The Fort Bend Independent School District in Texas bought iPads for students in grades 2-8. After nineteen months, the district put a stop to the 1:1 program and commissioned a report on the initiative, which was “scathing,” according to an article by Ben Herold in Education Week. 

Guilford County, North Carolina, bought Amplify tablets for all its students, using millions from Race to the Top money. Amplify is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, managed by Joel Klein. The rollout was highly publicized. But last week, Guilford County recalled all the Amplify tablets because of technical defects.

The marketing outstripped the implementation.

Fort Bend wanted to know what wrong.

This is what the independent assessment found:

Among the problems the report highlights:

  • An overly aggressive timeline: “Even under optimum project management practices, the District would likely have fallen short of its projected timetable for such a complex project.”
  • Insufficient project management: “The iAchieve program was hindered by not having a qualified, fully dedicated staff member with expertise in large-scale project management, curriculum development, and instructional technology to coordinate the various teams and contractors involved in the program.”
  • Poor contract management practices: “Project deliverables and payments did not match the contract requirements, and highly unrealistic timetables were negotiated and agreed to by both parties.”
  • Lack of consistency with FBISD curriculum standards: “The methodology used in writing the science curricula, which emphasized specific scripts for teachers and did not follow the District’s lesson-building standards, resulted in content that teachers and Curriculum Department leaders felt was unusable without substantial changes.”

There are lessons to be learned from these early experiences. Vendors are eager to make sales and make big promises. Districts are eager to show that they are ahead of the times, and have bought the latest, best technology. But for the technology to be effective, there must be planning, forethought, teacher buy-in. But more than that, the content of the tablets must allow for teacher creativity, not teacher scripting.

The time will come when tablets replace the bulky, puffed-up textbooks that now burden students’ backpacks. The time will come when tablets contain all the contents of all the textbooks, as well as a wealth of additional resources, in multiple subjects. But they must encourage exploration and inquiry, not fidelity to a packaged program. Customized and individualized must become a reality, not a sales pitch for programmed learning.