Observations of the Baltimore County Council Meeting, May 18, 2016

I have repeatedly heard our superintendent state, “How we tell our story matters”.  From this I can conclude that he means that my story matters, too, and that the perspective from which a story is told can change how one thinks about that narrative.  This is my story of attending the Baltimore County Council Budget meeting on May 18, 2016. 

I had seen the auditor’s report the night before and was excited to read the questions the auditor thought needed to be answered.  I carved time out of my day to attend the meeting, scheduled at 3pm, because I wanted to hear the BCPS administration answer these questions.  What I saw instead was disappointing.  The meeting started an hour and fifteen minutes late, so I was able to watch the County Council members adeptly praise and raise concerns in regards to all manner of waste pick up, recycling, snow removal, and pot hole repairs, even to the suggestion of leaving beer as a tip for your trash removers.  So, after the long awaited BCPS representatives’ appearance, I thought we would hear the same level of analysis of the crucial concerns about the budget of Baltimore County Public Schools, which was appropriately identified as the largest chunk of the budget that the Baltimore County Council will be discussing.

There was much discussion about capital budget, new elementary schools, fixing schools, and air conditioning.  However, the budget as it pertains to the STAT initiative was glossed over.  The county auditor appropriately identified many areas of concern regarding STAT; see page 16 of the auditor’s report:

  • Why its budget document does not align to its actual spending patterns in recent years for key instructional costs such as salaries and instructional supplies;
  • The opportunity costs of funding the digital conversion/S.T.A.T. initiative and why BCPS has chosen to prioritize this initiative over other competing funding needs;

Research repeatedly shows that small class sizes are better than computer programs, such as those employed under STAT, but that lost opportunity cost was not identified.  (Read more here,  here, here and here ) Dr. Dance again stated that STAT allows for “student choice,” including where a child sits, and for personalized learning.  He reported that MAP testing scores will be released which show that STAT is improving academic achievement in our schools.  We will look forward to seeing that data released.  Or will it only be released to the County Council?  Since this meeting was not recorded and what they send to the council will likely be a private exchange, where is the transparency in these issues of great concern for students and parents in BCPS?

Dr. Dance went on to say that BCPS has “never overspent” and class sizes “have not increased” during his tenure as superintendent.  That being said, he leaves out that when he began his tenure as superintendent, BCPS was at austerity measures for class sizes- they had been increased because of the economic downturn in 07/08 and have never been returned to what they were previously.

Councilman Kach did raise an interesting question about class sizes and asked if there is a universal way to discuss class size. Dance answered no, and claimed that <2% of classrooms exceed classroom size limits. Is that on average (with small classes such as special education skewing the larger numbers down) or is it an actual?

Councilman Marks appropriately asked about how the budgets of other counties are kept so much smaller with their digital learning environments.  Dr. Dance said he could not speak to those other counties. No one asked about the increasing administrative costs. And no one asked about where the money is coming from for the cost of Dr. Dance and his administration to travel the world discussing the perceived successes of STAT. Who is paying for that? 

Councilman Kach did request that Dr. Dance provide his office with a “fact sheet” which will address health and screen time concerns.  Dr. Dance said he will get that to Mr. Kach by Friday.  We will look forward to seeing that as well.  What Dr. Dance did say was that the American Academy of Pediatrics states that if the screen media is not “entertainment media,” there are no limits to how much time children should spend on computers; he added that our kids are not on the computers “all day every day,” anyway.  Dance described his recent visit to a school in which he was in eight classrooms for ten to twelve minutes each, and in only four of those classrooms were the children using the computers.  I am guessing this was meant to be a description of overall use; however, it just showed how little is actually known about how much time kids are spending on the devices if this is his only concrete example.

This bind is quite confusing to me as a county taxpayer and parent of a young child in BCPS.  By Dr. Dance’s assessment, our kids are not using the computers much at all (although they could, because as he states the AAP says that would be okay if it is educational).  Why then is there the great expense of STAT, which is stripping the county of resources which could be otherwise used to improve the lives of young people in the school system?

