Middle and high school students in many of Maryland's Prince George's County schools started the school year yesterday without their class schedules because of a problem with the school system's new computer class scheduling software, according to the Washington Post.
The scheduling problem appeared to hit "elective" classes more than mandatory classes, the Post said. Hundreds of students were affected. Many spent all day in classrooms, cafeterias, auditoriums and gymnasiums waiting for class schedules that never appeared.
Prince George's Country spent $4.1 million installing SchoolMax in August 2008, which the company website says,
"makes keeping track of student information more accurate and easy to access."
However, according to a Post story in March of this year, PG County's SchoolMax system even then was:
"plagued with errors ... leading to botched schedules, an over-count of students and report cards that were delayed or, in some cases, simply wrong."
From August 2008 to March of this year, the Post said the SchoolMax system had crashed 4 times. In addition, the Post wrote,
"Errors led to the duplication of 3,600 student identification numbers in the 128,000-student system; almost 300 were double-enrolled, leading to an inaccurate count of the student population. The delivery of report cards was delayed last semester, and some students have found they've gotten E's instead of A's. There have been problems doing things as straightforward as printing an alphabetical directory of students."
Country school Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. was quoted in yesterday's Post story as saying,
"I don't know if it was a technical issue, with schedules just being dropped, or if they were put in incorrectly.We have every available body that can work on schedules working on schedules. . . . I expect this to be resolved by the end of the week."
Superintendent Hite also said that the situation "unacceptable and inexcusable."
Last March PG country school system's chief information officer blamed the mess on lack of training that led to data entry problems. After a year of the system in place, it is a bit hard to use that excuse again.
Another news report today says that the problem has not been resolved, and that the school system IT department and SchoolMax officials don't know when it will be.
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.