STAT: Undermined by Design

Most teachers or administrators with expertise in instructional design are familiar with the curriculum framework of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, known as Understanding by Design (UbD). This is perhaps the most implemented “backwards design” curriculum model, used in both public and private K-12 settings. The premise is relatively simple: the designer begins with the desired educational outcomes and works backwards through a three-stage planning process towards those outcomes, employing a series of guiding “essential questions” that can help lead students beyond rote repetition and memorization to a fuller, deeper understanding and successful application of ideas and concepts (as opposed to superficial knowledge). In creating this framework, McTighe and Wiggins brought expertise from their own classroom and educational administrative experiences to bear, as well as substantial research.

The latest curriculum and instructional rationale deployed in Baltimore County Public Schools in service of their STAT initiative claims a basis in the Understanding by Design framework but in a vastly modified form; it has been combined with elements of less proven pedagogical effectiveness, including features from the work of education researchers Robert Marzano and Rick Stiggins. Both have limited experience in classroom teaching, school administration, or instructional design, though CEO Marzano presides over a vast aggregation of profitable educational enterprises and Stiggins serves as President of the Pearson-operated Assessment Training Institute.  Instructional elements have also been adopted from the “Framework for the 21st Century,” developed by the nonprofit Partnership for 21st Century Learning, which is not so much an educational organization as a lobbying arm for education/business partnerships, counting Pearson, Intel, and other educational technology companies among their clients.  You can read more about Marzano and their contract in Detroit Public Schools here.

Other STAT instructional elements are similarly derived. One piece comes from the venerable research-based Framework for Teaching, by longtime teacher and instructional designer Charlotte Danielson; yet another is borrowed from the pedagogically dubious SAMR technology integration model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, who has no background in K-12 education and no research to support efficacy of his model.

In their training workshops for teachers and administrators, McTighe and Wiggins often offered a top-ten list of “How to Kill Understanding by Design,” mindful that implementers sometimes treat elements of learning frameworks as a-la-carte items or temporary fixes for deeper systemic issues, diluting the effectiveness of the model. Item number 4 on their “how to kill” list is “attempt to implement too many initiatives simultaneously (e.g., UbD, Differentiated Instruction, Curriculum Mapping, Brain-based Learning, Professional Learning Communities, etc.).” The BCPS STAT alphabet soup of model implementation does exactly that.

Item number 10 on the list is “standardize all UbD implementation. Do not permit options/alternatives/ different approaches to learning and using UbD. Disregard the interests, talents, and readiness of individuals and teams.” This strikes to the very core of the STAT initiative; while student-centered learning is a professed goal, the talent of teachers has been increasingly minimized and substituted with online content and activities.

This catch-all approach to design is, as McTighe and Wiggins suggest, a major curricular error. In addition, the UbD and the Danielson model both adhere to a constructivist viewpoint of education, in which students strive to develop (or construct) their own learning and understanding through meaningful interaction and guidance from skilled teachers. This is directly at odds with the competency-based STAT model of technology-assisted “personalized instruction,” which has its roots in behaviorist learning theory, based on the works of scientist B.F. Skinner.

Skinner, famous for his experiments in operant conditioning (the use of reinforcement to develop a desired behavior), first pushed the idea of programmed learning from machines in the 1950s.  Not much has changed in the 21st century when it comes to “personalized learning”; instead of a Skinner Box, some STAT classrooms are making use of the DreamBox, Ascend Math or TenMarks mathematics programs, which are operant systems in flashier 1:1 device packages. A student completes a preprogrammed task (a math problem), earns a reward (a few minutes of a video game, virtual coins, or an accomplishment badge), and their data is logged as evidence of progress. The student then repeats the process towards “mastery.”

Behaviorist approaches are great for ensuring the dutiful completion of tasks towards a goal; however, they often lack the depth and nuances to encourage creative and independent thinking, which makes effective transfer of learning difficult. Transfer, the ability to apply learned knowledge between different contexts, often lags in behavioral-based settings; new or novel situations (which do not elicit expected stimulus/reward) can be tricky for a learner to navigate. Constructivist models, with non-virtual hands-on approaches, create more robust learning transfer, encouraging problem solving and divergent thinking.

