State Funding for Portable AC Now Available

This was written by Len Foxwell.  You can also read this on BCPS Parents & Teachers for Equitable Facilities and Portable AC.

Friends: The members of the Board of Public Works received a highly significant piece of legal advice today from the Board’s Executive Secretary, Ms. Sheila McDonald, and Legal Counsel, Ms. Dori Jaffe, regarding the authority of the Maryland General Assembly to prohibit the use of state money for window air conditioning units.

After stating that “Window units may be funded…as they are “costs that were eligible under the rules and regulations governing the [Public School Construction Program] that were in effect on January 1, 2016,” Ms. McDonald and Ms. Jaffe issue the reminder that “Only the Board of Public Works has the authority to adopt a regulation that defines eligible and ineligible public school construction expenditures.”

The document confirms that there are no references within current, BPW-approved regulations to the ineligibility of window units for state funds, and states that “Board of Public Works discussions make explicit the Board’s conclusion that neither law nor policy prevents the use of State capital funds for window units.”

It confirms that the Maryland General Assembly – the same body of government that has attempted to circumvent the Board’s authority in this matter – is the one that entrusted the Board of Public Works with oversight of the Public School Construction Program, and quotes an opinion from the Maryland Court of Appeals that reinforces the Board’s decisive role in the school constructon process:

“The Board of Public Works is authorized to adopt regulations and procedures for the school construction program, and both the county governments and all of the education agencies, including the county school boards, are expressly made subject to those regulations.”

In other words, friends, the effort of the General Assembly, through an amendment to the State’s capital budget, to “circumvent a Board of Public Works regulation that explicity adds window and through-wall air conditioning units to the list of expenditures eligible for State public school construction funding” is meaningless. Window units have been eligible for state funding and, with the clarifiying regulations that will be adopted by the Board of Public Works at its May 11 meeting, shall remain so. The education systems in those jurisdictions with large inventories of classrooms without air conditioning are, hereby, put on notice.

Comptroller Franchot looks forward to seeing many of you at the May 11 meeting of the Board of Public Works. There will, to say the very least, be much to discuss that day.

For more information about how to get involved, you can contact Valerie Radomsky at


Empty Words And S.T.A.T.

“Language is a weapon of politicians,

but language is a weapon in much of human affairs”

–Noam Chomsky


In his classic dystopian novel 1984, novelist George Orwell imagines a totalitarian state that has co-opted not just basic freedoms, but spoken language, as well.  The state has blended, twisted, and recreated words, dubbed newspeak, that have the effect of removing all meaning from a term, so the actual meaning behind the word cannot be analyzed. Examples include “doubleplusgood” as an indicator of superiority, and “unperson” as a term for an enemy who has been eliminated or erased. In his own essay on his masterwork, Orwell explained, “newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought.”

Such abuse of clarity is not confined to the fictional world, however…our own government is a noted purveyor of such terms (consider “extraordinary rendition” of terror suspects, or illegal kidnapping), and the business world of Silicon Valley has created enough newspeak to fill a dictionary. As an example, consider the word leverage. Up until the 1950s, the meaning was largely about the force one could gain by employing a fulcrum. After being co-opted by Wall Street to describe a company’s debt-to-equity ratio, it has been increasingly applied by business leaders and technology companies (and now BCPS administrators) to imply a sense of gain, such as “using technology to leverage learning.” The word leverage has become meaningless in this context; its usage is no longer intended to be precise.

Another popular piece of newspeak is disrupt. The original meaning is to cause a disturbance or interrupt, such as when a toddler might throw a tantrum in a restaurant, or a teenager blast loud music at three in the morning. This word has also been co-opted, largely by Silicon Valley and business interests (and again by BCPS administrators), to mean to radically change a model by offering a new product or service. Such connotation, however, carries an inherent rhetorical fallacy or error: just because something is new does not mean it is actually better (known rhetorically as “an appeal to novelty”).

A more apt label for this type of twisted language is “weasel words,” a term that was coined by Theodore Roosevelt.  Such words are used by those who wish to avoid being clear or direct, often to deflect scrutiny or cover for a lack of actual knowledge–in effect squirming away from the point without saying anything of value or depth. The leadership in BCPS is increasingly adept at this type of language, especially those administrators responsible for the STAT laptop computer initiative. Consider first the phrase that creates the acronym for STAT: Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow. It is truly meaningless—accessing tomorrow is an impossibility today, unless one happens to have precognition or a time machine, both of which do not exist. However, it is also inevitable because indeed tomorrow will come.  Rhetorically, the phrase is also a false appeal to novelty; the implication is that “tomorrow’s” new technology, or advances, or whatever the future brings, will be inherently better or more advanced than today, and students need to be ready for it.