The auditor raised this issue on page 23, but it was not addressed by the Council:

  • Results of independent (non-tech industry) studies regarding the benefits and drawbacks of classroom technology that BCPS has consulted during the implementation of the digital conversion/S.T.A.T. initiative;

We did find out from another question on the same page of the auditor’s report that most computers previously used in schools were ten to thirteen years old, and that those computers will be removed and disposed of.  The more recently purchased desktop computers are being recycled to the middle and high schools that do not have the STAT initiative.  This makes me wonder if one of these tablets would last ten to thirteen years and not be obsolete beforehand.  Why are we going from a technology that lasts that long to one in which we will be signing four year leases, presumably because there will be upgrades every four years which we will be paying tremendous amounts of money for annually.

I also did not hear this addressed (page 23):

  • Any impacts associated with redirecting school-based funds on the day-to-day operations of schools and activities (e.g., field trips, assemblies).

The auditor did not include things such as the reduction of money for paper, books, and copiers, but these are day-to-day operations that went completely unaddressed.

This point was also not discussed (page 27):

  • How BCPS responds to parent concerns regarding screen time and radiofrequency exposure and if consideration is being given to an “opt-out” alternative to digital learning environments; 

We wonder if the auditor’s question about the Risk Management position being vacant (Dr. Dance answered that this position has been vacant for 3 months) has to do with them leaving because of the concerns over a program with so little consideration of children’s safety in terms of data privacy, ergonomics, and impact of screen time on developing bodies and brains.  The auditor cited this recent article in the Baltimore Sun. And herehere, here, here and here are more about risks and benefits of computers used in classrooms.

Dr. Dance did mention that one concerned parent would be getting a tour of the STAT program from his staff.  This made me wonder who that person is and why they are getting a tour that is not offered to others.  Why don’t they hold an open forum for concerned parents to have our questions answered—many go unanswered, just like the auditor’s questions.  We wonder if maybe Dance had the tour confused with the “STAT stakeholders” that he and the Baltimore County Education Foundation were tweeting about hosting on the same day as the County Council meeting.  These stakeholders, however, are only the companies that BCPS does business with for STAT. Here is one example, but there are many on Twitter: https://twitter.com/foundationbcps/status/733120972249792512  Where are the parents, students, and genuine stakeholders? You can read more here.

When the topic of computer-based curriculum was addressed, Dr. Dance reflected on the computers being able to “meet and even accelerate”  kids’ learning needs. What  exactly does this mean?  And is this something that only a computer can do?  Small class sizes and talented teachers can do this too, with far more warmth and reliability than machines. Dance specifically stated that it would be “unfair” for a teacher to have a classroom of 25 children without the use of technology to help this teacher address all of the children’s needs at the same time.  It made me wonder, if that is the case, what age group are we talking about?  Can kids not read independently in the grade he is talking about?  Are there enough teacher aides in the class he is describing?  What would happen if the kids had more human help in the classrooms?

Dance mentioned that BCPSOne is what protects children’s data, but he leaves out the corporations included on BCPSOne, and where the data is going, not to mention the issue of kids who can bypass the firewalls of BCPSOne to roam the Internet during class time.

Dr. Dance did answer the question about “opt out” of digital learning environments, and he deferred to the Maryland State Department of Education, stating that a curriculum used by a public school is not one that can be “opted out” of by parents in that system.  We would love more information about this from the state and will follow up on this important concept for all different kinds of reasons, from the philosophical “I don’t want my kid being taught by computers” to the real physical concerns of  “My child has visual problems that the ophthalmologist recommends he not be on computers for more than 30 minutes per day.”

There were other questions answered, such as bus drivers’ and substitute teachers’ pay, which are very important in the functioning of BCPS.  I do not want to diminish the importance of topics I have left out of this description of the meeting. The big announcement of central AC for all schools supposedly being funded by July 1, 2016 removes the focus on the timeline of when that central AC will be actually be bid for and installed, and also distracts from the issue of why the county continues to fund the expensive and unproven STAT computer initiative. 


