BCPS FY21 Proposed Operating Budget: Reduced Device Costs, More Textbooks, More People

At the January 9, 2020 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dr. Williams offered a presentation on his proposed FY 2021 Operating Budget.  While the student-to-device ratio doesn’t change (it’s still 1:1 in Grades 3 through 12, but lower in K through Grade 2), at least device costs will go down by moving to much less expensive Chromebooks in BCPS middle schools as has been done for elementary schools. Shockingly, the original HP device lease contract had each laptop hybrid costing close to $1,400 each (figuring in all costs). The proposed FY21 budget’s call for purchasing more textbooks is also welcome news.

The budget also recognizes that students in a county with increasing diversity, needs, and poverty (44% FARMS – 166% increase in ESOL students in the past 10 years – students from 113 countries – 107 languages spoken – high mobility – 82% increase in homeless students in the past 10 years – 17% increase in Special Ed students in the past 5 years) need PEOPLE in the classroom and schoolhouse to support them. Unlike budgets of the past, Dr. Williams’ budget asks for hiring more teachers, social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, and other support staff, and increasing supports for Title I schools, ESOL, and Special Ed.

A long way to go, but on the right path.

Schools Laptop Program Was Never Financially Feasible, reports indicate

  • finances, people, savings and bankruptcy concept - close up of male hand holding burning dollar cash money over black background

The Baltimore County Public Schools budget is facing a money crunch and growing controversy after the county executive warned of an $81 million shortfall in the county budget next year. Yet this crisis has been a long time coming for the 25th largest school district in the nation, which nonetheless has been requesting an 11.5 percent increase — or a whopping $91 million more — in taxpayer dollars.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun and in various statements, said he has a “responsibility to craft a balanced budget for the county,” noting that the schools’ proposed budget “is not fiscally sustainable.”

He’s right. Yet how did this all happen?

In large part, the culprit is wanton spending on the laptop-per-student program known as STAT, which a review of records indicates was never financially sustainable long-term. When the program was launched in 2014 by now-disgraced Superintendent Dallas Dance, promises of a “21st Century” transformation in learning were made here in Baltimore County and across the country. Five years and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars later, the program has expanded despite poor student test results and other flagging outcomes. After much debate (see postscripts), the board recently approved a controversial revised proposed budget to send to the county that still includes massive funding for STAT. How exactly did we get here?

Various analyses since 2016 by the Baltimore County Office of the Auditor — as well as BCPS budgets, and other school system records — indicate that the early years of the STAT rollout were partly propped up because the budget was apparently padded with unused funds built up over a few years, since Dance first arrived in July 2012, though he said little to nothing about a digital conversion at that time.

That included insufficiently funding textbooks, transportation support, and special education departments for starters, records show. Such “under appropriation” was criticized by county auditors. One concern then: Why would BCPS keep coming back to the county to ask for tens of millions more than it was actually spending? Numerous BCPS redirects from “all areas of operation,” and tens of millions in emergency funds were also siphoned off as recently as last year to pay for the experimental, edtech industry-oriented initiative, records show. (In the 2018-19 budget, for example, BCPS relied on “the use of an unprecedented level” of the district’s emergency or “fund balance as a revenue source” for STAT and other costs. “Such a fund balance, by the school system’s own projections, will not be available at a similar magnitude in future years,” a May 2018 county auditors’ report noted.

Now, among other issues, the padding and raiding have apparently run their courses and a possible “fake feasibility” seems evident.  The school administration under Dance and Interim Superintendent Verletta White — also a digital education supporter affiliated with numerous outside ed-tech industry groups and consulting firms (see links below) — expected Baltimore County to greatly expand and commit its support of the laptop program right about now, according to STAT planning documents, administration statements, and the BCPS Digital Conversion/STAT budget. (See Towson Flyer op-ed on STAT costs, with link to the actual conversion budget within, details in postscript 1 below).

