Wardynski Removing Textbooks From Schools

 

Books Matter

Update 2: When principals began to be informed about this decision to remove books from the classrooms last month, they were told that the books would be sold.

 

Update: Today Keith Ward responded to question from Lee Roop at the Huntsville Times about the plan to remove textbooks from classrooms “this spring,” stated: “the system agreed when it went digital to keep a classroom set for several years ‘to ease the transition,’ but removing the printed textbooks was always the plan.”

I have watched or attended every school board meeting for the past five years. At no time during the transition was “the plan” publicly discussed to remove textbooks from the classrooms. If this was “always the plan,” why wasn’t this plan publicly known? Why weren’t our principals and more importantly, our teachers aware of this “plan?”

Ward continued by stating, “They will still have them in the library if they need to check them.” He concluded, “the books being removed now will enter the system’s ‘asset management’ program. Some will be kept, he said, and some will be sold.”

So, as I reported yesterday, they will be removing all classroom copies of the textbooks and keeping a small subset of the books in the library. Thus, there will not be sufficient textbooks for every student, or even every two students to obtain a textbook if necessary.

The “solution” that the books are uploaded onto the computers and are accessible without internet access has been the case since 2013. It did not address the problem that my daughter faced at the beginning of the school year last year when she did not have access to a textbook (printed or digital) until five weeks after the beginning of school.

Finally, if Mr. Ward is being truthful that “this was always the plan,” why is it such a surprise to everyone?

Starting this week, Dr. Wardynski, without the public approval of the board of education, began removing textbooks from the schools across the district.

If Wardynski gets his way, the only remaining printed textbooks in our schools will be a single set of textbooks in the library, and possibly textbooks provided to students as a requirement in their IEP or 504Plan.

Digital Textbooks Fail

Despite the district’s having switched to digital versions of text books in 2012, thanks to push from students, parents, and teachers, the district “allowed” for there to be a set of printed textbooks remaining in the classroom.

This proved quite helpful a year ago at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, when all across the district, thanks to an “update” from Pearson that basically broke student access to the digital versions of the textbooks, the digital textbooks were unavailable to students for the first five weeks of school.

Yes, you read that correctly. Students across the district could not access a textbook in Huntsville City Schools for the first five weeks of the school year last year.

Because some of the classrooms had access to printed texts in the room, some of the classes were able to continue operating. However, not all classrooms had sufficient printed textbooks for the entirety of the class.

It proved helpful again from September 19th thought September 24th in 2014 when the entire district’s internet was down. Rather than addressing the issue, Dr. Wardynski chose to threaten the Director of Education Technology for sending out an email to the district to inform them that the school’s internet was down.

Wardynski’s response to this information was to write:

Heather

Please no more such messages.

Thx

W

That’s the kind of system that our district’s teachers are forced to deal with. A system where even access to basic tools for teaching are denied to them because it might make Wardynski look bad.

In short, Wardynski doesn’t give a damn if a textbook, or if access to the internet, would be helpful to the educational process.

All he cares about is following his own personal agenda, and the benefits that agenda can bring him.

(You know, like a trip to China with Jason Taylor to promote Greenpower Racing in China . . . for some reason.)

Teachers Risk Jobs To Sound Warning About Removing Textbooks

Yesterday a teacher in the district decided to take matters into her own hands, and, likely putting her job at risk, posted the following to her Facebook Page.

I know this is a very long post, but bear with me. This is not meant as a means for venting or complaining, but hopefully an appropriate use of social media to gain answers to an important question. I am hoping to get some parent and public support on an issue of concern to me as a Huntsville City Schools teacher. Why are HCS students’ textbooks being removed from our classrooms?

Please do not contact the school – we have no power or even information, only directive from central office.

When HCS went to digital curriculum, teachers and students found the transition very difficult. We begged for, and after several months, finally received a class set of textbooks for each classroom with the exception of math. Both teachers and students were so grateful to have a choice available.

