February 26, 2016 10:04 am ET
Submitted by parents in favor of responsible technology
As a journalist, there are times when the words of others are more powerful than your own. In those times, it is best to defer to those who have a deeper understanding of the subject matter. In this case, the subject is choosing the best course of action for the manner in which their children are to be taught.
On this subject, I am happy to defer to the parents regarding the educational system.
It is important to first read the following letter from Dr. Dallas Dance, followed by the parents response.
This letter is in response to a letter dated February 24, 2016 from Baltimore County Public Schools’ Superintendent, Dr. S. Dallas Dance, to the Maryland Delegation, on the topic of Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.), Dr. Dance’s 1:1 digital device initiative for Baltimore County Public School students.
Baltimore County Public Schools’ digital device program was announced in 2014, as was the intention to “go slow to go fast” with the effort. The intention, however, was to implement the 1:1 devices in ten pilot schools and to await data to assess efficacy of the roll-out before moving forward. Yet, to the dismay of many parents, S.T.A.T. has been flying forward without the data to suggest that Baltimore County children are receiving a quality education through their devices. While there is significant enthusiasm about what children look and feel like while on one of the laptops, parental concern has been focused on quality of education and the quantitative data that would suggest that our children are more than mere guinea pigs for this massive experiment in Baltimore County, while various software companies with their videos, content and education-gaming programs are employed to teach and instruct.
The purpose of this letter is to clarify points made, with facts that already exist within the examples given by the superintendent. Citations and statements that were provided, that simply require closer examination in order to find the truth within or surrounding them. Additionally, this letter aims to reveal that the laptop-centered personalized learning initiative, known as S.T.A.T., is actually not unique to the Baltimore County Public School system but is, instead, part of a larger national movement that also includes widespread stakeholder concern and dissatisfaction, as these initiatives unfold in a “stat-like” fashion across the country.
The first concern that the superintendent addresses is the allocation of resources and the lack of research to support the digital conversion. BCPS’ annotated bibliography is used to provide research related to S.T.A.T..
In the first source cited, the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative states on pg. page 142: “As is the case with nearly all research of interesting and evolving educational initiatives, perhaps as many questions are raised by the current examination as are answered… In many ways, the impacts of the rich learning environments afforded by the BWLI program are equally hard to consider and quantify, especially such a short time after the program was started.” This particular source has also been debunked by What Works Clearinghouse, studies conducted on behalf of the US Department of Education, as it relates to BCPS’ use of it as a basis for justification. The WWC looks at three dimensions of a study to determine validity: methodology employed, data collected, and statistics used. Many studies are deemed ‘not valid’ due to research design issues, narrow interpretations of data, or other flaws. See here for full article, as it relates the Baltimore County Public Schools’ S.T.A.T. program.
The next two citations include publications that are sponsored by various BCPS vendors, including Pearson, Intel and Hewlett Packard. And, in three different instances, the publications are affiliated with and/or sponsored by an organization called ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education), an organization on which Dr. Dance continues to sit as a Board member and with which other current BCPS executives also have past and current affiliations.
Another publication from BCPS’ annotated bibliography, called Intertwining Digital Content and a One-To-One Laptop Environment in Teaching and Learning: Lessons from the Time To Know Program, has a 2012 ISTE Copyright and is also-authored by a former Pearson employee. Finally, a total of five sources cited are arms of the United States Department of Education, the same entity who concluded on Pg. 9 of the recent 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) report: “Research on the effectiveness of technology-enabled programs andresources is still limited, and we should build capacity to generate evidence of individual-, program-, and community-level outcome.”
Dr. Dance then defers to research done in Mooresville City Public Schools, which he refers to as “incredibly successful” in his letter to the Delegation. An interesting observation is that the superintendent of that school system, Mark Edwards, is described as a “personal hero” of Dr. Dance in this SUPES Academy “SUPES Stars” feature from 2013.
Yet, when looking at the actual data for that school system, it is difficult to aspire to a status that is lackluster at best and leaves much to be desired in the hero department. The facts found in this 2014-2015 School Year grade report for North Carolina Schools, show that the schools in Mooresville City Public Schools scored at a solid C or B-minus, and that four out of the seven schools show that “growth is not met”. Using Mooresville as a partner and example is a far cry from the “Creating a Culture of Deliberate Excellence” which is proudly displayed on BCPS letterhead, a startling contrast which calls into question what Baltimore County Public Schools actually aspires to be.
Baltimore County has scores, as well. PARCC scores, to be specific. Scores that have revealed that the S.T.A.T. pilot schools, known as lighthouse schools, did not fare as well as those without S.T.A.T., which is the very fact-based data that concerns parents the most.
Next, Dr. Dance devotes a total of six sentences to the facility issues. Two of them, here: “I have stated that we cannot focus only our facilities and not more forward with S.T.A.T.. To prepare our students to be globally competitive, we must do both.” Dr. Dance was admonished at the January 27 Board of Public Works meeting, in which BCPS received bipartisan criticism for its failure to handle certain facility deficiencies that had been discussed years prior. Transcript found here. Among the topics brought up were the lack of air conditioning in dozens of Baltimore County Public Schools (33,000 kids are currently without air conditioning), Dulaney Valley High School’s brown drinking water and Lansdowne High School’s sinking structure and asbestos-laden air. Also not mentioned in the six sentences, are the deplorable conditions at Dundalk Elementary and the resounding cries for help.
Yet the celebration continues — and so does the fuzzy math, both which fail to consider the full cost of S.T.A.T. which, unless no one is flying the S.T.A.T. plane, need to account for salaries of the Digital Innovation staff, technology teachers as well as multiple cross-country, as well as international, travel to promote Baltimore County’s digital initiative.
It seems that flying has been the theme for Baltimore County Public Schools and its superintendent. From “Building the plane as we fly it” with Common Core, to making appearances across the country at conferences and trade shows such as iNACOL, ISTE and Digital Learning Day — all while traveling at great speed and, some would say, under the radar — this traveling at the speed of S.T.A.T. has been a significant theme, throughout.
In closing, and a topic that deserves an article of its own, but one whose mention will hopefully inspire the reader to “do one’s own digging” that will ultimately lead to the discovery that Baltimore County Public Schools is not the only school system in this frenetic race to personalized and customized learning, after all. That the exact language is found elsewhere, in school districts across the country. For instance, learn about the educational buzzwords here and this entrepreneur’s continued authority on the subject of “personalized learning” here; and then research how widespread the terms are, across the nation’s school systems.
In a time when data is not desired or acknowledged by the very school systems who are rolling out these programs in a factory-line manner, the onus truly is on us, the parents and stakeholders, to mobilize and thoroughly educate ourselves about what is actually going on with this rush to this “personalized, customized and student-centered” learning movement. Now is the time to go find out what this is and to look beyond the appearances of not just annotated bibliographies, but of statements that fail to acknowledge the facts. Research where that leads and see how these movements are panning out across the nation, in school systems smaller than that of Baltimore County’s.
For more information and articles about S.T.A.T., see the links below:
Here is another group of stakeholders with information about STAT in BCPS: STAT-us UPDATE: https://statusbcps.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/parents-do-their-homework-an-engineer-and-a-professor-on-stat/