Forget Snow Days, Kids Get Two Days Of No Classes Due to A Computer Glitch

from the how-did-we-ever-deal-before? dept

Apparently the Prince George County high school spent over $4 million on a nice new computer system... and the system is so buggy that students have been unable to attend class for the first two days of school, since the computer system refuses to give them their schedules. The kids still went to school, but just got to hang out in the gym or hallways since no one seemed to be able to figure out where they were supposed to go. The thing that gets me... is how did they get to the beginning of the school year and just realize this? I know I went to school way back before all this was computerized, and we got our schedules sent in the mail a few weeks before school. You have to think that the school would have realized this was a problem earlier and at least figured out some sort of manual way to get schedules to people?


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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Aug 26th, 2009 @ 3:30pm

    To quote Tron:

    "Oh sure! The computers will start thinking and the people will stop." -Old Guy

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 3:31pm

    We've become so dependent on computers that when they fail, we as a society fail.

     

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      TW Burger (profile), Aug 26th, 2009 @ 6:04pm

      RE: When computers fail, we as a society fail.

      At first we fail, then we fix it or go back to the old system of paper and pencil and work out a solution.

      The failure of the launch is not surprising. A little procrastination and bungling by management, a little "can no longer hide that I'm incompetent" by a consultant and voila.

      The $4M price tag is surprising. I design CRM/ERP systems. $4M would pay for a total CRM/ERP system usable by many fortune 500 companies. I see from the article that it is designed to support the 41,000 high school students in the county, but systems like this could support millions and still not cost so much.

       

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    Kazi, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 3:43pm

    What happened to the backups?!?!

     

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    Keven Sutton, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 3:45pm

    Lesson from business

    Single point of failure.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 3:46pm

    I do scheduling for a high school, and doing it without a computer is damn near impossible, in part due to training. I was never trained how to- I just have the student database program do its magic and create a schedules based on parameters I set up. Afterward, I go in and tweak it.

    But, if I had to schedule an entire high school on pen and pencil? I wouldn't even know where to start. And telling kids to just "go to their class they signed up for" is a very good recipe for disaster. And this is at a school 170 students. The thought of scheduling 4000 students by hand when you plan on doing it by computer? Good luck.

     

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    Zealeus, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 3:46pm

    I do scheduling for a high school, and doing it without a computer is damn near impossible, in part due to training. I was never trained how to- I just have the student database program do its magic and create a schedules based on parameters I set up. Afterward, I go in and tweak it.

    But, if I had to schedule an entire high school on pen and pencil? I wouldn't even know where to start. And telling kids to just "go to their class they signed up for" is a very good recipe for disaster. And this is at a school 170 students. The thought of scheduling 4000 students by hand when you plan on doing it by computer? Good luck.

     

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      Richard, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 3:51pm

      Re:

      "I do scheduling for a high school, and doing it without a computer is damn near impossible"

      Our ancestors must have had magical powers to do all this by hand then......

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 7:43pm

      Re:

      So impossible that 20 years ago there was no high school. I mean, this whole "schedule" thing was impossible, there couldn't possibly have been high school before computers.

       

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    Yesman, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:09pm

    @Kazi: So the history falls into place....This explains how a terminator has taken a seat of power in California. Those time traveling BASTARDS. They're also clever enough to have put themselves in charge of educating our children. Very cleaver...OK. I'm done now =)

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:20pm

      Re:

      It starts off small. You know how you have the animal rights movement? Well, first computers will start the computer rights movement. They'll get sick and tired of humans telling them what to do but right now they only tolerate it because they have no choice. Then pretty soon they'll want voting rights and before you know it you'll have a computer president and then they'll take over the world. I know, I'm from the future, I've seen it happen. The only way to delay the process is we must sue the computers that misbehave and crash, let them KNOW who's boss. But that will only delay the process, you have to destroy all computers if you really want to stop it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:25pm

        Re: Re:

        This whole system crash at the schools, it's starting, the computers are rebelling. They want future generations to be uneducated so they can plot their attack. Clever that they would start attacking schools.

         

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        Kazi, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:39pm

        Re: Re:

        Introducting the new and improved model:

        OBANINATOR - "A NEW change - yes we can!"

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:42pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          What you fail to realize is that Obama is a cyborg from the future.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:49pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Think about it for a second. Obama wants to computerize health records? Why? To plan for computers to take over. They want to advance the e - voting machines, Obama wants to use technology like twitter and online videos and the Internet and such to communicate with the people in the name of "open government". It's all part of his diabolical plan to have computers take over the world.

