Technology as Teacher: Consulting Firm with Ties to Baltimore County Had Big Plans

More great work from local journalist Ann Costantino.  Reprinted from the February 3rd Baltimore Post.

If there ever were any doubt about the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI) and its promotion of educational technology to school systems, a July 2011 ERDI Innovation Conference makes it abundantly clear.

One conference presenter in particular had a very specific message at the Atlanta event for education leaders and their school systems: that computer-centered learning for kindergarten through 12th grade was coming, and those in the audience would be making the changes – very soon.

“I want to give you a quick and conceptual look at why I think the pivot to ‘personalized digital learning’ is a really big deal, like one of the three or four of the most important things happening in the world,” said Tom Vander Ark, an author, speaker and investor in more than 70 technology companies.  “Secondly, I’m going to talk about how that’s going to happen in most of your schools,” he said.

In the audience, along with other education leaders, was former Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) superintendent, Dr. Joe Hairston.  Hairston, who reported the trip to his education board, immediately preceded Dr. S. Dallas Dance, who left the school system in June.

Dance, who was indicted last week on four counts of perjury for failing to disclose $147,000 of income he made as a consultant and speaker for almost a dozen companies and organizations, also withheld disclosure of a payment amounting to more than $4,000 from ERDI that the indictment said he received in 2015.

ERDI, an education consulting company based in Illinois, which pays education leaders to meet with its education product and services clients, says it provides a unique opportunity for superintendents to provide valuable feedback on its clients’ products.   But the unique access vendors are given to school system leaders, such as Dance, has been questioned in school systems as far as California, Chicago, Ohio, Iowa and even B.C. Canada.  Namely, concerns have been raised about potential conflicts of interest.  Especially troubling are contracts awarded to ERDI’s technology clients by the very school leaders who met with them.

In a November Op-Ed posted in the Towson Flyer, Joanne C. Simpson wrote that in Baltimore County there have been “about a dozen clients that have been awarded high-dollar contracts with BCPS.”  Included: “Discovery Education ($10 million); Code to the Future ($987,000); NWEA, MAP-testing provider ($3.9 million); McGraw Hill ($15.6 million);  Curriculum Associates/iReady ($3.2 million); DreamBox Learning ($3.2 million); and other for-profit companies whose multi-million dollar ‘contract spending authorities’ were approved by the Baltimore County Board of Education over the past five years—under the tenure of former superintendent Dallas Dance. The contracts are currently in place.”

Yet ERDI maintains it pairs its clients with school system leaders for the purpose of improving education products and services.  Its clients – which are comprised largely of education technology vendors – pay ERDI $13,000 to $66,000 in membership fees according to a rate card published in November by The New York Times.

Superintendents are then paid $500-$2,000 by ERDI to sit on panels with ERDI’s clients.

The result, some say, are new or increased contracts in school systems awarded after district leaders met with vendors.

The New York Times reported in November, for instance, that Dance met with two ERDI vendors in February of last year.  DreamBox, which provides game-based math software, and Curriculum Associates (iReady) sells reading software.  Five months after Dance met with each company, Baltimore County’s school board increased the school system’s spending authority with the vendors by $1.8 million and $2 million, respectively.

But while critics say ERDI provides opportunities for clients to sell to superintendents, the 2011 ERDI Innovation Conference provided more than just that.

Presenter Vander Ark told the audience at the Discovery Education-sponsored event to start “piloting upper division, online courses.”  He said, “Stop offering (Advanced Placement) AP courses” in the classroom.  Instead, “offer those online.  You can offer all 32 (classes) at consistent quality for less money than you’re currently doing it,” he said.  (BCPS has a $10 million contract with Discovery Education, a provider of digital curriculum.)

Previous Superintendent Hairston, who also served as chair for ERDI’s Superintendents Board of Directors starting in 2007, would leave BCPS one year after the conference. Hairston retired after 12 years serving as BCPS’s superintendent.  His last day was June 30, 2012.

The following day, the energetic and visionary, Dr. S. Dallas Dance, would take the helm, only to announce a system-wide personalized learning technology initiative eight months later.

Changes to curriculum, grading policies, Advanced Placement (AP), Special Education, language instruction, and the school system’s Gifted and Talented program would quickly follow Dance’s 2013 announcement. And a five-year strategic plan for S.T.A.T., the district’s laptop-for-every-child digital curriculum initiative, would roll-out full steam ahead.  (S.T.A.T. stands for Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow.)

