Investing in iPads or Educator Run Non-Profit Schools?


Being an urban district superintendent is difficult work. All CEOs make mistakes. I’ve met John Deasy multiple times and always found him to be extremely well meaning (and kind).

That being said, the iPad contract is worth discussing. 

From the Los Angeles Times article

“School board members were made to understand that the initial $30-million contract was expected to expand to about $500 million as the project rolled out over the next year or so. An additional $500 million would be used to expand Internet access and other infrastructure issues at schools”

So the contract for iPads was going to cost $500 million. And and additional $500 million was going to have to be spent on infrastructure. 

Let’s take the most generous assumption and say that the $500 million on infrastructure was going to have to be spent anyway. 

So what else could the $500 million on iPads been spent on? 

Well, you could create a new school development fund. 

A recent CREDO report (chart excerpted below) found that charter schools in Los Angeles deliver about 3 months of extra learning per year. 

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 9.44.51 AM

This seems like something worth investing in. 

As a rough estimate, it probably costs about $2,000 per new charter seat when considering both charter start-up funding and human capital investments. 

So for $500 million you could create 250,000 new charter seats. Or about 500 new schools.

I’d recommend executing the plan over 10 years, so assume about 50 schools a year. 

Los Angeles is the nation’s 2nd largest school system, with about 700,000 students.

So, if it worked, my $500 million school development fund would have transformed about 1/3 of the schools in the city.

Of course, the plan is not foolproof. There would be heavy political resistance (as there was with the iPad contract). There would be real questions about whether the charter market could scale and maintain its performance. And inevitably some schools would fail. 

But, at the end of the day, if I’m spending $500 million – I’d bet on educator run non-profits that have been found to have a ~.09 effect size every time.

I would not bet $500 million on iPads.

Is city based education reform very cheap or prohibitively expensive?

It depends on how you look at it. 






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