The bottom line seems to be: The BCPS administration has spent beyond its means, gambling that the county would pick up a higher tab for the digital initiative once the money started running out — and opportunity costs became clearly unsustainable for teachers, students, and a public school district with so many dire needs — sparking recent protests

Auditors’ Alerts

As far back as 2016 (summary and link to report here), county auditors noted that spending on STAT had risen, “while funding for instructional [salaries] has remained relatively flat, and funding for the Instructional Textbooks & Supplies program has declined.” Such materials and supplies have been “pinched,” the report noted.

The auditors’ analysis released in May 2016 questioned a budget gap averaging $20 million a year between what BCPS requested and what was spent. (That number is far more than annual trims to textbooks, which the district claimed the devices were supposed to replace). For several areas outlined in pages 7-12 of that analysis, the auditors noted: BCPS’s “budget document does not align to its actual spending patterns in recent years.” 

For example, a chart under Mid-Level Administration “professional services” revealed that an average $900,000 was requested by BCPS in fiscal years 2013, 2014 and 2015—yet no money was spent in that category. Similar amounts were nonetheless requested by district administrators year to year.

Meanwhile, annual requests for “operational supplies” related to textbooks topped $14 million annually in those years. Yet the actual amounts spent only averaged $700,000. In FY 2015, only 3.5 percent was spent in that category, with nearly $13 million left over, the auditors’ analysis revealed.

Money not spent meant services not rendered. A similar “under appropriation” showed up in Special Education programs, where BCPS requested a very specific $367,404 in FY 2015 for student transportation “professional services.” Yet only $15,000 was spent. That “consistent” pattern, as noted by auditors, applied to previous years as well.

Today, that money has apparently been long spent out, and there’s nowhere else to squeeze, especially as constituents ask for funding for many other needs, some previously slashed, including: counselors, per-pupil student workers, transportation funds, special education needs, breakfasts for needy students, school discretionary expenses, support for a growing population of English-as-a-second-language students, promised teacher raises, staffing levels, security personnel and measures, and on and on. These are true needs, with only so much money in the pot. Is that what the digital conversion playbook counted on to pressure expanded funding? The larger question: Should county taxes be increased to shore up the troubled and costly laptop and digital curricula program? If any tax rates are raised, that funding should go to building new schools to replace long-dilapidated Lansdowne, Towson, and Dulaney High Schools, among others. 

In his op-ed, County Executive Olszewski noted realities for trimming the schools’ budget: “There are such opportunities. One example: The proposed budget for BCPS administration is more than $56 million, reflecting a 53 percent increase from what we spent on administration just seven years ago. In just a few years, we’ve also spent nearly $300 million to provide devices to students in every school as part of the STAT initiative, including the accompanying infrastructure, software and support personnel costs. Considering our front-line needs, it’s time that we re-allocate some of these resources where they are needed most: the people delivering classroom instruction.”

The Eighth Conversion of STAT: The Budget

A recent article in the Baltimore Post pointed out records that showed the schools’ “budget was an integral part of the laptop initiative. In order for the transformation to be successful, Dance said eight internal school “conversions” would have to align to STAT’s goal. Those eight conversions: curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, infrastructure, policy, communications and budget.”

According to a transcript from an edtech conference panel — led by Dance, who was later convicted of perjury, and fellow administrator White, who was later cited for ethics violations related to outside consulting for the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI) — “Dance said he slashed school system programs in order to free up system funds for the STAT program,” noted the Post. “That money, he said, came from cutting 300 of 500 programs from the school system.”

The 2016 panel recording reveals Dance discussing how to pressure elected officials for money. “At the end of the day, then we were able to go to our funding authorities and — my budget comes entirely from the state and from the county — and we were able to go to them and say: ‘this is what we want to do — but this is what we have done internally to redirect funds in order to pay for it (STAT)  — and this is ultimately what it will cost if you were to commit to doing this with us.

The STAT program has cost well over $300 million in the first several years — including laptops, wifi infrastructure, digital curricula, personnel costs, edtech conference travel, and various expenditures that could create a perpetual burden for the county. Records show such digital initiative costs are sometimes tucked, or hidden, into the annual school budgets as “resources,” “other resources,” “textbooks,” “supplies,” “services,” “contracted services,” or simply “Other.”