Another oft-abused phrase by BCPS leadership is 21st century learning or 21st century skills. From strictly a grammatical point, 21st century is a noun, not an adjective. Construction problems aside, this concept is so vague at outset as to lack all meaning. Learning today, in the 21st century, is no different than learning that took place in the 20th century, or the 19th, or the 13th, for that matter.  Tools available to teachers have changed somewhat, but the human ability to learn (and the functioning of the human brain) has not. Even the amorphous idea of new skills that might be needed for the 21st century is flawed; the basic skills necessary for socialization, employment, and even democracy have not radically changed, though businesses with products to sell or administrators with agendas to push would like you to think they have.

Other words that are similarly getting the meaning drained out of them are innovative, rigor, grit, and collaborative, just to name a very few. Why does the administrative leadership in BCPS use such terms? It is certainly not to clarify or clearly define their points. In absence of clarity, one can only assume it is to give the appearance of substance to the STAT laptop initiative that, in reality, lacks a research base, pedagogical purpose, and fiscal rationale.

Take the time to read the Twitter feeds or press releases of Dallas Dance, Ryan Imbriale, or Mychael Dickerson.  You’ll see plenty of empty phrasing, such as “powerful collaborative PD” and “micro-credential professional learning” (Imbriale), “innovation is on the way!” (Dance), and “globally competitive students” (Dickerson), a favorite BCPS catchphrase that presents no real content (competitive in what? And why does that competition matter?). Attend their speaking engagements, or watch their videos. Listen carefully to what is being said. Is it clear? Is it concise? Does it withstand critical inquiry? Or are you left with the sense that words were spoken, but nothing of substance was offered.

This behavior is not restricted to spoken language, either. Under Ryan Imbriale’s leadership, his office has changed its name two times in the last three years. The original title was the Office of Instructional Technology, which was responsible for exactly what its name states. In 2013-14, it was changed to the Department of Digital Learning, and in 2015-16 it was adjusted to the Department of Innovative Learning. This subtle change in wording was clearly intended to erase all trace of “technology” or “digital” from the title, likely to further deflect attention from the laptop focus that underpins the STAT program. “Innovative” in this context has no veracity, unless the office is genuinely devising new and more creative learning methods, rather than pushing prepackaged digital programs via BCPS One.

In using imprecise language, the BCPS leadership is largely echoing the companies and corporations whose conferences they attend and that stand to profit from the unquestioned growth of the STAT initiative. Consider this recent gem from a Pearson Education press release describing personalized learning (also a favorite empty term of Dance and Imbriale), which raises weaseling away from meaning to a high art: “we can better leverage the rapid changes in our culture and breakthrough innovations in personalized learning to address the gaps in opportunity.” Another recent example comes from a McGraw-Hill press release praising STAT (and its use of the Engrade online learning platform), which quotes Imbriale engaging in classic newspeak: “our kids have the capability and capacity to experience relevance in the classroom. Engrade gives us the leverage to take that next step.” Somewhere, a composition teacher weeps.

Our school leadership and administration must be held to a higher standard for thought, language and clarity. We do not need the model of 1984 to know that misuse of language is a tool of distraction to prevent discussion of the genuine issues at stake—infrastructure, air conditioning, experienced teachers, smaller class sizes, responsible leadership, and effective pedagogy.


Health Risks Posed to Children by Daily Computer Use

Thanks to Cindy Eckard, a Maryland advocate for computer safety in schools, for sharing this research.  Cindy has published op-eds regarding screentime in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post.

Additional Research: Some of the health risks posed to children by daily computer use

by Cindy Eckard

There are a variety of issues that are working against the health of children using computers daily. Many of the challenges these devices create for children affect their psychological and social skills: isolation, depression and the growing inability to recognize emotions in the faces of the people around them, for instance. There is a growing body of evidence in these areas that schools need to consider as they increase the use of computers in the classroom. The latent functions of these devices pose larger risks than generally realized; there are more significant prices to be paid than most school administrators are willing to admit or explore.

Here’s a UCLA study:

Basic, common sense protection for our children’s physical health is required. 10-15 year-old children are already prone to myopia; it’s the shape their eyes are taking at this stage in their physical development:

And because long-term fixed distance viewing is very well known to promote nearsightedness, the pre-teen and teenage developmental precondition for myopia is being exacerbated when middle school kids are required to stare at a computer for excessive periods of time. The students are further disadvantaged in middle school because right when they need recess the most — the one activity that has been proven to mitigate myopia — they are denied any regular outdoor play.

