Advice to BCPS Parents from “Wrench in the Gears” and Why iNACOL Loves ESSA

Recent days have seen an uptick in conversations about online Competency-based Education or CBE, the scary wave of educational transformation rapidly sweeping over the country.  BCPS students, teachers, and parents are at the front edge of this wave with STAT. 

Here is a post by a parent of a public school student who advocates for doing much more than just opting out of end-of-the-year tests.

From Wrench in the Gears (A Skeptical Parent’s Thoughts on Digital Curriculum):  Stop! Don’t opt out. Read this first.

National education expert Diane Ravitch recently linked to the blog.

One of the main “benefits” of our 1:1 initiative, according to Dr. Dance, is that it would allow children to be assessed anytime, anywhere. We’re spending millions on contracts to use and sometimes develop computer-based assessments at the end of every unit.

If you have any doubts about whether the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is ripe for computer-based personalized learning assessments, iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a major trade group, and its partners love ESSA.  Review the slides from this recent webinar hosted by the iNACOL president, iNACOL’s VP for Federal and State Policy, and KnowledgeWorks’ Senior Director of National Policy and you’ll begin to understand why.

During a keynote presentation at iNACOL’s annual meeting, our own Superintendent said:

“The other conversion was this whole idea around the assessment conversion.  There’s a lot of talk around the country about that right now.  Let’s get away from this idea of paper and pencil, you know, multiple-choice assessments.  How do we assess our students without even stopping class, space and time to do that?  Great teachers do this all the time with formative assessments.  But, we also know, in order to personalize learning for young people, we should be able to assess students at any moment, to figure out what level they’re on, what standards they’ve mastered, so they can move along the continuum as [sic] appropriately.”

Watch here. Go to minute 33.

Read, share these links, ask questions, and follow the suggestions from “Wrench in the Gears” that already apply to those of us in BCPS:

~ If your school offers a device for home use, decline to sign the waiver for it and/or pay the fee.

What happens if you don’t sign the waiver for middle and high school?  BCPS needs to make that clear.  We also have elementary students using a 1:1 (that means their own) device at school in first grade!   Many parents are totally unaware how much time students are spending with it, or what they are doing.  Turns out, BCPS leadership doesn’t know how much time students are spending on it either (at approximately 1:00, we hear that there’s “very limited research” on safe screentime in an educational context)!

~ Refuse to allow your child’s behavioral or social-emotional data to be entered into third-party applications. (e.g. Class Dojo)

Ask questions about all the third-party applications being used in BCPS.  Class Dojo tracks behavior.  Check out whether Common Sense Media’s privacy evaluation team has rated the applications. Subscribe to the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy’s blog and check out their back-to-school advice.

~ Refuse in-class social networking programs (e.g. EdModo).

We’re curious about how this is being used in BCPS classrooms and what other social networking software is used.  In general, parents should be very cautious about introducing social media to children – BCPS’ own advice for parents says so.  Parents should have a say about when and how their children are introduced to social networking for school.

~ Set a screentime maximum per day/per week for your child.

Research has shown that when children are spending more than a half-hour per day on the computer, learning outcomes are worse.  The evaluation of STAT thus far has NO data on learning outcomes.  Read the JHU STAT reports here. Ask for homework alternatives that do not require use of a computer.  Ask for textbooks so that reading can be done without more time on the computer.

~ Opt young children out of in-school screentime altogether and request paper and pencil assignments and reading from print books (not e-books).

Parents Across America (PAA), a grassroots, non-partisan organization, has a number of useful linksHere are some questions to ask your school.

~ Begin educating parents about the difference between “personalized learning” modules that rely on mining PII (personally-identifiable information) to function properly and technology that empowers children to create and share their own content.

Dreambox and iReady, so-called “personalized learning” software, are being used in BCPS.  Neither empowers children to create their own content.  See this link on iReady, and this one; this link concerns Dreambox.  Look in BCPSone.  Ask your kids.  Ask your teachers and principals.  What else are they using?  Log in at home with your child if you can and check it out – if you don’t have access to a computer at home, ask your school to show you the programs in action.  You have a right to know what your child is doing at school.

~ Insist that school budgets prioritize human instruction and that hybrid/blended learning not be used as a backdoor way to increase class size or push online classes.

