Proposed county schools’ laptop contract pricing more than double recommended one-to-one cost, report shows

Piles of U.s. Dollar Bills on Silver and White Suitcase

A tech industry report reveals that the proposed $140 million contract for laptops  going before the school board next week would cost the district more than twice as much per student as recommended.

The One-to-One Institute report, known as Project RED: Revolutionizing Education, advises school districts on how they can bring laptop-per-student digital initiatives to their districts.

Trouble is: the amount being spent by BCPS on nearly all segments of the digital initiative known as STAT far outpace what is recommended as fiscally sound in the report and elsewhere. And even the new $140 million laptop contract “refresh,” which claims to trim costs (though tech support expenses remain unknown), remains an outlier, charging a premium far above even an edtech industry standard.

Recommended cost of devices per student, and common among many school districts nationwide, according to the report: $400, including warranty.

Proposed BCPS cost under the contract under consideration with Daly Computers, Inc.: $906, including warranty.

And in a particular irony:  Primary Project RED report sponsors are HP, Inc. and Intel—the manufacturers of the very devices and processors for which BCPS will pay more than twice the amount the company-sponsored analysis recommends—a scenario that defies logic and is clearly contrary to district claims that STAT is a financially sustainable program.

On top of all this (as if such questionable spending is not enough), a recent BCPS administrative answer to board member questions on the pending $140 million contract apparently notes that even though BCPS is leasing more than 100,000 student units of the HP Probook X360 11 G2 EE, the district is getting no bulk-rate discount. What?

The Project RED report comes out every few years, with last year’s summary being the most recent. Costs for laptops, WiFi infrastructure, and related (outlined in the report)  since previous summaries have remained similar or are slightly less.

The One-to-One Institute’s financial report is meant to convince school districts they can afford 1:1 programs: “Education has often failed to replicate the success of other industry sectors in automating and transforming through technology, in large part due to the challenge—real or perceived—of allocating the necessary initial capital budget to start such initiatives . . . However, the Project RED data support the business case that there is enough money in the system at a macro level to properly implement technology.”

Yet when STAT rolled out in 2014, the board-approved initial BCPS $205 million contract with Daly Computers put glitchy HP devices into classrooms that were even higher priced over the last few years, at nearly triple the industry standard. Why all those wasted dollars? And why aren’t the powers-that-be asking the right questions?

This blog has followed the costs of the digital initiative known as STAT in numerous posts, so further details on expenditures, contracts (and hundreds of thousands in ongoing administrator travel) can be found throughout. Considering the proposed 2018-19 BCPS budget is still on the table, elected and appointed officials now spending or gauging how taxpayer dollars are spent—Board of Education members, the Baltimore County Council and County Executive, state officials, as well as fourth-estate media–should take a closer look at the fiscally questionable tech spending at BCPS. Period. This is essential to their oversight roles. 

As also noted in the 2017 RED report: “If the public thinks their tax dollars are not being wisely used, there are serious consequences.” And well there should be.

For the most part, such watchdog groups have relied instead on the increasingly questionable word of BCPS administrators. In order to truly prove fiscally responsibility, our leaders need to closely peruse this report, conduct forensic audits, and objectively compare BCPS expenditures here to other districts in Maryland (see postscript 1 below) and elsewhere. School systems note they can’t financially sustain the $1,000 or so college students might pay for laptops retail.

For example, Montgomery County Public Schools, which offers a well-regarded digital initiative, and similar top systems cite overall budget needs when they seek devices that cost generally $400 to $500 per student. Anne Arundel County Public Schools, which has tallied some of the highest PARCC scores in the state, has also utilized lower-priced Chromebooks, on carts in elementary schools. In general, laptops or tablets are also not assigned one-to-one per student in all grades to balance spending, and not used 1:1 especially in developmentally vulnerable early elementary grades where the results of expanded screen time is already raising alarms among education experts too.

A similar scenario can found in the lauded digital district that has served as a model for BCPS and others: Mooresville Graded School District, which among other approaches spends less, does not assign devices per student in grades 1 and 2, and looks for creative fiscal options that other districts pursue as well (Here, too, a litany of fiscal tech advice, much of which is not followed at BCPS).