I have recently learned that these textbooks are now to be removed from our classrooms at the end of the year and not returned. It is unclear where exactly these practically new textbooks are going. In place of our class sets, we were told that in the Fall a ratio of textbook to student would be determined meaning that for 6th grade, we would receive 15 textbooks for over 200 students, to be tightly controlled in the library.

I have sent a letter to our superintendent requesting a reason but have not received a response. A parent I know was meeting with Dr. Wardynski for another purpose and attempted to obtain a reason on our behalf. She was told that the teachers don’t need the physical textbooks, that everything they need is on the laptops. That the textbooks are just a “crutch”.

Well, now I have moved from frustrated to angry. A “crutch!?” I have not been asked to contribute at a national level to promote project-based learning because I need a “crutch.” I am so offended. Even after 10 years with my curriculum, I still spend countless hours researching my lessons. A typical lesson will pull in about 5 different sources. But I do need my textbooks; this is not an unreasonable thing to ask. As a professional educator, why do I not deserve this choice?

I polled my honors students, all of whom are strong readers and very comfortable with technology, and only 3 out of 55 students preferred digital to print text. My classroom is not isolated in this, according to the Washington Post. See previously posted article.

It has long been apparent that my opinion holds no sway in decisions made for my classroom in this system. But as a taxpayer, I want to know where these practically new textbooks are going? Someone has implied that they will be destroyed. Has a buy back deal been made with Pearson? This is a simple question that deserves an answer; this should not be a complicated issue.

Seriously, with all the talk about discipline, it’s the little things that make me want to stop trying. Teachers in our system are very fearful of any public expression of opinion, but I don’t want to be among the many, many teachers who have quietly left our system. I love my school and my students. The HCS leadership’s decision on this issue seems to be going out of their way to make teaching more difficult. As teachers, parents, and taxpayers, we deserve answers and resources that serve the best interests of our students.

Feel free to repost if you share my concern. I currently still have my books and do not want to turn them over to central office.

This wasn’t the only teacher that I’ve heard from. Many other teachers, all across the district, are reporting to me that this is actively happening.

Other parents have shared with me that their school board member have confirmed that this is occurring as well. At least one school board member, Elisa Ferrell from district 3, is completely in support of this plan because, “textbooks are obsolete the moment they’re printed.”

This is almost a direct quote from Wardynski’s claim in 2014 when he claimed that textbooks are “obsolete the day they come into the classroom.”

This was not true when Wardynski claimed it two years ago, and it is not true today.

Every single subject matter textbook remains relevant for years after it is published. Many are relevant for decades or even centuries.

Are Shakespeare’s plays irrelevant because they have an old cover?

Are Newton’s or Einstein’s theories irrelevant because they’re printed on paper?

Good teachers don’t use a text as a “crutch” but rather as a launching pad. If Wardynski had even a basic understanding of education, he might realize this.

Research Supports the Benefits of Reading from Paper

If you wish to review just a smattering of research on the benefits of reading from a printed book as opposed to reading from a computer screen, feel free to review the following:

Our ‘Deep Reading’ Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions

Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past ten years

Mystery story reading in pocket print book and on Kindle: possible impact on chronological events memory.

E-Books Are Damaging Your Health: Why We Should All Start Reading Paper Books Again

But that highlights the primary problem here: Neither Dr. Wardynski nor the Board of Education seem to give a damn about educational research.

Education Must Be Differentiated Not Standardized

On Monday, the Board of Education received an extensive report from Dr. Wardynski on the benefits of the upcoming month of standardized testing. I’ll try and provide an extensive report on this soon, but suffice it to say that Wardynski’s arguments have not changed since he started making them in 2011.

The simple fact of education that even freshmen in any educational program across the world learn is this: education must be differentiated and individualized. Our kids are not golf balls. Every child learns differently.

Textbooks are a reasonable accommodation for ensuring that every child who reads better from a printed text can continue to do so.

No Reason for Removing Textbooks Except Wardynski Hates Words

Since we already have the textbooks, and since they are less than four years old, there is no justifiable reason for removing them from the classrooms.

It is not costing us more to retain them.

They are not taking up needed space.

