Parent Letters of Concern re: STAT

Below are letters and comments from many concerned parents.  If you would like a letter included, please send to STARBCPS@gmail.com

Letter 1:  Dear Board of Education Members,

I am writing this email in hope to reach you before your meeting this evening, when, as far as I understand, you will be deciding the future of our children’s education. I am writing as a extremely concerned parent and in a desperate attempt to reason with you on a very important issue for most of us parents – the use of 1:1 devices in our young children’s classrooms. I apologize for any awkward sentences, as English is not my mother tongue.
My son is a 1st grader at the Rodgers Forge Elementary School. I have observed a very worrisome educational methods to which my son has been exposed since Kindergarten last year. My husband and I moved to this lovely neighborhood in 2012, primarily because of a good RFES reputation. However, I must admit that I was horrified when my son started Kindergarten and I soon learned about a heavy use of devices in his classroom (even at that young age). I had an opportunity to see in person the devastating effects on my child. My son, who is extremely social and talented (and interested) in art, became “glued” to a screen while in the classroom (as did other kids), did not talk to anybody, did not play, and lost his interest for hands-on activities. All he wanted to do was play “games,” which at that age he didn’t even understand…he just kept clicking on random things and was “having fun.” I observed that even during their free dance time, they were dancing by watching on a huge screen a video of a rock group. Books were read on the big screen, morning greetings were done on a big screen, dancing was done with a big screen…in my eyes and in the eyes of many parents
it was out of control!

This year my son became a 1st grader and I was already dreading the 1:1 device exposure, but I kept an open mind and was trying to be optimistic. We were invited to observe the use of devices in the classroom. My positive thinking soon disappeared. I observed my son taking 30+ minutes on a device to do simple math problems that shouldn’t have taken him longer that 5-10 minutes on paper. My son was basically playing video games. What was he learning, I thought?! I felt like he was wasting his time and most of all his brain. One of the games for example was a guy pushing a cart to catch in it some food falling from above – the goal to catch same kinds of food and the number of caught fruit would appear in a corner. It went on and on. I asked the teacher what this game was actually teaching my child as I didn’t see ANY benefit what so ever, and she didn’t know the answer. Instead she pointed to a “better” game, which was just as bad because my son was just clicking randomly and guessing. I was looking at the other kids and they were doing the same. The kids were then “learning” about the sun by watching a cartoon-like movie. If I wanted my child to get education through Wild Kratts or Magic School Bus I would have kept him at home and let him stare at the TV all day. I came home after this event and just sat and cried my eyes out. I saw no escape for my little boy, as we could never afford a private school, and I don’t want to pull him out of school and deprive him of his social life.

I voiced my concerns on social media in our neighborhood, and received a HUGE response back, from equally concerned and desperate parents. I run a piano studio in Rodgers Forge and I have over 25 students, all of whom go to either the RFES or Dumbarton Middle. Every single one of them (and their parents) complain about the heavy use of technology in their classrooms. This is very concerning…what is waiting for my little boy in 2-3 years? I don’t believe anybody is against the use of technology in the classroom, like a project-based research on a computer, or having a computer-lab time, but that is not what is happening.

I guess the most mind-boggling to me and to many parents alike is that, despite a lack of sufficient analysis on outcomes of these teaching methods, where teachers and human interaction between students is being replaced with screens, the board members and Dr. Dance are willing to gamble with our children’s education and essentially their health. The current methods do not seem to be about balance in any way. I’ve read article after article, and research after research that points to the opposite, devastating effects of current lighthouse practices. According the the OECD report, fully digital learning environments have caused the greatest drop in reading test scores in 65 countries. I watched a short video put out by Dreambox where Dr. Dance himself says how “great” it is to see 1st graders walking down the hallways with their heads in their tablets, “reading a book.” I laughed at the absurdity of this statement and the pure lie of it. They do not walk around hallways reading books on their tablets, they essentially play video games and are becoming zombies. This practice will NOT make them good mathematician, or engineers, or IT experts, or anything but anti-social, unhealthy individuals. Our children do not lack exposure of technology in any shape or form, whether they are from an underprivileged background or not. They are all exposed to screens and computers all day long. They do not need individual tablets at 6, 7, 8 or 9 years of age in order to some day because efficient on computers. Computers are already a part of ALL of our daily lives, and we do not need to expose our children to that 24 hours per day. They need screen-free time for the MOST of their day, they need to socialize, they need to learn by observing, asking questions, participating in discussions, being a part of a healthy community. What BCPS has done under Dr. Dance’s guidance is devastating by all research and observation.

