Saturday, September 10, 2005

Computer problems continue to plague DCPS

Remember the computer glitch that affected 5% of DCPS students' schedules? Well, it seems like it wasn't quite the isolated event it was described at the time. The Post is reporting that the DC STARS system, which is designed to track such things as grades, scheduling and attendance, has been causing all kinds of issues.
"We've been down for three days," said one secondary school principal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concern that his comments could get him into trouble. "I've sent my attendance counselor down to the central office to see if she could input today's attendance. She said they couldn't do anything."
And here's a bit of weirdness:
In an internal memo dated yesterday, D.C. schools Chief Information Officer Gregory Barlow criticized the way the computer system was set up.

"In my experience, the combination of an Oracle database, Windows operating system, Unix hardware and an Apache webserver is a bad combination," Barlow wrote in the memo to Thomas M. Brady, the school system's chief business operations officer.

"In fact, through our research the last few days, we have found an advisory on the Apache website that states, 'Please note that at this time, Windows support is entirely experimental and is recommended only for experienced users.' The Apache Group does not guarantee that the software will work as documented or even at all."
Assuming that the quote is correct it sounds like CIO Barlow either a) doesn't know what he's talking about or b) doesn't know what he's doing. "Windows on Unix hardware?" Unless DC STARS runs on one ancient version of NT Windows doesn't run on what is traditionally thought of as Unix hardware (i.e. SPARC, MIPS, PPC, Alpha, etc. based machines). Windows runs on x86 based hardware which can run various versions of Unix or Unix-like operating systems, but is not generally referred to as "Unix hardware." As for Apache, the aforementioned warning hasn't been applicable to Windows since the 1.x versions. Apache 2.x runs on the Windows OS quite well. Again, either Barlow has no clue what he's talking about, or he's built DC STARS on 4-5 year old technology, neither of which looks good for someone who is supposed to be a CIO.


Anonymous said...

DC Stars has great potiental but the DCPS technology infrastructure and the training on the system is obviously incomplete.

Anonymous said...

Incomplete that right. Our counselors seemed to have had no training. They sat through "standards training" the four days before school began instead of being trained on the new software they would be required to use. Great thinking by DCPS!

Anonymous said...

There are two major issues here as I see it:

1. The system needs work
2. The users were not properly included in the development process.

I think it's high time that school boards in North America (I'm Canadian) stopped paying a fortune to re-invent the wheel. What about creating an open-source project with the express goal of building a database that would meet the needs of 70-80% of school boards? With open source, individual boards could then taylor the software to meet local needs.

This is not a trivial undertaking, nor is my proposal cheap: it would take a concerted effort by a group of dedicated boards to produce a standard. That standard would then be turned into software. The software could then be altered at will because everyone would be privvy to how it was created.

The downside would involve co-operation and buy-in. The upside would be a forward-looking approach to problem-solving on a grand scale.

The net result would be a system that could be disseminated accross school systems at minimal cost.

Anonymous said...

i was wondering why it was difficult for me to log on DCSTARS on my laptop. i thought my system lacks the capabilities. i guess,i'll wait until all the kinks in the system is corrected.