They are, however, allowing students to learn in a manner that suits them best.

The only justification for this is that either Wardynski has made a backroom deal to sell them to cover up some other expense that he doesn’t want public (there is a rumor that he has done exactly this with one of the private schools in the city), or perhaps he’s read his Orwell at some point and learned:

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

Or maybe he read his Bradbury at some point in his past and decided to destroy them because:

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door . . . Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”

Either way, this limiting of access to knowledge cannot be allowed to occur.

Please, if you care about ensuring that your children have the most appropriate educational tool for them available to them, contact your child’s principal, contact your child’s board member and tell them to leave our books alone.

They are, after all, ours and not Wardynski’s.

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

36 Comments

  1. I was a math teacher in the system last year and definitely left because I saw what Wardynski was doing and was tired of dealing with his crazy policies.

    The email to Heather Bender last year was sent out because she had sent out 6-8 emails in a short time span concerning the Internet. I didn’t blame him because we were getting tired of her emails flooding our inboxes. As a teacher, I just wanted to know when the problem was fixed and not a play-by-play of the status. He later retracted his email and had it deleted off the server but it wasn’t before everyone could talk about it.

    Feel free to email me if you have any other questions and I can give you more details. Boy am I glad I got out of there!

        1. Not of which I am immediately aware, no. The Alabama State Department of Education typically takes a hands off approach to the process that is followed in a local school system.

          I have not extensively researched this, however. I would be pleased to be proven wrong on this.

  2. I’m so glad that we are DONE with HCS after this year. The slow decline is maddening! This man needs to be stopped and I wish ALL of the teachers would just walk out of the classroom one day. I’d go stand with them! O

  3. I totally agree with the need for textbooks in each classroom. However as bad as you think it is, imagine your student going through their entire middle school years in a public school no digital curriculum and only one set of textbooks per classroom. These textbooks are old and falling apart. You have to check them out and make sure you bring them back the next day so that all the other classes in that subject can use them. This is in a school district in South Alabama. We had been told for 3 years that they were going digital so they didn’t want to buy new textbooks. We came from Huntsville city schools. Our oldest was well prepared for college because of the excellent education she received at Grissom. I hope your students will continue to have access to textbooks, but please hear me when I tell you it could be so much worse.

    1. Thanks for reading. I’ve never tried to imply that it couldn’t get worse. (Wardynski has, in my opinion, done a good job of convincing me that it can always get worse.)

      Please don’t misunderstand. I personally like digital reading. I would say that at least half of my reading is done digitally.

      My point is not to say that we should never read text via a screen rather than paper. My point is that both options should be available to our students because often one will work better than the other.

      And since we have already purchased the books, cost is not an issue here.

      1. I absolutely agree with you both should be available. I didn’t think you were against digital curriculum. I just hoped to provide some perspective. We are parents who desperately miss the caliber of education our students received in Hunstville City schools. As bad as it seems things have gotten there, there are places where the situation is much worse.

        1. Oh I have no doubt.

          The reason that my wife and I moved to Huntsville before our daughter was born was for the schools which were world-class.

          They have sadly declined since then.

          I appreciate the more rounded perspective. Thanks.

  4. Another outstanding article, Russell. I cannot thank you enough for doing the media’s job — informing the public with documented back-up to support your comments. I am heartbroken over what is happening to our school system and the fact that many in the community just don’t seem to give a damn about it. What will it take for people to care?

  5. even a 504 won’t guarantee access to printed material. my son has a 504 base on severe dyslexia. i was told this fall that this would be the last time he was allowed to have printed texts. i was told that dyslexia was not even really recognized as a true learning disability and that research did not support that dyslexia issues were worse with computers. despite showing numerous studies to the contrary, it was basically “too bad. that’s the way it is going to be”.

    1. I would strongly suggest that you push back against what you have “been told.” You have far more rights as a result of the 504 than what you have been told.

      1. Understand. I have never intended to sit back and accept. Working with local dyslexia advocates, some from within the school system that are helping behind the scenes. If that doesn’t work I fully intend to get representation. I have resources. I cannot imagine what it is like for those that do not.

