Online math textbooks launched this year in Fairfax County Public schools are receiving harsh reviews from teachers and parents.
“There was little notice of the change and little support,” wrote one educator in the comment section of a survey conducted last month by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, an advocacy group with about 4,200 members. “After hundreds of years using textbooks, more help should have been provided as this was a big deal.”
Lack of teacher training and access to technology to use the digital books are at the heart of complaints about the new online math textbooks.
“We may have spent money on it, but we’re not using it,” another educator wrote in the survey.
In late July, the school board approved a $7.7 million expenditure funded out of the fiscal year 2013 budget for the new math textbooks. The purchase included an online license for each student and a limited number of printed math textbooks for each classroom.
“From the very beginning of the year, we’ve been hearing concerns from teachers about it — everything from teachers not being trained on it to kids not being able to get online at home,” said Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg. Greenburg said based on a high volume of complaints over the textbooks, which he summarized as the results of a ‘broken product,’ the federation launched its survey of members.
Among the impediments to use, teachers listed availability of technology in classrooms, lack of teacher training, lack of printed materials for students and lack of a printed teacher manual as their top concerns.
Approval of the new online math textbooks was based, in part, on the piloting of a similarly styled social studies textbook, which school officials said was a success. Math textbooks were last purchased by the school system 12 years ago.
Teachers, however, said a separate pilot of the math textbooks could have resolved some of the issues they are experiencing now.
“Due to the fact that this program was not piloted before using it, there are all sorts of issues with the program,” one educator wrote in the survey. All comments were given anonymously, and there were 456 respondents to the survey. In the survey, teachers said textbook navigation, finishing homework, incompatible technology at home and lack of general computer skills were major issues their students faced.
As a result, teachers complained that they are spending more time explaining the technology, leaving less time to teach math.
“Many of my students lack computers and/or reliable internet access,” wrote one teacher. “I get five [to] seven emails a night, six weeks into implementation, asking about forgotten usernames and passwords. We now have nothing to use with subs [substitute teachers], since subs can’t use the computers.”
Concerns over the textbooks have not gone unnoticed by the county school board. At the request of several board members, the school board will discuss the math textbooks during its work session, on Dec. 10. A time for the discussion has not been set.
Fairfax County Public Schools launched several initiatives this year — including a ‘BYOD’ policy (Bring Your Own Devices] — to elevate the use of technology in classrooms. The BYOD policy and pilots of netbooks in classrooms have been praised by teachers, particularly at the high school level. But change comes hard, according to several educators.
“I know we are moving in this direction, but unless you train the students and teachers on computer skills, you have wasted your money,” wrote one educator in the online survey conducted by Fairfax County Teacher Federation. “The majority of the students have no clue on how to [read] online and do things in a textbook online. Teachers are good in the subject area but have not the tech skills to teach the materials. Testing online is also a problem…”