The BCPS Budget and The County’s Fiscal Realities

The Baltimore County Board of Education will vote on the BCPS FY2020 Operating Budget on Tuesday, February 19.

The proposed budget is 11% over Maintenance of Effort.  TABCO and other bargaining units have testified for BCPS and the BOE to “go big” and ask for this amount so teachers can receive raises and cost-of-living adjustments, greatly needed support staff can be hired, and the extremely expensive STAT initiative can continue to be funded. Others have asked the BOE to do its due diligence and present a realistic budget outlining its priorities vs. letting the County government decide.

Read this February 14 Baltimore Sun article about the fiscal realities.

Read this November 2018 essay, which explains how we got here.

Read this February 1 BCPS teacher’s Letter to the Editor about the tough choices required.

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Protests over Cuts to Teacher Pay Reveal Overpriced Laptop Initiative Fiasco

Image result for photo laptop initiative fiasco

An Open Letter to the Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education, County Council and Executive Johnny Olszewski:

The vast amount of wasteful spending on the laptop-per-student program known as STAT has created a long-looming fiscal crisis in Baltimore County Public Schools and the county.

A recent 2019-20 budget proposal revision that would slash promised teacher pay increases — sparking protest — is the latest indicator of how dire the situation has become. Teachers are education’s greatest assets and many classroom needs — smaller class sizes, etc — have been sideswiped since this troubled program began with much fanfare in fall 2014.

For the newly elected school board members and county executive, who are increasingly aware of this scenario, here are a few articles pulled together during more than two years of following this issue in Baltimore County, MD. See various in-depth resources, data, and citations relevant to this crisis. What’s transpired at BCPS’ still-touted yet mostly failed digital initiative raises red flags for local and national school districts implementing or considering laptop-per-student programs.

The bottom line in Baltimore County:

* BCPS is overpaying for laptops (more than twice the industry and regional average) — under two contracts with the same HP-reseller, Daly Computers, for nearly $300 millionBCPS also has been overfunding poorly designed software such as iReady and DreamBox — brought to the district under questionable ethical circumstances via the previous and current administration’s ties with controversial edtech broker ERDI. Such software or platform contracts are costing the district and taxpayers additional tens of millions of dollars.

* Laptops assigned one-per-student is considered developmentally inappropriate in younger grades K-2 even in digital education programs across the nation, and in many elementary schools in general. Increased screen time is a concern for children’s brain development (see groundbreaking NIH study and citation below), yet BCPS has ignored emerging science to irresponsibly insist on hours at school and home for children as young as six.

* BCPS’ lack of results, declining test scores, and innumerable problems with wifi connectivity — as well as counterproductive frustration among students being poorly “taught” via software that doesn’t work, and rampant student off-task gaming and internet surfing — reveal this overall program to be a clear fiasco.

Technology is needed in schools, yet BCPS in many cases does not even offer college-and career-ready software tools — in such areas as high school engineering studies. Since the advent of STAT under convicted former superintendent Dallas Dance and interim superintendent Verletta White, BCPS has instead contracted largely with start-up edtech companies making promises they can’t keep, and charging public taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in the meantime. For more info, and in links cited below:
 
More than $60 million in no-bid BCPS contracts linked to controversial private company

http://towsonflyer.com/2017/11/11/60-million-bcps-contracts-linked-controversial-private-clients/

Please direct Interim BCPS Superintendent White to further cut this program in elementary schools: eliminating devices in grades 1 and 2 or possibly moving to a more amenable 3:1 ratio or providing devices on carts to various classrooms during a transition. These options alone would save tens of millions of dollars. Other changes (also pulling unnecessary devices out of kindergarten ‘stations’) and a close fiscal review of tech is indicated.

In the end, an overhaul of the technology program is required — and fresh leadership is needed with a new superintendent who can approach the use of tech in schools with an objective eye to developmental appropriateness and longterm fiscal responsibility. 

