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Year 2000 -- Will Your District's Computers Be Ready?

You've heard about the "Year 2000 Problem" with computers? Is it a problem for your school? You ought to know! The U.S. Department of Education, the American Association of School Administrators, and others are offering information and help! Included: A link to a book your teachers won't want to miss!

You've all heard about the problem. It's called the year 2000 compliance problem, the year 2000 problem, the Y2K problem, the millennium bug, and (I'm sure) other names that we could never print. News about computer problems that will arrive with the year 2000 is reported every day. You read about it in the newspapers. You hear about it on the radio and TV. Look in the employment listings and you'll find out that many people are needed to help solve the problem.

Indeed, people are already experiencing the Y2K probem! Recently, a movie patron tried to pay for his movie tickets with a credit card, but the terminal at the ticket counter rejected the card. The patron knew that he'd paid his credit card bill, and the theater always had taken his credit card before -- so what was the problem? The card had an expiration date in the year 2000.... If something similar hasn't happened to you yet, watch out. It might!


As far back as far as 1996, Education Week reported that some school districts had difficulty tracking "the expiration of employees' teaching certificates and the status-review schedules of children in special education."

Yes, school districts and educational institutions will certainly be bitten by "the bug"!

Fixing the bug will take time, and money. And if your district has not yet begun, now is the time.


The American Association of School Administrators examines the Year 2000 problem in a special Attention School Administrators! Year 2000 Web page. The AASA recommends and details the following four steps administrators need to take:

  • Identify the scope of the problem.
  • Plan and budget for the work.
  • Correct the software.
  • Correct the data.

Does it sound simple? If you feel secure that your computers, software, and data are ready, are you certain that every other computer (its data included) that you share information with is compliant too? Date-sensitive systems related to school systems include (but are not limited to) payroll, student records, budget, and ordering. Your computers may be linked to state and federal computers. Surprises will abound!

The U.S. Department of Education is also helping educators handle the Y2K problem. They have created a Year 2000 Project Web page. The site provides links that may be valuable to administrators. The Department itself has developed a strategy to address their problem. The Department of Education will

"...analyze all data exchanges with the education community to ensure that we continue to carry out our business. Also contingency planning will take place to determine necessary actions in case systems cannot be fixed or to deal with other difficulties that may arise."


The problem has to do with space and time, elements with which educators are certainly familiar. Early computer programs were written to conserve memory space -- the early computers, even mainframes, had little memory -- especially compared to the computers of today. Every memory bit was counted and shortcuts in computer code became standard. In dates, representing the year with two digits was space-efficient. C.E.Shipp clearly defined the problem in Scientific Computing and Automation (February 1998):

"...[T]wo digit representation of year values do not cross the century boundary going from the 1900s to the 2000s very well. That is, the sequence: 97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03does not allow for sorting, calculations, date comparisons and projections unless special program modifications are made. To store data and pass dates between systems, two-digit year representation must be replaced."

Businesses, governments, and organizations have already spent millions to eradicate the Y2K problem and they have hardly scratched the surface. Many of the software problems exist in programs that were written in computer languages seldom used in the 1990s. Each line of code must be examined and rewritten, if necessary, to prevent errors. Some companies are installing new hardware and/or software, trying to avoid the problem, but they have to assure that their new systems can interface with older systems. The effort to locate experienced workers and train new ones is time consuming and expensive. Competent troubleshooters have more work than they can handle. And the clock is ticking.


Will the immense costs of preparing for and dealing with Y2K lead to economic disaster? Some say it will.

"Year 2000 is a unique and unprecedented economic event. Previous jolts to the economy, like the Gulf War and the oil price shocks of the 1970s, were surprises. But Year 2000 is the first economic disaster to arrive on a schedule. The great danger is that the U.S. economy will not be ready to welcome the millennium."

Such was the warning in Business Week's March 2 issue about possible economic results. If we stopped to think Where the Bug Will Bite even non-computer people would lose sleep. Business Week provided a summary:

  • Electric power. "Scattered power outages are likely, and some nuclear power plants may be shut down temporarily."
  • Government. "Major problems exist at the Internal Revenue Service and many other agencies. Most state and local governments are way behind fixing date-sensitive programs needed for tax collection, payrolls, and welfare benefits."
  • Banking and financial services. "Most large banks, the Federal Reserve, and the exchanges should be well prepared. But foreign banks and small U.S. banks are lagging. The result: Disruptions in the financial system."
  • Manufacturing. "Most large companies are on top of the problem, but they are vulnerable to problems at smaller suppliers. Industries such as pharmaceuticals and petroleum refining depend on timing-sensitive computer programs."
  • Total loss of output, 1998-2001. "$119 Billion (in 1998 dollars)"

And education was not even mentioned.


Others claim that the Year 2000 computer problem is not a crisis for everyone. Eleanor Snite writes in the Jacksonville Business Journal that "not everyone who owns a computer needs to panic about the coming of the year 2000."

"For the small- to medium-size business with a few personal computers, the problem could be fairly easy to solve. Indeed, it could be as easy as downloading a software patch or manually changing the clock on the computer."

But she does remind business computer users "that have both their hardware and software in sync with the millenniumto be aware that everyone who connects to their system has to be 2000-friendly as well."


While just thinking about the year 2000 problem gives many of us headaches, low-tech problems will also arrive with year 2000. Such is the situation with tombstones! In many cemeteries, you can see tombstones already in place, awaiting the passing of long-lived people. The carved date of death on many of these tombstones reads 19--. The last two digits are meant to be filled in when the death occurs. But people are living longer now. What might have looked certain (death before year 2000) at one time, won't always hold true. But this low-tech problem does have a solution -- the numerals can be filled in and carved again The solution will also take time, skill, and money. But I can visualize that solution.... My headache is already going away.


Article by Anne Guignon
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World