“Mooresville schools opted for a lease-purchase agreement that allows the district to lease the MacBook Airs for $215 a year, or about $1 million, and resell them after two to three years of use.”

Also note how BCPS compared to the spectacularly failed and exorbitant Los Angeles Unified School District iPad debacle. Baltimore County’s “technology is drastically more expensive than even LAUSD’s inflated iPad price tag.” BCPS device costs by 2015 were “more than the cost of an expensive Chromebook and high-end iPad combined.”

Just think—if you can stomach it—about the wanton government waste here in Baltimore County, and consider all the school discretionary fund cutbacks (slashed by more than 50 percent); lack of special education staff, teacher turnover and unfilled positions, and those many, many, many other unmet school needs.

The new $140 million Daly contract is set for a board vote on Tuesday April 3. There is apparently no time being set aside at that public meeting for public comment.* So reach out now to board members and county and state officials, and make your voices heard. See the actual bid solicitation/request for proposals (RFP) letter here. See board member questions and admin responses here.

And for those who prefer the use of devices in schools in various forms, I doubt that overspending on such offerings in the end is among their goals.

Let’s truly be balanced about the tech integration at Baltimore County Public Schools and not just say it’s so.

a cost wrap-up column by freelance writer Joanne C. Simpson


Postscript 1:

Here is an initial breakdown of several neighboring county district laptop/tablet expenditures, according to school board members, see district Q&A here:

“Montgomery County paid $375 to purchase each Chromebook.
Harford County is paying $523 to purchase each device.
Worcester County: $730 each.
Prince George’s County: $400-500 per iPad for students in low-performing middle schools, paid for with Title I funds.”

Postscript 2:

Here a few overall cost breakdowns. Under the One-to-One Initiative’s Project RED report, the various categories that are considered elements of any one-to-one laptop initiative—infrastructure, professional development, curricula (see pages 4 and 5)—have often not been counted in the dollar amount cited in the media and elsewhere as the overall cost of the BCPS STAT program–the ‘$200 million figure (which has long been for laptops leases alone), plus millions in curricula.’ The industry report also highly recommends transparency on all related costs, which is lacking at the school district.

The report cites expenditures per student, and some amounts may align when broken down among BCPS students. But many expenditures in addition to the laptops remain higher (also, the proposed laptop cost per-teacher is more than double).

Take, for example, one staggering out-the-door cost: nearly $8 million spent just in software license fees annually (for the BCPSOne platform, Microsoft student option license fees, and digital curricula, an amount likely to expand); (#17 board member answers)

In terms of curriculum, meanwhile, there’s $60 million (ERDI-listed clients) to $70 million in board-approved digital curricula contracts, some of which only go out another couple years, so also would be renewed and expanded.

For curricula comparison, according to the report, a recommended school district average should be $40 per student for curricula software annually, or about $4 million a year in such expenditures at BCPS.

Such pricey software options are also questionable in terms of student outcomes (along with recent BCPS claims that 10 lighthouse/pilot school averages are outpacing national averages on PARCC scores and related. Recent analyses indicate that non-lighthouse schools without STAT have fared the same, and that overall district student math PARCC scores are markedly down—so nebulous district claims remain suspect and need closer objective review. Particularly concerning are recent BCPS claims that go far beyond what the JHU evaluations indicate, and use internal Measures for Academic Progress (MAP) scores to claim “clear and absolutely unequivocal” improvements. MAP is an internal tool provided by a company, NWEA, that has a multi-million contract with BCPS so is neither standardized nor objective. The scores appear also to be cherry picked, and BCPS has refused to release all relevant data for those scores, despite a public letter from a stakeholder advocacy group, ABCSchools. 

See also this recent symposium white paper from the University of Virginia and James Madison University, sponsored partly another industry support group, Digital Promise: “Merit or Marketing?: Evidence and Quality of Efficacy Research in Educational Technology Companies.” That analysis lists the BCPS-touted DreamBox Learning math program as “low quality” and rates the iReady reading-based software in the middling range. Each company contract at BCPS was recently upped to $3.2 million—and the staggering $6.4 million being spent on two software programs is likely to expand further.

And, lastly, on the issue of suspect circumstances that require further review:  former BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, who spearheaded STAT, reportedly met with DreamBox and iReady in outside undisclosed consulting with the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI), which led in part to a recent criminal conviction on charges of perjury.

