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
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.
— Russell Winn (@russwinn) September 4, 2014
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.