  6. Russell, Thanks for posting this. I implore EVRYONE to call or email their Board representative immediately and start letting them know how displeased you are and that they are NOT representing your best interest. I am doing that right after I post this. Haven’t we had enough or is it that you parents out there really don’t care to pick up a phone or drop an email? This is indicative of why only around 30% of the people in this country vote during elections. Most simply “go along” and don’t want to be bothered. Am I angry? Damn right I am. Forcing kids to use laptops and making books a thing of the past is just flat out wrong. For that matter, Barnes and Noble should just go out of business. I STILL have physics and engineering books on my shelf from years ago. Guess what? They are as relevant today as they were back then…and a lot easier to navigate. Wardynski is lining his own pockets and posturing for his future with these laptop/no book policies while he’s in bed with Pearson.

    1. I agree with your suspicion that there must be a financial incentive behind this push for Wardynski.

      If it is an above-board incentive (the district will benefit from paying to remove textbooks, somehow) he needs to be open and forthright about it.

      I doubt the truth would be something he would care to share. If it were, he would have brought it to the board for their public approval.

      But he didn’t.

  7. OK, I have just stated my case to my Board representative from District 2, all the other Board members, and the principal at Huntsville High School. I hope everyone else does the same!

    1. Actually, if you look at the new “Internet Cafe” at Huntsville High School, you will see that yeah, the libraries will be next.

      1. That ridiculous facility at HHS is embarrassing. Our guide for a school tour gleefully explained that there was “. . .no need for books, it’s the 21st century!!” Can’t wait until she gets to college and is confronted with the challenge of using a library for research. Our kids’ educational quality is eroded a little more EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

  8. Hopefully these books will be donated to the public libraries so the students will have free access to them.

  9. Russell, this is good work. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to spreading the news about what is happening in the Huntsville City School System.

  10. My kids graduated from HCS two decades ago, so I don’t have the emotional investment of many current Parents. I do, however, have a few comments:

    1. Collecting the books makes a commitment statement … like burning a bridge behind the front line of an Army. There is no retreat … no going back … the choices are … overcome adversity or perish. Even if the electronic nirvana turns out to be a huge mistake … there is no return to books … because the books are gone forever.

    2. Books don’t have “glitches” … no batteries … no WiFi connection … no virus protection … no hard drive failure… etc. Books are just intrinsically better (more reliable, easier to use, less expensive, easier to transport, …) learning tools. Computers are excellent audio/visual supplements … but not primary tools.

    3. Collecting up all the textbooks is a big deal. I would have thought that Dr. W would have requested School Board “advice and consent”. I thought wrong. Apparently, this is just an “Executive Order”.

    4. If it is possible to lose connectivity for five weeks, I would think that books might be used as a “cheap” contingency plan … as compared to five weeks of no or limited education. Once again, I apparently don’t understand why HCS doesn’t see this as a viable contingency plan.

    5. I have no idea why Parents are not marching in the streets. Perhaps they are just too busy to become involved in their kid’s education. I am really at a loss.

    6. I noticed your picture of Orwell’s 1984. I think a better analogy is Fahrenheit 451 … where everybody had a big-screen TV, most people were apathetic, books were burned, and some people memorized entire books (word for word) and passed them verbally from generation to generation. Maybe we are there?

    7. Thanks for all that you do for HCS … I’m sure it takes a personal toll. Please continue the good fight.

    1. I agree about Fahrenheit 451 being a better image. Sadly my copy is in my office, and I didn’t have the time to drive to get it last night. 🙂 That was why I included the quote from Bradbury instead.

      Thank you for your constant reading and feedback. I appreciate you taking the time to read my far too long posts.

