The Perris Union High School District is paying $344 apiece for a Chromebook for every student. Nearby, Riverside Unified purchased a variety of devices, including the Kindle Fire and iPad Mini, for as low as $150 each. In San Diego Unified, some students are using a $200 tablet.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, however, is paying $768 per device for its students, teachers and administrators, making it one of the nation's most expensive technology programs. The reason: L.A. Unified selected a relatively costly product — a higher-end Apple iPad — and also paid for a new math and English curriculum installed on the tablets.
School districts across the country are embarking on technology upgrades, with the latest trend toward providing each student with a computer, such as a tablet or similar device. These school systems are attempting to replace traditional textbooks as much as possible and ensure that all students have access to technology. The devices also are intended to encourage students to be more engaged in learning.
Other districts are finding ways to buy or lease computers that are less costly but still aligned to educational goals. Some school systems, for example, are giving younger students a different device from those used in high school. Although many are using iPads, they often are buying less costly models without the additional cost of curriculum software.
"It's a huge, huge marketplace that is only going to grow," said Brian Lewis, chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based International Society for Technology in Education, which focuses on the effective use of technology in schools. "Everyone is trying to figure out the best solution in the constantly changing landscape."
Los Angeles' $1-billion technology effort stands out in part because California has lower per-student funding than most states. L.A. Unified is using money for the tablets that other school systems are unable or unwilling to tap: voter-approved school construction bonds.
Neither L.A. Unified nor experts interviewed by The Times could name another district using bonds to purchase curriculum. When L.A. is finished, the portion of the bonds that can be spent on technology will be exhausted, officials said.
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said it was important to buy a computer-based curriculum that fully incorporates learning standards recently adopted by California and 44 other states. And he wanted each student to take upcoming tests, linked to those standards, on a tablet that is permanently assigned to them.
"Our youth deserve the best we can afford," Deasy said.
The tablet chosen by L.A. Unified — the iPad 4 with 32 gigabytes of storage — has since been discontinued as a retail product, but the price under L.A. Unified's contract with Apple Inc. was locked in.
Other school districts, meanwhile, have found different ways to provide the latest technology to students.
"The iPad is the gold standard," said Jay McPhail, a Riverside Unified School District senior administrator. "Our problem is we don't have any gold."
Riverside Unified has purchased about 28,000 computers over five years, and about 11,000 devices were provided by students.
That district also gauges which device is best for a campus, conducting a survey of parents on what they already own or would buy. The district provides computers for students who don't supply their own.
Perris Union officials described Chromebooks as not only less expensive but a better instructional fit. The Chromebook, for example, is a laptop-style device with a larger screen, keyboard and multiple input ports that can connect to thumb drives, printers, cameras or CD players. Such features are useful for students who are researching online and writing papers, said Supt. Jonathan Greenberg.
"We didn't pick Chromebooks and try to make it work," Greenberg said. "The device was picked after we decided what is it we need to do."
Among the many districts opting for tablets, the vast majority have chosen iPads. The iPad's early dominance has encouraged developers to create education applications for it.
There's also a confidence factor with Apple, officials said. A North Carolina school system that went with a lower-cost tablet-maker suspended its program after too many of the glass screens broke.
San Diego Unified is paying $551 for the iPad 2, a less expensive model, which includes a three-year warranty but no curriculum. The district is saving more by giving younger students a Lenovo IdeaPad 7-inch tablet, at a cost of about $200 per device.
Township High School District 214 in Illinois is paying $429 per iPad 2, $300 less than L.A. Unified is paying for an iPad 4, although the Illinois tablets do not come pre-loaded with curriculum software. That district didn't want a set curriculum that every teacher had to use.