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More on the Fort Bend ISD iPad failure

The Observer presents a good overview of the disastrous iPad experiment at the Fort Bend Independent School District.

An audit of Fort Bend ISD’s iAchieve program released last month, details the ways the effort was cursed. (You can read the report below.) In short, Fort Bend ISD expected too much from its program too soon. It rushed ahead without enough tech infrastructure, without the right people, and without enough control over where its money was going. It hired a contractor the district knew well, but that had little experience developing iPad learning platforms.

“I felt they were rushing it—they only did a one-month pilot,” says [Jenny] Bailey, a school trustee elected during the iAchieve backlash. “Everyone knows you can’t really measure anything in a month. I felt like it was being pushed out for some odd reason.”

Bailey says the district seemed determined to take a particularly hard road, building its own platform with all new lessons.


Naturally, the district would need a highly skilled contractors to handle the technical side of this monstrous undertaking, and in February 2012 they made their pick: a Louisiana-based company called Curriculum Ventures that, as the auditors note, first registered with the state on the same day it bid on the iAchieve contract.

Curriculum Ventures had two employees, one of whom boasts that his experience includes having “(so far) built 5 businesses that were failures, 1 that was semi-successful, and 1 more that is mostly successful.”

If anything, the audit downplays what a strange decision this was. Bonnie Louque, the company’s director, was well known to [former FBISD Superintendent] Timothy Jenney and Fort Bend ISD as the seller of a curriculum called Character Links, a set of classroom handouts about positive traits like acceptance and respect. (Louque did not reply to phone or email messages from the Observer.)

A 2007 Houston Chronicle story credits Jenney with “discover[ing] the program,” and since then Fort Bend ISD has been named a national “School of Character” thanks in part to its use of Character Links. How Louque parlayed that relationship into a key role developing technology for Texas’ seventh-largest school district is a little less clear.

In September 2011, Louque & Associates got a $135,000 contract to develop a prototype of the interactive science platform, awarded without a competitive bid process.

One month later, now known as Curriculum Ventures, they bid for the million-dollar iAchieve contract. Fort Bend administrators gave them the high score out of four bidders, with 4.5 out of a possible 5 in “demonstrated competence and qualification.”

With Curriculum Ventures on board—and already billing for project maintenance beginning on day one—the district piloted iAchieve in 4th, 5th and 8th grade classrooms in spring and fall of 2012.

See here and here for the background. Clearly, the lesson here is that this sort of project should not be undertaken without a well-thought out plan and a contractor capable of executing it. The Fort Bend experience can serve as a good example of what not to do for any other school district that’s thinking about going down this path. The good news for FBISD is that this isn’t a total loss. As the story notes, they do still have all the equipment, a more robust WiFi infrastructure, and some new tech experts on staff. They can regroup from here and still get value out of their investment. I wish them good luck with that.

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