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