Playing Dice with Our Children and Our Tax Dollars

Yesterday, Baltimore County Public Schools hosted the TEAM BCPS STAT Partner/Stakeholder meeting. From the title, one might think this would include teachers, parents, and community members who have an interest in the progress of STAT and the success of local schools. But think again, as this was anything but.

“Stakeholder” has many definitions. The most common is “a member of an organization or system that has an interest in its success.” However, the word has its origin from a gambling term, meaning “an independent party with whom wagers are deposited.” Perhaps this is the more apt definition to use here, as the “stakeholders” involved were various STAT administrators (including Dallas Dance, Ryan Imbriale, and Verletta White) along with representatives from several corporate entities, including Engrade, Discovery Education, and Knovation, who obviously all have some skin in the game with BCPS.

For just one example, consider Knovation (out of Cincinatti, Ohio, whose title is an unholy grammatical Frankenstein of the words “know” and “innovation), a company that provides digital content. The company is run by Steve Nordmark and Randy Wilhelm, who are not educators but corporate consultants in the educational technology industry, who also have their fingers in the pies of educational publishing and the software industry association. Their mission statement reads “Together, we ignite the hope of knowing in every child.” A more meaningless statement is impossible; maybe they should have stuck with the usual “together, we’re making the world a better place” cliché.

Are Mr. Nordmark and Mr. Wilhelm our stakeholders? Are corporations? Perhaps our bets have been placed with them, as they are happy to take some of the cash that the STAT initiative has to offer.

This “stakeholder” meeting occurred the same day that the Baltimore County council was set to ask questions of Dallas Dance and BCPS officials in regards to the FY2017 audit report of the Baltimore County Public Schools Operating Budget, which was released on May 16. The report, which is available here, identified several areas of concern, specifically about the rise of spending for STAT while other areas such as salaries, maintenance, transportation, and student well-being have been neglected.

Unfortunately, the Baltimore County council members (Tom Quirk, David Marks, Vicki Almond, Wade Kach, Cathy Bevins, and Todd Crandell) pitched only softballs at Dance, giving the audit report and any concerns about STAT a Baltimore County old boy pat-on-the-back and pass. But that is a story for another time.

A favorite metaphor of Dr. Dance and the BCPS leadership is that BCPS is “building the plane as we fly it.” To extend this metaphor…the county audit report tells us that there are numerous and profound safety, maintenance, and quality concerns about that BCPS plane. But Dallas Dance, Ryan Imbriale, Verletta White, and their STAT “stakeholders” are more than ready to load that plane with our children and send it out over the ocean, no matter the consequences. The metaphor must close here, as education is not truly an airplane, but the consequences of the inaction and arrogance of the BCPS leadership will be no less dire.

County Auditors Seek Answers on STAT

Thank you to local journalist Joanne Simpson, who continues to closely follow STAT.  This article in The Towson Flyer includes the County Auditor’s memo to Dr. Dance and full audit report.

The County Council hearing to address issues raised in the budget analysis took place on May 18th.  STAT-us BCPS hears that the County Council asked very few questions, which is very disappointing, since so many constituents have shared concerns about STAT with them.  Perhaps it was difficult to question Dr. Dance face-to-face?  Let’s hope the County Auditor’s questions are answered very soon.

FY 17 Audit for BCPS

 Below is the file for the first 39 pages of the FY 2017 Audit of Baltimore County Public Schools by the Office of the County Auditor.
 You can see previous years’ Audits here in the archives.

This is from the report and we will be awaiting the answers to these very important questions:

“BCPS should be prepared to discuss:

  • Why its budget document does not align to its actual spending patterns in recent years for key instructional costs such as salaries and instructional supplies;
  • The opportunity costs of funding the digital conversion/S.T.A.T. initiative and why BCPS has chosen to prioritize this initiative over other competing funding needs;
  • How vacancy rates compare for different types of instructional program positions, noting which positions count towards the staffing allocation ratios and which do not;
  • What staffing ratios could be achieved if turnover savings were reduced by $50 million;
  • The instructional materials being utilized in schools with and without digital devices, and whether a summary of the school system’s curriculum/plan for learning at each grade level is available; and
  • How long the school system’s top Risk Management and Purchasing positions have been vacant, and the reasons for the delays in filling them.
  • How and why BCPS has changed its planned digital device rollout schedule;
  • Performance data related to the implementation of the digital conversion/S.T.A.T. initiative, including student test scores in Lighthouse schools as well as program evaluation results;
  • Any challenges noted during the implementation of the digital conversion/S.T.A.T. initiative (e.g., students’ abilities to breach the devices’ security features, teachers’ abilities to balance digital and non-digital content in the classroom, reliability of internet access) and how these challenges have been addressed;
  • How the new FARM registration initiatives have affected program enrollment;
  • Results of independent (non-tech industry) studies regarding the benefits and drawbacks of classroom technology that BCPS has consulted during the implementation of the digital conversion/S.T.A.T. initiative;
  • Whether any usable computers removed from classrooms are idle and where these computers are stored;
  • The estimated percentage of students without digital devices who are assigned a textbook for individual use in each academic class, and how this percentage has changed in recent years; and
  • How BCPS responds to parent concerns regarding screen time and radiofrequency exposure and if consideration is being given to an “opt-out” alternative to digital learning environments;
  • Any impacts associated with redirecting school-based funds on the day-to-day operations of schools and activities (e.g., field trips, assemblies);
  • Short- and long-term strategies for addressing maintenance issues in County school buildings and how the proposed FY 2017 budget will impact those plans;
    • The implementation of the Community Eligibility Pilot Program;
    • The status of other hunger-related initiatives BCPS is pursuing; and
    • Any planned changes for the Educational Options programs or facilities.
    • How the current salaries for bus drivers, grounds workers, instructional staff, and other personnel compare to those offered by other jurisdictions;
    • The projected timeline over which BCPS plans to resolve certain staffing shortages; and
    • Outcomes from recent efforts to recruit additional Spanish, ESOL, and Special Education instructors.”

    This is an excerpt from the audit report that is near and dear to our hearts – thank you, county auditor, for bringing up risks to our children that parents are appropriately concerned about.

    Technology Exposure

    BCPS advised that since the rollout of the digital conversion/S.T.A.T. initiative, it has not budgeted funding for technology exposure studies geared toward developing an understanding of issues ranging from maximum recommended screen time for children to amounts of radiofrequency exposure. … However, the Baltimore Sun recently reported that doctors from Harvard and Yale medical schools attending an annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies advised that “parents should limit their children’s use of cellphones, iPads, and other wireless technology because it could cause behavioral and concentration problems.” According to the Sun, while “There is little research on the impact of the microwave radiation and radio frequency radiation emitted by wireless devices on children…the doctors said early studies provide enough evidence to suggest that parents should exercise caution.”

STAT: Year Two Mid-Year Evaluation Report

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

–Mark Twain

The Year Two Mid-Year Evaluation Report on the Baltimore County Public Schools STAT (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) initiative was recently released by the Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Center for Research and Reform in Education, and the resulting 69-page document would not disappoint Mr. Twain.

The report, as one might expect from JHU, is clearly written and reasonably thorough, with data parsed, presented, and charted as needed. The report opens by explaining that its purpose is to evaluate “implementations and outcomes” of the STAT program, “…relating to the goals of improving student achievement and preparing globally competitive students” (page 3). However, the very next paragraph clarifies that no, the report “does not examine the achievement of student outcome goals” (3) but rather presents information on the level of professional development offered and a host of “measureable outcomes” (3) from classroom observations.  The report offers nothing about pedagogical effectiveness, the thing that actually improves student achievement. It also leaves many larger questions unanswered, however, providing a scrim of meaningless data to stand in as proof of effectiveness for a pedagogically dubious program.

The information on professional development in the STAT program was gathered through teacher surveys, and the results are obvious: there has been additional and broader professional development opportunities provided to teachers in Lighthouse Schools, and a majority of teachers have taken advantage of those opportunities. It would be foolhardy to roll out a multi-million dollar initiative like STAT without some kind of training, and the report finds that yes, there has been training offered, in large, small, and one-on-one settings. However, the stickier questions are not even asked: what kind of professional development was completed? How effective was it for classroom practice? What were the goals? How were they met?