This is a complete recipe for disaster, and the scientific community has already begun to tally the damage. The latest USC study specifically identifies screens as the cause for childhood myopia doubling in the U.S. in the last 50 years. The schools must pay attention to this.

The blue light from the monitors is another significant concern. Kids blink 66% less often when they use a computer. That’s why dry eyes are so frequent.

The UV blue light emissions that damage the back of our eyes are better able to penetrate children’s eyes because the kids are not blinking, and because a child’s eye doesn’t have the necessary pigmentation to protect against the blue light. So the child is staring into a computer whose damaging light penetrates right to the back of his eye. That’s why it’s so dangerous for children’s vision and people are now talking about computer-related macular degeneration instead of age-related macular degeneration. Start a child in kindergarten on these devices, and good luck by the time they graduate.

Experts say the damage is cumulative.

Blue light emissions have also been shown to reduce melatonin levels which interrupts circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. Because kids are forced to use computers in the evening, to complete assignments that are exclusively online, they are beginning to suffer the effects of sleeplessness: fatigue, irritability and inability to concentrate. As a result, some kids are now being misdiagnosed as having ADHD, when they are simply exhausted.

Here’s a citation: This constant blue light exposure, while inflicting long-term damage to the retina, can also affect our ability to fall asleep. Exposure to these wavelengths after dark will affect our internal clock, causing the pineal gland to suppress the excretion of melatonin, our sleep hormone. This affects our ability to fall asleep. In kids this can lead to loss of focus and concentration, irritability, and hyperactivity, sometimes being mistaken for symptoms of ADHD.

This link has more information about blue light and sleeplessness and a very good video that explains the physiology:

Environmental and ergonomic considerations also must be addressed: bad lighting, poor contrast settings and glare on the screens all make the children’s eyes work harder, causing more eye strain. Princeton University has a comprehensive outline of considerations to maximize the ergonomically safe use of computers:

The following article is an excellent overview of computer vision syndrome concerns; it also illustrates how long experts have known about these issues. The AOA has been warning about the vision risks for students at least since 2007. This piece also touches on another unique aspect of children using computers: the inability of children to accurately identify or report physical discomfort, so they continue to work without adjustments, even if their vision gets blurry.

American Optometric Association: Computer Vision Syndrome Threatens Returning Students Aug 13, 2007 THE American Optometric Association (AOA) warned on Aug. 7 that children heading back to school are at risk for developing Computer Vision Syndrome, which leaves them vulnerable to problems like dry eye, eyestrain and fatigue. According to VSP Vision Care, nearly half of U.S. children spend four hours a day or more using computers or other portable electronic devices.

More on JHU Researchers and Services; JHU/BCPS and JHU/EIA Connections

This is a follow-up to the other JHU/Education Industry Association blog post from April 10.  The point of both posts?  JHU is being paid to evaluate the efficacy of STAT, but is representing ed-tech vendors vs. looking out for the interests of BCPS students. The evaluation is not rigorous or independent.

In fact, in reading Dr. Morrison’s full CV in the earlier post, one sees the connection to the DreamBox Learning program being used by BCPS to teach elementary school math:

Co-Principal Investigator (2015 – 2016). Efficacy Study of DreamBox Learning Math. DreamBox. Ross, S. M., Principal Investigator.

Morrison, J. R., Ross, S. M., Reilly, J. M., & Cheung, A. C. K. (2016). Retrospective Study of DreamBox Learning Math. Report to DreamBox.

National Blogger Peter Greene of Curmudgucation writes about EIA and JHU working together to better market ed-tech products:  Naked Education Profiteering

This JHU Press Release of March 2012 announces the JHU-EIA Partnership:

“The Johns Hopkins University School of Education and the Education Industry Association today announced a partnership building on their individual strengths in educational instruction and reform.”

“Together, the School of Education and EIA, a trade association representing private providers of education services, will create a center for education innovation and entrepreneurship; facilitate relationships between EIA member companies and the School of Education; integrate for-profit programs, products and concepts more deeply into the education sector; and create joint research and education programs.”

“We strongly believe that our school must develop new programs and partnerships with all components of the education sector in order to achieve our vision of realigning our profession and advancing education reform nationwide,” said David W. Andrews, dean of the School of Education. “Forming this strategic partnership with EIA will help the for-profit and not-for-profit education sectors learn from each other, and better enable us to work together for the betterment of all aspects of education.”

