Praising Failure


New Splash Screen

As they have repeatedly demonstrated, the Editorial Board of The Huntsville Times knows who they need to suck up to in this town, truth be damned.

On Thursday, September 11, 2014, the editorial board published an opinion entitled, “Transition from Textbooks to Digital Tools, as Led by Huntsville Schools, is Proper Path,” which joined in the chorus started by Dr. Wardynski, supported by Education Secretary Arne Duncan (in town on Tuesday on the public dime for meetings that excluded the public), that the only way forward in education is to continue down the failed pathway of the district’s 1:1 Digital Initiative.

This is the same digital initiative that was begun two years ago, as the Times writes, “with great anticipation and fanfare and not a small amount of consternation.”

Consternation is a bit on the polite side, don’t you think?

I realize that newspaper editors are no longer reporters, but they do still have access to reporters, don’t they? Would it be asking too much to expect the newspaper editors to, oh I don’t know, investigate a bit before expressing an uninformed opinion?

It seems so.

Laptops Are Cheaper

First, despite their criticism of Secretary Duncan’s assessment of another district’s 1:1 initiative as an “intangible . . . sales pitch,” the editors then engaged in their own sales pitch on behalf of Wardynski’s folly.

They claim, without any evidence other than Duncan’s sales pitch that, “Yes, laptops and tablets are expensive. But long-term, they’re a bargain compared to textbooks.”

This is simply not true.

Computers are far more expensive in the long-term, as they require constant maintenance, updates, and replacement. In other words, under our current contract with HP, we are renting these computers for $3,359,600.80 a year for three years. The total rental cost then is $10,624,000.00 through September 1, 2015.


This is strictly the cost of the end user equipment. It includes none of the infrastructure support costs. It doesn’t include internet access. It doesn’t include networking expenses. It doesn’t include support personnel to make these products usable, after a fashion.

The contract with Pearson for their digital curriculum is just shy of $22,000,000 for the next six years (or $3,650,474.17 per year).

When promoting the cost of textbooks, Wardynski claimed that replacing the entire district’s textbooks (which is not something any district ever does at once, or even needs to do at once), would cost $15 million dollars. He claimed that no district could come up with that amount each year. (Again, there wouldn’t be a need to do that, but let’s go with him for a moment.)

But we can easily come up with half that amount every year. We’re paying $7,010,074.97 every year to rent our computers and textbooks, and as I mentioned, that doesn’t include the cost of supporting these computers/textbooks.

Textbooks are Obsolete

In support of their claim that textbooks are just far too expensive, they again quote from Duncan’s sales pitch last Tuesday as he claimed that the entire US spends, “$7 to 9 billion – that’s billion, with a B – on textbooks that are basically “obsolete the day they come into the classroom.”

This is simply not true.

None of our textbooks are entirely “obsolete the day they come into the classrooms.” Our grammar texts are not obsolete. Our reading texts are not obsolete. Our writing texts are not obsolete. Our history texts are not obsolete. Our social studies texts are not obsolete. Our math texts are not obsolete. Even our science texts (not that we’re spending any time studying science in Huntsville any more) aren’t entirely obsolete. Yes, we discover new areas of exploration, but that does not mean that all the discoveries before the books were published are now “obsolete.”

Secretary Duncan and Dr. Wardynski are selling the same snake-oil, and the editors of the Times are helping them sell it.

Computers Fix Everything (Ignore the Actual Research)

All three claim that computers are the miracle cure for every ill that education faces. Duncan claims, as Wardynski did before him, that computers are responsible for “huge increases in student achievement, increases in attendance, increases in graduation rates, better student engagement and teachers being more effective than they’ve been in the past.”

This is simply not true.

As the Times points out, he offers no evidence of this, and he ignores substantial, peer-reviewed research that claims the the exact opposite. As Mueller and Oppenheimer have published, taking notes on laptops is “less effective than longhand note taking for learning.”

As we have repeatedly seen, Dr. Wardynski is unconcerned about research that doesn’t support his agenda. It seems that Secretary Duncan and the Times share his disdain for, you know, education.

Further, neither Secretary Duncan, Dr. Wardynski, nor The Huntsville Times are seemingly unaware of the continuing issues that our district is having with these amazing miracle machines.

All of the issues that the district was having during the opening days of the digital implementation of networks not supporting the load during testing days (go to any school in the district on a Friday, and you’ll see what I mean—the network cannot handle the load), all of those issues that we were told by the Superintendent (and by Mrs. Ferrell when she was merely the Huntsville Council of PTAs president and not seeking to be a board member) would be worked out over time, all of those issues that the Times seems to believe are all in the past are still happening today.

No Pearson Textbook Access Until Five Weeks Into Year

Pearson Realize Math Text

On Tuesday of this past week, September 9, 2014, or five weeks to the day into the new year my daughter finally gained access to her math, reading, grammar, and social studies text books in digital form.

For the five weeks prior to September 9th, my daughter was required to share some printed textbooks in class because there weren’t enough textbooks for the entire class to take one home.

This wasn’t simply an issue for my daughter. It was an issue district wide.

The district, to supposedly establish a single log-on, began using Pearson Realize as a new log-on system. (By the way, even if it worked perfectly this new “single log-on” system would still require approximately 10-12 steps to complete.)

However, the new system is “working” so poorly that even Pearson employees brought in to do training on the new system have been known to walk out of their professional development presentations in frustration.

This may go a long ways towards explaining the district’s most recent move to cut their contract with Pearson by $1.6 million as well as Wardynski’s latest suggestion that teachers should spend their free time scouring the web for appropriate, Common Core aligned material to use in their classrooms.