Then in 2014, Baltimore County’s education board would commit $205 million to the program and, later that year, Dance’s S.T.A.T. program would debut in 10 Baltimore County Public Schools as the system’s “S.T.A.T. Lighthouse Schools.”

The young superintendent, who was 30 when he took the job in Baltimore County, would also start his paid consulting work with ERDI’s clients in 2015 and 2016, according to two ERDI documents which list ERDI advisory members.

But years prior, at that July ERDI 2011 event, Vander Ark presented his plan for school systems when he gave his talk he called “Designing Digital Districts.”

He instructed the education leaders that, starting that upcoming 2011-2012 school year, it was time to get started with their school districts’ digital and virtual learning programs.

“Online assessment is coming in the next three years to most states and it’s a great opportunity to put a stake in the ground to build a three or four phase plan, starting next month,” he said.

Vander Ark — who was also Executive Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and, despite lacking prior teaching experience, also served as superintendent of Washington State’s Federal Way Public Schools – told the education leaders that they should “be launching in September (2011), a Blended 6-10 math program” and “have a team of teachers work with two to three to 400 students” virtually and online.

“You ought to be piloting special services online.  Speech therapies have had big developments in the last year and can deliver better and cheaper and faster speech therapy online,” he said.

Vander Ark, who mentioned the cost savings of using technology in place of teachers several times during his presentation, also said he started the first kindergarten to 12th grade online school in the country, but that “this stuff has not made enough of a difference as it should.”

Nonetheless, the Ed-Tech mogul told the audience of education leaders that the reason the 2011 push was different was because, in addition to providing students with a computer-based environment in order to “improve learning,” changing staffing was also now seen as imperative.

Vander Ark told the audience of education leaders that the reduction in teachers would “improve productivity.”

“It means a different staffing model which costs less and works better,” he said. “It means a tough set of conversations…”


Mr. Vander Ark and executives at ERDI were not immediately available for comment.  To watch Mr. Vander Ark’s full presentation and the other presentations given at the 2011 ERDI Innovation Conference, click here.  (Link supported by Google Chrome). For the conference agenda, click here.

Clarification:  An earlier version of this story credited The Baltimore Sun’s Jan. 25 article regarding the increased contracted spending authority for DreamBox and Curriculum Associates after former Superintendent Dance met with the vendors at an ERDI conference five months before.  It was actually The New York Times that first broke that part of the story in its November 3rd article called How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom.


BCPS Tech Contracts Audit Update

Baltimore Sun, December 16:  White expands the audit of school board contracts

Baltimore Post, December 15:  Legislative Audit Sought for Baltimore County Schools’ Contracts (the need for an audit was noted in May ~ Is BCPS in Need of a Financial Audit?)

Baltimore Sun, December 6:  Audit of tech contracts in Baltimore County schools is sought

Towson Flyer, December 5:  Board of Ed members ask for BCPS contract audit

Op-Ed: More than $60 million in BCPS contracts linked to controversial private clients

Thanks to the Towson Flyer and journalist Joanne C. Simpson for continuing to shed light on BCPS and, in particular, its dealing with the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI).

November 11, 2017

“At the heart of a widening scandal enveloping Baltimore County Public Schools is a company that apparently brokers access to superintendents. And in the case of BCPS, a shadowy trail might have led to more than $62 million in mostly no-bid digital curricula and related school contracts.”

Read more here.

NYT, Sun Articles Lead to Call for State Audit

What a week it’s been in Baltimore County.*

On November 3rd, the front page of the New York Times carried the article “How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom” about how the ed-tech industry used its playbook on BCPS. The article talked about Dr. Dance’s and Ms. White’s connection to the Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI).  From the article:

“Ms. White, the interim superintendent, has been involved with ERDI since 2013, according to Mr. Dickerson. He said Ms. White used vacation time to attend events, where she “provided guidance to education-related companies on goods, services and products that are in development to benefit student performance.”

Asked whether Ms. White had received ERDI payments, Mr. Dickerson said, “Participation in ERDI is done independently of the school system.” In an email, Ms. White said she found ERDI to be a “beneficial professional learning experience.” She didn’t respond to a question about ERDI compensation.

She added, “I do not believe there are any conflicts of interests” related to the district’s tech initiative.”