Over time, some members of the Board of Education past and present have questioned the spending on STAT and pressed for scaling back the rollout or otherwise pulling back the ratios of laptops per students in the elementary grades, among other revisions to address rising costs. (Laptops are now to be two-per-student in grades 1 and 2 starting next year, though White had also alarmingly pressed for more devices in kindergarten–at an apparent price tag of more than $4 million. See Postscript 2). Previous school board member Michael Collins made a prescient statement in a January 2016 board meeting: “I believe very strongly in technology in schools, but we don’t know how this is all working out. At all. And the info we are getting from the data so far is not good. We are just going awfully fast, and we are going to be spending a couple of billion dollars — that’s with a B — at least on this program.” See other details regarding costs here.

Transparency and fiscal responsibility is indeed needed.

This summary is merely a glimpse and the specifics might change. That’s why county auditor reports, past and current schools’ budgets, a pending outside audit, and other fiscal documents must be fully reviewed by the county and state (and outside media), since taxpayers would continually be on the line for such “forever costs.” The county auditors’ analyses of BCPS budgets, for example, revealed similar problems and concerns when released in May 2017 and in 2018, when questions regarding underfunded retiree health benefits and a pending fiscal crisis were first raised publicly. An Office of the Auditor analysis of the FY2020 schools’ budget is expected to be prepared for the county council and administration this upcoming May. Be on the lookout.

Technology options are needed in schools, but not at the price of irresponsible misspending of public dollars and possible malfeasance.

Concerning Conflicts : Updated

One increasingly relevant concern: Interim Superintendent Verletta White, a highly experienced educator and leader, has nonetheless fostered ongoing affiliations with digital education industry groups, a “professional consultancy firm,” as well as  digital curricula and related efforts despite past controversies over outside consulting. Dance had a similar litany of controversial edtech ties. In the end, one needs to wonder whether such loyalties reside more with these edtech groups and ideals than they should. 

Where is objectivity on the costly STAT laptop-per-student and digital curricula program when, according to White’s CV (see link here), the bulk of the interim superintendent’s outside affiliations have been with such edtech proponents?

AFFILIATIONS: Center for Digital Education Advisory Committee; Digital Education Chief Academic Officer Advisory Council; Education Research and Development Advisory Council (ERDI?, which advises companies doing business with BCPS and was related to White’s ethics violations. The interim superintendent has also alarmingly failed to publicly disclose which companies she consulted with on ERDI panels and related.) There’s also her stated affiliation with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

White has additionally served as an advocate for digital curricula and related as a member of the Association of School Curriculum & Development and Maryland Association of School Curriculum and Development. Even more concerning are her advisory roles, as cited in her CV, for outside tech-oriented groups or companies, including the RTM K-12 National Advisory Committee, part of “RTM Business Group, a professional consultancy firm.” 

After an ethics violation finding last year, White said she “made an honest mistake,” and that she was under the impression that she was “‘only to list companies [on disclosure forms] with whom the school system had a contract or a pending contract.’ She has amended her financial disclosure reports to the school system and says she will not accept outside work in the future,” according to a 2018 article in the Sun.

Are any of these outside “affiliations” paid roles? Does White receive any in-kind gifts, meals, items, or covered hotel or travel costs? Do these entities also represent or are sponsored by any BCPS vendors or others doing business with the Board of Education and/or BCPS? And, is White then using her “prestige of office” for private gain, which was cited in her previous ethics violation?

This all raises questions of possible conflicts of interest regarding the continuing high-dollar digital initiative at BCPS. Under good governing standards, the appearance of a conflict of interest should be avoided, see also the district’s Code of Ethics. If one wonders how that might play out, consider BCPS’ Passport/Spanish language program, which White recently defended against any budget cuts by the board, despite high costs (more than $7 million and counting) and troubled results and controversy. White touts an award from Fuel Education on her CV; Yet Fuel Education sells the digital platform, MIL, or Middlebury Interactive Languages. MIL/Middlebury has long been an ERDI client. The company has a $7.5 million contract spending authority with BCPS).