The County Auditor’s report of 2015 notes that class sizes have increased with the implementation STAT.  STAT teachers used to be classroom teachers – they are no longer, instead focusing on professional development.  Hybrid and blended learning have a host of definitions, but here are some examples of how it is playing out so far for kids as young as first grade in BCPS. 

http://lighthouse.bcps.org/reflections/february-26th-2016

http://lighthouse.bcps.org/reflections/flipped-learning-to-differentiate

As Dr. Dance says:

“Most of the nation’s classrooms have about 30 students in them. How can a teacher personalize and customize unless you leverage technology?  In BCPS we have five-year journey to go 1:1 in grades K-12 to where every single kid has a device.” 

But wait.  Respected education policy center NEPC at the University of Colorado says:

“Smaller classes are particularly effective at raising achievement levels of low-income and minority children.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAT Year-End Evaluation (2014-15)

STAT Year-End Report (2014-15)

Video Highlights from 7/14/15 meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

The Overselling of Ed Tech by Alfie Kohn

Here in Baltimore County, the public school system has put a lot of money and resources into a 1:1 computer program known as STAT in 1st through 12th grades.  Please read the blog below written by Alfie Kohn about the national push for education technology which is expensive with little to no data supporting improved academic outcomes.  Why should BCPS be putting this much money into a computer initiative when there are so many needs going unaddressed in our county school system?

Please also read Undermined by Design about the design of STAT described in this paragraph. “Skinner, famous for his experiments in operant conditioning (the use of reinforcement to develop a desired behavior), first pushed the idea of programmed learning from machines in the 1950s. Not much has changed in the 21st century when it comes to “personalized learning”; instead of a Skinner Box, the BCPS curriculum is now making use of the DreamBox and Ascend Math mathematics programs, which are operant systems in flashier 1:1 device packages. A student completes a preprogrammed task (a math problem), earns a reward (a few minutes of a video game, virtual coins, or an accomplishment badge), and their data is logged as evidence of progress. The student then repeats the process towards “mastery.””

You can also read the original The Overselling of Ed Tech, By Alfie Kohn

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the idea of using digital technology in the classroom tends to be either loved or hated. After all, anything that’s digital consists only of ones or zeroes. By contrast, my own position is somewhere in the middle, a location where I don’t often find myself, frankly. I’m not allied with the Waldorfians, who ban computers from elementary and middle schools, but neither do I have much in common with teachers whose excitement over the latest export from Silicon Valley often seems downright orgasmic.

Basically, my response to ed tech is “It depends.” And one key consideration on which it depends is the reason given for supporting it.

Some people seem to be drawn to technology for its own sake — because it’s cool. This strikes me as an unpersuasive reason to spend oodles of money, particularly since the excitement is generated and continually refreshed by companies that profit from it. Their ads in education periodicals, booths at conferences, and advocacy organizations are selling not only specific kinds of software but the whole idea that ed tech is de rigueur for any school that doesn’t want to risk being tagged as “twentieth century.”

Other people, particularly politicians, defend technology on the grounds that it will keep our students “competitive in the global economy.” This catch-all justification has been invoked to support other dubious policies, including highly prescriptive, one-size-fits-all national curriculum standards. It’s based on two premises: that decisions about children’s learning should be driven by economic considerations, and that people in other countries should be seen primarily as rivals to be defeated.

But the rationale that I find most disturbing — despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it’s rarely made explicit — is the idea that technology will increase our efficiency . . . at teaching the same way that children have been taught for a very long time. Perhaps it hasn’t escaped your notice that ed tech is passionately embraced by very traditional schools: Their institutional pulse quickens over whatever is cutting-edge: instruction that’s blended, flipped, digitally personalized. This apparent paradox should give us pause. Despite corporate-style declarations about the benefits of “innovation” and “disruption,” new forms of technology in the classroom mesh quite comfortably with an old-school model that consists of pouring a bunch o’ facts into empty receptacles.

We can’t answer the question “Is tech useful in schools?” until we’ve grappled with a deeper question: “What kinds of learning should be taking place in those schools?” If we favor an approach by which students actively construct meaning, an interactive process that involves a deep understanding of ideas and emerges from the interests and questions of the learners themselves, well, then we’d be open to the kinds of technology that truly support this kind of inquiry. Show me something that helps kids create, design, produce, construct — and I’m on board. Show me something that helps them make things collaboratively (rather than just on their own), and I’m even more interested — although it’s important to keep in mind that meaningful learning never requires technology, so even here we should object whenever we’re told that software (or a device with a screen) is essential.

