There was a news item in today’s Washington Post on the continuing problems at the Prince George's County schools in Maryland. As I mentioned a few days ago, problems with its new automated student scheduling software SchoolMax left what was said at the time to be hundreds of students without their classroom schedules at the start of the school year.
Since then, it has turned out that it wasn’t hundreds but some 8,000 of the school system’s students who were without their class schedules, and as of today, 1,900 still don’t have them.
What is more interesting is that the school system administrators knew about the problems throughout the summer, but had not developed a back-up plan or bothered to inform parents about the problems.
The school’s superintendent made a big show of being outraged over the problems on Monday - "unacceptable and inexcusable" is what he called the situation - but there are now questions whether this outrage was all just for show.
The Post says the school superintendent claimed at a Board of Education meeting last night that he did not know of the problem until Monday when students started school, yet the school system's chief information officer said everyone knew there were going to be major problem on the first day of school.
Board of Education officials basically implied that either someone was lying, or that there is a communication problem among senior school administration officials.
SchoolMax officials, according to the Post, are puzzled by PG County’s troubles. The Post says that:
"Jerry Canada, general manager for the school division of Harris Computer Systems, the Canadian company that owns SchoolMax, said other clients who use the system have not experienced similar scheduling problems. Nor have they seen difficulties like those that plagued Prince George's last year, which included mistakes on report cards."
The Post says that SchoolMax has had a mixed record with school systems using its software for scheduling. The Post said that school officials in Fremont, Calif., and Middletown, R.I., liked the system, but that Albuquerque and Richmond County, Ga., had also problems with class scheduling.
Insufficient training apparently was a problem in Albuquerque, and was given as a reason for PG Country problems last year when SchoolMax was introduced into the school system. From the news reports, training and software issues seem to have combined to cause the current problems in PG County.
This whole episode is a classic case of how not to introduce new software into an organization.
Prince George’s County School system in Maryland has a total of 140,000 students, and is the 18th largest school district in the US.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.