If the STAT initiative is truly striving to create students with “21st century skills to be globally competitive,” it should employ a more coherent curricular and instructional model that truly fosters critical and innovative thinking. As it stands, it appears to be a conditioning exercise to help create passive students for easy academic handling and dutiful workers for large corporations.

For another article on education technology and the skinner box, you can read Gary Stager’s Outside the Skinner Box , Can Education Technology Make a Course Correction?

Alfie Kohn: Four Reasons to Worry About Personalized Learning

February 2015 post from the great Alfie Kohn.

On Personal vs. Personalized Learning, Inc. (PLI):

“A suffix can change everything. When you attach -ality to sentiment, for example, you end up with what Wallace Stevens called a failure of feeling. When -ized is added to personal, again, the original idea has been not merely changed but corrupted — and even worse is something we might call Personalized Learning, Inc. (PLI), in which companies sell us digital products to monitor students while purporting to respond to the differences among them.

Personal learning entails working with each child to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests. It requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well.

Personalized learning entails adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores. It requires the purchase of software from one of those companies that can afford full-page ads in Education Week.”

On Technology:

“It’s all about the tech. Two overlapping groups of educators seem particularly enamored of PLI: (1) those who are awed by anything emitted by the private sector, including books about leadership whose examples are drawn from Fortune 500 companies and filled with declarations about the need to “leverage strategic cultures for transformational disruption”; and (2) those who experience excitement that borders on sexual arousal from anything involving technology – even though much of what falls under the heading “ed tech” is, to put it charitably, of scant educational value.”

“Follow the money” is apt advice in many sectors of education — for example, in language arts, where millions are made selling leveled “guided reading” systems, skills-based literacy workbooks, and the like. Simpler strategies, such as having kids choose, read, and discuss real books from the library may be more effective, but, as reading expert Dick Allington asks drily, “Who promotes a research-based practice that seems an unlikely profit center? No one.” Personalization is an even more disturbing example of this phenomenon because the word has come to be equated with technology – perhaps because it’s far more profitable for the purveyors that way and, at the same time, “It’s so much cheaper to buy a new computer than to pay a teacher’s salary year after year.”

“Certain forms of technology can be used to support progressive education, but meaningful (and truly personal) learning never requires technology. Therefore, if an idea like personalization is presented from the start as entailing software or a screen, we ought to be extremely skeptical about who really benefits.”

Traveling at the Speed of S.T.A.T.

Dr. Dance wrote a letter dated February 24, 2016 to the County Council because it sounds like the County Council members have been hearing complaints about STAT and the BCPS budget: “Many of you may have received questions from your constituents regarding Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.).”

The link includes the full text of what Dr Dance wrote and a response by some very astute citizens who reached out to a local blogger.  Read this extremely well-written summary of the current situation.

Traveling at the Speed of S.T.A.T.

Below was posted in the comments section of this blog and is in response to the two letters in Traveling at the Speed of S.T.A.T.

“Great post!!! As far as the question of other school districts…

These 1:1 programs have proven unwieldy in many large school districts and have been abandoned because of logistics, lack of positive long-term learning outcomes, and intractable problems with student digital distraction, online “hacking,” and ergonomic fallout — computer vision syndrome and neck pain — among students. But most of all, it has been the ballooning costs.

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Blended Learning: The great new thing or the great new hype?

With permission from Valerie Strauss and Phil McRae, we are posting a June 21, 2015 post from the Answer Sheet in the Washington Post.

If you haven’t heard the claim that blended learning is the present and future of education, you haven’t been listening. It is one of the central features of modern school reform, with proponents proclaiming that it helps personalize education, cuts costs and allows students to be more productive. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But is it? Here’s a look at the hype, the harm and the hope of blended learning, by Phil McRae is an executive staff officer with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and adjunct professor within the faculty of education at the University of Alberta, where he earned his PhD. This article was printed in the Summer 2015 edition of the ATA Magazine.