Far more common, in any case, are examples of technology that take for granted, and ultimately help to perpetuate, traditional teacher-centered instruction that consists mostly of memorizing facts and practicing skills. Tarting up a lecture with a SmartBoard, loading a textbook on an iPad, looking up facts online, rehearsing skills with an “adaptive learning system,” writing answers to the teacher’s (or workbook’s) questions and uploading them to Google Docs — these are examples of how technology may make the process a bit more efficient or less dreary but does nothing to challenge the outdated pedagogy. To the contrary: These are shiny things that distract us from rethinking our approach to learning and reassure us that we’re already being innovative.

Still more worrisome are the variants of ed tech that deal with grades and tests, making them even more destructive than they already are: putting grades online (thereby increasing their salience and their damaging effects), using computers to administer tests and score essays, and setting up “embedded” assessment that’s marketed as “competency-based.” (If your instinct is to ask “What sort of competency? Isn’t that just warmed-over behaviorism?” you obviously haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid yet.) Those of us who once spoke out against annual standardized exams were soon distressed to find that students were being made to take them several times a year, including “benchmark” tests to prepare them for the other tests. But we couldn’t have dreamed that companies would try to sell us — or, tragically, that administrators and school boards would be willing to buydystopian devices that basically test kids (and collect and store data about them) continuously. Even the late Jerry Bracey never imagined things could get this bad when he referred to how we were developing the capability “to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn’t be doing at all.”

If you haven’t given much thought to the kind of intellectual life we might want schools to foster, then it might sound exciting to “personalize” or “customize” learning. But as I argued not long ago, we shouldn’t confuse personalized learning with personal learning. The first involves adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores, and it requires the purchase of software. The second involves working with each student to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests, and it requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well.

Even if we were willing to use test scores as a measure of success — something I don’t generally recommend — a recent review found that studies of tech-based personalized instruction “show mixed results ranging from modest impacts to no impact” – despite the fact that it’s remarkably expensive. In fact, ed tech of various kinds has made headlines lately for reasons that can’t be welcome to its proponents. According to an article in Education Week, “a host of national and regional surveys suggest that teachers are far more likely to use tech to make their own jobs easier and to supplement traditional instructional strategies than to put students in control of their own learning.” Last fall, meanwhile, OECD reported negative outcomes when students spent a lot of time using computers, while Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) concluded that online charter schools were basically a disaster.

Lucid critiques of ed tech — and of technology more generally — have been offered by educators and other social scientists for some time now. See, for example, the work of Larry Cuban, Sherry Turkle, Gary Stager, and Will Richardson. (Really. See their work. It’s worth reading.) But their arguments, like the available data that fail to show much benefit, don’t seem to be slowing the feeding frenzy. Ed tech is increasingly making its way even into classrooms for young children. And the federal government is pushing this stuff unreservedly: Check out the U.S. Office of Education Technology’s 2016 plan recommending greater use of “embedded” assessment, which “includes ongoing gathering and sharing of data,” plus, in a development that seems inevitable in retrospect, a tech-based program to foster a “growth mindset” in children. There’s much more in that plan, too – virtually all of it, as blogger Emily Talmage points out, uncannily aligned with the wish list of the Digital Learning Council, a group consisting largely of conservative advocacy groups and foundations, and corporations with a financial interest in promoting ed tech.

There’s a jump-on-the-bandwagon feel to how districts are pouring money into computers and software programs – money that’s badly needed for, say, hiring teachers. But even if ed tech were adopted as thoughtfully as its proponents claim, we’re still left with deep reasons to be concerned about the outmoded model of teaching that it helps to preserve — or at least fails to help us move beyond. To be committed to meaningful learning requires us to view testimonials for technology with a terabyte’s worth of skepticism.

Experimentation

It is becoming ever clearer that personalized learning on 1:1 devices is an experiment. While some may not like the idea of children being part of experiments under any circumstances, when done well, it is a way to study what interventions work and which ones don’t. But, there are core principles and ethics that should underlie any such initiative.