Current Interim Superintendent Verletta White, who also consulted with ERDI (initially undisclosed, but not charged) pressed for the combined $4 million expansion of those two contracts last summer after Dance’s departure. (An aside: Hewlett-Packard, a longtime ERDI client according to the organization’s records, has been removed from the recently amended ERDI-client/partner/colleague list. See gap in the alphabet. Hmmm.)

White, meanwhile, refuses to name which companies she met with in her publicly-paid position as the district’s Chief Academic Officer. Again: Integrity? Transparency? Objectivity?

*Last update: This is also telling about where things stand on the public comment issue 3/29. The board has to vote to let the public speak at a public meeting. Who will vote against that?

“Update on public comment at April 3, 2018, Board of Education meeting

Towson, MD – In light of the truncated nature of the agenda, public comment does not appear on the Board’s published agenda for its April 3, 2018, meeting. In order to include public comment, the Board’s policy requires unanimous consent to amend its agenda. Members of the public may sign up to speak as of 5:30 p.m. on April 3. Should the board vote to permit public comment, the Board’s standard practice –to select a maximum of 10 randomly chosen individuals – will be followed.”

 

 

Advertisements

Screen Safety Guidelines for Maryland Public Schools: UPDATE

UPDATE:  On March 22nd, http://www.screensandkids.us reported that:

“House Education Subcommittee Favorably Reviews
HB1110 Classroom Screen Safety legislation

LATEST: Many thanks to the House Ways and Means Committee for moving HB1110 forward for a House floor vote – scheduled for Tuesday, March 27.

UPDATE 3/22: The Montgomery County Board of Education has reconsidered its position on HB1110 and has voted unanimously tonight in support of the classroom screen safety bill.”

READ MORE HERE.

________________

Legislation – believed to be the first in the nation – requiring the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Health to draft guidelines of the safe use of digital devices in public-school classrooms failed during the 2017 General Assembly session.

The bill’s 2018 version – HB1110 – appears to be stuck in committee.

Support for the bill, especially from the medical community, is overwhelming.

National groups, including the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, support this legislation.

Read this March 6, 2018 article about the bill published in Maryland Matters.

Did County Schools Rig Survey: Justifying Controversial STAT program? Updated.

In 2014, Ryan Imbriale, the Executive Director of Innovative Learning for Baltimore County Public Schools, was tasked with participating in the implementation of a “Speak Up Survey, which was intended to provide community feedback to the Board of Education on stakeholders’ buy-in of the incoming laptop-per-student STAT program.

However, what might have seemed like a well-intended effort to garner the community’s sentiment on the controversial program was likely flawed from the start: The outside “survey” was designed, in part, by the very person that aggressively promoted the STAT program from its inception, Mr. Imbriale.

In a 2014 meeting of the Speak Up Survey, Mr. Imbriale was quoted saying;

 “I mean, when… when this is marketed as ‘all about teaching and learning’, then that drives a whole different conversation, a whole different avenue.  And then you’re talking about Chief Academic Officers.  Then my sell to my CAO changes completely because I’m not going in and saying (he whispers): ‘we need to do a technology survey’. It’s a completely different story and, for a district like Baltimore County, this needs to be marketed as a ‘teaching and learning opportunity’. It’s about ‘teaching and learning’. This is …and what data we get from this can drive conversations about ‘learner centered environments’ and (then)… where do we need to go with the “equity” conversation?  And what that means for our classrooms in terms of teachers, students, and space.  That…. that’s what comes from here.   But it’s not… if everyone’s not talking the talk then it still is ‘about technology’.”

At another point in the meeting, Mr. Imbriale is also quoted as saying;

“I would agree.  I think that it could continue to be that. [Meaning a technology survey].  I mean, see, I’m a little bit skewed on this because my district is large enough that we can take this survey data —  and our research department can compare it to other data points we have  — and we can create that ‘teaching and learning’ PICTURE…”

It’s no wonder that community outrage continues to build surrounding the STAT issue. The “Speak Up Survey” has been only one of a series of questionable acts used to manufacture support for the STAT program.

