STAT on Parade: The January 2016 “Community” Input Meeting

The BCPS Theory of Action:

“To equip every student with the critical 21st century skills needed to be globally competitive, BCPS must ensure that every school has an equitable, effective digital learning environment.  All students will have access to a digital learning device and personalized, blended, interactive curriculum.”

At the request of the PTA Council of Baltimore County, a Community Input Meeting was held on January 12, 2016 to provide the public an opportunity to testify on the FY17 Operating Budget, heat-closure policy, and renewal of the Superintendent’s contract.

What was supposed to be a forum to gather input ended up being a STAT showcase, featuring an endless (and we mean endless; the meeting took over 3 hours) parade of BCPS employees:

  • classroom teachers
  • STAT teachers (who are actually coaches offering professional development)
  • administrators

and students (the “cute factor”), at least one of whom pointed out he was selected by his principal to speak about STAT. One can assume students had some help preparing testimony.  What 3rd grader says, “I feel in charge of my own learning!”?  What child begs his parents to drive him to a Board of Education meeting to offer testimony?

The adults showered praise on Dr. Dance’s vision and offered glowing feedback on the wonder of STAT.  Some serious planning and recruiting must’ve taken place behind the scenes.

Here’s how the event played out:

It was a snowy night; people, willing to stand in line outside in the cold in order to register, poured into the Board of Education meeting room on the Greenwood Campus to participate.  Due to the number of attendees, many community members were relegated to overflow spaces to watch the proceedings on screens.  The vast majority of seat-holders in the main room were BCPS employees.  In fact, we wonder if community members departed, deterred by the cold, long line, and lack of space?  So much for a welcoming environment.

The meeting was never supposed to be a STAT Input Meeting. One could extrapolate and say STAT is a budget issue and a commentary on Dance’s judgement, vision, and performance (feedback leading to his contract renewal), but most of the testimonies were simply STAT progress reports.  BCPS clearly felt the need to defend its massive expenditure and heavily recruited positive, in fact, glowing, feedback on the program. Someone apparently feared that STAT was not going to be funded.

One STAT teacher, who characterized pre-STAT-era students as “passively compliant,” commented:

“This is the first time – the first time – we have ever put this much emphasis on student learning, on student understanding.”  Was the audience supposed to believe that this is the “first time” anyone’s cared about learning and student success in BCPS?

On the bright side, there were several community members, who offered a more honest picture of STAT: one parent spoke of STAT’s unintended consequences – growing class sizes, with groups of students left on their own without guidance, while teachers try to maintain order.  She complained that STAT has been “sold” to parents as collaborative, yet students are instructed to ask questions of peers first instead of teachers.  Advanced students are required to be more independent, and often cannot finish their work because they’re spending so much time helping others.  She pointed out that even advanced students can be twice-exceptional and require a teacher’s guidance.  A retired educator feared that STAT is a disservice to vulnerable children, who need more human interaction, not less.

Did everyone get to hear the input? Well, the Board of Education, Superintendent, and top “cabinet” members had to stick around, but due to the sheer length of the meeting, most audience members had escaped by the end.  Unfortunately, the politicians who spoke at the very beginning of the meeting were not around to hear one citizen’s commentary on the likelihood of needing to raise taxes to pay for the initiative …

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