Moreover, you are willing to spend millions and millions of dollars on something that has NO PROOF what so ever of any kind of benefit to our children’s development (but has plenty of proof to the contrary), and meanwhile this money is not being invested in good quality food in cafeterias, better teacher pay, or for the schools’ infrastructure. My piano students who go to Dumbarton MS tell me that during the summer they sweat through their classrooms as there is no air conditioning system put in as of yet. It is amazing to me that BCPS board members are not fighting for funding of such basic necessities for young, learning adults, but instead are willing to put an incredible financial burden on our schools by purchasing devices that will most likely prove detrimental to our children’s emotional and mental development.

I urge the board to PLEASE be reasonable and realize the danger of what they are doing. Our children’s lives are in question and I for one do not want to have my two boys become Guinea pigs for Dr. Dance’s vision.

I appreciate you time and consideration in the very important topic. I hope we all will continue this dialogue.

Sincerely,

Letter 2:  We are concerned parents of elementary school students in the Baltimore County Public School system. While our children are fortunate to have wonderful teachers and small class sizes, we question the system’s emphasis on technology use for the youngest elementary students. During American Education week, we watched one teacher help twenty-four first grade students navigate websites on their tablet computers. This was no small task, as dexterity-developing six-year-olds had to type and click through numerous sites, and it consumed a remarkable amount of instructional time. Such time spent is time lost from actual content learning and meaningful instruction. These students typically spend one to two hours of classroom time on their tablets, and if there is a substitute teacher, they spend twice that. We did not see the children interact with other children during technology use, as described in the STAT literature; they were wearing head phones, and it would have been difficult for them to talk with one another. The children only interacted with a teacher if they were having difficulty navigating the websites. We have asked if we can bring in a pen that could be used on the tablet to encourage fine muscle control similar to writing but have been told that it does not fit in with the BCPS model. These young children are also not allowed to use a mouse to navigate the computer for the same reason, even though it is easier for them to use than a touch pad.

In addition to the above concerns, students are able to explore online content on their own without supervision by an adult; for example, our child navigated to and watched cartoon videos about drug use (heroin and cocaine) and physical development that were confusing for a six year old.

As has been noted in previous op-ed columns, there has been little valid research done on the educational efficacy of computer use by early learners, and much of the benefit that is cited by BCPS is either anecdotal or backed by technology companies that have a financial interest in selling instructional programs to schools. As we understand it, the youngest elementary grades are being given tablets this year, yet seniors in high school do not have machines. The technology skills our first grader is developing from using the tablet will be as obsolete in the future as the software she is learning it on.

We believe that the large amount of money being spent on this technology initiative could be better used to address the growing safety and social needs of the system. Bus transportation has been unreliable and dangerous at times, with too few drivers serving too many routes; the school system shuts down for lack of air conditioning in a significant number of schools, and our children, who attend an air-conditioned school, lose these days, as well; and an increasing number of county students need assistance with the most basic needs of food and shelter. According to data from the Maryland State Department of Education, the number of students who receive free and reduced price lunches in Baltimore County has been steadily climbing (a rise of 16 percentage points over the past ten years) and is currently at 47.35 percent of school population, a clear indicator of the hard economic times that persist across the region. The $205 million approved for the computer initiative could g o a long way towards addressing these genuine needs in Baltimore County Public Schools.

We believe that tablet computer use is not giving our youngest children the best opportunities to learn at a crucial developmental stage. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a two-hour maximum on total screen time for elementary-age children; likely, the most vulnerable students already meet this limit through television viewing at home. If our goal is a safe, secure, and equitable learning environment for our youngest learners, technology is not a substitute for small classroom size, human interaction, comfort and food.