JHU School of Education, Center for Research and Reform in Education’s (CRRE) Dr. Steven Ross (the main STAT evaluator) wrote this article for EIA:  Demonstrating Product Effectiveness:  Is Rigorous Evidence Worth the Rigors?  Here are some highlights from Dr. Ross’ article:

“Because providers strongly believe in what they do, most feel confident that a rigorous evaluation study would present their products in a positive light. The challenge is how to commission and fund such studies. Is striving for the ostensible gold standard– a “randomized controlled trial” (RCT) with a large number of schools, student-level test scores, and all the other trimmings really needed? Such studies are usually quite expensive (think six figures!) to fund. Trying to obtain a federal grant (e.g., “Investing in Innovation” or “i3”) can involve extensive proposal preparations, with steep odds of being selected, and even for the lucky winners, a long wait until the results can be released.”

“My recommendation is to pursue such opportunities where the fit is good and the chances for competing solidly seem strong. But keep in mind that gold-standard studies may actually be “fool’s gold” for many providers. Unless a product is fully developed and delivered in high dosage to students (not as a learning supplement or a support for teachers), it’s quite difficult to show measureable student gains given all the noise (confounding) of so many other classroom, student, and teacher variables. And, as promised above, it seems instructive to take heed of what the district stakeholders said about rigorous evidence in interviews: They rarely read research journals or check out (or even know about) the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) for research reviews. However, they very much value that a credible third-party evaluator conducted a systematic study of the product being sold. They value evidence of student achievement gains, but with the caveat that the study conditions and the schools involved may be quite different from their own.”

“In our evaluation work with providers, we try to fit the study to the application goals and maturity of the particular product … All of these studies offer the providers potentially useful formative evaluation feedback for program improvement as well as findings from a reasonably rigorous independent study to support and differentiate their products.”

JHU CRRE’s Dr. Ross and Dr. Morrison presented the STAT year-end report at the 7/14/15 BOE meeting (minutes 2:06 to 2:38). Here are the report and evaluation from the BCPS website:

STAT Year-End Evaluation (2014-15)

STAT Year-End Report (2014-15)

Video Highlights from 7/14/15 meeting:

Dr. Ross: “Over time, year two, year three … if things work as they should, you’re gonna be seeing significant improvement in students’ mastery of P21 skills … years 3, years 4 there should be increases in MAP, increases in PARCC …”

BOE Commentary at meeting (paraphrased): the data presented by JHU was a “little lethargic” and, considering the investment in personnel, training, and curriculum based around the digital devices, the BOE expected “to see Dr. Morrison’s bar charts move in the right direction.”

As reported by EdSurge on April 7, 2016, the assets of EIA are being taken over by the Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN), the education division of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA).  The article talks of the above-noted JHU-EIA partnership created in 2012.

“Other assets that Billings’ team will inherit from EIA include a partnership with John Hopkins University to support a “joint center for education innovation and entrepreneurship.” EIA has also worked with Digital Promise to publish reports on barriers to technology procurement in K-12 districts.”

The above-mentioned EIA-Digital Promise partnership includes JHU, which wrote a study for them, Fostering Market Efficiency in K-12 Ed-tech Procurement. A key finding is that there “are no readily accessible sources of “rigorous” evidence on the effectiveness of the vast majority of ed-tech products. As a result, school districts largely depend on recommendations from peers and from their own teachers and principals who have familiarity with the products.”

Johns Hopkins University: Certification for Sale

NOTE: This information was found by way of a comment left by Dr. Laura H. Chapman, an educator and education researcher, on the STAT-us BCPS post of March 22.  You can see the comment at the bottom of that post.

DID YOU KNOW that an ed-tech vendor can pay the Johns Hopkins School of Education to certify the efficacy of a product or service?

The Education Industry Association (EIA), which has the strategic goal to “support the role of the private sector in public education” and works to expand business opportunities for education entrepreneurs in PreK-12 markets, has partnered with JHU to offer certifications.

EIA notes that the “vibrant” PreK-12 education industry is “poised for explosive growth … in fact, education is rapidly becoming a $1 trillion industry, second in size only to the healthcare industry, and represents 10 percent of America’s GNP. Federal, state and local expenditures on education exceed $750 billion.”



EIA members can now certify
their services through
Johns Hopkins University!


Johns Hopkins University School of Education is now offering Program Design Reviews for EIA Members!
Dear EIA Members and Potential Members:

Strong entrepreneurial education companies are constantly seeking new ways to market and promote their products and services. Proving the efficacy of your product or service is the single best way to attract new customers, making the “procurement process” much simpler.”