In the section on measurable outcomes, the results of several classroom observations provided data on classrooms, teacher practice, digital content, student engagement, and P21 skills. Now, just because something can be measured does not make it a valuable metric. Take this example from the classroom environment findings: a “majority of classrooms observed in fall 2015 were physically arranged to support collaborative learning, displayed materials to support independent thinking to some extent, and had materials referencing the general subject or content area being taught” (25).  What is described here is basically a standard classroom; this is expected practice in K-12 environments, as no caring teacher anywhere ever left a drab room of blank walls when working with children.  This so-called “measurable outcome” tells nothing about STAT effectiveness; it’s a good bet that a majority of classrooms were that way before the program even existed. What was interesting in this section, however, was the finding that “students may be less likely to move around the room…considering the availability of information and resources accessed through devices” (25). This is certainly not a positive finding, though proponents of the “just ask Siri” school of research might disagree. What is implied here is that students do not move around much, as they supposedly can get what they need from the screen in front of them. This is not school, this is training for dystopia.

In examining teacher practice, the report found that “nearly all classroom teachers exhibited coaching behavior with students at least occasionally” (28). This is also a measurement of little meaning, as nearly all teachers who work with students in general spend some amount of time in coaching behaviors, teaching behaviors, and other required classroom roles.  Maybe a few might hide behind their desk all day, or perhaps even under it, but these metrics were not included.

Perhaps the most useless metric in the entire report is the one involving digital content. The information was provided by Engrade, the McGraw-Hill property that created the software platform on which BCPS One sits; it is clear they have been logging a copious amount of student data, as they regurgitated some of it for the report to state the obvious: teachers and students in Lighthouse Schools are accessing digital content more frequently. The creation of teacher tiles (program links) for BCPS One increased; teachers in Lighthouse Schools are almost certainly required to be using the platform, so it is little surprise that they have been.  What is surprising is the equating of “student engagement” with “increased student tile views within BCPS one” (47).  Essentially, there have been more teacher and student clicks (of a mouse or browsing button), which tells absolutely nothing about the quality of material that is being clicked upon. Maybe it’s whack-a-mole. Maybe it’s spam. But hey, there’s a lot of clicking going on, so it must be good.

Measuring teacher and student clicks and passing it off as a useful metric is absurd. Clicks tell nothing about quality of materials used or quality of learning outcomes; this is a prime example of being data rich yet content and context poor.

The final section of the evaluation examined the use of P21 skills, which include  “problem solving, project-based approaches to instruction, inquiry-based approaches to instruction, and learning that incorporates authentic/real world contexts.” It is important to stop for a second here and note that these ideas do not need to be branded with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning “P21” moniker. These ideas are not new to the 21st century and stretch back to the truly innovative theories of John Dewey and genuine progressive educational thought (which should not be confused with modern “progressive” education that advocates high-stakes testing and computer-drive personalized learning). The Partnership for 21st Century, a lobbying group for educational technology business interests, has glommed onto these ideas with the hope that they will lend some veracity to their organization. They don’t.

It is interesting to note, however, that the STAT report found that “P21 skills were least frequently observed overall” (42) out of all the metrics examined; perhaps the classroom focus has relied too much on technology and devices, crowding out more pedagogically effective methods such as student collaboration, problem-based learning, and other more engaging practices.

It is also worth noting that for an APA-style document, the year two midyear STAT report does not present a single reference or citation. Perhaps this is by design or request, or perhaps it is because the ideas that underpin the STAT initiative have a poor or nonexistent research base. The report presented a whopping three sentences of recommendations for improvement of the program, to include a focus on professional development “specific to desired teaching and learning activities that are less frequently practiced” (48) and a clarification of the role of the STAT teacher.