Here’s what a 4th grade teacher in Maine had to say: “When researchers in university settings conduct studies involving “human subjects,” there are two categories of people that always get extra special protection: pregnant women and children. Even if the research involves minimal to no risk to the child (a survey, for example), an Institutional Review Board must certify that the investigators meet certain criteria, including obtaining permission from children’s parents or guardians.  Competency-based and personalized learning experiments, which typically rely heavily on digital and online learning, involve a number of potential risks – including those that are health-related (impact on vision, over-exposure to wifi radiation), academic, and social/emotional (what happens when students spend less time with teachers and more time with devices?).”

Read that 4th grade teacher, Emily Talmage’s most recent article,  Parents Beware.

Here in Baltimore, we need only look at the evaluation of the STAT experiment being conducted by JHU.  We must wonder why it is that it is not clearly labeled an experiment since we do not know what the academic outcomes will be.  The logic model is being used to evaluate the STAT experiment and it is only looking at qualitative data for the first two years.  The stated measurable outcomes are described in this way: “The study demonstrated evidence of professional development effects on measurable outcomes, including classroom environment, teacher practice, digital content, student engagement, and 21st century skills.”  Here is the link to the “measurable outcomes” as stated by BCPS.

It is not until the third year that the logic model looks at quantitative data – academic results.  And where are the safety concerns?  Where is the potential risk to children being studied?  That is not included.  Where is the logic, again?

We do not believe 21st century is an adjective and here is  Alfie Kohn’s take on the term “ 21st century learning“.

STAT Without Principle

“I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.”
–H. D. Thoreau, from “Life Without Principle”

Thoreau wrote this essay, originally entitled “What Shall it Profit?,” over 150 years ago, but his thoughts about the purposes of work versus the purposes of business still resonate today. One of his main points was how money and fame can distract the individual from the actual work at hand that needs to be done, and he warned against those leaders who might believe that “progress and civilization” depend upon the march of “our boasted commerce.”

For a modern analogue, consider the recent and rapid push by educational technology companies and Silicon Valley millionaires into public schools. According to Forbes Magazine, venture funding for educational technology firms surpassed 1.87 billion in 2014, and it is likely well over 2 billion dollars today. Venture capitalists such as Netflix-powered Reed Hastings and provocateur Tom Vander Ark of Learn Capital (and Getting Smart consulting) are in on the game, which to them promises a quick rush of cash that could be earned from an untapped market—public schools. The increase of business buzzwords, lobbying, bending of education policy, slick advertising, and snake-oil salesmanship of technology that has followed has completely eclipsed the original purpose of the enterprise—to meet the educational, physical, and emotional needs of children.

It may then not be surprising that Baltimore County Public Schools is in the midst of a $300 million plus technology-based initiative, Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT), with the laudable goal of creating more student-centered classrooms through a dubious focus on a 1:1 laptop program, spanning grades kindergarten to twelve. The academic rationale for the STAT program, presented before the Board of Education in November 2014, was prepared by Gus Schmedlen, who is not an educational expert but a salesman and Vice President for Hewlett-Packard, the manufacturer of the laptops contracted for STAT. While not a teacher, administrator, or curriculum expert, Schmedlen’s background does include the management of $8 billion of business for Lenovo, another technology company. Consideration of the longstanding educational theories of Maslow, Piaget, or even Gardner were absent from the academic rationale, as were any of the more modern concerns about child development and technology use.

Two of the key architects of the STAT initiative are BCPS system superintendent S. Dallas Dance and his Director of Innovative Learning, Ryan Imbriale. Since the inception of the STAT program in 2014, both have engaged in frequent and extensive travel, speaking, and interview schedules, often with organizations or technology companies that have either a direct or indirect financial interest in the hardware, software, or ideology employed for STAT.

Ryan Imbriale has presented in at least seven conferences, including for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE, for which Imbriale was formerly a board member), the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC, run by the for-profit LRP conglomerate out of West Palm Beach, FL), and Learning Forward, among several others. While these appear to be professional organizations on their surface, a careful review of their sponsors, boards of directors, and vendors reveal underlying connections to educational technology companies, including Microsoft, Intel, SmartBoard, Pearson, BrainPop, DreamBox, and dozens of others. Imbriale has also given at least five interviews with organizations such as Project Tomorrow, T.H.E. Journal (also run by LRP) and EdTech Magazine, which are all promotional platforms for edtech companies and not valid purveyors of unbiased journalism.