In the end, the previously unreported affiliations with RTM and other positions, and high-dollar contracts like MIL, at the least bear closer scrutiny. Consider RTM’s Blueprint, “the sole property of RTM Business Group, LLC and the authors of the RTM K12 Advisory Board.” Among the blueprint’s priorities: “The Marriage between Academics and Technology: A Blueprint for Creating Powerful Partnerships.”

An opinion column by Joanne C. Simpson, a BCPS stakeholder, former reporter for The Miami Herald, and freelance writer who has followed the costs of this program over the past three years. Her Twitter feed with updates on national news about kids, screens, and schools can be found at: J CavanaughSimpson@JoCavanaughSim1

Updated 2/26, with further updates to come.

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Postscripts: A few notes and resources

  1. According to BCPS’ own Digital Conversion/STAT budget, more than $280 million in “Total Costs” was to be already spent by as early as 2018, and that excluded most of the multi-million dollar digital curricula contracts, as well as part of the second round of $140 million laptop contracts approved last year. See Towson Flyer op-ed with link to the BCPS Digital Conversion/STAT budget. Costs were pulled back temporarily in later STAT budgets when millions for interactive projectors were removed and the rollout of laptops to middle schools was slowed. Yet expenditures have since risen again overall. Laptops assigned per student went to all grades 1st-12th this past fall, with numerous problems cited, including: poor connectivity, inconsistency in software program usage, and hardware woes.)
    .
  2. Partly in response to this op-ed, Board of Education Vice Chair Julie C. Henn posted this note on her Facebook page: “My [recent] motion to reign in spending for 1:1 devices failed by one vote. The fight to do what’s right for our students and teachers, and to spend wisely, continues.
    .
    The original motion: “I move to amend the budget request to reflect an expedited transition of Grades K-8 to Chromebooks for the 2019-2020 academic year; to reflect a 5:1 student device ratio for Kindergarten, a 2:1 student to device ratio for grades 1-5, and to retain the current 1:1 student to device ratio for grades 6-8. I further move to end current K-8 device leases effective July 1, 2019.”
    .
    In Favor (board members): Causey, Henn, Kuehn, Mack, McMillion
    Opposed: Hayden, Jose, Offerman, Pasteur, Rowe, Scott
    .
    My amended motion to keep the Kindergarten device/student ratio at 5:1 passed unanimously.

  3. In response to Henn’s explanation, school board member Lily Rowe also on Facebook wrote that she supported more phased adjustments to the laptop and digital curricula though did not specify changes: “Moving to end K-8 device leases effective July 2019 would create chaos as we would have no way to implement the current curriculum for grades 3-8. I think we can all agree that if building a plane while flying it was a bad idea then dismantling it in the air is a worse one.” That’s a good point. But unfortunately, edtech proponents counted on such difficulties when they instituted what they called “second order” or irreversible change. See this explanation and linked story. As former superintendent Dance once claimed: “When you do a ‘second order change,’ we can’t go back to business as usual.” That, however, does not take into account humans’ adaptability in the face of crises, especially when children’s education, health, safety, and numerous varied needs are at stake.

The BCPS Budget and The County’s Fiscal Realities

The Baltimore County Board of Education will vote on the BCPS FY2020 Operating Budget on Tuesday, February 19.

The proposed budget is 11% over Maintenance of Effort.  TABCO and other bargaining units have testified for BCPS and the BOE to “go big” and ask for this amount so teachers can receive raises and cost-of-living adjustments, greatly needed support staff can be hired, and the extremely expensive STAT initiative can continue to be funded. Others have asked the BOE to do its due diligence and present a realistic budget outlining its priorities vs. letting the County government decide.

Read this February 14 Baltimore Sun article about the fiscal realities.

Read this November 2018 essay, which explains how we got here.

Read this February 1 BCPS teacher’s Letter to the Editor about the tough choices required.