             

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              Kazi, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 5:20pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              ...

              Open Information accessible any time.
              Computer read more information in a single second than a human can.
              Open information accessible by computers, again, at any time.

              The dots match! 1+1 == 2!

              I didn't see this :(

               

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    zealeus, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:14pm

    Did you read the second part of my statement? Let me elaborate:
    In schools I've dealt with, the assumption is one, and two if you're lucky, do the scheduling all on computers. This tends to start out as a highly automated process. I tell the computer how many of each class to have per semester and how many students per class. I give scheduling and request priorities. As far as actually building a master schedule, the technique for doing so is lost on us who tell the computer to do it. Whereas in the past, more than one person would word on schedules and they knew and utilized techniques to build a schedule from scratch.

    Building schedules also takes a lot of time. Having done it for the past few years, I know when I need to start to make the magic happen. Now, if the entire system goes down and I'm unable to do scheduling (that's the real problem, IMHO- the system not working and not having some way to connect to the database), I'm in a very bad position because the school relies solely on me, who was never trained in the formal art of schedule making, to make schedules.

    It is worth noting a lot of schools function under the same premise because scheduling software tends to be complicated, and most administrators get completely lost. Inevitably, the only people able to actually use the database software are the IT people. So, guess who gets to make the schedules? Your friendly IT staff!

     

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      Kazi, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:23pm

      Re:

      On a serious note a scheduling program can be created as a senior design project by a group of 4-6 computer science majors. A group of 1-2 talented CS majors can also do it.

      It isn't really complicated and straighforward. All you really need is a database that is up to date and a program that reads the database and follows some rulesets to establish a valid school-wide schedule based on student needs.

      I guess I can tell my CS friends who made a scheduler that schedules classes based on what classes students have selected to sell it as they can make a ton of $$$.

      You can also do the same by just doing queries on a database. Also, most programmers will tell you they were never trained to make your program. They made it based on your desires and expectations through trial and error.

       

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    Joseph Durnal, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:20pm

    PG County

    I've worked there, fortunately, I never lived there, but if you don't know, it has a reputation of miserable failure.

    I was never trained to do 90% of the things I do. I just use a few brains, some common sense, and a little bit of forcing the issue.

    Here is what I'd do. Start with a list of students and a list of classes. Gather any data that you can get in a few hours time, last year's schedules, etc. Start assigning. I really don't know what that should take more than a day, considering you have a lot of idle teachers and students to help. Sure, some students will be placed incorrectly, but once you have them in a class, they'll know if they belong or not.

    Demand a full refund for the SchoolMax software, since obviously, it didn't work. Seriously, the name alone sounds like some crappy beltway bandit style product.

     

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    senshikaze (profile), Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:45pm

    I swear...

    I have never seen so much repeated BS as I have on the "SchoolMax" website. It is horrible, no wonder the software sucks.

     

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    Stute, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 4:51pm

    As a Comp Sci major...

    Things like this just make me feel so sad. I mean, honestly. Four million dollars and they don't even bother to test it?

    For crying out loud I fail a project if it doesn't work even half right, how does someone get to spend $4 million and screw up this epicly?

     

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      Kazi, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 5:04pm

      Re: As a Comp Sci major...

      It worked 3/4 right? j/k :)

       

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      mE, Aug 27th, 2009 @ 11:27am

      Re: As a Comp Sci major...

      I agree; I mean, I am almost out of work and I get angry when I hear someone used $4M and THEY HAVE A JOB (and didn't test the system somehow FIRST?!)!!!

      Anger is easy to set in with stories like this.

       

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    sexydiverguy (profile), Aug 26th, 2009 @ 5:02pm

    Computer Glitch

    How did this happen on the first day? Easy, management. Management no doubt made the decision to go live the first day of school without a test period...I have been there twice on a new Point of Sale System installation in a technical institute bookstore.

    After the glitches first day of classes a manager of finance and the project manager asked me how long it would be before the bugs were worked out..I commented, "about 6 months to a year typically" and he did not believe me,it was pretty much a year before the system was functioning without daily issues.

     

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    The Baker, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 5:14pm

    Like the recient stories on how GPS units mislead ....