By Phil McRae

Blended learning, where students’ face-to-face education is blended with Internet resources or online courses, has been gaining considerable attention in education reform circles. It has become entangled with the ambiguous notion of personalized learning and is being positioned as the new way to individualize learning in competency-based education systems. Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, and a key proponent of blended learning, claims that it is the “new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive, as it delivers dramatically better results at the same or lower cost” (Horn and Staker 2011, 13). To what extent is this a new model of learning in a digital age? How are private corporations employing old rhetoric to advance new avenues into public education? Most importantly, is blended learning becoming yet another overhyped myth on the crowded road of technology-as-education-reform panacea?

ORIGINS OF A MYTH

Students blending the use of technology with face-to-face instruction as a means of collaborating and extending their learning experiences is not unusual, revolutionary or foreign to the average Canadian classroom. As a concept, blended learning is now almost two decades old, having been imported into K–12 education in the late 1990s from corporate education, business training firms and the post-secondary education sector. Although the precise origin is unclear, it has been suggested that an Atlanta-based computer training business coined the term in 1999 (Friesen 2012), as it announced the release of a new generation of online courses for adults that were to be blended with live instruction.

Many blended learning practices already fit well with a vast array of hybrid face-to-face and digital experiences that students encounter in K–12 schools, including distributed learning, distance learning, or e-learning. Dr. Norm Friesen, a key academic in this area, suggests that blended learning “designates the range of possibilities presented by combining Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co-presence of teacher and students” (Friesen 2012). As this broad definition illustrates, it would be difficult to find any use of technology in education that does not easily fit into this boundary.

Despite this fluidity of meaning, different models of blended learning have taken shape. In particular, Staker and Horn (2012) have attempted to classify blended learning environments into four models: rotation, flex, self-blend and enriched virtual. These four combinations range from those that are more connected to people and brick-and-mortar buildings (rotation, flex) to contexts in which the students are primarily self-directed through online courses or platforms that “deliver” the curriculum (self-blend and enriched virtual). In the more self-directed models, teachers or non-certificated facilitators are conditional and only scheduled for support as deemed necessary.

Although many models have been implemented over the last 20 years, there is scant evidence of the success of blended learning. Out of 46 robust research studies conducted between 1996 and 2008, only five have focused on results for students in K–12 settings (Murphy et al. 2014). As a recent article in Education Week illustrates, when looking for strong evidence of success around this strategy for K–12 students, very little “definitive evidence” or few significant results can be directly attributed to blended learning (Sparks 2015).

HYPE

The current hype around blended learning models, especially in the United States, is that they bring to life personalized learning for each and every child. Personalized learning, as promoted under a new canopy of blended learning, is neither a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of learning approaches, regardless of the proposed models. In fact, personalized learning is an idea struggling for an identity (McRae 2014, 2010). A description of personalization that’s tightly linked to technology-mediated individualization “anywhere, anytime” is premised on archaic ideas of teaching machines imagined early in the 20th century (McRae 2013).
Some blended learning rhetoric suggests that personalization is to be achieved through individualized self-paced computer programs (known as adaptive learning systems), combined with small-group instruction for students who have the most pressing academic needs. For those looking to specifically advance blended learning in times of severe economic constraints, a certificated teacher is optional.

Software companies selling their adaptive learning products boldly state that the “best personalized learning programs will give students millions of potential pathways to follow through curricula and end up with the desired result — true comprehension” (Green 2013). This is part of the myth of blended learning and is marketed using superficial math and reading software programs (adaptive learning systems) that make dubious claims of driving up scores on high-stakes tests. Corporate attempts to “standardize personalization” in this way are both ironic and absurd.

These adaptive learning systems (the new teaching machines) do not build more resilient, creative, entrepreneurial or empathetic citizens through their individualized, standardized, linear and mechanical software algorithms. On the contrary, they diminish the many opportunities for human relationships to flourish, which is a hallmark of high-quality learning environments.

One of the blended learning examples that has received perhaps the greatest attention is the “flipped classroom.” It is so named because it inverts classroom instruction during the day, so that students watch online video of lectures at home at their own pace, perhaps communicating with peers and teachers via online discussions in the evening, and spend their days doing homework in the classroom. Think of the popular media hype and mythical cure for math challenges sold to the public by the Khan Academy. There is nothing revolutionary or deeply engaging about pure lecture as a pedagogy, yet apparently adding hours of digitally distributed video each evening to a child’s life makes it so. In fact, research suggests that the use of this type of lecture recorded technology, as a primary approach to learning, can result in students falling behind in the curriculum (Gosper et al. 2008).

