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Fort Bend ISD halts iPad program

This is a surprise.

Widespread problems found by a consultant have prompted Fort Bend school district officials to shelve a $16 million initiative to integrate thousands of iPads into the classroom experience at 14 schools.

A review commissioned by the Fort Bend Independent School District found that the program, known as iAchieve, was rolled out last year with unrealistic goals. The review also concluded use of the devices was limited, managers had inadequate skills and the vendor hired to develop the learning platform was a startup with no relevant experience.

Officials hoped to improve lagging science scores by delivering an interactive curriculum for second through eighth grades using 6,300 iPads. Pilot efforts were conducted in fourth and eighth grades at three schools in spring 2012, and the initiative was expanded to 14 schools.

The superintendent, Timothy Jenney, and chief information officer who led the implementation have left the district. Current Superintendent Charles Dupre initiated the review by Gibson Consulting Group soon after he was hired in April.

“There was no clarity of why and how (the program) came to be and (was) executed, and that caused me some concern,” Dupre said.

[…]

According to the report, the district’s timetable for the program was overly aggressive. For example, the consultant noted that pilot classes were delayed because of lack of instructional content and problems with the platform and network issues.

Another issue was the district’s decision to appoint its chief information officer as the project manager. Such a major technology initiative required a full-time manager with expertise in large-scale projects, curriculum development and instructional technology, the report said.

The district created three special project coordinator positions to support implementation, but the skill requirements posted for the job were insufficient, the consultant found.

In addition, the review found the iPads were not fully used in the classrooms. On average, only two schools reported that as many as half of their students used the devices daily.

Teachers surveyed about the program following a second round of pilots in fall 2012 said the quality of the content was poor, the platform didn’t function properly and the lessons were inconsistent with district lesson plans, the report said.

Pretty brutal. I noted the pilot launch last year, but apparently there hasn’t been much public news about how the program had been going. The FBISD trustees received the report from Gibson Consulting on September 9. The Fort Bend Star was the only other place where I saw any reporting on this when I googled “iAchieve”. From their story:

The report showed a series of problems with iAchieve starting with an unrealistic timeline that overly stressed teachers charged with writing the science curriculum. Constant changes to the iAchieve’s software program, or platform, and inconsistencies in curriculum standards meant “the goal lines were always being moved” resulting in a lackluster launch that never gave the program solid footing.

“Most of the schools show a real underutilization of the iPads in the course of a typical day,” said Lon Heuer with Gibson Consulting Group.

In addition, the report suggested that the district should have hired an iAchieve manager with skills in project management and instructional technology to take charge of the large-scale project. The report mentioned 12 special project coordinators who were hired to help teachers navigate iAchieve, did not have the right skill set to do properly do the job.

“The former CIO (Robert Calvert) served as the project manager but being a CIO is a full time job,” said Heuer “(iAchieve) was hindered by the fact that it didn’t have a dedicated project manager with skills in project management and a background in instructional technology.”

Gibson’s report also detailed a series of poor contract management practices involving Curriculum Ventures, a company hired by the district to oversee the instructional technology. Whether Curriculum Ventures had any prior experience implementing a large scale project such as iAchieve is murky, the report says. Furthermore, the district lacked documentation showing the progress and status of iAchieve and there was little or no accountability as the program progressed.

“It appeared the company was doing work but Fort Bend ISD had no idea what was being done and how the project was moving forward,” Heuer said.

I have not come across a copy of the report itself, but it’s clear that this program had issues with its design and was poorly executed. I hope HISD, which is working on a laptops for all plan, takes a close look at what happened in Fort Bend to see what it can learn from that experience.

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