Late Order, Faulty D.C. Enrollment Figures Cited in Textbook Delays

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005

Delays in delivering new textbooks to D.C. public schools appear to stem from multiple problems, including the size and late date of the order, inaccurate student enrollment projections and the lack of a computer system to keep track of shipments.

After maintaining for weeks that delivery of new math and English books to the system's 59,000 students had gone smoothly, school officials acknowledged last week that there were breakdowns in the process and that some children still do not have the materials.

Preliminary results of a continuing audit show that about 14 percent of the 147 schools have not received all their books, Meria J. Carstarphen, chief accountability officer, said. The school board late Thursday ordered Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to conduct the audit after The Washington Post reported that many parents and teachers were still complaining of students lacking books. The board gave Janey until Friday to complete the audit.

Although such complaints had surfaced earlier in the school year, Janey and his staff had insisted that the books had arrived on time. When classes opened Aug. 29, Janey said schools had received 95 percent of the books they ordered. But Carstarphen said Friday that the 95 percent figure actually was the percentage of schools that had either new or old textbooks on opening day.

"Board members are very upset," said school board member Tommy Wells (District 3). "I had been led to believe this was not a systemic problem and children had received their books. We need a full audit and a full explanation from the superintendent on this."

Janey, who took over as superintendent in September 2004, was widely praised by board members, city officials and education activists last year when he announced plans to overhaul the school system's academic program this fall. At his urging, the board adopted new learning standards in math and English, accompanied by new curricula and textbooks. Students will be tested on those standards this spring.

Several board members said last week that in hindsight, the plan to get the new books into the hands of every student in every grade by the start of classes this fall might have been too ambitious.

Because of the time involved in selecting the books, the board did not approve a $12.5 million contract with the publishers until June 15, and the books were not ordered until July.

"We were told by the publisher the books would be distributed on time, and that was not true," said school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. "Maybe it would have made more sense to hold off and to introduce the textbooks by January."

Officials in other large school systems in the Washington area -- Prince George's, Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince William counties -- said they typically place orders for new textbooks in the spring for a delivery in early summer. They said they were not aware of any problems with late or missing books in their schools.

In those school systems, as in the District, publishers generally ship the books directly to school buildings rather than to a central warehouse. In Fairfax and Prince William, individual schools are able to bypass the central office and order books on their own.

D.C. school administrators pointed to other problems besides the timing of the textbook order. Hilda L. Ortiz, the chief academic officer, said book orders were based on enrollment projections that turned out to be wrong. Many principals did not foresee the enrollment gains that occurred this fall in several secondary schools or enrollment declines in elementary schools.

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