Many myths, when viewed up close, provide deep reflections of ourselves and society. Technologies in particular have amplified our North American desires for choice, flexibility and individualization, so it’s easy to be seduced by a vision of blended learning environments delivering only what we want, when and how we want it customized.
The marketing mantra from corporations as diverse as media conglomerates to banks is that of services at any time, in any place or at any pace. Many governments have in turn adopted this in an eagerness to reduce costs with businesslike customization and streamlined workforce productivity, all with the expectation that a flexible and blended education system will be more efficient and (cost) effective.

In the mythical space of blended learning, class sizes apparently no longer matter and new staffing patterns begin to emerge. The amount of time students spend in schools becomes irrelevant as brick-and-mortar structures fade away. However, this myth disregards the overwhelming parental desire and societal expectation that children and youth will gather together to learn in highly relational settings with knowledgeable and mindful professionals (teachers) who understand both the art and science of learning. As John F. Kennedy (1962) so eloquently stated: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”The U.S. Department of Education (2013) has clearly articulated a commitment to making blended learning come to life through nebulous ideas of competency-based systems and personalized learning.

“Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money … make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently .… Each of these presents an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency and increase productivity.”

The cost efficiency and effectiveness rhetoric must be given special attention as part of the myth of blended learning in competency based systems.

HARM

Schools and classrooms across North America are being subjected to economic volatility and severe constraints by reduced public education funding. Blended learning can be positioned as the vehicle to bring in third-party education providers to wipe out the expectations of small class sizes and certificated teachers in traditional classrooms. This idea is gaining momentum through a variety of U.S. virtual and charter schools that are radically reducing the numbers of teachers and executing increased class sizes under the banner of blended learning. As Michael Horn states when asked to give expert advice on blended learning models, “budget cuts and teacher shortages are an opportunity, not a threat” (Horn et al. 2014).
As school jurisdictions across the United States turn to online learning and blended models as a way to reallocate resources, the private providers are also advocating for “eradicating rules that restrict class size and student-teacher ratios” (Horn and Staker 2011, 13). To achieve this means lifting the rules around teacher certification so that schools can replace teachers at will with para-professionals or non-certificated individual learning specialists. As Christensen and Horn (2008) suggest, “Computer-based learning on a large scale is also less expensive than the current labor intensive system and could solve the financial dilemmas facing public schools” (13).

To enable this in an education system, several policies must be enshrined by governments that would allow private schools, virtual cyber-charter schools or educational technology companies direct access to students outside of a protected public system. The first is to open up multiple pathways of learning, which are more flexible in terms of time and space, and designed around technology solutions that only the company can deliver.

The Software & Information Industry Association, the principal trade association for the software and digital content industries in America, is a clear backer of redefining and expanding the role of the teacher, and advocates that “teacher contracts and other regulatory constraints may also need to be addressed to provide the flexibility in a teacher’s role needed to make this dramatic shift in instruction” (Wolf 2010, 15).

On the surface, this flexibility sounds promising, as teachers and school leaders certainly recognize that the industrial model of command and control does not fit with our hyper-connected world. Yet the flexibility of any-time, any-place learning is manifesting itself in the United States around adaptive learning software programs or mandatory online learning courses that are being delivered by private companies. New course access legislation (as found in Wisconsin, Texas, Utah, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota) now allows anyone to teach online courses to students regardless of jurisdiction, certification or geographic location (Dwinal 2015). In other words, every course, for every student, anywhere, anytime — and now — taught by anyone. Half the teachers, but sold as twice the fun?

In the case of K12 Inc., the United States’ largest private for-profit provider of online education for grades K–12, student-teacher ratios are as high as one teacher to 275 students (Aaronson and O’Connor 2012). As a former president and CEO at McGraw-Hill Education affirmed: “With this new method and capability, all of a sudden you could see a teacher handling many more students … the productivity could double or triple” (Olster 2013).