On November 5th, the local article “New York Times Probes Baltimore County School System Records” summed up other coverage (including a write-up by national education policy scholar Diane Ravitch) and offered details on Dr. Dance’s extensive speaking engagements.

On November 7th, Natasha Singer was interviewed by an Ohio NPR affiliate (starts at minute 14) about the article.  Ms. Singer talked again about ERDI and the ethical issues tied to it. A Stanford University ethicist called it a pay-to-play arrangement.

Then, on November 8th, the pace didn’t just pick up; it turned into a media frenzy.

*To catch up on how this chain of events started, read this piece about Dr. Dance’s travel and this op-ed about the Education Foundation and the ed-tech takeover of BCPS

On Wednesday, the Baltimore Sun revealed that while ERDI paid both Dr. Dance and Ms. White for consulting, Ms. White hadn’t disclosed this outside income.

On November 9th, Ms. White wrote the following to the community:

“Good Afternoon Team BCPS Family,

This message is to ensure that you hear from me directly about the recent article published in the newspaper.  The first thing I’d like to share is that I take great pride in being a person who strives to maintain high moral character every day.  Any suggestion otherwise, by the media or anyone else, is simply wrong and a bridge too far.  For those of you who know me, you know that I do not dwell in excuses.  If I am wrong, I will admit my mistakes.  No one is perfect, but I will not have my integrity questioned without directly addressing and disputing the accusations.  Facts matter and I would like to take a few moments to outline the facts, as I believe you deserve the full story.

The fact of the matter is that the Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI) is not a technology company.  It is an educational research and development company, meaning that ERDI coordinates efforts for companies and educators to collaborate on products and services that are in development.  Sales are not involved in this process.  This process is purely for feedback.  The developers know their products, and the educators know how to best meet the needs of students.  I have never been paid by a company doing business with our school system, and the school system has never paid for trips where I participated as a consultant. ERDI does not conduct any business with BCPS.  I participated in these sessions on my own time, using vacation days, to do so.  These are the facts.

Like many of you, throughout my career, I look for opportunities for professional development and to stay current on the ever-growing educational resources being introduced in classrooms in Baltimore County and across the country.  Early in my career, these classroom tools were textbooks and other written materials.  At that time, teachers and administrators engaged with textbook companies to provide insight on how they might best serve students’ needs during instruction.  Now, many times, these classroom resources come in the form of technology and digital curriculum, which can be used as supplements or alternatives to traditional paper resources.  It should not come as a surprise that engaging with companies (some of which may be technology based) is now one way to learn about these products and to provide input on what works and what does not work with and for children.

In some instances, I was paid as a consultant to review and provide feedback on ideas for instructional products.  The superintendent, my supervisor, recommended and approved my participation in these opportunities.  The honest mistake I made was not writing these consultants fees on school system financial disclosure forms.  When I completed these forms, I was under the impression that I was to only list companies with whom the school system had a contract or a pending contract.  I was mistaken.  I will amend them as allowed by policies.

I promise each of you that I will not make that mistake again, but more importantly, I will not allow an honest oversight to be misconstrued as something untoward or unethical.  It is not who I am and it is not who you know me to be.  My message to each of you in the Superintendent’s Report during this week’s Board of Education meeting was to rise up and to speak out for our profession.  We deserve the same respect as anyone else.  As I said during the report, I am you, and I will always stand up for who and what we are.  We must accept no less.”

Ms. White’s statement absolutely mischaracterized ERDI.  ERDI doesn’t sell directly to school systems, but it does facilitate sales by selling ed-tech vendors private access to superintendents.

The Sun on November 9th responded with the editorial, “Baltimore County schools’ ethics gap.”

We hadn’t even gotten through the week. Then came the call for a state-level investigation and audit.  The Sun on November 9th reported that Sen. Jim Brochin “has called for an investigation and audit of the Baltimore County school system’s purchasing of digital devices and software after reports that administrators were working as paid consultants for a company that represents education technology firms.”

The NYT jumped back in at this point to offer this same update.

It’s getting messy, but at least people are starting to pay attention to STAT.

On November 10th, four members of the Baltimore County Board of Education (the four paying attention to STAT) reached out to the state for assistance:

“Four Baltimore County Board of Education members: Kathleen Causey, Roger Hayden, Julie Henn, and Ann Miller are seeking immediate action in response to multiple reports of possible ethics violations within Baltimore County Public Schools.