This issue of clarification was raised by a section in the report that noted a theme of lack of trust of the STAT teacher from some teacher survey responses. A few survey responses were quoted, which included: “the STAT teacher at our school has become evaluative and administrative in nature. It’s very clear that things shared/things seen in classrooms are shared with administration and hold weight”; “many teachers are concerned as to whether STAT teachers are going back to administrators and telling them about problems in the classroom. Are they judges or mentors?”; “she does not keep confidentiality about what we are working on…I am NOT going to ask for help because it is reported to the principal and spoken about later as a weakness” (22). These comments speak volumes about what is left unsaid by the STAT report—the BCPS administration does not operate the program on a principle of support but rather on one of threat and expected compliance.

Baltimore County Public Schools STAT Evaluation Summary on the BCPS site- you can see the links to the reports at the bottom of the page.

As requested by a reader in the comments, you may also be interested in the complicated relationship between those who wrote the STAT Evaluation Summary and those who pay these same evaluators, otherwise known as conflict of interest:

Johns Hopkins University: Certification for Sale

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

Moving to Pennsylvania for the Schools

May 15, 2016

To Whom It May Concern:

At the start of 2016, my husband and I made the decision to move our family to southern Pennsylvania for several reasons; one of the main being to leave Baltimore County Public Schools.  This letter serves to inform Baltimore County Board of Education and other county officials of the rationale behind our decision.  This is not a specific criticism of our particular school, which I will not name, but rather concerns we have with BCPS systemically.  With one child in kindergarten and one entering in 2016-17, we have many more years in a school system and do not feel as if Baltimore County is going to give our children the foundation that we feel is important to their educations.

We began kindergarten in the fall of 2015 with cautious optimism despite being warned by a former BCPS employee that we would not be happy with our zoned school.   We were met the first week of school with a list of playground rules.  I understand the need for rules and the need to make sure the children understand the rules.  But when the first rule for kindergarten recess is “No running on the playground”, I begin to have a problem.  Five and six year-old children are expected to focus on academics 6 hours a day with a 20-minute recess, and they are not allowed to run?  I spent time touring and interviewing the elementary schools in Southern York County School District.  Each school representative I spoke with was stunned to learn that my kindergarten student was not permitted to run on the playground during recess.

An excerpt taken from “The Crucial Role in Recess in School”, published by The American Academy of Pediatrics, stresses the importance of unstructured play in the development of children; “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines recess as ‘regularly scheduled periods within the elementary school day for unstructured physical activity and play.’1 The literature examining the global benefits of recess for a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social well-being has recently been reviewed.2 Yet, recent surveys and studies have indicated a trend toward reducing recess to accommodate additional time for academic subjects in addition to its withdrawal for punitive or behavioral reasons.”

Our children will begin the 2016-17 school year in Southern York County School District where they will have recess two times a day, with regular opportunities to earn additional recess as a class.  They will also participate in a district wide “Walking Wednesday” program where all teachers, students and administrators in the district walk the school campuses as an additional opportunity to get outside.  Studies have shown that more opportunities for recess and outside time actually helps children refocus, and there is data to support higher test scores.

Our next concern is the use of technology in BCPS.  This year, my son has not had a tablet and has not participated in the “personalized learning” of which our superintendent is so fond.  My husband and I have some serious concerns regarding the use of technology in the classroom, including decreased interaction between students and teachers, lack of traditional and proven teaching methods and safety of the students-both online and physically.  There is no data to support the use of technology as Superintendent Dance envisions it in BCPS classrooms is an effective teaching tool, and yet BCPS is rolling out the use of personal devices throughout the entire county, without having all security measures in place or even knowing all the possible risks.  There are too many studies to cite here directly but I encourage you to visit


to see studies on “How Screentime is Affecting Kids’ Moods and Attitudes”, “The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child” and how note-taking is a more effective learning tool than technology.  If you take the time to read any of these articles, you will understand the concerns that parents of young children have regarding one-to-one technology in the classroom.   There has been no reassurance or proof that our children’s identities will be secure with these online learning programs proposed by Mr. Dance.  In fact, a recent article stated that ” ‘75% of schools don’t tell parents that kids’ data is shared’ according to Cheri Kiessecker.” (edworkforce.house.gov).  It should be noted that my husband and I are not alone in these concerns.  There are many parents in Baltimore County who share our concerns and do not want our children learning from a computer instead of a teacher.

