NC Superintendent offers iPads to charter schools–but there’s a catch

North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson has offered to provide the state’s charter schools with iPads.  The catch? They only get the tablets if they agree to use the controversial new K-3 reading assessment Istation.

Last week news broke that 3,269 iPads Johnson had purchased were sitting in a DPI warehouse in Raleigh.  A day later, Johnson and DPI Communications Director Graham Wilson explained that ‘extensive, strategic work’ had occurred throughout the summer to develop a plan to provide schools with resources including iPads.

But an email sent by NC Director of Charter Schools Dave Machado to charter school directors just yesterday paints a picture of a department that appears to be scrambling to figure out what to do with those iPads.  In the message, Machado explained that DPI is providing tablets “for teachers at charter schools that have signed up to use the new Read to Achieve diagnostic tool.” 

Charter schools have the flexibility to decide what tool to use to assess K-3 reading.  Increasing the number of charter schools that are using Istation would be a PR victory for a superintendent who has endured intense criticism since announcing his decision to select the assessment tool against the recommendation of a committee of evaluators.

The practice of providing iPads only to charter schools which agree to use Istation also conflicts sharply with a communication Superintendent Johnson sent to all North Carolina teachers earlier this week, in which he urged teachers to use tablets provided by DPI “for any literacy activities in your classroom you want.”

On the same day Machado emailed charter school directors this hilariously simple survey to answer in order to claim their iPads, the North Carolina Department of Information Technology issued a stay blocking the use of Istation while it reviews the process the Department of Public Instruction followed to award the contract. 

There is no word yet from DPI on whether charter schools will be issued iPads while the contract fiasco is being sorted out.

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