Wednesday morning, Causey, Hayden, Henn, and Miller sent an email to Board Chairman Ed Gilliss requesting an emergency administrative session to discuss Board action in response to major concerns raised by extensive media reports on the ethical issues surrounding BCPS relations with edtech vendors.  Board Chair Gilliss did not respond to this request.  While the full Board was included on the request, no other members responded.

The four members also wrote to the Maryland State Board of Education and State Superintendent, Dr. Karen Salmon requesting advisory assistance addressing these concerns.

“These are complex, system-wide issues that this Board needs help in understanding and tackling.  It’s our duty to make informed decisions that put the needs of children first,” Mr. Hayden explained.

Other elected officials have contacted the State Board expressing similar reaction to recent reports.

“We are thankful for the support of Governor Hogan, and other state and local elected officials, who recognize the seriousness of these concerns and who have asked for immediate action,” Mrs. Miller stated.

The State Board is scheduled to discuss these matters at a meeting on December 5.

In the meantime, the four members will continue to investigate in an effort to determine an appropriate course of action.

“We have a lot of questions that need to be answered. Even the appearance of impropriety is something we must take seriously and investigate fully.  That’s our job and we owe it to the public – especially our students – to act,” Mrs. Henn said.

The members have repeatedly called for greater transparency and accountability to improve Board / system relations and effectiveness.

“We need open and honest communications between the Board and the system for us to effectively address conflicts of interest  and wider issues that ultimately affect our students. Currently such an environment does not exist. It is our hope that can change,” Mrs. Causey concluded.

* This statement is made by the individuals listed above. The Chair of the Board is the official spokesperson for the Board of Education of Baltimore County.”

Here’s the actual request:  State Board Request 110917

On November 10th, the Sun reported that, in response to the above request, the BOE would hold an emergency session on Monday to discuss possible ethics code violations.

The TeamBCPS spin continued on November 10th, when it decided it would be a good time to recap its first quarter achievements, including some related to STAT/digital learning and, of all things, excellence in procurement (just when we’re hearing that no-bid contracts most likely resulted from ERDI consulting).

For the seventh consecutive year, Baltimore County Public Schools earned the prestigious Annual Achievement of Excellence in Procurement® (AEP) Award from the National Procurement Institute, Inc.

To top it all off, on November 10th, a member of the Education Foundation said in a Sun op-ed that things were getting too political, calling the NYT article a “hit piece” and the Sun article “click bait.”  According to the op-ed, BCPS is a model school system and the multi-million-dollar STAT initiative is an incredible investment in our children’s future.

The author also said his “charity” should be applauded for organizing fundraisers to support grants and scholarships.  You can read about this fundraiser here.  The truth is that the op-ed’s author sits on the Education Foundation board with representatives of major ed-tech vendors/BCPS contract holders (Microsoft, Pearson, Discovery Education) whose products are central to STAT. These companies are sponsors of the major annual fundraiser for the Foundation, the State of the Schools event, the proceeds of which, beyond grants and scholarships, also support STAT.  In fact, according to the Foundation’s website, their GOALS are:

Provide support and assist (sic) to S.T.A.T. (Students and Teacher Accessing Tomorrow) where all students have the access to curriculum through technology so learning is available anytime and anywhere.

Provide scholarships opportunities to BCPS students to attend post-secondary education and obtain the knowledge and skills needed to be globally competitive.

Provide schools the opportunity to apply for school-based grants that address one of the 21st Century themes.

So, supporting STAT is actually the Foundation’s major goal.

No – no conflicts of interest at all.

Maryland State Prosecutor Investigates Former Superintendent Dance: A few more details . . . updated 10.26

State prosecutors are investigating former Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, according to the Baltimore Sun and other news agencies. “The Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation . . .  issuing a subpoena for school system records.”

Yet the former superintendent’s troubles go much farther. 

Among issues apparently under review by the state: Dance’s “involvement with SUPES Academy,” which did business with BCPS and for which Dance consulted at the time. “In 2014, school system ethics officials ruled that Dance had violated ethics rules by taking a part time job with SUPES after the company got an $875,000 contract with the school system.”  For other reporting on SUPES and Dance, read also this in-depth story chronicling the former superintendent’s history with SUPES, its leaders, and an undisclosed affiliate company Synesi, according to Baltimore Post investigative reporter Ann Costantino.

Dance offered no comment to news reports of a current state prosecutor investigation, but this recent video by the resigned superintendent speaks volumes.