The next area of concern we have is the Common Core curriculum and PARCC testing.  Pennsylvania does not participate in Common Core.  The school districts follow a curriculum laid out by the state.  There is the Pennsylvania State Assessment (PSA) as a means of measuring student achievement.  The PSA, however does not cause the high levels of stress and anxiety in students and teachers that PARCC testing seems to.  And taking the PSA is not a requirement for graduation.

Finally, Pennsylvania schools are funded differently than Maryland schools.  We will pay a “school tax” when we move and each year thereafter as long as we reside in the state.  And that’s okay with us.  Because of the school tax, Pennsylvania schools are better funded.  We received our kindergarten supply list recently.  The comparison between our new school and our current school is not only astonishing, but very telling of the use of funds allocated to the schools.  In PA, we have 6 items on the list with one optional item.  In BCPS, there are 35 items and 10 optional items.  The kindergarten supply list is just one example of the funding differences between the two school districts.

My husband and I thought it was important that we share our concerns about BCPS to those who can help facilitate a change.  We are Baltimore County taxpayers who are in the position to purchase a house and we have chosen to take our purchase and our money to another state.  We may only be one family, but most of the houses we looked at during our search were owned by someone who was commuting to MD.  I know of other BCPS families who are considering a similar move for the same reasons cited here.

Thank you for your time.


Noelle S. Wilson

STAT and Security

Baltimore County Public schools Policy 5230 will be discussed at the May 10, 2016 Board of Education meeting.  You can read an excerpt below and you can read the entire BCPS Policy 5230 here.

“Statement of Issues or Questions Addressed

In accordance with Board of Education Policy and Superintendent’s Rule 8130, Policy 5230 is scheduled for review in school year 2015–2016. Policy 5230 outlines the Board’s responsibility to recognize the rights of parents to review and inspect their child’s student records and to maintain student records in accordance with federal and state law and regulations. The Policy Review Committee recommended that the policy be revised to: (1) recognize the right of parents to verify the deletion of their child’s student data; and (2) conform with the Policy Review Committee’s editing conventions.”

These comments about Policy 5230 are written by Russ Kuehn, parent and stakeholder in Baltimore County Public Schools.

1. There are a large number for referenced documents, having read or reviewed most of them, I believe BCPS needs to provide an actual document that outlines all the pieces of the privacy policy/program they intend to follow. This needs to include discussions around data security and steps that will be taken to provide that security.

2. After reviewing the documents, I am still unable to determine exactly what access 3rd party companies have to children’s data. What are the specific safeguards that BCPS is putting in place to make sure that these companies are responsible and have a fiduciary duty to do the “right thing” regarding breach issues and data loss.

3. Third party providers need to be restricted to not collect, disseminate or use information regarding children outside of providing direct access to their products. The tracking and “learning profile” they will naturally record, are property of the student, the parents, and to the extent required to provide an education, BCPS.

4. The federal government has the privacy act that governs how data is handled regarding individuals. Each federal system is accompanied by a systems of record notice (SORN) whereby citizens can review and comment during the process. Citizens also have the ability to challenge and correct erroneous information in their records. This act is not applicable to states. This is unfortunate, putting states and localities on their own to work their way through providing privacy that is appropriate and citizen centered. I do not know enough about Maryland State Laws to understand what is and is not allowable, but it should be VERY clear in the BCPS document.

Privacy is something that people are only starting to understand, and technology is clearly bringing these concerns to the forefront. I would suggest that BCPS focus on how to protect their records and really make sure that contractually NO THIRD PARTY PROVIDERS have any rights to data gleaned from doing business with our school system.

It is clear that everyone involved is focused on providing a high quality education to our children. I applaud that goal, and will work to support it. I believe the pace of change within BCPS has picked up significantly with the introduction of BCPS-STAT and with that, the risk of data loss or misuse has also increased. We need to be mindful and protect this information while striving to integrate technology further into the classroom.