Yes, the new board approved (and therefore Duncan and the Times must also love it) approach to education is to tell teachers to just go find stuff that works.

Why exactly are we paying Pearson anything at all again? Oh that’s right, because Wardynski wants us to. And he gets whatever he wants regardless of the evidence demonstrating that it’s a terrible idea.

It would be truly wonderful if our news media would spend even a few moments investigating the truth of the situation of computers in our district before they throw their shrinking influence into praising failure.

Maybe if they did, they wouldn’t find it necessary to give their Sunday edition away for free.


"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. I feel as if many parents have just given up and given in with regard to laptops and Pearson. I recently attended my son’s high school open house to meet the teachers and get a glimpse into their world. One teacher in particular practically gushed about Pearson and how the laptops were doing such a good job in “teaching” math to the students. Around the room, I observed a sea of bobbleheads nodding thier approval. After the session ended I spoke to the teacher and asked “do you REALLY believe learning math is better accomplished on a laptop than through a textbook with the teacher walking the process. Making sure no one else was around, he confided in me that he can’t stand the laptop or the use of Pearson, and that it’s something he must do or else. This is not the first teacher who has told me this in confidence or behind closed doors. What’s going on in our school district is a travesty and a disgrace. Too much testing and not enough real teaching. Why? Because a certain individual wants to build on his legacy. Not saying that all is bad in our school system….but it’s certainly a place, as a teacher, I would never want to consider working in.

    1. Teachers, in many schools across the district, have been ordered not to speak ill of Pearson and the computers.

      Some have been forced to sign an agreement stating that they won’t say anything negative about them.

      We are through the looking glass.

  2. Russell, your report on the public school system’s failure in providing suitable teaching resources is exactly on target.

    Everything you have written is completely true and has been shielded from public knowledge through nefarious strategies.

    My hope is that we elect leaders who will remedy these situations in our public school system.

    Thank you so much for all that you do through your honest investigations and well-organized reporting of facts.

  3. “My hope is that we elect leaders who will remedy these situations in our public school system.”

    We can’t elect leaders who will remedy these situations if they won’t/don’t run.

  4. Agree with “nothing ever changes” I see the same dazed sheep responses / support for the CC / Pearson method. It can make you think you’re crazy. Thanks for the article, Russell.

    One interesting thing I heard on the radio today, was that Huntsville BOE is being solicited by other groups and districts to teach how they “saved” this school district. – Ha!

    1. “One interesting thing I heard on the radio today, was that Huntsville BOE is being solicited by other groups and districts to teach how they “saved” this school district. – Ha!”

      I guess it depends on what the definition of “saved” IS.

  5. I’m not a political person but I have learned that whenever you start talking about data gathering people assume things and will or will not take the information seriously based on those judgements. I urge everyone, Democrat, Republican and Independents alike to read this article and watch the video. It’s not just about the information being gathered it’s about the attitudes of those that are gathering it. Do you feel this man and his corporation really have the students best interest at heart? Some of these reform measures COULD be a good thing in a perfect world but we don’t live in a perfect world….and people with motives other than educating our children are in charge. http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2014/03/who-puts-scary-in-pearson-meet-knewton.html

  6. Let’s think. We the people put in place the representatives that hired a person who started an initiative that costs the tax payers more money, turns teachers into administrators of canned software, makes our kids lug around heavy gear, keeps our kids from learning how to write, and on top of all that we have to buy backup text books anyway.

    If the people really want the digital 1 to 1 initiative to go away, then we should work toward that goal. Need the people to stand up and say STOP. Need board members to say STOP. Need board members to stop renewing contracts of superintendents that clearly have no idea how to run a trade study based on research of cost and other data. Need to ask the district attorney or the department of justice to investigate our superintendent and Pearson for suspected…. I can’t believe other systems want digital 1 to 1 as we have here.

  7. Individuals who want power and control are not truly seeking what is best for the community.

    If the Huntsville City School System had honestly investigated the failure of the One-to-One Laptop Per Child Initiative that began in Peru five years ago, long before our system rushed recklessly into that same plan, they would have seen the obstacles and, with input from the teachers and families, could have avoided most of the fiasco that has resulted from this waste of student education years, teacher time and resources, family support, and money that should have been used in worthwhile and successful endeavors.


    However, Huntsville also did not investigate the failure of the Pearson Educational Company in Florida before our system “sold its soul” to that corporation.

    I would very much like to know the change in public school student population numbers from 2000 to 2014. How many students and teachers have left the system? When I do programs in the community and as I use Internet social media, the number of families who are turning to home schooling seems to be increasing exponentially and becoming much more effective in their strategies for cooperating to provide the best education for children.

    My main concern is for those students and their families who are mired in the public school system and, because of lack of time, educational qualifications, initiative, or awareness, are not able to home school. It appears that the public school system and the news media are dedicated to proving that certain cliques are always performing at a higher level than certain other groups.

    Good teachers know that authentic teaching can change every child’s life. The lack of consistent and effective discipline, the obstacles placed in the process of teaching and learning in the classrooms, and the attitude of the administrative bureaucracy toward particular demographics of families are destroying the Huntsville community.

    Russell Winn is performing an excellent service through investigating and reporting the situations in detail. What our community desperately needs is a group of people who have the ethics, expertise, dedication, courage, and financial support from other ethical people to lead the Huntsville City School System back onto the right paths. The best people frequently don’t have the financial backing to win elections. If we want change in the system, we must either be the leaders or support the leaders who will make that change.

    If you who are reading Geek Palaver have the qualities to lead our system out of the abyss into which we have fallen, we need you. Over two hundred thousand people need your leadership skills here in Huntsville.

    “What makes greatness is starting something that lives after you.”
    —Ralph W. Sockman

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