  • School board member David Uhlfelder, has stated, more than once,  that “I don’t need to wait for a study” to pass budgets in support of the STAT program.
  • Johns Hopkins University studies, conducted as independent evaluations of STAT, were conveniently never available to the Board of Education when voting for the renewal of STAT program spending.
  • County schools’ central office staff have a history of organizing rallies seemingly intended to drown out public opinion by shear force and numbers. (Editor note: See for example this recent story in The Baltimore Post.)
  • Former superintendent Dallas Dance has stated on the record that the school district and others must employ new teachers who are “drinking the Kool-Aid” related to “digital learning” and STAT.

This leaves one wondering: If the STAT program was so great, why would our school administrators and some members of the Board of Education find it necessary to skew public perception from the very outset?

Given the recent developments with the conviction of former Superintendent Dance, who spearheaded the STAT program, on charges of perjury, and the questionable contracts awarded to technology vendors, there is no better time for a complete outside audit of Baltimore County Public Schools.

Community trust in senior school administrators is eroding fast. Senior staff who are actively against a full audit are not hearing the community, those which they serve, and it only leaves the public wondering what they have to hide.

A guest opinion post by Citizens for a Better Baltimore County

Editor’s postscript: See the sponsors and partners of the Speak Up Survey here, whose “champion sponsors” include DreamBox Learning and Blackboard, and the edtech industry groups iNACOL (see emerald sponsors) and ISTE, which notes that sponsors such as Microsoft and Google “are more than just supporters, they are active participants and contributors.” BCPS administrator Ryan Imbriale is listed as a member of the Speak Up Survey ‘Advisory Council.’ 

Additional update: Efforts seem to continue as marching orders go out to teachers to make comments on social media, yet not necessarily identify themselves as STAT or technology-oriented staff? Some of the comments also use the same edtech buzzword phrases as the industry groups listed above: “21st Century Learning,” and hours of screen time translates to ‘allowing students to have ownership.” Another ad-like image of a fifth grade teacher’s Twitter feed: “Presenting…the durable, new HP ProBook X360 — awesome new BCPS student device pending contract approval” [see previous posts on $140 million laptop contract up for vote]. And a campaigning comment by another teacher who has also written this pro-“personalized learning’ article for Tech & Learning, which touts vendor DreamBox and favors utilizing computer-based “data to drive the instructional decision-making process.” 

There’s also apparently a sanctioned Twitter handle: 

 

Irreversible Propaganda?

Former Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance, who pled guilty last week to perjury charges, might be gone from the district, but the $300 million and counting education technology experiment he brought to the 112,000-student district is still being pushed aggressively by forces both internal and external.

See this in-depth story today by investigative reporter Ann Costantino in The Baltimore Post: Baltimore County schools’ senior staff organize rally to support “irreversible” laptop program

“Both Dance and Ryan Imbriale, the executive director for the school system’s Department of Innovative Learning, call it “second order change,” and it is a topic about which each spoke in detail to audiences within and outside of the school system.

‘What we spent a lot of time talking to our principals about was not the technology. We spent a lot of time talking to them about the leadership that is required for second order change,’ Dance said. ‘When you do a second order change, we can’t go back to business as usual. This is really letting our guards down creating this culture of innovation and risk-taking and that is what professional development looked like from a leadership perspective,’ he said at a 2016 talk he gave in Boston for the Learning Counsel.”

Perjury charges against Dance were linked to a litany of outside “leadership” consulting jobs he failed to report on his financial disclosure statements, totaling at least $147,000. Here is a litany of those moonlighting gigs in another in-depth article by Ann Costantino.

“Second order change” seems an Orwellian catch phrase or calling card for Sovietika-style propaganda. As Imbriale noted in a slide presentation in 2013, before the laptop program known as STAT even began, according to the story: “Once begun, it is impossible to return to what you were doing before.”

If that isn’t a clear enough warning sign:

As The Baltimore Post story notes: Advocates for Baltimore County Public Schools (ABCSchools) have been asking for balanced tech use in schools, not an all-or-nothing approach to laptops or software use.  “ABCSchools made an announcement today about retaliation some teachers are experiencing by Baltimore County schools’ central office staff.  Some teachers have been confronted for speaking out on their observations about the STAT program.”