Teacher and parent complaints about online math textbooks added to classrooms this fall have caused school administrators to look for a mid-semester remedy.
On Monday, Fairfax County Public Schools officials announced plans to purchase additional hardcopy textbooks countywide. The cost for the additional textbooks still is being tallied, but is projected to fall between $1 million and $2 million. Seventy-five percent of the money will come from a central FCPS fund, and the remaining 25 percent from individual schools’ textbook funds.
Issues with the online math textbooks included student access to technology supporting the online program both inside and outside the classroom. Additionally, Apple product users complained they could not access videos within the online textbook because of issues with Adobe Flash Player, a free video content manager.
New math books were adopted as part of FCPS’ adherence to the state’s revisions of Standards of Learning for math curricula. A textbook adoption committee whose members were appointed by the Fairfax County School Board reviewed books in fall 2011. Content experts from George Mason University were used to make sure no errors appeared in the math books.
However, Superintendent Jack D. Dale called the issues with math textbooks a “crisis” that needed immediate attention, and said problems were caused by flaws in the review process, not with the publisher.
Fourteen publishers submitted textbooks for review for grades kindergarten through 12. A total of 117 textbooks were reviewed by the committee, which evaluated content based on alignment with curricula needs, accuracy and bias, organization, use of technology and more. The school system estimates the online license for textbooks was about $11 million less expensive than contracts for hardcopy textbooks.
“The online subscriptions were absolutely inferior to the hardcopy textbooks,” school board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District) said. “We have families around the county who are buying these textbooks themselves… Why are we looking at up to $2 million that we may have to pay the publishers?”
She and other school board members questioned the staff decision to pay for additional textbooks when they believed the error to be one on the publisher’s side.
Staff said the contract between publishers and the school system was generous to the school system, and that the errors in implementing the textbooks were on the FCPS side.
School board members said the math textbook purchase incident will cause them to re-evaluate how materials used in classrooms countywide are approved. Several board members also expressed interest in a broader future conversation of the role technology should play within the classroom.
School board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) told fellow board members her constituents said, “We want technology in the classroom, not instead of the classroom.”