Apple had educators onstage during its press conference, but they had been handpicked to extol the values of the iOS ecosystem. We wanted to see what others thought about the new iPad and its classroom-friendly apps.
Because, as everyone knows, Apple products don't come cheap. The company is pricing its latest, entry-level iPad at $299 for educators, $30 less than retail. Apple said at the event that last year's 9.7-inch model has been the most popular iPad in education "by far," so it sees this as the perfect opportunity to get into as many schools as possible. The problem is that with Google Chromebook devices (which are also aimed at the education market) going for as low as $150, there are cheaper alternatives for school districts. And that $299 price tag is just for the iPad; if teachers want a Pencil, that's an extra $89, plus up to another $100 for a keyboard. That puts the total price closer to $500 for the full setup.
That may be an easy pill to swallow for private schools in well-off areas, but not so much the public ones. After all, many teachers in the US have to spend money out of their own pocket to buy pencils, pens, notebooks and other essential supplies. NPR reported last December that some teachers in the US spend as much as $1,000 a year on school supplies, of which they can only write off up to $250. That's why Apple needs more than apps to win over educators -- it needs to make its products more affordable.
The majority of the teachers we spoke to seemed to think that the iPad, even starting at $299, is simply too expensive -- especially when there are less costly devices like Chromebooks around. That said, many of them agree that the iPad can certainly make a difference in the classroom, thanks to its "lock-down" ecosystem (which keeps kids from wandering around the internet) and apps like Kahoot, a game-based learning platform that makes it easier to engage students.
Editor's note: Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
On the new iPad's $299 price (without accessories)
Joe Bryant, social studies teacher at Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School in South Los Angeles: "The iPad looks like a really great tool -- if you have the money to afford them for students. I teach in a low-income neighborhood, and while I do have pretty good support at our school site, there's a limit to what is fiscally reasonable. $299 is really expensive. My current school site provides me with a classroom budget (many do not), but that budget in and of itself is $250. I'm sure someone could fiddle around with a department, school site or district budget to make buying these things financially feasible. But even if I were to buy one for myself for use in the classroom, I would need to use my own funds. My budget would be better spent on more traditional supplies. $500 for the whole setup is even more of an ask."
Amanda Brueschke, teacher at Webb Middle School, ELDA (English Language Development Academy), in Austin, Texas: "Without a grant, there is no way whatsoever I would have the funds available to buy a class set. [But] there are always technology grants: Someone who really wants one -- or even a set -- will be able to find grants to cover it. It'll be work, but the money is out there. The districts do not generally pay for them, that I know of, [and] almost all of our technology other than our teacher computers are funded or mostly funded by grants."
Katy Parker, former English teacher at corporate-owned private school Halstrom Academy in California: "I'm sure this would be quite limiting for many school districts. There are other factors to consider beyond the purchase price as well. Some school districts are better equipped than others to adapt their infrastructure to support management and maintenance of these devices. Others would simply not have the resources to sustain the use of student iPads. It depends on the district, the needs of a given community, the source of funding, the goals of administrators, and many other factors. I think the question of whether investing in a specific technology alone can bring about increased student achievement has already been answered. It doesn't solve problems; it is merely a tool."
Cara Conrad, geography teacher at Worthing High School, Worthing, West Sussex, England: "My current school does not have a class set of them, due to the price, and could definitely not afford to pay £299 for 30 iPads to make up a class set. We barely have enough money for glues! I think that any tablet could be used for the main things that teachers want them for: making videos, movies, presentations and research. So if there was a cheaper option, I'm sure schools would go for this. Additionally, there are many cheaper options for using technology in the classroom. There are loads of websites designed for teachers to do interactive quizzes with students using their mobile phones, [and] these are free as long as you let students use their phone in class ... the idea of them sounds great, but the price and the need for staff training might stop them being used on a large scale and to their full potential."