Thank you for your time.

Russ Kuehn

Please consider contacting the Board of Education (and other County and State officials) to express your opinions about how important this issue is to the families of Baltimore County.


Are BCPS Students iReady for English-Language Computer Learning?

A retired teacher, Anne Groth, recently took a look at iReady, which is reportedly up for consideration for roll-out in elementary and middle schools next year, pending approval by the Board of Education.  https://teachingafter60.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/are-you-ready-for-iready/#comment-26

She notes that the website claims:  “Research proves that i-Ready can deliver transformational results for all students.”      Read about it here.

WOW.  That’s quite a claim. 

Here’s the “independent” evaluation of this program found on the iReady website by a for-profit company.  The report did not have peer review.  http://www.casamples.com/downloads/ReadyNYEfficacyStudy512.pdf

The problems with this “research” study are many.  First, any research study worth reading includes a limitations section – that is where independent researchers make clear to the reader that they recognize the limitations of their research, and what the limitations mean for the conclusions and implications of the research, and ways of combating these limitations in future research.

In this report, there is no limitations section anywhere.   Instead, these researchers claim “In summary, the study demonstrated unequivocally (emphasis ours) that the use of the Ready program resulted in statistically higher performance on the New York State Tests.”

These researchers don’t understand confounding, or causality.  You cannot compare schools who chose to use a new program to schools who did not, and claim anything about causality “unequivocally.” These folks would be sent back to Biostatistics and Epidemiology 101.

Link to http://www.psychologyinaction.org/2011/10/30/what-is-a-confounding-variable/

This is more marketing than research.

Here’s what another blogger explained about educational research (Recent Dreambox post).

“An interesting US Department of Education resource is the What Works Clearinghouse website (http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/) established in the early 2000s as a repository for valid research studies on effective educational practices. The site is intended as a “resource for informed decision making” and “identifies studies that provide credible and reliable evidence of the effectiveness of a given practice, program, or policy.” In a time when the word rigor is thrown around by school administrators and edtech companies alike, it is safe to say that the WWC’s standards for vetting research studies are indeed rigorous. There is a “fact check” section to counter the idea that “the WWC never finds evidence of positive effects” in their research reviews. They do…they just only consider research that involves “high-quality evidence” as determined by their very high standards for research design; once a research study is accepted, they find about 70% of them demonstrate some positive effect. The WWC looks at three dimensions of a study to determine validity: methodology employed, data collected, and statistics used. Many studies are deemed ‘not valid’ due to research design issues, narrow interpretations of data, or other flaws.”

There’s nothing in the WWC on iReady, or Curriculum Associates. 

These reviews of iReady are worth a look – written by largely digitally savvy students, who don’t seem too enthusiastic.  http://curriculum-associates.pissedconsumer.com/i-ready-not-20150930708513.html

One more thing – this program is another one that children will do on computers, with headphones, as a solitary activity. While you are actually doing this program, there’s no interaction with your teacher or other students. There’s nothing collaborative about this.  This isn’t building a mechanical flower for earth day.

iReady means time spent on a computer, by yourself, with headphones on, learning, and being tested, via animated characters. As Anne Groth points out, learning to write is inherently collaborative: “The communication between teacher and student, among students, and at home when writing is shared with parents is just something a computer program cannot offer.”  

How much time will students be asked to spend on iReady per week in first grade?  In fourth?  In sixth?

If it is a lot of time, that’s worrisome, as I wonder, what educational practice is being decreased to find the time?

If it isn’t much time, is it worth the cost per student?  We would like to know, what do our teachers really want in the classroom?

Anne Groth Writes about BCPS at Investors Summit in San Diego

Please read this thoughtful report written by retired Baltimore County Public Schools librarian and teacher, Anne Groth.  She writes about BCPS teachers and administrators in attendance at an Education Technology Investors Summit ASU/GSV  in San Diego in April, 2016. She includes the link so you can watch the video of BCPS discussing STAT.