

by Barbara Jones

The Los Angeles Unified board Tuesday approved a $30 million contract to buy iPads for 30,000 students, the first phase in an ambitious plan to equip every pupil with a tablet computer within the next 14 months.

The deal is a huge win for Apple, as the district expects to continue with the same vendor as it acquires the technology that can support the new Common Core curriculum launching in 2014, as well as a new online state testing system.

The plan calls for the 47 schools in Phase I to have iPads by year's end, with the rest of the tablets purchased within 14 months. Money for the project will come from two school bonds - Measure R, approved by voters in 2004, and Measure Y, passed in 2005.

"This is an amazing adventure we're about to embark on, so hopefully we're making the right choice," said board member Tamar Galatzan. "Nothing is perfect, but we've made the best choice possible, based on the advice that's out there. This is the least-expensive option and, hopefully, we're in for a fruitful relationship."

The vote was 6-0, with board member Bennett Kayser abstaining because he owns stock in Apple. He and Superintendent John Deasy, another Apple stockholder, left the board room during the discussion.

Facilities chief Mark Hovatter called the decision one of the most important purchases in the district's history, with the potential to change how teachers teach and students learn.

Students will be able to access online lessons and digital texts and take the online tests that are becoming the norm. Officials also said that digital knowledge is a key component of their goal to prepare every student for college or a job by the time they graduate.

The iPads will cost $678 each, which includes a case and a full slate of learning software, but no keyboard. Money for the project comes from voter-approved bond revenue. Additional costs within the $30 million include hiring about 15 "facilitators," as well as additional training and support for the first 47 schools.

District officials said they've resolved questions about whether students can take the iPads home -- they can -- and that Apple will have to provide replacements for iPads that are lost, stolen or broken. The devices will also have a three-year warranty.

Affiliated charter schools and charters that are co-located on LAUSD campuses will also be part of the iPad purchase.

LAUSD received more than a dozen proposals for the lucrative contract, and narrowed the field to three finalists -- Apple and Arey Jones, which submitted separate plans using Dell and HP tablets. A team of 30 students, teachers and technical experts tested the devices, and Hovatter said Apple scored better than the computers that ran on a Microsoft operating system.

Each of the three finalists included Pearson educational software as part of their plan.

Microsoft representative Robyn Hines addressed the board, expressing disappointment at staff's recommendation to go with Apple and suggesting that members split the project in two.

But Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino said it would be too difficult to maintain two platforms. A single platform means students and teachers will be able to move seamlessly from one campus to another, he said, and that the district will be able to digitally archive all of a student's work and assessments.

Steve Zimmer asked district staff for assurances that "the highest integrity and above-boardness" had been followed in awarding the contract.

"I'm in awe of how we have done this process," Aquino responded. "My conscience is clear that we've done the right thing for our kids."

— Susan Ohanian




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