There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Which includes even that Apple on teacher’s desk.

Our superintendent John Deasy, the former deputy director of the Gates Foundation, has long framed education issues, from teacher evaluation to 1:1 personal computing, as a matter of “civil rights”.  First was touted the justification – sensible or otherwise — to evaluate the entire teaching work force via quantitative, computer-driven means.  Every student, so the focus-grouped-spun-line goes, has the civil right to ‘a highly effective teacher in front of them every day’.  Then came the Common Core Technology Program in August 2012 for which the imperative to purchase a technology device for every man, woman and child in LAUSD was eventually declared, in the face of mounting public skepticism, a “civil rights issue” too.

By rebranding the ipad Common Core (CC) testing-device imperative a civil rights matter, this musters the forces attuned to social injustice as pawns in the rather ancient party game of harvesting public monies for private technology buys.  Beyond a few administrators functioning as central LAUSD’s mouthpieces for the institution’s pet project, there is some talk in the community appreciating LAUSD for ‘finally acquiring something “tangible” for its students’.  Opposition to the initiative, it is feared, jeopardizes the ipad giveaway as collateral damage to a recognition of inequity and injustice that is long-standing and delinquent.

This may be one of the subtler costs of the ipad initiative, its function as a “wedge” issue dividing constituents and communities.  The fundamental civil rights of all students remains the right to an accessible, high-quality education.  The extent to which these ipads impede this endeavor is the degree to which their damage is incalculable.

For there are many direct costs to the program as well.  While it is true that education money resides in pots labeled differently, it is not the case that construction bond money co-opted for ipads would have been unavailable somehow if appropriated differently.   Given that there is insufficient repair and construction bond money to meet current unmet infrastructure needs, any use of this money for new purchasing inherently renders less of it available for its original, voter-mandated intention, the repair of deteriorating school infrastructure.

But there are other subtle costs to the “free” LAUSD ipads related to collateral damage to construction bonds.  Since the voter intention for these construction bonds was eminently clear, the sort of legal trickery used to justify repair money for new purchasing will have long term credibility consequences.  The internet is filled with reader comments to the effect that ‘I will never vote for another construction bond measure…’.  While districts elsewhere have passed bond measures dedicated to technology purchasing specifically, the cost of dishonesty in appropriations is the very real, very expensive long-term risk of alienating future voter spending approval.

And then there is the fairly straight-forward deprivation that results when a fixed amount of money gets spent in one way.  Because that means it is not spent in another.  Every single dollar that goes for ipads represents money not available to pay a teacher.  And it is not going to pay a janitor.  And it is not going to pay a counselor.  And it is not going to fix a musical instrument, or fund someone to direct its playing.  It is not going to buy a book or keep the lights on in a library or fund a clerk to copy an English Learner’s assignments.  Etc.  Because the money appropriated from construction bonds for the purchase of ipads is inadequate to the task of supporting this revolution in pedagogy.  There is a raft of associated costs that have simply been punted on, that yet must be paid from the general fund:  technical support, adequate technology replacements, ongoing licensure costs, technical upgrades, softwaread infinitum.  And when yet more money must be fed down a rabbit hole after this ill-conceived, bottomless pit of a money-eating project, all over again there will be ever-diminishing funds available for these traditional components of school.  And consider, it is this war on education as we know it, and perhaps its very destruction, that has been the end-game all along.

Because it seems that while +/-20% of the per pupil ipad cost goes toward Pearson software, not only has that software not been completed, but LAUSD officials are barred from seeing whatever has been.  Most of us understand the cost of buying goods sight-unseen.  It is an arrangement rarely advantageous to the consumer.  When the ipads being delivered are found to have ‘no software’ on them, parent booster groups, the few that exist, are being asked to fund software purchases ad hoc.  Piecemeal, unplanned and unprepared individual retail purchases will be immensely costly district-wide.  In lost educational opportunities, the literal cost of not having democratically vetted, age-appropriate and functional curriculum software, will be as large as the conceptual issue of Education itself.

How can the price of disaffected teachers, parents and students be tallied?  What is the cost of an education, distracted?  Of a teacher, under-utilized, of a parent, departed?

Those ipads may appear to some as a windfall of opportunity, a long-overdue “free” piece of the pie for deserving needy.  But it is a chimera.  These ipads are no free-er than is Breakfast, lunch, or anything else In The Classroom.  There is a true, underlying cost of these devices and it is far, far more than we can afford.  Overlooking reality seems to have caused us to bite off more than can be chewed.