From the Editor: Free the 268

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Free the 268!

The Gazette compliments Hook reporter Dave McNair for his investigative report on Schoolnet, a $1.72 million school administrative software program that school leaders admit is “glitchy” and teachers call a boondoggle, and on Albemarle County School Superintendent Pam Moran’s cozy relationship with the officers of the company who make it.

McNair had to resort to a Freedom of Information Act request to get information about the school system’s history with the software and was charged nearly $2,000 by the school division for copies of emails referring to the program, a sum that seems excessive and possibly designed to discourage the story or to punish The Hook for pursuing it. Even then, the schools withheld 268 messages to or from Moran about the software. The inference drawn by the public—which is asking itself, justifiably, do we own this system or not?—is that the messages contain information at least embarrassing to the superintendent, if not more damaging. They should be made public immediately and the School Board ought to insist on it. Just exactly who is overseeing whom in that relationship?

We note that few current teachers will speak on the record about Schoolnet, which many have complained about privately ever since it was imposed on them. The impression is that they fear retaliation from school bosses.

Technology is a tool in education, but it is interaction with competent and motivated teachers that actually accomplishes the urgent goals of education. Take away a computer from a student and leave him with a good teacher and he will still learn. Take away the teacher and leave the student with a computer and you can expect ignorance to result. We are spending a fortune on equipment and software and personnel to manage them when the higher priority should be to pay teachers well enough to attract the best ones and keep them committed to their calling here in Albemarle.

Moran has been trying to make a name for herself as a technology pusher, joining the vanguard of an educational fad that sees technology as the panacea for declining student command of subject matter and eroding capabilities with math and English. We are left with the impression that she was preparing the ground for a career with Schoolnet once she is ready to give up the superintendency. Perhaps the withheld 268 messages would disprove that.

The history of American education in the last hundred years is the story of a tug-of-war between the view that communicating content is what constitutes learning (“traditional”) and the view, which now dominates among Albemarle school leaders, that learning is mainly procedural, about being able to do things as opposed to knowing things (“progressive”). Each view has had periods of ascendancy on the national scene. What we have to decide as parents and taxpayers is which view we believe in, and then we must make sure we have the leaders who can achieve it for us.

We have not forgotten last year’s school fiasco, the course semesterization schedule in the high schools, and how lamely the School Board addressed it. We hope the questions about Schoolnet will get earnest consideration.

Meanwhile, free the 268!