Across the same two years, Dallas Dance has had over a dozen speaking engagements and a dozen more interviews with many of the same organizations. He has given interviews to EdSurge (run directly by edtech venture capitalists), Discovery Education (a STAT corporate partner), ISTE (for which Dance is currently a board member), and numerous others. His speaking engagements have included the star-studded SXSWedu conference, the CUE Powerful Learning conference (which favors luxury locations in California and Florida), and even the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), which is well known as a trade organization for numerous educational technology companies, including K12, Inc. (one of the worst of the bad actors in the for-profit educational technology marketplace). Most of Dance’s engagements are to promote or hype the success of STAT or the importance of technology in the classroom; it also appears to be a lucrative side business, considering Dance’s speaking fee is listed at $5000 (Dr. Dance reports that he did not make this Orate page). Dance even spoke in a promotional video for Advance Path, a BCPS vendor for credit recovery software, joining the previously mentioned Tom Vander Ark in praising the product’s effectiveness (for more on Vander Ark’s philosophy of education, see his contribution to the book The Profit Motive in Education: Continuing the Revolution, entitled “Private Capital, For-Profit Education, and Public Schools”).

A question that needs to be asked here: does this level of constant promotion help BCPS students, or even the BCPS system, or is it just helping raise the profile (and the future job prospects) of the administrators involved? Several of the county high schools that these leaders are responsible for are literally collapsing, no longer compliant with safety codes and hopelessly outdated for electrical, plumbing, structural, and Americans with Disability Act requirements, much less “21st century learning.” Furthermore, the positions of Executive Director of the Department of Special Education and the Executive Director of Student Support Services have been left vacant for the past year, and word-of-mouth around the schools is of understaffing, disarray and slipshod Least Restrictive Environment compliance for students with disabilities. Even the school feasibility studies completed for the renovations of Lansdowne and Dulaney High Schools were questionable, with pages of identical text (yet different formatting and pictures), suggesting a lack of thoroughness and an absence of oversight by administration (who, when alerted by a teacher, dismissed the copying as “errors”). It is time that taxpayers hold those same administrators accountable, as these errors directly affect the safety and well-being of thousands of children.

The actions of Dallas Dance, Ryan Imbriale, and other administrative leaders should send a clear message about the current priorities of the BCPS system. Leadership is desperately needed here at home in Maryland, not on the road in Florida, California, or Texas. Software companies and iNACOL conference attendees should not be visiting (and disrupting, in the real sense of the word) BCPS classrooms. To again borrow from Thoreau, in the BCPS STAT initiative, “shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths,” while reality is proclaimed patently false.

Traveling at the Speed of S.T.A.T.

Dr. Dance wrote a letter dated February 24, 2016 to the County Council because it sounds like the County Council members have been hearing complaints about STAT and the BCPS budget: “Many of you may have received questions from your constituents regarding Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.).”

The link includes the full text of what Dr Dance wrote and a response by some very astute citizens who reached out to a local blogger.  Read this extremely well-written summary of the current situation.

Traveling at the Speed of S.T.A.T.

Below was posted in the comments section of this blog and is in response to the two letters in Traveling at the Speed of S.T.A.T.

“Great post!!! As far as the question of other school districts…

These 1:1 programs have proven unwieldy in many large school districts and have been abandoned because of logistics, lack of positive long-term learning outcomes, and intractable problems with student digital distraction, online “hacking,” and ergonomic fallout — computer vision syndrome and neck pain — among students. But most of all, it has been the ballooning costs.

Continue reading

Diane Ravitch: Baltimore County Buys the Great Technology Hoax, for Almost $300 Million

Diane Ravitch has again highlighted Baltimore County’s “Hoax”.  The comments on her blog are also worth reading.

Baltimore County Buys the Great Technology Hoax, for Almost $300 Million

I wish that all those who appreciate the wonders of technology would frankly admit its limitations. I wish they would speak out when hucksters and naifs claim that technology will close the achievement gap between rich and poor or that learning by machine is “personalized learning.” Personalized learning is what happens when humans beings interact, face to face, when a teacher who knows you is engaged in helping you learn. An interaction with a machine is impersonalized learning.

