Update 2: The parent iPad “discussion” night

On October 3, there was an optional parent information and discussion night at Cheldelin Middle School regarding the iPad rollout.  The breakdown of the evening was four events, with only the first event including everyone:

  • Introduction, motivation, and sales pitch by Erin Prince, Superintendent, and Jeff Brew, Principal
  • A session on the insurance program and AppTrak
  • A demo/tutorial on use of the iPad for literature classes
  • A demo/tutorial on use of the iPad for science classes

During the first session, a lot of “Isn’t this great?” presentation material was offered, with none of the issues or concerns we have raised mentioned or even hinted at in any form.  This is despite the district having been first contacted by me on September 4, and all of the email exchanges which said they understood there were some issues to work through.  This is despite the lack of any substantive answers or responses to any of our concerns.  This is despite the school district staff repeatedly asking me to attend in person, which was a bit of a hurdle for me schedule-wise since I had to get out of Portland in a rush to make it at all.

So I wound up sitting through the entire first segment, with my hand patiently raised for quite some time and repeated eye contact with both the superintended and the principal, and no questions were allowed.  I wanted to ask one simple but loaded question: “You and I have had many exchanges about the security and privacy issues, and you have acknowledged that there are things to sort through, but you are not addressing any of those issues here in front of all of these parents: why?”

Considering how few parents actually attended the evening, I’m not clear on why they refused any questions.  When the principal ultimately dismissed parents to attend one of the other segments, which would each be presented three times so parents could move around and learn about everything, I instead made a brief spectacle and announced to parents that, “While it’s unfortunate they are not taking any Q&A this evening, there are significant security and privacy risks with their rollout of these devices.  If you’d like to know more, please talk to me in the halls.”

Really, for those of you who know what I look like physically, it was a doomed effort, but at least I tried.  Over the course of the evening, I did wind up talking to a few parents, and once we started talking, they were very supportive of our efforts to get some dialog going and address these issues.  Hathai made about 100 fliers, with a brief summary of the key issues we are concerned about along with a pointer to this website for more information, and tried handing them out.  Some were received, some people declined.  I’m not sure what they thought were we doing handing them out, really, but I was pleased to see at least a few people looking at the documents.

Hathai attended the non-AppTrak/insurance program sessions, while I stuck around in Rob Singleton’s sessions about first the insurance program, which ran out of time, and then AppTrak, which also ran out of time.  No one seemed to show up to the third session Rob ran, so I talked briefly to Rob and we agreed to talk more later, when we both would have time to be hands-on.

In the first session, about the insurance program, I did ask the hard questions about the LA district and the Raleigh County, W. Va, district that had much better insurance programs.  Erin Prince, the superintendent, tried to change the basis of the conversation by saying those districts were paying “tens of thousands of dollars extra” for those Apple-hosted programs, where our district was “just $45 per child.”  I really had to resist my strong sarcastic streak, because the last time I checked, $45 multiplied by 7,000 devices is “tens of thousands of dollars” that the parents are paying.  Given that the Corvallis program is much weaker than the Apple program, I failed to understand why she kept trying to shift the basis of the conversation and paper over the questions I was asking.

A lot of the other parents present in that session were nodding along and started asking, “Yeah, why are we self-insured?” questions after I brought up the other options.  No real answer came out, but the district did agree to get back to us on the price difference of $45/device locally vs what LA and Raleigh County were paying per device in their Apple deals.  (For the record, as I post this eleven days later, no such information has been forthcoming, but the mandatory local insurance program is being pushed on parents from the school right now.)

Some parents also asked excellent questions about other scenarios.  One I particularly liked was where the parents declined to participate in the 1:World program, but did allow the school to “loan” a device to their child during the day.  If something happened to the device, who would be responsible for the damages?  The district person present (not Rob or Erin) that was in charge of the finances said she would look into it, but “didn’t think parents would be responsible for the device if it’s kept at the school at all times.”

Which, of course, begs the question yet again: why are these devices not staying at the school?

Out of time, the parents switched around, but I remained in the same room with Rob and others.  The AppTrak session went off the rails before I could do anything, simply because when Rob announced that the AppTrak software did, in fact, turn on and off the cameras remotely, other parents started jumping into the privacy issues.  It somehow, and I don’t recall how exactly, quickly morphed into a discussion of the LA school district.  Rob tried to explain what was going on there, but stopped and asked me – in front of those in the room – to explain it instead.

So I did – it’s a consumer device, and it was meant as a personal device.  It was never meant to be used as an “enterprise” class device, which really just means one thing: security models were never designed into it.  They have been trying to retrofit those security features on top, but look at how long it took Microsoft to get from DOS/Windows 3.11 to Windows XP, the first “enterprise-ready” security featured version of Windows.  The irony of the situation is that for the same price, if they just went with cheap laptops from Apple or someone else, none of these issues would exist.  I explained all of that, and then described exactly how the LA district security could be bypassed, and it was true for these devices as well.

Rob then jumped back in, and said the Apple field application engineers (FAEs) said to wait for a big patch to iOS 7 that would allow one computer, via USB tether, to lock down the settings of an iPad.  The district would wait for those patches before allowing the devices to go home. I pointed out that whatever can be locked by USB tether can be unlocked by one, too, and kids were far more sophisticated with computers than adults believe . . . which means, we’re back in the arms race we know we can’t win.

And time was up – the original questions were not addressed, the risks and concerns not addressed, none of it.  The whole night was a dog and pony show meant to demonstrate how great the devices are, not to have a meaningful conversation or to discuss concerns.

While yes, the device can be an interactive tool, the whole night premise and content were jarringly out of place and inappropriate since it lacked some kind of open forum for discussion of parent concerns and issues.  A few other parents agreed with us, that they would not be willing to let a device cpme home with these software packages and lack of parental control.  I guess the real question is what other parents will do, now that they are trying to assign the devices.

There was a reporter from the local paper (Gazette Times) with a photographer there as well, and we talked briefly.  I did forward all of my concerns to the editors of the Gazette Times, and their reporter Anthony Rimel.  The only stories to come out were that the school, subsequently to bringing them into the dialog, totaled::

  • An article reviewing the parent night, with no comments about lack of discussions or addressing issues the reporter and school district agreed were present;
  • An article about the delaying of sending the devices home due to the pending iOS 7 patches.

Time will tell, but it increasingly appears the district will do this no matter what issues come up.  It’s interesting that Apple is known to hire teachers and district staff (who retain their day jobs) and pay them as sales consultants to help them sell their devices to other teachers/districts.  Given how hard and fast Corvallis is pushing to roll out these iPads, I am left wondering: are these people being paid by Apple?  Or are they using this program roll-out to further their own career goals for jumping to the next, bigger thing?  When in email they admit there are problems to work through, but publicly they continue to push ahead no matter what without addressing those problems, what are we left to think?

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