Other details: the former county schools’ chief has been embroiled in yet another contract controversy through his newly formed consulting company, The DDance Group (see below), which apparently contracted with Richmond Public Schools for advising services, including “leadership coaching,” without the knowledge of school board members there. See also a contract doc, RPS board member comments, and post by local news blog RVAdirt. Soon after leaving Baltimore County this summer, Dance was hired as an RPS consultant at $12,500 per month, and was cut checks for $25,000 before questions were raised about the propriety of the consulting contract, according to a Sept. 25 CBS6 news report.

There are some questions about the nature of Dance’s superintendent leadership time here, as his widespread travel took him across the country and elsewhere, likely more than 100 days on the job, records show. See this story previously reported on Dance’s travel and expenditures. And an ongoing edtech travel culture among BCPS administrators. (UPDATE: And a follow-up story on superintendent travel by the Sun, after requests from other news agencies.)

Four months after Dance’s departure, the Sun is also acknowledging the high costs of his signature initiative. As Dance traveled to edtech conferences “the county school system was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on technology — not just laptops, but printers, educational software and electronic identification cards for all students and staff.” To get a look at the high-dollar contracts approved here in Baltimore County–and $300 million-plus in costs related to Dance’s laptop-per-student “digital ecosystem”– see this previous post.  Most of the superintendent’s travel promoted this program; he met with BCPS vendors at various events. Related no-bid contracts, including $10 million for Discovery Education‘s products, are still in place.

When the controversy began . . . 

Back in 2013, an investigative news story on SUPES, which first revealed Dance’s consulting job, was published by The Chicago Reporter and then followed by the Sun. Dance dropped the outside job, but stayed on at BCPS.

Former chief of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a longtime mentor for Dance, was among those embroiled in the SUPES scandal and was among those convicted this year for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

Dance, who promised not to consult again after the ethics finding on SUPES (as his contract also later stipulated), has been cited for other ethics violations and criticized for various “appearances of conflict of interest,” as well as costly taxpayer-funded travel to numerous edtech conferences and events, among other issues. (There are also thousands in BCPS-paid costs related to trips at swanky hotels and resorts in Chicago and Las Vegas during the SUPES/Synesi era, though an employee name is not listed, according to a BCPS database noted here). Dance’s Maryland-registered limited liability corporation Deliberate Excellence Consulting LLC, formed in August 2012 (one month after his hiring by BCPS), was listed as Active and “Not In Good Standing” a few months ago, as also reported in this bloga status which remains.

Many related concerns–including promotional videos Dance did for school system vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard–were first brought up in this op-ed as far back as April 2016.

According to amended financial disclosure forms filed “under penalty of perjury” after an ethics finding, Dance reported no personal income from the Deliberate Excellence, LLC, which according to charter records was formed “to consult and partner with school systems, businesses and organizations around best practices to obtain maximum organizational outcomes.”

Dance unexpectedly announced his resignation in April, partly saying he wanted to spend more time with family. Meanwhile, a few of his post-BCPS consulting positions are no longer listed on those firms’ sites nor on Dance’s LinkedIn profile page, including “Partner, Strategos Group,” and a full-time senior vice president position he announced with MGT Consulting Group when he left the superintendent position on June 30.

On LinkedIn, Dance now only features his own Richmond Va.-based consulting company The DDance Group, Inc. and his role as founder, president and CEO. The DDance Group’s website was launched recently and can be found here. Dance’s overall LinkedIn profile describes him thus: “Father, Leader, Educator, Author & Innovator Reasonably impatient about improving educational outcomes for ALL children.”

Dance’s private consulting group lists numerous testimonials apparently linked partly to his $287,000 annual taxpayer-paid BCPS role as super, as well as conferences and events at which he spoke during his tenure here. The site also showcases photos of Baltimore County Public School children (posted for corporate advertising purposes . . . is that with their permission or that of their parents?).

At least one DDance Group photo prominently features Hewlett-Packard’s HP EliteBook Revolve 810 G2, the centerpiece of Dance’s controversial signature laptop-per-student program, Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT). The laptop/tablet hybrids have been leased under an unheard-of $205 million single contract spending authority awarded to Daly Computers, Inc. STAT has morphed into a $300-million-plus six-year “digital conversion” (including ongoing digital curricula, infrastructure upgrades, continual software license fees, and professional development—public school district costs that would rise substantially). Daly Computers, then a Hewlett-Packard affiliate, has been a top donor to the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools. 

