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Letter to the Editor: New Online Math Program 'A Model for a 21st Century Disaster'

Leader of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers says lack of discussion before textbook program came to fruition has resulted in no buy-in, issues of access and equity.

To the Editor:

There is a new math ‘series’ that is being implemented in Fairfax County Public Schools, currently. It is an online disaster that could have been avoided.

Let’s reflect upon how this happened: Right after the FCPS School Board approved the FY 2013 budget (which was ‘tight’ due to revenue problems), the superintendent dropped a $7.7 million bill on their laps at the FY 2012 budget review, announcing that $10 million dollars was now available from the previous year. Later, it was discovered that FCPS administration had the nerve to sign the contract for the math series before the school board even approved the money for it.

The fact that the new math series was to be primarily an online resource (vs. the more ‘traditional’ approach) was never emphasized.

Although upper elementary and middle school got online texts for some of their social studies classes last year, with enhanced pdf files embedded in ineffective interfaces (that both teachers and students found difficult to use) FCPS still moved to the online math books which include a combination of Flash, pdf, and web-based materials.

The books are online and cannot be put on a stand-alone reader, which means they won’t work on the most affordable devices available like Kindles and Nooks. The materials are inaccessible in places without an internet connection, and difficult to use in homes with multiple people all trying to access a single machine.

There’s the matter of the Flash and Java-based content which isn’t playable on iOS devices and, it turns out, is inconsistently supported on Android devices running a variety of different versions of the OS.

Neither the parents, community, principals, nor teachers were genuinely consulted on this before upper administration made the decision. There was no effective pilot run on the program. None of the stakeholders had any buy-in, nor were any comprehensive steps taken to discuss this with them beforehand. The workforce was given no training. Parents were not aware of the online impact. Principals were not given proper support. There are issues of access, equity, and instructional effectiveness in schools that were never considered or addressed.

There have been stories of parents having to spend upwards of $100 on hardbound copies of the books.

This is about upper level administrators recklessly attempting to look progressive, jeopardizing the quality of our children's education. In my opinion, it reflects incompetence at the highest levels and gross professional malpractice. Those in FCPS leadership who are responsible for this mess should be replaced.

‘Just give us some more money and we can fix the problem’. That’s their answer. The current administration just wasted $7.7 million … remember? How arrogant!

In the meantime our principals, teachers, parents and students are left ‘holding the bag’ to ‘just deal with it’.

Under NO circumstances should the school board allocate ANY new money for math until a new superintendent and administration are seated. The community and teachers should be engaged NOW to ascertain what needs to be done to fix this.

It would assist us all greatly if the current school board would defer from ‘rubber stamping’ any new programs, initiatives, or money requests for ‘projects’ that come from the current administration (I would like to publicly recognize Patty Reed and Megan McLaughlin’s attempts to address this over the past month with FCPS staff; their efforts have been met with the usual amount of resistance).  

It’s time for the parents and teachers of FCPS to take back our schools, for the good of our children. We will all need to work together to clean up this mess.

FCFT had a survey of their members (on this issue and others) that closed on November 2nd. The results are posted on the home page of our web site at www.fcft.org.

Parents and teachers are the true educators, and know best. We will all need to be more assertive. Your teachers care!

If you have comments, concerns or questions about the new math online (or any other issue), I encourage you to contact your school board members at schoolboardmembers@fcps.edu

 Your voice matters (and thank you)!

Steven L. Greenburg
President, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers
AFT / AFL-CIO #2401

m bollinger November 09, 2012 at 06:04 PM
We voiced our concern to School Board Member Jane Strauss who said, among other things, that "it is more important than ever that students learn to efficiently navigate the online world." Was she kidding? Teenagers need more time "navigating the online world"? We don't think she's spent much time with any if she believes that. Technology is great, and a sophisticated on-line platform might be appropriate where competent professionals have actually thought through how it would work. But here we had a bunch of out-of-touch bureaucrats ratifying an expensive decision to purchase a wildly inadequate system, and it's the teachers and the kids who are paying the price. In addition to what others here have said - limited number of compatible devices; problems with several children in a family needing the same resource at the same time; eyestrain; inability to do homework in any place but in front of the computer; distraction of trying to do homework with social media a click away; power outages; pages that won't load; on and on - there is as well the great economic inequity to this. Families who can will buy their way out of this mess. But for the kids for whom this isn't an option, it is deeply unfair and antithetical to everything public education is supposed to stand for. Oh, and one final note -- it appears one school has stood firm against this nonsense: TJHSST. Yes, the flagship tech school. Now, what does that tell us?
Dale Sux November 12, 2012 at 11:01 PM
I was a teacher who participated in the online textbook "pilot." Not one high school or middle school teacher recommended the online social studies books. We were dismayed to learn that we weren't testing anything. The books were purchased! We weren't piloting anything. We were giving free advice to McDougal Little on things they needed to fix such as including Dec 7th on their timeline! Most social studies teachers don't even use the book because it's user-UNfriendly. Teachers manage student accounts.I have 7 students who have signed up twice for the textbook due to confusing sign-ons. I have never been taught how to delete these accounts so the county is being double charged. Last year, this kid in our soccer carpool was bragging that he is the only one in his AP History class getting an "A" because his dad argued for a hard copy of his book. He said no one else was gettiing their reading done, but he was because he could open his text book anywhere, anytime. Imagine that! I'd like to see Jack Dale read the online history textbook and like it!
Matt McKnight November 15, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Wow, there is so much stuff online- and so many great ways to do this. Which product line did they choose? It would be a lot more effective of a message if I could see exactly what it was that they bought.
Erica R. Hendry November 15, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Hi Matt, there's some more info here: http://vienna.patch.com/articles/online-math-textbooks-rankle-teachers-parents
Matt McKnight November 15, 2012 at 03:49 PM
I clicked on that, but couldn't see where it identified which DRM overloaded thing we paid for. I was able to find it here http://www.fcps.edu/is/textbooks/onlinetextbooks/index.shtml

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