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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Surrattsville High's computer class taught without computers

Surrattsville High's computer class taught without computers
Post, 4 Feb 2010 (Birnbaum)
Every day, students file into a computer class at Surrattsville High School that is taught without computers, without enough textbooks and with no permanent teacher.

The struggle to find a qualified computer teacher at the Prince George's County school, just a dozen miles from an education department that is investing millions in science and technology education, shows the basic problems that schools face even as reform rhetoric increases.

A teacher who was supposed to teach the computer technology class has been on extended medical leave, and the school system has had trouble finding a substitute with an adequate technology background, school officials said. Some of the 150 students in the course's six sections say they've had to teach themselves out of the book, but the classroom doesn't have enough books to go around.

"When I go to take the test, I basically go off prior knowledge," said Thomas Matthews, a junior in the year-long Information Systems class. Matthews took the class because he wants to be an engineer and design cars. "I just wanted to get more familiar with the technology," he said. "I wouldn't say I've learned anything in the class."

The class has had a long-term substitute since the beginning of the year. A qualified substitute taught the class for a few days in October but left for another job. Students spent the first quarter with computers, but no assignments or textbooks. Then the computers were removed because the substitute was unable to control the class and some students were damaging the equipment, students said.

Principal Kristi L. Holden said the computers were removed to protect the equipment. She also said the course could be taught without computers.

Textbooks arrived for the second quarter -- enough for classroom use, but not enough for students to take home -- and the substitute started giving assignments out of the book. But students say that the substitute never did any teaching.

The experience has frustrated parents and students.

"The students don't get a redo. This is it," said Thomas's mother, Wanda Matthews. "It's our job as educators, as parents, to make sure they get what they need the first time."

"I just think it was a waste of time," said Avery Jasper, a junior at the school who transferred out of the class last week. "I didn't learn anything. I didn't take anything from it."

Similar problems have plagued other Prince George's schools in recent years. During the 2007-08 school year, Largo High School had a long-term substitute Chinese teacher who didn't speak the language, and students in a computer graphics class never touched a keyboard.

On Tuesday, school officials said they have found a substitute teacher with a technology degree for the Surrattsville High class.

"He'll be placed in there next week," said William Barnes, director of the school system's high school consortium. Holden said the computers will be returned to the class next week, also.

Barnes said the course wasn't canceled at the beginning of the year because officials hadn't expected to have such a hard time finding another teacher. Once it became clear that there would be problems, Barnes said, it was already a quarter into the school year, and officials didn't want to reassign students' schedules, because doing so would "balloon" other classes.

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