Tom, you make some fascinating points, in particular, the UPS device. However, a UPS guy doesn't also have to do grades, track attendance, respond to email, keep notes, access a curriculum management system, etc....a teacher does. Why should districts buy a device for every purpose when they can buy one that simplifies things?
Well, it's a matter of priorities, isn't it? I'm not saying that every task deserves or requires a specialized device. In general, I'm in favor of an XO-style device (particularly for the kids) that can act as everything from an ebook reader to a video camera. However, in an elementary school, in 2009, tracking reading and math assessment is a special case. Whether or not it deserves the prominence it has is a separate question.
But, the fact of the matter is, in a very (painfully!) real sense, the job of the school is to create, track, and improve those numbers. And the worst possible world is one where data-driven instruction has bad data. And the first step in getting good data is getting data entered regularly and accurately. It is the sharp end of the spear. Get that wrong and millions of dollars downstream on analysis, storage, decisions based on data, school closings, people hired and fired, etc. all goes in the wrong direction. It is not the place to cut corners.
It's up to the vendor to make an assessment interface that meets District needs rather than have the District go bankrupt trying to buy and manage and support the device the vendor has decided will work best for their product.
I don't understand what "District" people perceive their relationship to vendors to be. Wireless Generation is an ed tech company that thinks like Apple. They compete on quality, maintain competitive prices without going after the bottom of the market, emphasize user experience, good design and smart technologists, and keep control over a full stack of services with as few outside dependencies as possible. If that's not what you're looking for, I'm sure someone else will be happier to sell you a cheaper product. Go buy something else. We need more companies like Wireless Generation in ed tech that set a standard of quality and usability and stick to it, even if there are users who'd prefer something crappier and cheaper.
By the way, crappier and/or cheaper is sometimes the right choice, depending on just how much crappier and cheaper it is, how sensitive the task is, etc. But overall, the problem in ed tech is not that there are too many expensive awesome products. It is all crap no matter how much it costs. That's the real problem.