S.T.A.T. Year Four Evaluation Report

At the October 23, 2018 Board of Education meeting, S.T.A.T. evaluator Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education (CREE) presented the program’s Year Four evaluation. The report’s summary notes:

The impacts of S.T.A.T. on student achievement remain encouraging but still indeterminate given the still relatively short duration of the initiative. Arguably, the primary goal of technology integration is to prepare students for using 21st century learning tools independently and skillfully to increase interest in learning and readiness for postsecondary and career success. Raising performance on standardized achievement tests is also a desirable goal, but one affected by many factors such as core curricula, supplementary educational programing (e.g., after-school, enrichment, and remedial support), school resources, and student characteristics. Importantly, most teachers and principals, particularly those in the most experienced cohorts, continue to hold positive perceptions of the initiative’s impact on CCSS mastery, while acknowledging that measurable impacts on student PARCC or MAP achievement are not yet clear.”

“As the initiative has expanded, so have certain challenges intrinsic to student-centered learning in general and classroom technology integration in particular. When students learn independently and collaboratively, opportunities for students to engage in off-task and disruptive behavior can increase relative to teacher-directed instruction. Recreational activity during class, such as playing games, surfing the Internet, and communicating with peers via cell phones or social media, may prove challenging for teachers, inexperienced in technology integration, to control.”

“Future improvement needs and recommendations include continuing to (a) expand professional development support for teachers on student-centered and P21 instructional practices; and (b) implement strategies to prevent and address student off-task behaviors while using devices, both laptops and cell phones. We also suggest the district revisits the policy allowing students to take devices home each day.”

Read the full report here.

Read the report’s addendum here.

Review the JHU presentation here.

“Not legal,” says state agency regarding Baltimore County schools’ mass record purge

More great work from local journalist Ann Costantino.

nearly 2,700 financial disclosure statements were destroyed over two separate days … The purge occurred one week after the system’s former superintendent, S. Dallas Dance, was sentenced to jail for perjury after providing misleading information on his disclosure forms about money he earned consulting for companies and other school districts.

The article offers this timeline:

In November, Maryland State Senator Jim Brochin urged the state school board to intervene and conduct an immediate audit of the system’s technology contracts. The New York Times published Brochin’s plea.

In December, four Baltimore County school board members requested a state board audit. Later that month, the board members called on legislators to conduct an emergency legislative audit.

In February, all seven Baltimore County Councilmembers requested a 2012-2017 state legislative audit of the district’s no-bid contracts with education technology firms, procurement process and ancillary costs associated with the contracts (e.g., travel, professional development, perks/promotions, and other financial transactions deemed appropriate).

In March, three Baltimore County Councilmembers urged Gov. Larry Hogan to initiate an independent audit of the school system when councilmembers realized an audit still had not been initiated.

On April 20: Former Superintendent Dallas Dance was sentenced to jail for perjury.

On April 27: Baltimore County schools’ law office would purge nearly 2,400 disclosure records that spanned 1997 up through 2014.

In May, the school system hired an audit firm to conduct its own audit. The scope would include years 2012-2017.

In August, 315 more pre-2014 disclosure records would be purged

Read more here.

Worries intensify about student laptops as Baltimore County prepares to expand use of devices

Baltimore Sun Letter to the Editor, December 5:

Baltimore County should be wary of education tech

Baltimore Sun and Towson Flyer, December 4:

Worries intensify about student laptops as Baltimore County prepares to expand use of devices

Concerns grow as BCPS prepares to expand use of tech devices in schools

The stream of reporting about our digital initiative was steady throughout November and December.  Much of it centered on the call for an audit based on conflicts of interest. One article focused on teachers being assaulted. Any connection between funding STAT and the lack of funding for support staff or creating smaller classes?

Baltimore Sun, November 15:

Ethics complaint filed against Baltimore County school superintendent Verletta White

Baltimore Sun, November 21:

Baltimore County teachers protest discipline problems in schools

Baltimore Sun, November 24:

Baltimore County schools chief Verletta White agrees to new travel, work restrictions

Baltimore Sun, November 25:

When disclosing 2016 consulting work, Dallas Dance used company alias rather than firm’s name

Baltimore Post, November 25:

Vendor Website Records Suggest Possible “Pay for Play” in Baltimore County Schools

Baltimore Sun, Letter to the Editor, December 4:

Are Baltimore County Schools asleep at the wheel?

