Apple's previously announced partnership with Teach for America is starting to surface in classrooms this week. Following the announcement of the iPad 2, Apple invited iPad users that were upgrading to give back their first generation devices at a retail store, and it would donate them to the poorly paid teachers in the program. In the past couple of weeks, Apple's handed out over 9,000 iPads to Teach for America corps members in 38 states.
When the program was announced six months ago, GOOD called it a "genius idea," but now that it's actually happening, there's some doubt in the initial reactions. Recounting the experience of one TFA corp member who says she's "figured out [the iPad] can make [her students] finish their work fast for 'iPad time,'" Philip Elmer-DeWitt at Fortune says, "To make better use of the device, teachers would probably need more than one iPad per classroom. But it's a start." Jordan Crook at TechCrunch called the program "a great start" adding that "one iPad per classroom seems a bit ineffective." At ZDNet, Zach Whittaker points to the "iPad time" example as an incentive but adds "the iPad alone, or any other tablet for that matter, cannot solve the problem of lack of reading."
The elephant in the room, of course, is that fact that Apple has grown to become the most valuable company in the world. After Apple's stock price soared to record levels a couple of weeks ago--around the same time the iPads were being distributed--widespread calls for Apple to pay shareholders a dividend irked internet veteran and tech blogger Jason Calacanis, who argues that Apple could spend its $76 billion in cash on education and have it work in the long run:
Give an educational discount of 60% on the iPad. This would take the $499 iPad down to $200, which is about $100 less than Apple's cost. At that price it would sell like hotcakes. Let's say Apple sells 100M iPads like this, it would cost them $10B (100M iPads x $100 loss = $10B). I'd LOVE to see Apple have 100M tablets in the market (they sold more than nine million in Q3 and there are now more than 28M). This would be a massive, bold move to lock up the most important space in computing today: tablets. Apple should lean into it this trend even more.
Calacanis goes on to list some more ideas of how Apple could spend what's in their war chest. His math puts into perspective the extent to which giving away 9,000 iPads is a drop in the bucket. After all, Apple's not really donating anything except the logistics and refurbishment costs. There's also a tinge of nepotism in the fact that Steve Jobs's wife Laurene sits on Teach for America's board. Nevertheless, there's now technology in classrooms that didn't used to be there. That's nice, at least.