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Hardcopy Math Books to Return to Some Fairfax Classrooms

System renegotiates with publishers to purchase books after online subscriptions fall short.

Fairfax County middle and high schools will now be allowed to purchase additional printed math textbooks to supplement online subscriptions introduced at the beginning of the school year, a move that comes after months

At a school board work session Monday, Craig Herring, the director of pre-k through 12 curriculum and instruction, said Fairfax County Public schools had renegotiated a one-time price reduction from each of three publishers that provide the online books for grade levels across the county. 

Each school principal will now have the choice to purchase hardcopy textbooks to be used by students in the affected classes, Herring said. 

The cost — which staff anticipates being no more than $2 million — will be split 75/25 by the system and individual schools.

That may mean some schools need to prioritize the books against other programs they are funding with discretionary money, Superintendent Jack Dale said Monday at the work session.

Some schools and parents had already taken it upon themselves to buy the books after educators and students had difficulty navigating the books, saying there were publisher errors and inconsistencies, technology roadblocks and student difficulty in accessing the information, among other complaints, like a lack of teacher buy-in to the program.

They said the program, instead of advancing learning and achievement, was pushing it back, calling the $10.4 million initiative "a big disaster" with no clear solution.

"[We've heard from parents] there really are inconsistencies between materials ... there are a number of technology challenges getting things to load," Herring said.

Several school board members questioned why the system wasn't asking for a bigger discount or some of its money back, since the publishers had not delivered on their contract by giving Fairfax students a product that wasn't functional in or out of the classroom.

"The publishers ... convinced our staff that this online subscription would meet the academic needs of our students and quite simply some of our publishers just aren’t doing it," Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said.

The bigger question for the board, Herring said, was dealing with a "different paradigm of how you do textbook adoptions" going forward, he said.

"But we haven't had that level of community involvement or that level of board involvement as to what this would mean. That's a transformational change," Herring said.

Some board members said contrary to what staff had told them about the success of the online social studies books introduced last year, parents and teachers were coming forward to say that initiative had similar issues to this one.

"We probably need to have some conversations about what level of board involvement we have in the process," Herring continued, along with "some conversations about digital learning in general: what's our vision as a community in Fairfax, what strategies might we want to implement to achieve that vision?"

Herring suggested discussing those issues in an upcoming work session or retreat.

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) suggested the experience with math textbooks this fall indicated the system is not ready to "wholesale get rid of our hardcopy textbooks."

"We want technology we can utilize and manipulate in conjunction with our teachers, not instead of [them]," Schultz said.  

Related Content:

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

Blog Post: 

MBH December 11, 2012 at 08:28 PM
In every aspect of education "research based" has become the buzz word yet the county felt this wasn't necessary when unilaterally introducing online texts. When I inquired about longitudinal studies on the efficacy and efficiency of online texts I was told they were “working on that.” “Working on it” AFTER you adopt a policy is a little late. I applaud the county for recognizing their mistake but frankly, this seems like a no brainer that will cost the county and school programs extra funds that we don’t have.
DAW December 12, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Couldn't agree more, MBH!! It's frustrating to watch my children struggle with unnecessary challenges of online homework when I know that it would be easier and better for their neurological health to flip through a book. Once, after watching my son struggle to do a relatively simple vocabulary homework assignment using on-line dictionaries, I challenged him to do it the old-fashioned way using Webster's. It was hands-down faster and more informative (there's a lot of spill-over learning that takes place when you troll a paper dictionary looking for words). Moreover, the oft-cited excuse that on-line learning is more cost-effective is unproven and likely not true. Software isn't free nor is computer hardware. And, poorly cared for hardware can result in impediments to information access. One last digitial classroom cost that no one talks about it the layer of IT admin personnel that the school system has to hire and keep. The other irony of classroom digitization is that while science suggests that too much screen time is, as a minimum, controversial, the public school system is forcing us parents to allow more and more screen time at home as well as the classroom. It's difficult enough to control and monitor screen time without the public school system putting our children more at risk. It seems to me that many "research based" changes are purely the result of effective special interest lobbying of the school system. They're polluting education.
Sandra December 13, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Thank goodness they're bringing back printed texts! Anybody that has kids that participate in sports knows that you often have to bring homework with them to tournaments or meets (especially multi-day weekend ones) or else it won't get done. Of course that is impossible with the online ones, since we found you can't even print out the pages to take with you. Whoever made the decision to go with online texts in the first place made a doozie of a mistake, since everyone (teachers, students, and parents) hate them. Obviously no effort was made to test this before the online texts were ordered. Now we have to spend more precious tax dollars in order to get printed texts! To all FCPS administrators involved in making purchasing decisions - please try consulting with those who will be affected by your decisions before making any more drastic changes!
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