Saturday, August 29, 2009

Scheduling Snafu at Bowie High

There was a scheduling snafu at Bowie High School and other Prince George's County high schools this week. 8000 students had missing, incorrect or partial schedules at the start of the school year last Monday. Rather than going to class, students with problem schedules were sent to cafeterias, gymnasiums and auditoriums.

In initial reports, a school administrator said that the problem was mostly due to late registrations and late schedule changes, but parents quickly disputed that assertion. By the end of the week, blame was being placed on SchoolMax, the multi-multi-million dollar scheduling software used by the Prince George's County Public Schools. Reports also surfaced that the problems were known well in advance, and that a good part of the summer was spent testing and patching the problem software.

The number of students without schedules was down to 2000 by Thursday, and the school system is hoping to have schedules to all high school students by Monday.

Without having additional details, one can only speculate about what went wrong. Were users properly trained? Does the software scale well to handle a school system with 41,000 high school students? If a new software version was installed, were contingency plans in place to return to the previous version of the software in the event of a major failure? If a contingency plan was in place, was it flawed? The school system declared an "all hands on deck" this week to address the problem, but why wasn't that done two or three weeks ago? These are the types of questions that anyone managing large scale computer systems consider on a regular basis. I'm interested in hearing more details about what happened in the months leading up to the first day of school.

I quick Internet seach of SchoolMax problems reveals the following:

  • A Washington Post article from March, 2009 covering the scheduling, grading and other SchoolMax problems experienced by the Prince George's County Schools.
  • A Facebook group started in 2008 with 4100+ members called "SCHOOLMAX SUCKS!!!! AND I HATE IT!!!!"

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