The harsh reality, however, is that private online schooling is not about new blended learning models, flexibility or choice, it is about profit through the constant cycle of enrollment and withdrawal of students known as the “churn rate” (Gibson and Clements 2013). In contrast, our current publicly funded and publicly delivered online schools across Alberta reinforce the important role of certificated teachers as compassionate and empathetic architects of learning who work relentlessly to reduce the drop-out rates and increase student engagement in virtual learning environments.

Rocketship Education, one of the many rapidly growing charter schools out of the United States, has adopted a rotation model of blended learning known as the Rocketship Hybrid School Model for kindergarten to Grade 5 students. It combines online learning on campus with traditional classroom-based activities in order to save $500,000 per charter school per year in teacher salary costs (Danner 2010).To accomplish this, Rocketship Education has cut half its teachers, changed its scope of practice and hired low-paid adults to supervise and monitor students in computer labs. The new staffing patterns within this rotation blended learning model place the schools in a one to 100-plus student/teacher ratio, with one or two low-wage computer lab monitors. These support personnel are endowed with titles like “individual learning specialists,” “coaches” or “facilitators” (Public Broadcasting Service 2012).

Without certificated teachers present, there is a need to gather data on student performance, so the children spend a great deal of time in a computer lab with an adaptive learning program monitoring their every interaction. John Danner, former CEO of Rocketship Charter Schools and a former board member of DreamBox Learning Inc., promotes increased screen time during the day for children. He thinks that as the quality of software improves, “‘Rocketeers’ could spend as much as 50 percent of the school day with computers” (Strauss 2013). How many hours of development, in the minds and bodies of children and youth, are we willing to sacrifice for more individualized computer-human interactions under the guise of blended learning?

If blended learning through the rotation model is to be defined by reducing the number of certificated teachers in schools and placing students in computer labs to spend half of their day in front of math and reading software programs, then education in the 21st century is indeed heading down an antiquated and very dangerous path. This is not historically the way blended learning has come alive in Alberta classrooms, nor should it be our preferred future.

HOPE

The growth of digital media and the Internet has led to an explosion of resources and opportunities for teachers, students and learning communities. A constant shift is occurring with different mobile apps, blogs, video podcasts, social media tools, e-learning courses, or learning management systems in schools that all promise to help teachers create and organize student work, provide (real-time) feedback or communicate more efficiently.

With the proliferation of digital tools in our lives, many K–12 students now experience learning through a blend of face-to-face and digital or online media and are able to access new ideas and resources where student attitudes and engagement towards their education can be positively supported. If blended learning is to lead to positive outcomes for students, then it must be highly relational, active and inquiry oriented (both online and offline), and commit to empowering students with digital tools.

If done right, blended learning can be used to support more equitable access to learning resources and discipline-specific expertise. It may also engage students (and teachers) in a variety of online and offline learning activities that differentiate instruction and bring greater diversity to the learning context. Improving communication between teachers, students and parents and extending relationships across boundaries and time may also be an outcome of blended learning.

It may also hold value by employing certain technologies that help teachers and students to formatively assess learning.To make this truly hopeful, school-based technology infrastructure must be robust and up-to-date, with equitable access, and the necessary resources (human and technology) must be made available to pedagogically support the blending. It is not tenable if Internet connectivity is unreliable or limited, or if there exists inequitable access to bandwidth or technology infrastructure in the school and home. Finally, if technical glitches are pervasive, or if dependable technical support is not available for students and teachers, then it is unlikely that blended learning will be a sustainable concept.

CONCLUSION

Blended learning is not a new term nor a revolutionary concept for classrooms in this second decade of the 21st century. However, the way it is being (re)interpreted could be hopeful or harmful depending on how it is implemented. It is an increasingly ambiguous and vague notion that is growing in popularity as many groups try to claim the space and establish the models, despite a lack of evidence and research. We should therefore be skeptical around the mythos of blended learning before endorsing or lauding it as the next great reform.

Blended learning has occupied a place in discourses of educational change for well over a decade, but it cannot be co-opted into a movement that displaces the human dimension of learning with an economic imperative to reduce labor costs by cutting the teaching population in half. Of particular concern in times of severe economic restraint is that high schools may become the testing ground for policymakers looking at ways to redesign by cutting certificated teachers in favor of massive online cohorts of students tutored by “facilitators” or “individual learning specialists.”