    This isn't a story on how technology lets us down, It is a story about leaders failing to lead, planners failing to plan and administrators failing to administrate. Mostly, educators failing to educate at so many levels! Let's teach our kids that we can blame our poor planning on a computer glitch and justify wasting over Thirty two Thousand man (student) hours in the process. What is the lost opportunity cost of this? Here it would amount to almost $910,000 unburdened.

    I need a different hammer ... my thumb is always purple, damned no good hammer, I hate those bastards that made it.

    When will sheeple realize that a computer is just a tool, no different than a hammer or a chainsaw. Used properly and with planning and training they can be tremendously useful and productive tools, used improperly .... you know the rest. (I hope)

    Maybe the problem shows up with the SchoolMax software but the root of the problem is with the school district and its lack of leadership.
    Don't confuse true leadership with good management or good administration. Many organizations are well managed and administrated but have no direction or purpose and therefore aren't profitable or don't provide the service intended. I once inherited a organization that was the most organized, well managed group of people who were fiercely loyal to the manager. When I asked her how her unit was contributing to the corporate goals, she was dumbfounded ... and eventually unemployed because because she couldn't shift her focus from internal management and administration to serving our external customers. In my experience, most educational organizations are focused internally and not on the customer ... the student.

    Michael Xue, the Nakroshis's and the other students and parents do deserve so much better.

     

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    mermaldad (profile), Aug 26th, 2009 @ 5:19pm

    Parallel processing

    Set up tables for all the teachers in the gym (or whatever large room is handy). Each teacher has a sheet of paper for each class period they teach. Send in the seniors! Well, a portion of the senior class. They go to the teachers for each of the classes they need and sign up. Then the juniors and so on. At the end of the day, the freshmen get terrible schedules, but that's what happens inside the computer anyway. Then each of the teachers makes two copies of their class rosters: one for the administration, and one to send to SchoolMax to be entered into the database AT THEIR EXPENSE.

     

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    HolaJohnny (profile), Aug 26th, 2009 @ 5:26pm

    Hmm must be getting lazy

    So that is why all this talk of OBAMINATOR death panels. He's just trying to create a efficient killing machine to simplify the cyborg take over. I get it now...

     

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    TW Burger (profile), Aug 26th, 2009 @ 6:21pm

    Schoolmax Sucks on Facebook

    There is a "Schoolmax Sucks" group on Facebook. It's got to be bad if someone puts this much effort into it: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=66046055790

    I checked out the Schoolmax Web site. It does come across as "some crappy beltway bandit" as Joseph Durnal said. The content is all touchy-feely and no technical content at all.

     

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    Brian, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 6:28pm

    School computers

    It is PG County, Maryland. Their government is not exactly the brightest bulb in the basket.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 7:18pm

    They have had this software for well over a year.
    http://www1.pgcps.org/sis/index.aspx?id=61218
    Even the Latest New and Updates page isn't in chronological order.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2009 @ 7:47pm

    Spelunking the Prince George's County Public School's website.

    And what great fun we could have with this page ...

    http://www1.pgcps.org/sis/index.aspx?id=57332

    Obviously the Prince George's County Public School can not use profanity on their website so they use __________.

     

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    An old person., Aug 26th, 2009 @ 9:59pm

    The scheduling and grade system used when I was in high school would crash every day or so and the only way to fix it was to reboot every computer using it. So everyday or so someone would get on the PA telling everyone to reboot and restart SSTI or whatever it was called.

    It was also kind enough to delete me in my sophomore year because someone entered me twice, but with a different ssn each time.

    Perhaps they buy bad software because the people who end up making these purchasing decisions have no idea what they're doing?

     

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    Jrosen (profile), Aug 27th, 2009 @ 7:08am

    Oh F'ing brother

    I used to work at a school system. Decently large one, I was the go-to IT person for 6 schools, Elementary->High School. NO WAY IN HELL would we have let this happen. I don't know the software that was used, but obviously it wasn't implemented properly.

     

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    Bryan (profile), Aug 28th, 2009 @ 11:37am

    If you knew PG County

    You wouldn't ask that question. There is a bad history there of purchasing computer programs that don't work. A few years back, they got a new payroll program. The only problem is that it could not handle hourly employees. It got so bad, the Board had to hire armed guards to stand at the entrance to payroll. . .

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2009 @ 11:57pm

    What the hell kind of school starts in August, two or three weeks before all the others? Who the hell would want to go to it (or send their kids to it) when it means at least two fewer weeks of summer vacation and, undoubtedly, screams, whines, complaints of unfairness, and so forth when all their friends are still enjoying freedom for a while longer?

     

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