Letter 3:  I used to work in the ed-tech world and think adaptive, personalized learning (via digital programs like Dreambox) has a place in education — but can and should never replace things like smaller class sizes, adequate professional development for teachers undertaking a new curriculum (Common Core), proper heating/cooling, additional staff to support students with learning differences, adequate physical education and health/nutrition programs, the arts, and so on. Put simply, there are so many higher-priority initiatives in which to invest. And these initiatives, unlike the 1:1 student:laptop plan, are backed by decades of research.

A glaring omission in the STAT initiative is ergonomics. What will happen when students spend their days and nights staring down at laptop screens? The same thing happening to professionals: they’ll develop chronic overuse and musculoskeletal conditions like neck pain, carpal tunnel, headaches, TMJ syndrome, and so on. On this, the evidence is clear (and growing). See below, for starters.

From Cornell:

http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/IEA2000/iesclassroomcomputers.pdf

http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/MBergo/schoolguide.html

From Harvard Medical School:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/prevent-pain-from-computer-use

A study by Australian scientists about computer use in kids and neck pain:

http://www.iea.cc/ECEE/pdfs/art0211.pdf

From the McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/Handouts/neck_pain/neck_pain.htm

Letter 4:  Dear Madam, Dear Sir,

We are new to Baltimore, having just moved from New York City. Despite my researches before moving, I had no idea what the plan with STAT was here. I find it very worrisome. In the past years, I have read quite a few articles and none of them was positive on introducing that much technology in schools, specially with young kids.

I thought everyone knew that Steve Jobs’s kids had no iPads, and that all the Silicon Valley tech and Google engineers’s kids were sent to schools with NO computers, etc.

According to this article, Mr Dance said “getting kids more engaged in their learning will increase test scores.” Really???? You increase test scores when there is pedagogy and explanations, etc. not by playing games that don’t even ask you to show and demonstrate how you get to the result. You cannot infere kids will work better because they have fun with their devices. Imagine this kind of argumentation if we were talking about food: give the kids ice cream and candies instead of vegetables, fruit, and healthy food. Of course most of them will be “happy”, of course they will finish their plate, but then what? Their body will not be fed. They’ll get fat liver, diabetes, etc. maybe not right away, maybe after a few months. Well, that’s somehow what could happen to education too but by the time we’ll get to the terrible conclusions, it will be very late to do something about it.

I do believe some technology should be taught in schools because yes, technology is everywhere. But that is not the same as having every kid “work” (play) on his or her device the whole time. Having an IT classroom (or two, or even three) for the school could work too, possibly? In our kids’s prior school, the kids had accounts they would access only during IT class once a week (you could absolutely implement individual settings with shared computers).

Developing really good instructional electronic activities isn’t easy. Each time my kids have been on Dreambox for homework, I haven’t been impressed neither by the pedagogy nor by the environment. I find it quite disturbing to have animations, bells and whistles to celebrate every result you give… Learning should be engaging and somewhat fun and challenging, it doesn’t need to look like Disneyworld. And again, showing your work, explaining how you get to the answer is a very important step in learning, and I have not seen that so far in the games they have been playing.

Among the many issues that arise from the introduction of device 1:1, I would like to list a few health concerns.

Scientific publications pointed out the link that would exist between excessive use of screens and macular degeneration. Furthermore kids are even at greater risk since the development of the eye is still in process during childhood, and exposure to excessive blue light is considered harmful for them.

Other than that, it is becoming common knowledge that there is a correlation between blue light, melatonin and sleep: I have read no one should look at a screen for at least one hour before bedtime.

Many articles also link Attention deficit disorder with an excessive use of electronics (there are multiple causes to this desorder).

Last but not least, I am also concerned by the lack of socialization excessive use of screens could lead to.

We should also be very concerned by the cost of this project. We should really look forward and step out of the problem while it is still possible and before too much money has been spent (or wasted). What will happen if the cost for the program cannot be covered in the future (and it is probably it won’t)? What if all funds go to this program when others should benefit more the kids?

Both on the human and on the financial points of view, I believe this isn’t sustainable.

Please show you care as much as we do for our kids and the future we are all facing.