    2. You wrote: “I would think that books might be used as a “cheap” contingency plan … as compared to five weeks of no or limited education.” And you are right.
      Those books were provided as part of the HCS contract with Pearson — they are a purchased asset at this point — they are OURS. So in terms of “cheap,” they cost us nothing other than storage. Even if they are sold now (assuming the contract allows it — has anyone verified that it does?), we will certainly receive very little in return. Ever sold a used textbook while you were in college? You know that game is rigged. . .
      You are also right about the burning bridge metaphor. Think about all of the construction that’s occurred in this district recently — schools with media center/Internet cafe facilities that could hardly be retrofit as a proper library without ENORMOUS expense — high schools and middle schools without lockers, so that students would have no place to store books if the district decides at some point to undo this enormous experiment. We are being driven down a narrow road, straight off a cliff. This is an effort by Wardynski to ensure that HIS vision of education (informed entirely by people with products to sell rather than subject matter experts in the field) will remain imprinted on this district long after he leaves — which can’t be soon enough, in my mind.
      As I’ve watched this all unfold, I keep thinking of animal behavior in the wild — where a dominant male impregnates as many females as possible to leave his mark on the next generation and simultaneously reduce the influence of other males on that same population. There’s marking territory, but then there’s marking progeny. Do you see what I am seeing here? Between the actions he takes on a daily basis and the efforts he and bureaucracy that he has built beneath him make to publicize and get accolades for his initiatives, he is certainly making sure everyone knows who “owns” this district.

  11. The first year of the new “digital age” at HCS, we were told we would not have paper textbooks anymore and to put our textbooks out in the hall to be picked up. My high school students were desperately struggling to make the transition. Finally, at Christmas, after uproar from parents, we miraculously received actual textbooks. I watched high school kids almost cry over those textbooks. So many of them told me that trying to use a “textbook” on the computer was making learning the material harder, not easier. In all my years of teaching, I’ve never seen teenagers so appreciative of a simple textbook. And now, those same textbooks are being taken away.

    One question I have is what happens when a student’s laptop privileges are suspended? I saw that happen more than once. With no other textbook available for extended use, how will they keep up?

    Although I got out soon afterward to another school system, my heart is still with the teachers and students in HCS and it is breaking with every new detail I hear about this sinking ship. In addition, please know that school systems all over north Alabama are watching this debacle and hiring all those great teachers that are leaving.

  12. The soulless man emits hate and hostility. There is nothing spiritual in his heart. HCS parents elected the board, and city council, who picked him and props him up. Pogo would remind us, “We have met the enemy, and he is us”.

  13. What research has the district used in its decision that validates “benefit of cognitive processes in reading?”

  14. Russell,

    Thank you for this timely post. The momentum is building with Huntsville City School parents to make personnel changes with the current Huntsville City School (HSC) Board. The time has come to hold Dr. Wardynski and the School Board accountable to the customers (the students-consumers of learning) and the stakeholders (the parents). The School Board needs to do a better job “communicating” with the public and incorporate stakeholder inputs into the HCS Decision Making process. Working in a vacuum never accomplishes anything for the customers or the stakeholders.

    My only question is will there be enough textbooks in each school’s Library for students with active 504 or IEPs? According to Mrs. Ferrell it appears that students with “vision challenges” defined in their perspective IEP or 504 will be allowed access to textbooks. Many students may have active 504 and IEPs who do not have vision challenges and have stated in their plans to have access to textbooks. I believe that some clarification with regards to 504 and IEPs are required with respect to students not having vision challenges.

    Your work with this Blog is invaluable. Thank you for your valiant efforts.

    Mark Binner

    1. Mark

      Reference my post above, you will find that some parents of children with 504s that are not visually challenged but have the need for text books in their plan are being told that they will not be able to have text books going forward. My experience is based on issues related to dyslexia. Whether or not they can make that stick is a different story. No one has been willing to take a specific stand at this point and put it in writing. The answer is “it will be addressed on a case by case basis”.

    2. Friday, June 3, 2016, 9:00AM to 12:30 PM conference sessions statewide (north AL at Madison City Board of Education Board Room Celtic Dr. Madison, AL : register (334) 567-2252 Topics: new NCLB:ESSA and what it means to Alabama’s Children: how to solve disputes including the New Alabama Code proposals

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