iPad So Bad

An Open Letter to the Santa Barbara Unified School District

Credit: Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

I’ve been patiently waiting for the Santa Barbara Unified School District to solicit parent feedback on its iPad program. My son was issued an iPad upon entering 7th grade, and the program now issues them to every student in grades 4-12. By and large, having an iPad has been a negative experience for our family.

Let me first establish that I am no Luddite. I use technology, and my son does, too. I am thankful for the ways technology has improved our lives. And I appreciate that one of the goals of this program is to ensure that all kids in our community have access to technology and its benefits. Furthermore, my objection is not to the use of iPads in school. They can be a wonderful tool for research, multimedia projects, and the teaching of digital literacy and citizenship. My objection is that they are issued to every child with no option of opting out of the program or refusing the device. The majority of assignments and assessments are then deployed on them.

Some of the issues we have encountered include:

•  Many assignments can’t be loaded, completed, or turned in unless there is a high-speed internet connection, which restricts when and where homework can happen;

•  Some of the apps required for the completion of school projects can only be used when the iPad is connected to the school’s own wifi network;

•  Multiple times a month, for multiple classes, assignments have gone missing when the completed document failed to upload. Each time our son was given the option to either take a zero or do the work over again;

•  Tests that are automatically graded on the iPad mark answers as incorrect when, for example, the answer had the word “the” in front of it. Though this was taken up with the teacher, the grade was never corrected;

•  The iPad’s battery life is so compromised that the device often doesn’t fully charge even after being plugged in all night. When plugged in, it loses power more quickly than it charges. When it has a low or zero charge after school is out, our son can’t begin doing homework until it’s charged for several hours;

•  If it runs down in the middle of an assignment, changes may not be saved. And,when homework is thereby not saved or submitted, the work may be lost;

•  When the device has technical issues, such as the battery problem, it can take up to three weeks before district tech support can take a look. Such staff are shared among all SBUSD campuses. Sometimes there has been no response at all.

There is no cost to families for the iPad, unless it is lost, stolen, or broken, in which case the family is liable for the full value. However, the school offers parents the option to purchase the used iPad at the end of the school year for $450. The iPad program has been estimated to cost the district over half a million dollars annually, and relies in part on the resale of used iPads to cover its cost.

What has been missed in this rush to put a device in the hands of every student is the fact that the bigger equity issue in this community is affordable access to high-speed internet. Without high-speed internet in the home, the iPad is not leveling the playing field for district families. In fact, it may be skewing that playing field even more. Also significant, but not discussed, is the fact that many of these children already have self-regulation issues where technology is concerned, and shifting homework to the iPad only exacerbates this problem.

Many other parents, as well as teachers, confirm that completed student work is sometimes lost when submitted via the iPad and that this affects grades. How many times can we expect these kids to do these assignments over again in order to get credit? How many missing assignments will lower a report card grade? How might those grades influence where or whether a student is admitted to college?

The SBUSD has a Google form for submitting questions/feedback on its website: sbunified.org -> about -> educational technology services -> techEQUITY program -> more information about the techEQUITY program -> questions/feedback. If you have feelings about this program one way or the other, please share them with the district.

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