Best regards,

Letter 5: Another parent discusses concerns about Wireless radiation: The fact is that wireless radiation could harm the kids but no one wants “to go there.” In Montgomery County parents are rallying to stop wifi because it is radiation that has been shown to damage sperm, increase cancer risk and damage the brain. 13 medical doctors already wrote the district on this warning them. Read the letters here. http://safetechforschoolsmaryland.blogspot.com

Safe water and healthy air seems like the place to put money if wifi could cause all these problems!

Letter 6:  Dear Board of Education Members,

We are the parents of an incoming kindergartner for the next school year, 2016-17. We have been very excited to have our daughter start off her education at Rodgers Forge elementary, a school that has typically had a very good reputation for years. However, since a couple years ago with the launching of the 1:1 STAT device program, we have begun to have serious doubts about sending our daughter to Rodgers Forge.

I am worried because of a number of Rodgers Forge parents we know reporting observations of possible misuse and/or abuse of these devices in classrooms.

I am concerned about the studies I have seen proving that the misuse/abuse of technology can be harmful and not helpful to learning. A child’s attention span is negatively affected when they are over stimulated with technology. Younger children especially are not cognitively prepared for the fast pace of newer technologies. In fact, some studies discuss how this exposure can negatively impact their memories and their ability to maintain focus.

I want my child to be able explore the world through her imagination, and not be plugged into a machine. I fear a learning environment where my daughter is interacting more with a screen instead of her classmates or teachers, consequently losing out on tons of crucial social development opportunities. I fear a classroom where my daughter is learning how to read on a screen, instead of on nice old fashioned paper books! I really fear a school that replaces human teachers with a machine. I fear teachers that accept this replacement and that use it as a cop out to not do their job. I only hope that schools are being supervised and properly trained on how to incorporate this technology in effective ways.

These devices have no place in a classroom with such young children. Please hear our plea to have individual devices taken out of the elementary classroom. Please spend this money on other important initiatives missing our schools. How about spending this money on more teachers making for smaller classroom size? Why aren’t we getting more serious about foreign language? (not taught by Rosetta Stone and computers by the way) We are far behind the rest of the world in our monolingual society. Finally, why not fund more arts programming which undoubtedly enriches learning.

We will continue to pursue this change and hope that Baltimore County Schools proceeds by making decisions that are sound and based in solid research.

Letter 7:  PROBLEMS WITH STAT

There is no doubt that computer skills are necessary for our children.  But our children were essentially given the car without learning how to drive.  This is not something any of would ever do.  Luckily, no one is going to get killed from getting a computer without learning how to use it, but it is certainly going to slowly eat away at their minds and education.

LACK OF FOUNDATIONAL SKILLS

One of my concerns with the STAT program is that there seems to be a severe lack of attention given to foundational skills.  The year before the roll-out, technology teachers were cut.  While many schools were creative in finding ways to keep their tech teachers, this was incredibly short sighted.  That year should have seen an increase in technology education with children learning the basics so that they were ready for their laptops.

There is an assumption that children have basic computer skills, but they don’t.  They know how to turn on the computer, open and play MineCraft.  Those are not basic computer skills.  They don’t understand drives, servers, where and how to save, and how to properly turn off a computer.  Every classroom has directions on their boards instructing children where to go to retrieve and save documents, but they have no understanding of the hows, whys and wheres.  There have never been basic technology classes in preparation for STAT.

The teaching of these skills SHOULD NOT be put back onto the classroom teachers.  Technology is a field onto itself and teachers should not expect to be technology teachers in addition to being a content teacher and the dozens of other roles they already take on in the classroom.

LOSS OF CLASSROOM INSTRUCTIONAL TIME

When kids don’t understand what they are doing, they make mistakes.  Children are losing documents, saving them in the wrong place, and having to redo their work.  Teachers are reviewing over and over again where and how to save, in the mist of trying to do an actual project.  While covering a class, half of the students spent the entire class trying to boot up their computers, fine and refind their previous work, or eventually redoing their projects.