So What is Going On Now . . . 

Despite Dance’s departure, STAT is still being pursued and expanded under current Interim Superintendent Verletta White, who pressed for a nearly $4 million expansion of just two software contracts, iReady and DreamBox Math, this year (see postscript below), despite questions by school board members about the programs’ high costs and lack of objective evidence of benefits. Via the software programs, elementary school children as young as 6 watch math or English language videos, and do gaming-style lessons, or play video games as “rewards” on the devices during the school day.

Among other topics, SUPES promoted edtech and “personalized” computer-based learning  in its SUPES superintendent training, including “virtual learning,” during the years Dance participated.  Messages offered superintendents from SUPES-related training in Chicago include: “We make a huge mistake by thinking that facts make a difference. Facts don’t build trust, perception does.” And, perhaps partly explaining why the high costs and actual results of digital initiatives (see postscript) have not been examined by regional media so far: SUPES and similar training programs have long advised school leaders that the “key is having the media report “news” from your point of view.” BCPS routinely refers to local news agencies as “media partners.”

As CEO of The DDance Group, Dance remains on the board of directors of ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education, an edtech industry support group where Dance long held a board position as BCPS superintendent. ISTE also promotes Dance’s new biz contact info and, with language similar to his LLC charter, Dance’s bio features his “consulting management firm that partners with schools, districts, governing agencies and organizations to improve educational outcomes . . . ” He also remains listed as a Senior Fellow at the e-Republic* affiliated Center for Digital Education (CDE), roles reserved for “experienced and respected state and local government practitioners and scholars who have demonstrated records of success in support of public service.”

In the low-tech The DDance Group promotional video posted on Sept. 14, an unshaven Dance says he has 20 clients already and hopes to garner the help of others to solve “tough, tough, challenges:” “I have been very fortunate, very humbled, very blessed by what many would consider a pretty successful career, even though it is nowhere near over.”

— A guest post by Joanne C. Simpson, a university lecturer, BCPS stakeholder, and former staff writer at The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Johns Hopkins Magazine.


*As noted here in The Baltimore Post: The company e.Republic (which backs the Center for Digital Education) works with over 700 companies – from “Fortune 500s to startups” –  to help executives ‘power their public sector sales and marketing success.’ Among those listed: Intel, IBM, Blackboard, Microsoft, Aerohive, Apple, Samsung, Dell and Google.” Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and other companies are familiar entities at BCPS.

Also, among a litany of mostly no-bid digital curricula contracts recently implemented at the county’s public school district: the reading/English language software program iReady, which had a $1.2 million BCPS contract spending authority expanded in July to $3.2 million for fewer than two years more, as approved by the Board of Education and requested by interim superintendent White. 
iReady by Curriculum Associates: contract spending authority
DreamBox Math, meanwhile, jumped nearly $2 million more to $3.2 million for just three more years.
Such price tags total a whopping more than $6 million for two software programs alone in a cash-strapped school system with many pressing needs. Contract spending authorities approved by the Board of Education for such no-bid curricula or related contracts are now surpassing $80 million, just for the next several years, BCPS records show. Yet the school district cannot pay for enough social workers, with a BCPS ratio of only one worker to serve more than 1,000 students, when “the American School of Social Work recommends one social worker for every 250 students,” as this post also eloquently reveals. And this in a school district where nearly half of students live in poverty.
On a hot day in early September, in one of dozens of county schools without air conditioning due to “limited funding,” the temperatures inside classrooms were recorded as high as 114 degrees. One 16-year-old “felt crippled by a pounding headache. Her asthma started acting up. She put her head onto her desk instead of working on how to translate DNA to RNA” in her biology class. It was simply too hot:. “It was impossible to learn.”
Side note:
In the end, many would agree digital technology has a place as a modern tool of learning, yet where is the balance?  Analyses are required when children’s minds and futures are involved, especially for the young. Consider this objective 2017 National Education Policy Center report on “blended and virtual learning;” and a balanced recent Business Insider story on DreamBox, which also questions the “personalized-learning” computer-based approach, and points out just how many data points are collected on children50,000 per hour per student just by DreamBox. (Children have been required by BCPS to spend a certain amount of time on DreamBox.) Meanwhile, well-conducted research, that’s not funded by tech companies themselves, does not reveal statistically significant positive outcomes. Current software should not replace teachers, as promoters and investors claim it can. And minor tech tools should not be used as silver bullets. Overall, consider the widespread industry marketing campaigns and venture capitalist profit-margins behind it all. — JCS

