The Los Angeles iPad program has become a national lesson in what NOT to do.

Other districts, watching the slow-motion disaster in L.A., are taking heed and planning their purchases and implementation of technology with greater care than was exercised in the nation’s second largest district.

L.A. committed to spend $1 billion on iPads, pre-loaded with Pearson content.

The controversies about cost, use, lack of training, theft, loss, misuse of construction bond funds, etc. became an object lesson for other districts, as this post by Education Week reporter Benjamin Herold shows.

Houston is the exemplar district in Herold’s article.

It is starting with 18,000 laptops–not iPads–for its high school students. Eventually all high school teachers and principals will receive training, as will students.

The Houston initiative, known as PowerUp, aims to distribute roughly 65,000 laptops—enough for every high school student and high school teacher in the district—by the 2015-16 school year. Eventually, the initiative is expected to cost about $18 million annually; this year, the Houston ISD is dishing out $6 million, all of it existing funds that were reallocated from other sources. The 2013-14 school year is being devoted to a step-by-step pilot program, and Schad—who previously oversaw implementation of a successful “bring your own device” initiative in Texas’ 66,000-student Katy Independent School District—said the district is entering the 1-to-1 computing fray with eyes wide open.

“We’re really focused on changing instruction,” Schad said, “but it’s important to appreciate how much of a cultural shift this really is.”

Last fall, the 641,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District became the symbol for 1-to-1 initiatives gone awry; almost from its inception, the effort was plagued by security issues, confusion about who is responsible for the tens of thousands of iPads being distributed, criticisms around cost and how the initiative is being financed, and concerns about the readiness and quality of the pre-loaded curriculum meant to become the primary instructional materials for the nation’s second-largest district. Following a series of skirmishes with the district’s board and teachers’ union, Superintendent John Deasy has been forced to slow his ambitious rollout plans.

Houston chose laptops because that is the technology students are most likely to use in college.

Both students and staff will have advance training:

Students at most of the 11 high schools involved in this year’s Houston ISD pilot are just receiving their laptops this month, but Schad said the principals and teachers at those schools received their computers in August and have been receiving consistent professional development ever since. As a baby step to test the district’s deployment plans, laptops were distributed to students at three schools in October, and all students have been required to take a digital citizenship class before receiving a computer. And in November, a group of Houston principals and district administrators took an extended field trip to Mooresville, N.C., to observe first hand one of the most acclaimed 1-to-1 initiatives in the country.

This nifty interactive timeline from Houston ISD details the district’s cautious step-by-step approach. It stands in sharp contrast to L.A., where a contract with Apple was signed in July, teachers received three days of training in August, and distribution of an initial batch of 37,000 iPads to students began later that month.

Another difference from L.A. is that Houston is not buying pre-loaded (and unfinished) Pearson content:

Whereas L.A. Unified elected to purchase a soup-to-nuts digital curriculum from education publishing giant Pearson—one that is still being developed even as it’s rolled out, comes at undetermined cost, and to which access will expire at the end of three years—Schad said Houston ISD is focused on providing students and teachers with a suite of “Web 2.0” tools that can foster content creation, collaboration among students, and project-based learning.

“We want to create that space inside a classroom where kids are answering questions inside the same document, posting their own opinions, and creating videos,” Schad said. “It’s about changing the culture.”

And also unlike L.A., Houston will not take money from bond funds, but is looking for savings in other areas.

It is refreshing to see that districts can learn from the mistakes of other districts. Maybe Houston will get it right and show how technology can “change the culture.”