LOSS OF THOUGHTS

Going along with the foundational skills of computers, is the lack of typing skills classes.  You can become proficient at “hunting and peeking” eventually, but not only is this inefficient, you lose a lot of thinking and producing time in the meantime.  I saw children struggling to get their thoughts onto the computer, but they were thinking faster than they could type.  Their thought processes are being interrupted in order to hunt for the computer keys.  The result was that they lost their thoughts or simply shortened what they were going to say in order to save time or effort in typing.  This was witnessed in a 4th grade GT ELA class – the last children you want to see shortening their thoughts right as they are getting good at developing them into sentences.

DISTRACTION

A parent complained to me that her son nearly got a 0 on a project because he spent the 3 days creating his character and background for his project.  He never got to the written portion of the project.  He was working diligently (after he first lost and had to redo the project after the first day) so the teacher thought he was getting his work done.  Only at the end was it realized he was working diligently on the “fun” part of the project and never got to the meat of it.

AS DISCIPLINE AND CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

Computer are being used to keep calm challenging children or bribe those with behavior issues.  Pediatricians and studies have been proven that there is a connection between attention and behavior issues and screen time and made recommendations to address those concerns. (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2013/10/24/peds.2013-2656.full.pdf)  So, why would computers and screens be used for our most vulnerable children?  Guidelines for use and behavior should have been in place BEFORE STAT began.  Challenging children are not learning skills to figure out how to be involved in the real world.  They are learning to disappear in to a screen and disengage from their classroom and their peers who should be their most valuable resources.

Letter 8:  BCPS Boardmembers,

As a parent of a BCPS student who has been attending one of the “lighthouse” schools for the past 2.5 years, I am concerned about the use of the devices in our schools. I am very concerned about the substantial cost to keep the devices and the associated software.

My son is in 2nd grade and has been using a device since 1st grade. While I understand the perceived importance of technology in the classroom, I am failing to see the importance of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on 1:1 devices. After 1.5 years of my son using his device, I have seen his proficiency in how to use a mouse improve as well as his knowledge of basic computing skills. I have not seen an improvement of keyboard knowledge or typing, which is surprising. It takes him at least 3 times as long to type something as it does to write it down manually. Another area of improvement that I am less happy about is his proficiency at computer games. The only thing he is excited about doing on his device is playing “Duck Life 5” or a game on PBSkids. If that is what Dr Dance sees as a device getting my child more “engaged in {his} learning” and thus improving test scores, I don’t see how in the world this can improve his test scores. If anything I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go down!

My neighbor, who has a middle school child who is required to bring home his device everyday, has to be very diligent about keeping up on what their child is using the device for and has found the device was used to look at inappropriate adult websites. I CANNOT believe nor condone that our educators are putting our children in a position where they have to make these kinds of adult decisions. It is completely inappropriate and will/should result in a lot of assumed liability for the school district. Every firewall has a Youtube video about how to break through to get to the games or internet sites that are blocked. You can’t expect a child to be able to self regulate like an adult, most adults can’t even self regulate their own tech usage!!

Please be responsible about how you choose to spend the money for our children. Please see that the greatest resource we have is our amazing teachers. LET THEM TEACH! Support them, give them tools that don’t require a plug, give them the opportunity to engage our children, give them smaller class sizes, and training on helping our children become real world problem solvers! I know connecting with another person is far and away more engaging and leaves a much longer lasting impression than a computer ever will. I would much rather my son’s teacher tell him some super interesting facts about tectonic plates than have him watch a clip from national geographic about tectonic plates!! They could watch the clip as a class instead of each individual in their own little space watching the same clip. Let’s learn to be engaged together instead of in parallel.

My husband was inspired by his high school physics teacher. He went on to major in physics and received his Phd in physics and is now in physics education. He wasn’t inspired by a computer…it was a person.

Be responsible. Be inspired. Invest in your greatest assets, your teachers, not the devices. Please read the studies about what actually IS helping students to learn. Not one of them says a device. Please vote against spending more and more on devices for our students. Please vote against another 4 years of Dr Dance.

Sincerely,

Letter 9:  I am a proud parent of a young Elementary school student in Baltimore County. We are very happy with our zoned elementary school which has tremendous resources, wonderful teachers and concerned faculty and staff. I am here to express my concern about the continued roll out of STAT in elementary schools in Baltimore county. Our concerns are on the BCPS level, regarding the financial resources necessary to continue to build and then maintain STAT. And as I will elaborate, I have not found the research that shows that those financial resources used for STAT will benefit our students more than a traditional classroom.