Baltimore Sun, December 5:

Baltimore County parents, school board members ask state for audit of tech contracts

WBAL TV, December 5:

State audit called for by some against Baltimore County school district

Towson Flyer, December 5:

Board of Ed members ask for BCPS contract audit

Baltimore Sun, Letter to the Editor, December 6:

Balto. County should be wary of education tech

Baltimore Post, December 6:

Baltimore County Schools on State Board’s “Radar”

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)

UPDATED TO INCLUDE INFORMATION FROM 9/14/17 CURRICULUM COMMITTEE MEETING AND 9/26/17 BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING

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 (https://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/Public 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:

http://www.bcps.org ~ 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.

Issues:

~ 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.

Johns Hopkins University’s Mid-Year STAT Evaluation

STAT Year Three Mid-Year Evaluation Presentation by the Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE), which is working under a 2014-19 $711,000 contractwith the Baltimore County Public School system.

STAT Year Three, Mid-Year Evaluation Report by various CCRE researchers, some of whom also conduct reports for edtech industry companies and organizations; That includes a $80,000 study for DreamBox Learning Math, which is also a BCPS vendor with a nearly $1.2 million contract, set to be expanded. “Co-Principal Investigator (2015 – 2016). Efficacy study of DreamBox Learning Math. DreamBox ($80,000).”

February 16, 2017 Baltimore County Board of Education Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting at which the evaluation was presented.

During the meeting, which was live streamed (see link above), BOE Member Ann Miller posted on her Facebook page: BCPS Board Member Ann Miller (NOTE:  LH = Lighthouse, the schools where STAT is piloted):

BCPS Board Member Ann Miller
BCPS Board Member Ann Miller Gilliss: What is explanation for performance changes? A: results are not statistically significant. LH schools were slightly more economically disadvantaged. Learning curve. Not enough data to show but encouraging on PARCC compared to state.
BCPS Board Member Ann Miller
BCPS Board Member Ann MillerGilliss: should we expect continued growth as we go forward? A: PARCC we are looking at LH schools in Y2. I would expect performance to be still low for new program. These results aren’t saying STAT was effective in achievement, but does say STAT didn’t interfere in achievement in Y2.

Videos: A Tale of Three Policies; Save BCPS Policy 8120 & STAT Conversations; A Side-by-Side Analysis

Two more enlightening videos detailing what’s happening behind the scenes.

The first video illustrates how Board of Education policies are being altered to advance STAT when no one is watching (except for BCPS Chicken Little, that is).

Policy 8120: Purpose, Role and Responsibilities of the Board of Education

BCPS Chicken Little’s second video carries the tagline:

Conversations about Baltimore County Public Schools’ 1:1 “Student-Centered,” “Computer-Centered,” Personalized and Competency-Based Learning Digital Initiative, its associated costs, convinced elected officials, and the always tardy evaluations.

What’s been lost to pay for STAT?  Compare what was said about this at a recent Board of Education meeting and on the national stage at the ASU GSV ed-tech summit.

A related conversation from Discovery Future@Now Conference Panel: http://www.discoveryeducation.com/futurenow2014/roadmap.cfm 

“I build a case: we will either pay for it now or we pay for it later. And what we can do, and school systems do this, is find the money for things we want to find money for. But we have to be, I think the best superintendents are salesman and saleswomen.

But the other thing, too, is that before we ask for additional money — because we know it’s going to cost more — we have to do serious scrubs of our own budgets, so as positions come open, do we need to fill those positions?

But we’ve also been very upfront with our county as it costs additional money, we’re going to be very upfront and honest whether there are positions that we can decrease in the school system that are non-school based.  How do we then redirect our funds? But we’ve been very upfront that it’s going to cost more. But, we have to demonstrate those early wins, those success stories in our 10 Lighthouse Schools to give us the leverage to say that we need to continue this.”