Technologies should be employed to help students become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers. Innovations are needed in education that will help to create a society where people can flourish within culturally rich, informed, democratic, digitally connected and diverse communities. We should not descend into a culture of individualism through technology where our students are fragmented by continuous partial attention.

For the vast majority of students within Alberta’s K–12 public education system, we must achieve a more nuanced balance that combines both digital technologies and the physical presence of a caring, knowledgeable and pedagogically thoughtful teacher. This is not an optional “nice to have,” but a “must have” if children and youth are to build resilience for the future. Blended learning may be (re)shaped by privatization myths, with adaptive learning systems as their voice, but in Alberta, our teachers still remain the quintessence of the human enterprise of paying it forward for our next generation. It is time for Alberta teachers to claim the space of blended learning and push back at the myths and questionable rhetoric.

REFERENCES

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Diane Ravitch: Baltimore County Buys the Great Technology Hoax, for Almost $300 Million

Diane Ravitch has again highlighted Baltimore County’s “Hoax”.  The comments on her blog are also worth reading.

Baltimore County Buys the Great Technology Hoax, for Almost $300 Million

I wish that all those who appreciate the wonders of technology would frankly admit its limitations. I wish they would speak out when hucksters and naifs claim that technology will close the achievement gap between rich and poor or that learning by machine is “personalized learning.” Personalized learning is what happens when humans beings interact, face to face, when a teacher who knows you is engaged in helping you learn. An interaction with a machine is impersonalized learning.

Baltimore County Public Schools system has bought the hoax: under the leadership of its superintendent, Dallas Dance, the school board has agreed to invest at least $270 million so that every student will have his or her own computer. It is a decisive move towards a fully digitized schooling, with everyone wired, including 5-year-olds. Some parents are very unhappy with this decision. They would prefer to see money invested in reducing class sizes, arts programs, and capital improvements. Some worry that the evidence for the benefits of going digital does not exist. Some argue that the program does more for big business than for children. Some think the program should be pilot-tested before it is implemented across the district. Some worry about the potential health effects of a fully digital classroom.

One parent wrote:

The real overall costs of STAT are now projected at $272.1 million for the “BCPS Proposed 6 Year Instructional Digital Conversion Plan.” That’s nearly $70 million higher than previously discussed.

And, breaking news to most: On top of that, $63 million or more would be required every year thereafter — with 92 percent (!) going to the laptop leases alone, according to officials and budget proposal documents released in early January.

Every. Year.

That means in one decade BCPS would spend at least $630 million to lease laptops, which schools would turn over every four years, amid other costs. Ten new state-of-the art schools could be funded at that price, likely with some snazzy new tech options, too. Operating vs. Capital Expenditures aside (day-to-day vs. buildings), money is money.

My own view is that it is far too soon to adopt technology as the primary vehicle for education because there is no evidence that it improves learning or that it reduces achievement gaps or that it is especially beneficial to children from low-income homes. Last fall, the OECD released a study concluding that some technology use in the classroom is good, but too much technology is not. This was the conclusion: Overall, students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.

Was the Baltimore County school board aware of that study before it committed $270 million to provide a computer for every student?

We saw the disaster unfold in Los Angeles when former Superintendent John Deasy decided that every student and staff member in the LAUSD should have an iPad; worse, he sold this idea as a matter of “civil rights.” Frankly, it cheapens the meaning of civil rights (the right to vote, the right to be treated the same as others, the right to equality of educational opportunity, the right to serve on a jury, etc.) when “the right to an iPad” is called a “civil right.” It would make more sense to talk about the right to a job with a decent living wage, the right to good housing, the right to medical care, and the right to sound nutrition, than to turn the ownership of an iPad into a “civil right.” As we know, the $1 billion-plus transaction turned into a fiasco when questions were raised about favoritism shown to Apple and Pearson, and the whole deal was canceled.

Many of us still remember the story in the New York Times in 2011 about the Waldorf School in Silicon Valley that has no computers; its students include the children of high-tech executives who believe their children will have plenty of time for technology in the future. Instead of working online, they are learning through physical activity, creative play, hands-on projects, and reading. While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.