Baltimore County Public Schools system has bought the hoax: under the leadership of its superintendent, Dallas Dance, the school board has agreed to invest at least $270 million so that every student will have his or her own computer. It is a decisive move towards a fully digitized schooling, with everyone wired, including 5-year-olds. Some parents are very unhappy with this decision. They would prefer to see money invested in reducing class sizes, arts programs, and capital improvements. Some worry that the evidence for the benefits of going digital does not exist. Some argue that the program does more for big business than for children. Some think the program should be pilot-tested before it is implemented across the district. Some worry about the potential health effects of a fully digital classroom.

One parent wrote:

The real overall costs of STAT are now projected at $272.1 million for the “BCPS Proposed 6 Year Instructional Digital Conversion Plan.” That’s nearly $70 million higher than previously discussed.

And, breaking news to most: On top of that, $63 million or more would be required every year thereafter — with 92 percent (!) going to the laptop leases alone, according to officials and budget proposal documents released in early January.

Every. Year.

That means in one decade BCPS would spend at least $630 million to lease laptops, which schools would turn over every four years, amid other costs. Ten new state-of-the art schools could be funded at that price, likely with some snazzy new tech options, too. Operating vs. Capital Expenditures aside (day-to-day vs. buildings), money is money.

My own view is that it is far too soon to adopt technology as the primary vehicle for education because there is no evidence that it improves learning or that it reduces achievement gaps or that it is especially beneficial to children from low-income homes. Last fall, the OECD released a study concluding that some technology use in the classroom is good, but too much technology is not. This was the conclusion: Overall, students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.

Was the Baltimore County school board aware of that study before it committed $270 million to provide a computer for every student?

We saw the disaster unfold in Los Angeles when former Superintendent John Deasy decided that every student and staff member in the LAUSD should have an iPad; worse, he sold this idea as a matter of “civil rights.” Frankly, it cheapens the meaning of civil rights (the right to vote, the right to be treated the same as others, the right to equality of educational opportunity, the right to serve on a jury, etc.) when “the right to an iPad” is called a “civil right.” It would make more sense to talk about the right to a job with a decent living wage, the right to good housing, the right to medical care, and the right to sound nutrition, than to turn the ownership of an iPad into a “civil right.” As we know, the $1 billion-plus transaction turned into a fiasco when questions were raised about favoritism shown to Apple and Pearson, and the whole deal was canceled.

Many of us still remember the story in the New York Times in 2011 about the Waldorf School in Silicon Valley that has no computers; its students include the children of high-tech executives who believe their children will have plenty of time for technology in the future. Instead of working online, they are learning through physical activity, creative play, hands-on projects, and reading. While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.

The Baltimore County school board not only approved STAT but renewed Superintendent Dance’s contract, which will run until 2020. When he was first hired as superintendent in 2012 (at the age of 30), he needed a waiver, because he had only two years of teaching experience and state law requires three years of teaching experience for superintendents. He also ran into trouble when he became involved with SUPES Academy, the same company that had hired disgraced Chicago CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. A local reporter wrote: Dance was heavily criticized — and admonished by the school board — for accepting a position in the company in August 2013 without informing the board. The board had approved a three-year $875,000 contract with SUPES to train personnel in December 2012. Dance ended up resigning the SUPES position in 2013.

Maine blogger Emily Talmage recently criticized Superintendent Dance. She wrote:

Meanwhile, as the corporate-driven personalized, digital learning craze sweeps the country, Dance has jumped in headfirst and is bringing his district along with him.

As a keynote speaker at the 2015 International Association for K-12 Online Learning, Dance called himself a “pioneer.”

He also said that teachers were “talking too much,” and that students should be assessed at any time.

“In order to personalize learning for young people, we should be able to assess students at any moment to figure out what level they’re on, what standards they’ve mastered, so they can move along the continuum,” he said….

“This is taking place in a school district that is in desperate need of improvements to infrastructure, transportation, class size reduction, and social programs, issues that have been financially pushed to the side in favor of STAT,” a teacher wrote.

“Personalized learning is being presented to constituents as the solution to close the equity gap in education,” said the Baltimore teacher, “[but] no input has been garnered from parents, and the expectation is that teachers will fully embrace the program without question.”

It would be nice if a school board asked for evidence of effectiveness before blowing away nearly $300 million on the fad of the moment. Technology will change rapidly, and BCPS will be left with obsolete machines unless they make an annual commitment to buy or lease new equipment. This is money that will not be spent on teachers, programs, and maintenance of buildings.”