BCPS’ New Grading Policy: Part of the Big Personalized Learning Plan

Bottom Line Up Front (but read to the end for important background information):

Due to an outcry from students and parents (and we hope teachers and administrators behind the scenes), the recently revamped BCPS Grading and Reporting Procedures were amended as of 11/1/16.  Here are the changes and a related article: Towson Flyer: Baltimore County schools amending new grading policy

Grading Policy Amendment

Grading Policy Amendment

These amendments were published directly after the 10/31 forum on the new policy held by BCPS Community Superintendents.  Principals and certain parents were invited to attend and provide feedback.

The Rest of the Story

As noted in our one blog post for the month of June (it was the summer!), the BCPS grading policy underwent a major revision effective 7/1/16.

In early August, schools reached out to parents to explain that in 2014 (when STAT was implemented), a grading and reporting committee made up of parents, teachers, and administrators:

” … reviewed grading and reporting practices from across the state and the nation. Based on the information gathered, the committee determined the policy needed to be rewritten to reflect more current research-based practices to better align your child’s grades with his/her achievement of grade-level standards. To that end, the new Board of Education Policy 5210 Grading and Reporting was approved in June of 2015 for full implementation beginning August, 2016.”

New Policy and Rule 5210

” … all student grades will align to identified course or grade-level standards and be based on a “body of evidence.” A body of evidence is simply the information a teacher collects to determine a student’s level of performance. In addition to making sure grades are based on evidence aligned to standards, (BCPS) wants to ensure that the purpose for assigning grades is clear and consistent across all schools. To do this, BCPS established that the primary purpose for determining marking period grades is to accurately communicate a student’s level of achievement in relation to the course expectations at a given point in time.”

(NOTE: This is key to Mastery-Based Education and computer-delivered curriculum)

“The school system commits to providing equitable, accurate, specific, and timely  information regarding student progress towards course expectations which includes feedback to you and your child in order to guide next steps and indicate areas growth areas. To promote alignment to research-based practices and stakeholder input, the committee oversaw the creation of a procedures manual, which is broken down into six guiding practices:

  1. Grading practices must be supportive of student learning.
  2. Marking-period grades will be based solely on achievement of course grade-level standards.
  3. Students will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.
  4. Grades will be based on a body of evidence aligned to standards.
  5. A consistent grading scale will be used to score assignments and assessments.
  6. Accommodations and modifications will be provided for exceptional learners.”

This sounds somewhat reasonable and child-centered in theory, except for the fact that ASCD is all over this Research & Rationale, which makes them suspect:

https://www.bcps.org/academics/grading/researchRationale.html

The Sun wrote an article about it, as did the Towson FlyerDr. Dance felt obliged to write an op-ed in the Sun.  BCPS devoted a website page to it; highlights included a video and a MythBusters List.

The New BCPS Grading and Reporting Policy is Explained

As the school year rolled out, unprepared teachers, parents, and students began to realize what was going on and were not happy.  One parent started a petition to rescind the new grading procedures.  Another parent wrote a must-read op-ed about it: Towson Flyer: What’s Behind BCPS’ New Grading Policy?

National ed-blogger Emily Talmage has written about grading policies like BCPS’:  Is Your District Changing its Grading Policy? Here’s the Real Reason Why.

Take the time to read the Towson Flyer op-ed and Talmage’s piece; you’ll understand why the BCPS Grading and Reporting Policy had to change to enable “anytime, anywhere learning.”

Also read this from iNACOL, the International Association of K-12 Online and Blended Learning.  iNACOL has a baby named Competency Works, which offered a detailed report on grading changes needed for Competency-based Education (STAT).

Any school that has begun the journey toward competency education, breaking free of the limitations of the time-based system, will eventually come face-to-face with grading policies and practices. Along with the excitement of creating a new grading system that ignites a dynamic culture of learning will come opportunities to engage students, families and the community in creating a shared vision about the purpose of school. Challenging the traditional system of grading practices, rooted firmly in the American culture with its exhilarating A+ to the dreadful F, will prompt questions, fears, and misconceptions. There are likely to be lively community meetings and even a letter or two in the local newspaper. There will also be the mutual delight when a competency-based grading system is put into place that allows students and teachers to work together toward a shared vision of learning. Most importantly, there will be cause to celebrate as students make progress toward proficiency.”

Mutual delight?