The Baltimore County school board not only approved STAT but renewed Superintendent Dance’s contract, which will run until 2020. When he was first hired as superintendent in 2012 (at the age of 30), he needed a waiver, because he had only two years of teaching experience and state law requires three years of teaching experience for superintendents. He also ran into trouble when he became involved with SUPES Academy, the same company that had hired disgraced Chicago CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. A local reporter wrote: Dance was heavily criticized — and admonished by the school board — for accepting a position in the company in August 2013 without informing the board. The board had approved a three-year $875,000 contract with SUPES to train personnel in December 2012. Dance ended up resigning the SUPES position in 2013.

Maine blogger Emily Talmage recently criticized Superintendent Dance. She wrote:

Meanwhile, as the corporate-driven personalized, digital learning craze sweeps the country, Dance has jumped in headfirst and is bringing his district along with him.

As a keynote speaker at the 2015 International Association for K-12 Online Learning, Dance called himself a “pioneer.”

He also said that teachers were “talking too much,” and that students should be assessed at any time.

“In order to personalize learning for young people, we should be able to assess students at any moment to figure out what level they’re on, what standards they’ve mastered, so they can move along the continuum,” he said….

“This is taking place in a school district that is in desperate need of improvements to infrastructure, transportation, class size reduction, and social programs, issues that have been financially pushed to the side in favor of STAT,” a teacher wrote.

“Personalized learning is being presented to constituents as the solution to close the equity gap in education,” said the Baltimore teacher, “[but] no input has been garnered from parents, and the expectation is that teachers will fully embrace the program without question.”

It would be nice if a school board asked for evidence of effectiveness before blowing away nearly $300 million on the fad of the moment. Technology will change rapidly, and BCPS will be left with obsolete machines unless they make an annual commitment to buy or lease new equipment. This is money that will not be spent on teachers, programs, and maintenance of buildings.”

Secrecy in BCPS – Why Can’t Stakeholders Get Information?

BCPS is slow to release information to the public. Last month, Ann Miller, a member of the BCPS Board of Education, filed a Freedom of Information Act because BCPS would not answer some of her questions. See the article in The Baltimore Sun: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-co-miller-public-request-20160125-story.html

Recently, a parent filed a request for the results of the Speak Up Survey. The Speak Up Survey is given to students, teachers, and parents. Students take the survey during class time and teachers are strongly encouraged to take it – often during faculty meetings. Speak Up is a “national leading education non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that today’s students are well prepared to be tomorrow’s innovators, leaders, and engaged citizens of the world” . Speak Up falls under the umbrella of Project Tomorrow. See their website: http://www.tomorrow.org/

Directions are on the website for stakeholders to view the results. You would think that since BCPS touts the survey it would be easy for parents and teaches to access. However, when you follow the steps you eventually come to a brick wall. You must contact the primary admin on record. In the case of BCPS, the admin will inform you that you must file a Maryland Public Information Act with the BCPS Law Office. And the waiting begins….and all correspondence is only via U.S. Post – which further slows things down. The parent who filed the request has been waiting since December…

So maybe every parent who reads this should file a request? That might keep a few people busy in BCPS…How else do we find out what the data says? Main question: why are they being so secretive???

End Game: Hyper-efficient, Digitally-based, Workforce-aligned Public Schools

This well-researched (and disturbing) post from Maine blogger Emily Talmage is a must-read.  Wake up, citizens of Baltimore County!  It’s happening here and it’s STAT.  Take the time to read the linked June 2014 Washington Post story at the beginning of Emily’s post.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.”

“Gates has said that one of the benefits of common standards would be to open the classroom to digital learning, making it easier for software developers — including Microsoft — to develop new products for the country’s 15,000 school districts.”

“In February, Microsoft announced that it was joining Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, to load Pearson’s Common Core classroom materials on Microsoft’s tablet, the Surface. That product allows Microsoft to compete for school district spending with Apple, whose iPad is the dominant tablet in classrooms.”

In January, Fortune published this article:  Everybody hates Pearson.

Pearson is the lead contractor producing PARCC tests (Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers) aligned with Common Core.

And Pearson is a sponsor of the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools.

Oh, the tangled web.

If you can stand it, here’s another great article on the corporate hijacking of public education written by a social worker in the D.C. public school system.