“EIA is now offering an amazing opportunity for its current members and for those wishing to join the Association. Beginning immediately, for a very small investment, EIA members can utilize the services of the Johns Hopkins School of Education (JHU). The team at JHU is offering program design reviews at an extremely discounted rate exclusively for EIA members. There are multiple levels of review your company can participate in, based on your budget and desired review level.”

“I know this might seem a bit intimidating, but, trust me; it is well worth your time and investment. Can you imagine walking into a Superintendent’s office armed with a positive outcome report by none other than the Johns Hopkins School of Education?! Do you think your competitors will have this feather in their cap? The answer is a resounding NO!”

“Picture your new marketing campaign that features your positive outcome with the Johns Hopkins School of Education! And most importantly, imagine what you will learn about your own product or service and the best ways to continually improve in order to produce the best educational outcomes for your students. You actually owe it to yourself, to your investors, and to your students to participate in this incredible opportunity to bring further legitimacy to your company.”

“As you work with the team at JHU, you will choose one of five levels of review: an Instructional Design Review, a Short-Cycle Evaluation Study, a Case Study, an Efficacy Study, or an Effectiveness Study. Choose the level you’re comfortable with; for even a small investment of a few thousand dollars, you can have the Johns Hopkins seal of approval attached to your company.”

“Instructional Design Review: This is the perfect package for many EIA companies. After successfully completing the review process, your company will be issued a Johns Hopkins University Certificate for Completion of a Successful Design Review. Again, imagine having that ammunition during your next district meeting! Using rubric assessments aligned with instructional design standards and best practices, your products and programs will be reviewed in domains that include the logic of your model, its theoretical framework, your use of evidenced-based strategies, customer analyses, instructional objectives, pedagogy, and delivery/user support. $3,500-$5,000″


Short-Cycle Evaluation Study: These are quick-turnaround “pilots” of products (typically ed-tech based), which use observations, surveys, and interviews with teachers and students in a 10 to 15 week period to determine the potential effectiveness of a product for broader adoption in a school district or group of schools. Educational improvements, adapted to different types of learners, are directly informed by results. This represents a more significant investment, and is geared toward the medium to larger size company within EIA. $10,000-$13,000″

“Case Study: These are small mixed-methods descriptive studies, which are more intensive and rigorous than short-cycle studies. Similar to the latter, they employ observations, interviews, and surveys that focus on educational curricula programs, and services and how they are received and used by target consumers (e.g., teachers, students, parents, etc.). $15,000-$20,000″

“Efficacy Study: This is a medium-scale study that focuses on how programs and educational offerings operate and affect educational outcomes in try-outs in pilot schools or small treatment-control group comparisons. $20,000-$35,000″

“Effectiveness Study: This is a larger-scale “summative evaluation” study that focuses on the success of the program in improving outcomes in rigorous non-randomized (“quasi”) experimental studies or randomized controlled trials. $38,000-up.”

“Again, the first offering – the Instructional Design Review – is the perfect fit for many EIA companies. To get started you only need to do two things: be an EIA member at any level of membership (and if you’re not a member, NOW is the time to join) and then contact me directly to put you in touch with the Johns Hopkins School of Education.”

“The Dean of the JHU School of Education, David Andrews, along with his colleagues, will also be in attendance at this summer’s EDVentures conference in Orlando, July 15 – 17. I encourage you to register for this amazing conference immediately before we are sold out; to do so, please click here to register. I look forward to your future success!

Jim Giovannini
EIA Executive Director

JHU’s Dr. Steven Ross and Dr. Jennifer Morrison are evaluating the STAT program here in Baltimore County Public Schools.  Ross and Morrison are also presenting at the July 2016 EIA Conference (Demonstrating Product Effectiveness Through Third-Party Evaluations).

You can see Morrison’s CV here where it outlines her involvement in evaluating the STAT program*.  As the EIA website explains, for “even a small investment of a few thousand dollars, you can have the Johns Hopkins seal of approval.”

BCPS is paying $695,000 over 5 years for its STAT evaluation.

One of the members of the EIA Board of Directors is David Andrews, the Dean of the JHU School of Education, although according to January 2016 information from JHU, Andrews was to have left Hopkins on April 1, 2016 to lead National University, the second-largest private nonprofit university in California.

*Please click on Morrison’s “Show complete CV” to show the most recent report completed: Morrison, J. R., Ross, S. M., Cheung, A. C. K., Reid, A. J., & Dusablon, T. (2016) Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow: Year two mid-year evaluation report. Report to Baltimore County Public Schools.

When will we get to see the latest report results, BCPS?