As a physician, parent of young children and an avid reader, I have made a point of learning about research on computers and brain development. I am not opposed to technology, my daughter actually taught me with her 2 year old chubby hand that putting her hand on the ipad screen and sweeping one direction or the other can lead you to the webpage you had previously been on. As we developed as a family and the research came out over children’s brain development, we restricted any screen time before the age of two years old for our children and we continue to restrict both quantity and content that they interact with, whether it be on any kind of computer or television.

During my reading, I have found research on entertainment media and it’s detrimental effects, however I have found very little research on educational media that concludes significant benefits of learning with computers over a more traditional learning environment. As a stakeholder in BCPS and parent of young children, I hope we will be informed of the research being done in our schools. I would also like to have the opportunity for parents to participate in communicating about what we see works and does not work with our children.
As it has recently been brought to my attention, rarely does anyone advocate for gradual change in our school systems, so, here I am saying it. Please slow down the roll out of STAT in our elementary schools so that we can learn more about the impact of digital learning on our children.

Thank you for your time.

Letter 10: I was recently talking with my elementary school-aged daughter about my speaking at a Board of Education meeting in January. We found the video of the session, and she watched it. She said she wanted to speak, too. When I asked her what she would want to say, she recalled a recent lesson about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and she said this: “I want to speak out like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, for people. People need food. We should follow the rules so we can have what we need. Nobody buys fancy things until everybody has what they need. There are lots of people who need food and clothes.” I transcribed her words on paper and at the bottom, she wrote “do not biy <sic> computers!” I asked her if she would prefer more teachers or more computers, and she quickly answered, “more teachers”. To be fair, her primary motivation for speaking at a BOE meeting also includes wanting to speak into a microphone. So, in order to preserve her bedtime and everyone’s eardrums, I did not allow her the opportunity to testify on 2/2/16.

I want you to know that when you explain to children the trade-offs for their beloved 1:1 tablets, they understand that it is a luxury that we cannot afford. My daughter is not the most altruistic kid out there, she is a regular kid who when given the option, prefers the company of people to computers. For example, she would be happy using her tablet for a short time every day or for only one day of the week to allow a rotation in which all classrooms have the same access to the tablets. Like many multi-person use computers, separate log-ins could provide “individualized” learning without the price tag of four-year contracts for tablets for 110,000 students, especially when the machines are not proven to improve learning any more than small traditional classrooms.

My daughter referenced Martin Luther King, Jr in our discussion and it has made me wonder what he would think of the costly STAT initiative in a school system that has individuals with so many basic needs unmet. I do not believe that giving each child a 1:1 tablet computer is “leveling the playing field”, it is bankrupting our county schools of what our youngest and most vulnerable children need most: safety (including new buildings, improvements, safe bus transportation and temperature control) and more meaningful interactions with caring adults. And as my daughter reminded me, these resources could also be used to provide food for those in need.

Please consider creative uses of the tablets we have already signed contracts for and do not sign more contracts for more tablets.  By allowing the children to share computers, you will free up much needed resources and you will also reassure parents that our youngest children will not be spending the majority of their days on  these tablets.  At the 2/2/16 Board of Education meeting, Mrs White said that the computers are being used only for “one period” per day in reference to questions about screen time.  Is that accurate?  If children are only using the computers for 1-2 hours per day, then why can’t they share computers?  As a parent and stakeholder, I would like to see quantitative data that shows academic outcomes in relation to STTA before the end of 3 years, as you developed with Johns Hopkins Logic model.  I am concerned that three years is too long to wait to find out what is or is not working, especially for our youngest learners.
Thank you for your time,

Comments from Parents:

  • My concern as a bcps employee and mother is the screen time, lack of communication skills outside of tech and the developmentally appropriateness of devices in elementary school aged children. I agree tech is exciting and engaging but I have a problem w it in the elementary setting. How will these devices impact not only communication skills but their brains as well??? Negative research has been released about that. Considering homeschooling myself.

There will be more to post soon …

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