STAT Year Three Year-end Evaluation: UPDATED

Reviewed data and recent evaluations by Johns Hopkins University reveal some slight or statistically insignificant academic gains found at BCPS schools could not be attributed to STAT, since other programs/efforts to increase achievement had also been put into place, principals and outside experts indicated. And “lighthouse” or pilot school comparison figures provided by BCPS for students assigned laptops 1:1 appear to be “cherry picked” as well.

Do such lukewarm outcomes justify the exorbitant costs or support an expansion of a nearly $300 million digital initiative, for the first 6 years alone, and $60 million a year plus millions in digital curricula?

Despite Dr. Dance’s departure, Interim Superintendent Ms. Verletta White says she is committed to STAT.  As she noted in her message to the BCPS community, First-Week Thoughts, July 6, 2017:

“I do want to make clear that we are not changing course or introducing new initiatives.  Our schools are doing well, and technology is a key leverage tool for personalized learning. S.T.A.T. digital learning and Passport elementary world language instruction are just part of how we do business.”

The STAT digital learning initiative kicked off in BCPS in 2014.  Three years later, here are Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education’s (CRRE) Year report and slide-show presentation for 2016-17.  Both were presented at the Board of Education’s August 8, 2017 meeting (click on Meetings tab).  Video available here.  STAT report begins at about 1 hour, 11 minutes into the meeting.

Highlights from the 8/8/17 Meeting:

  • JHU researchers: rare to see P21 skills integrated into instruction
  • JHU researchers: education research is biased; in reference to successful 1:1 initiatives, it’s the “survivors” that make it into research studies (and there aren’t many of them)


The BOE Curriculum Committee discussed STAT at its September 14 meeting; the meeting was recorded and archived.

Comments made at the meeting:

  • BCPS is proud of progress achieved, but recognizes they have work to do.
  • The system is moving in the expected direction at the expected pace.

STAT was also discussed at the September 26, 2017 Board of Education meeting during a REPORT ON STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT – MULTIPLE MEASURES OF PERFORMANCE ( Meetings tab, select 2017, select 9/26/17 meeting; presentation begins around Minute 1:39)

Moving beyond just MAP and PARCC, BCPS looked at a “constellation” of measures.  KEY POINT made at Minute 1:52 ~ Kindergarten readiness continues to drop; students are coming into the system less prepared (6 out of 10 students).  This is due in part to poverty.  There’s a strong relationship between poverty and student achievement.  We’re confronted with poverty — higher levels in BCPS elementary and middle schools than through the state as a whole — and we’re looking to close achievement gaps over time.

STAT-us BCPS Comment:  BCPS knows that poverty is the most important indicator, yet hundreds (and hundreds) of millions are spent on devices (and everything that goes along with them) to close gaps (and a close review of the BCPS Multiple Measures presentation shows very weak results) instead of addressing poverty and its effects?   What about community schools with wrap-around services?   What about expanding feeding programs?   What about small class sizes, increased support staff, and mentoring programs?

A chart showed that PARCC scores were higher at 10 Lighthouse schools vs. non-LH schools and state schools.  This is misleading; 3 of the 10 LH schools (Fort Garrison, Mays Chapel, and Rodgers Forge) are in economically advantaged areas.  One school, Joppa View, is in a somewhat advantaged area.  Their scores (proportion meeting and/or exceeding CCR) brought up the overall average of schools in economically disadvantaged areas (Chase, Church Lane, Edmondson Heights, Halstead, Hawthorne, and Lansdowne).