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Additional resources, links within, among others:

* BCPS Laptops Cost Twice Industry Standard, report shows

* NIH study indicates lower thinking and language skills, and premature thinning of brain cortex in 9-year-olds exposed to screens:
 

https://www.axios.com/screen-time-nih-study-childhood-development-64779bad-663a-4d8b-94d9-f95dc5959740.html

* Software/platforms such as iReady widely criticized

https://tultican.com/2018/06/27/iready-magnificent-marketing-terrible-teaching/?fbclid=IwAR308H2CFMoAtsc33_lkn7yzzIutP-DICV9GSfy9ajZPny6idPDOo9Oii6Y

* Laptop program brings no results (note this is a $300 million program in laptop costs alone with the second contract round approved, over just the first several years of the ongoing “instructional program.”).

https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/k-12/bs-md-co-laptop-schools-achievement-20181127-story.html

* Teachers protest pay cuts and controversy (reported recently by Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Post)

Baltimore County superintendent’s $1.65 billion budget plan calls for cutting back devices at elementary level

The proposed BCPS FY20 operating budget was presented at the 1/8/19 Board of Education meeting. Devices will be used at a 2:1 ratio (2 students/1 device) in Grades K to 2; Grade 3 and up will use them at a 1:1 ratio.  Younger children will use much less expensive Chromebooks.

It’s a start.

Watch presentation:

Review proposed FY20 Operating Budget:

http://www.bcps.org/budget/FY20/FY2020-Proposed-Budget.pdf

Read 1/8/19 Sun article here.

Sun shines on STAT’s lack of student achievement

The Baltimore Sun, more than four years after the Baltimore County Public School laptop-per-student program was launched, reports on the lack of overall student achievement on standardized tests and other measures — as well as other various drawbacks of the costly program. Taxpayers are actually paying nearly $300 million in laptop costs alone, with an additional $140 million contract later noted in the Sun story :

“It has been four years since Baltimore County’s first elementary school children excitedly put their hands on their own laptops, beginning a $147 million rollout aimed at giving students from first to 12th grade access to technology and transforming the way lessons are taught.

But the ambitious program has yet to show the results many had hoped for. Despite the saturation of technology, Baltimore County ranks near the bottom of the state in passing rates on standardized tests. The scores are generally flat for students in grades three through eight, many of whom have had the computers for at least three years.”

 

With BCPS’s new school board in place, some are breathing a sigh of relief

November 27 Baltimore Post editorial.

When it comes to Baltimore County Public Schools’ (BCPS) new school board, some are breathing a sigh of relief. And while there may be disagreement on the reasons why that is, one thing is certain: for many of those who have been paying attention over the last six years, the new group of new and incumbent board members is seen as a new dawn, a new day and a very welcome new beginning.

 

Gov. Hogan Appoints Four Members to New Hybrid School Board

On November 26, Gov. Hogan appointed four at-large members to serve on the new Baltimore County hybrid school board. These members will join the candidates elected to represent the County’s seven councilmanic districts.  The 12th member is the student member of the board.

Read this Baltimore Post article about it.

Read the Baltimore Sun’s article about it.

The new board will meet for the first time on December 11th. When available, the agenda and Livestream link to watch the meeting online will be posted here.

S.T.A.T. Year Four Evaluation Report

At the October 23, 2018 Board of Education meeting, S.T.A.T. evaluator Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education (CREE) presented the program’s Year Four evaluation. The report’s summary notes:

The impacts of S.T.A.T. on student achievement remain encouraging but still indeterminate given the still relatively short duration of the initiative. Arguably, the primary goal of technology integration is to prepare students for using 21st century learning tools independently and skillfully to increase interest in learning and readiness for postsecondary and career success. Raising performance on standardized achievement tests is also a desirable goal, but one affected by many factors such as core curricula, supplementary educational programing (e.g., after-school, enrichment, and remedial support), school resources, and student characteristics. Importantly, most teachers and principals, particularly those in the most experienced cohorts, continue to hold positive perceptions of the initiative’s impact on CCSS mastery, while acknowledging that measurable impacts on student PARCC or MAP achievement are not yet clear.”

“As the initiative has expanded, so have certain challenges intrinsic to student-centered learning in general and classroom technology integration in particular. When students learn independently and collaboratively, opportunities for students to engage in off-task and disruptive behavior can increase relative to teacher-directed instruction. Recreational activity during class, such as playing games, surfing the Internet, and communicating with peers via cell phones or social media, may prove challenging for teachers, inexperienced in technology integration, to control.”

“Future improvement needs and recommendations include continuing to (a) expand professional development support for teachers on student-centered and P21 instructional practices; and (b) implement strategies to prevent and address student off-task behaviors while using devices, both laptops and cell phones. We also suggest the district revisits the policy allowing students to take devices home each day.”

Read the full report here.

Read the report’s addendum here.

Review the JHU presentation here.