Monday, August 26, 2013

Tablet glitches In Virginia: Inside the student software debacle

Sound familiar? Like all your classes incorporating technology, and then you get a glitch.
From The Hook blog: "Glitchy system: Inside the student software debacle"
David McNair | dave@readthehook.com, Sep 15th, 2011
Why did Albemarle County school officials commit nearly $2 million to a software system that has proven faulty, despite multiple complaints from teachers that using it was a "waste of time," and an admission from one County school official that it was "glitchy, to say the least"?
At a time when school systems are facing budget cuts, losing teachers, and seeing classroom size increase, spending on technology has soared. Indeed, terms like "digital learners" and "data driven education" have captured the imaginations– and purse strings– of school administrators.
Just recently, the Charlottesville School Board announced that it will spend $2.4 million on new tablet-type laptops for students. According to a recent article in the New York Times, education, technology, and big business are now entangled to the tune of $1.89 billion a year, the amount that schools spent on software for classroom use in 2010. Spending on hardware, researchers say, was likely five times that amount.
However, according to experts interviewed by the Times, there is very little specific evidence that using technology in the schools enhances learning.
“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” said Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, in the Times. "There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line."
However, a Hook investigation reveals one possible trend line in the County school system: implementing the software system may have benefited top school administrators, and the company they contracted with, more than it has teachers and students.
But getting answers hasn't been easy.
When the Hook filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents and staff emails concerning the implementation of the software, the newspaper was charged nearly $2,000 for the information. In addition, 268 emails to or from County School Superintendent Pam Moran were withheld.
The County school board has clammed up as well.
According to School Board member Eric Strucko, who had already commented for this story, members met in closed session on August 25 to discuss questions raised by the Hook, and the nature of the newspaper's FOIA request, but said the law restricted the board from commenting further.

The tech-savvy Super
In April, while Moran was receiving a Distinguished Public Service Award from UVA's Curry School of Education, with the citation noting that she is a "visionary leader" particularly well-known for her "integration of technology at all levels of a school system," the actual technology being integrated in County schools was so faulty that schedules, grade calculations, and transcript mailings for college-bound seniors were being done by hand.

"Using this stupid system," one school staff member told the Hook, "was like trying to text with a rotary phone."

Indeed, as the Hook reported in its March 10 story, 'Unpardonable': Faulty IT system vexes college-bound County seniors, parents at area high schools were "stunned" to learn that the County schools' Student Information System, or SIS, had created errors and caused student transcripts to be sent to colleges late, a situation that one school counselor called "unpardonable."

While the Hook found no evidence that any seniors were denied college admission as a direct result of the fiasco, due mostly to over-time work from counselors and teachers, who assembled the information by hand, a follow-up investigation reveals that faculty had been struggling with the software system, provided by a company named Schoolnet, for months, even years.
For the rest of the story from the Hook, go to "Glitchy system: Inside the student software debacle."