Visit schools’ websites to view report cards: ~ Our Schools ~ School Directory ~ Elementary Schools ~ select school ~ gray box on right has MSDE Report Card for 2016

For example:

Fort Garrison ELA 3 ~ Meeting: 56.8; Exceeding: 25
Fort Garrison ELA 4 ~ Meeting: 36.8; Exceeding: 35.3
Fort Garrison ELA 5 ~ Meeting: 52.2; Exceeding: less than or equal to 5.0
Edmondson Heights ELA 3 ~ Meeting: 6.9; Exceeding: less than or equal to 5.0
Edmondson Heights ELA 4 ~ Meeting: 16.3; Exceeding: less than or equal to 5.0
Edmondson Heights ELA 5 ~ Meeting 9.9; Exceeding: less than or equal to 5.0

Johns Hopkins University Report Highlights:

“An examination of MAP scores in Lighthouse and non-Lighthouse Grades 1 -3 showed some impact on student achievement.  Lighthouse students in Grades 1-2 exhibited improvements in reading and mathematics scores across all three years of implementation and Grade 3 increased reading and mathematics scores in all but the present year.  Further, all grades exceeded the national average mathematics and reading scores. Non-Lighthouse Grades 1-3 also exhibited improvements in reading scores across all three years and, similarly, Grades 1-2 increased mathematics scores. Grades 1-3 exceeded the national.”

“Principals and S.T.A.T. teachers perceived that enhanced teaching practices and stronger curricula were increasing mastery of CCSS.  However, they were generally hesitant to attribute the MAP gains directly or solely to S.T.A.T.  We agree with this assessment for several reasons.  First, gains in achievement were not projected by the Logic Model this early in the implementation, although we cannot rule out more rapidly occurring impacts.  Second, there are numerous programs and initiatives in BCPS, which could contribute to improved student achievement independently of S.T.A.T.”

Lighthouse (LH, pilot) Grade 3 MAP (RIT) Reading Scores:

Pre-program (2013-14): 188.52
Year 1 (2014-15): 194.14
Year 2 (2015-16): 198.37
Year 3 (2016-17): 197.49

Non-LH Grade 3 MAP (RIT) Reading Scores:

Pre-program (2014-15): 194.30
Year 1 (2015-16): 196.30
Year 2 (2016-17): 196.57

STAT-us BCPS NOTE:  While MAP gains are indicated in the report, a close reading shows them to be marginal.  The RIT (Rasch Unit) score reflects a student’s academic knowledge, skills, and abilities.  RIT scores range from 100 to 350.  Additionally, MAP (a growth measure) and PARCC (a proficiency measure) are very different.  As noted on Page 134 of the BCPS FY18 Operating Budget, in FY2016, only 50.2% of third-graders were reading on grade level. Minimal growth in RIT scores is not closing major achievement gaps.


~ Off-task device use. “Teachers at all levels described the challenge of monitoring and managing device use during instructional hours, and their comments reflected those when asked to describe off-task/inappropriate use above.”

~ Technical issues. “Some of the technical issues expressed by middle and high school teachers centered on students’ lack of accountability with devices, such as returning to school with a depleted battery, forgetting the device at home, or breaking the devices.  Other technical issues mentioned by teachers at all grade level included slow Internet or BCPSOne not functioning.”

~ Lack of support. Teachers at all levels conveyed feeling overwhelmed and not supported with technology integration.  Some teachers described not having enough time for planning, as noted by a Lighthouse middle school teacher: “TIME!! More planning time is definitely needed!!!”  Others mentioned the challenge of attempting to learn new approaches to instruction along with other initiatives.  A Lighthouse elementary teacher described the struggle of “incorporating the new grading system at the same time as technology,” while another noted, “My greatest challenge is just not taking on too much at one time.  Learning each new innovative ‘thing’ at a time rather than trying to do it all at once.”  Others echoed this sentiment, as a Lighthouse middle school teacher described the challenge of “deciding which resources to use and which to pass on.  There were plenty of resources available but it felt as though I was supposed to utilize as many as I could rather than focusing on/mastering a few. I eventually minimized the resources I utilized.”

Of great concern was JHU researcher Dr. Morrison’s statement, made during her presentation to the BOE, that the initiative was overwhelmingly supported by the community.  This was based on the 2017 Stakeholder Survey, which offered three vague and leading questions regarding personalized learning and technology.  These questions would mean little to community members altogether unaware of STAT and high-school students and parents not even connected to STAT (in 2016-17, the initiative was only in place in four Lighthouse (pilot) high schools).

Personalized Learning:  Parents, school-based staff, and central office staff expressed the most agreement that making learning personalized for students helps teachers meet the academic needs of all students.

Access to Technology:  Agreement was high across students, parents, school-based staff, and central office staff that access to technology increases opportunities for making learning more personalized for students.

Teacher Use of Technology:  Students, parents, school administrators, and central office staff had similarly high levels of agreement that teachers can use technology to meet the academic needs of all students.