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

State prosecutors are investigating former Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, multiple sources told the Baltimore Sun:

The Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation more than six months ago, issuing a subpoena for school system records, and this month several people associated with the system were interviewed by investigators, sources said.”

And the 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,” the Sun noted. UPDATE: 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 very recent video by the resigned superintendent speaks volumes.

Other details: the former county schools’ chief is 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, 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.

(To get a look at the many 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 post.  Such mostly no-bid contracts, including $10 million for Discovery Education‘s products, are still in place.)

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 in April 2016.

According to amended financial disclosure forms filed “under penalty of perjury” after the last ethics findings, Dance reported no personal income from his 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. 

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.

Postscripts:

*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. 
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iReady by Curriculum Associates: contract spending authority
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DreamBox Math, meanwhile, jumped nearly $2 million more to $3.2 million for just three more years.
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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.
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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.”
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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
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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?

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.”

New Video: One-Way Ticket on STAT; Part 1 of 4

Another great truth-telling video has come our way.  This follows the “Bullseye” video reposted a couple of weeks ago.  A separate page to curate the expanding STAT-us BCPS Video Collection may be in order …

One-Way Ticket on STAT: Part 1 of 4 of The Truth About STAT and Why Parents (and Politicians) Should Be Paying Attention

Previous videos:

Highlights of a High-Tech Takeover of a Public School System (in 5 steps, 7 mins. and 30 secs.)

Full-Length Version:  Anatomy of a High-Tech Takeover of a Public School System (in 5 simple steps and 25 minutes) 

In Search of the Competency-Based Ed Reform Wizard

STAT or CHAOS? : The global significance of the STAT experiment

Opt-out Co-opted: One Blogger’s View

Education blogger Kevin Ohlandt of Exceptional Delaware just published a fascinating, and disturbing, post about how high-stakes tests were created to be terrible on purpose to generate push-back and to open the floodgates for charter schools and “personalized digital learning empires.”

Why Companies Like Achieve, Inc. Now Want You To Opt Out Of State Assessments

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/why-companies-like-achieve-inc-now-want-you-to-opt-out-of-state-assessments/

NOTE:  The non-profit Achieve, Inc., a corporate entity made up of financiers, academics, lobbyists, former lawmakers, and select state governors, is responsible for developing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to which Pearson’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test is aligned.  Here’s the Board of Directors’ roster. One notable member is Maryland State Board of Education Vice President Dr. Jim Gates, Jr.  One of Achieve’s main agendas is standards-based data-driven education. DATA attached to a person from kindergarten to college and/or the workplace!
“Longitudinal data systems should follow individual students from grade to grade and school to school, all the way from kindergarten through postsecondary education and into the workplace … states … must follow students through K–12 into postsecondary and the workforce and establish feedback loops to the relevant stakeholders to make informed decisions that improve policies and practices.”

CHARTER SCHOOLS AND MAGNET SCHOOLS

Read the Exceptional Delaware post and think about what’s happening in BCPS.  While we don’t have charters as the City does, we do have a rapidly expanding magnet-school program and Dr. Dance’s regional “supermagnet” concept, only outlined so far in a Sun editorial, resulting from a meeting between Dr. Dance and the Sun’s editors.

Exactly one month after publishing this editorial, the Sun highlighted BCPS’ magnet-school expansion.  According to the article, admission is  based on luck (lottery), and at least one new magnet is based on a business-school partnership, the new Northwest (as in Hospital) Academy of Health Sciences at Old Court Middle.  More disturbingly, the focus change at Old Court is part of Dr. Dance’s “rebranding” of the school:

“I had been looking for a way to rebrand Old Court,” he said, adding that the school has made progress in the last several years. “It’s hard to change the perception of Old Court. It just had this reputation.”

There is clearly value in preparing students for the workplace in a tough job market, however, considering the magnet expansion countywide, the article neglects to ask, “What happens to the comprehensive schools when the top students are siphoned off?”  This is exactly the question many in the City are asking about charter schools.

DITCHING HIGH-STAKES TESTS

As for moving away from high-stakes tests to testing all the time (Competency-Based Education or STAT), Dr. Dance has publicly recognized that PARCC is flawed and cannot be used to compare Lighthouse and non-Lighthouse Schools, an admission that STAT has not improved test scores.  BCPS will now use the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) to monitor achievement:

BCPS has chosen to use the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) to monitor growth in achievement in reading and mathematics for students in Grades 1-8. MAP is used by over 5 million students across the country and allows comparisons to be made between the performance and growth of our students with their peers across the country. BCPS will continue to use the MAP results as indicators of student growth during this period of instability in the State assessment model (PARCC).

The PARCC comments and move to MAP were covered in the BCPS Follow-up to the Baltimore County Council on STAT.  This came after the May 2016 County Auditor’s Report on the BCPS budget (more on that here), which offered scathing comments on STAT’s exorbitant costs and opportunity costs.

Another blog post will be coming on MAP, as assessment developed by Portland-based Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).  NWEA believes in guiding instruction “using valid, reliable, and real-time data.”  Read about NWEA here.

Note that NWEA has a nearly $4-million 5-year contract with BCPS, which was drastically modified in June 2014, directly before STAT’s implementation: https://www.bcps.org/apps/bcpscontracts/contractFiles/061014_RGA-125-14%206%20Mod-Measures%20Academic.pdf

and that NWEA was a major donor to the State of the Schools (SOS) event held to benefit the school system’s Education Foundation, the primary mission of which is to FUND STAT. 

Conflict of interest?

In short, MAP, which is being used to “prove” STAT’s success (since PARCC apparently cannot), is not independent or objective, especially when one considers NWEA’s claim that “highly targeted, 1:1 instruction helps maximize student growth.” https://www.nwea.org/solutions/

Here are some distressing questions:

How much money, time, and effort have been put into PARCC?

How much instruction time and true learning have been lost to PARCC?

How many students and teachers have suffered because of PARCC?

Just to have the Superintendent of a major school system basically deem it a failure?

Baltimore County Update: CBE in Pictures, Words, and a Totally Revamped BCPS Grading Policy Aligned with Mastery-Based Ed

School is out and many are enjoying summer vacation, but local anti-CBE (Competency-Based Education) “warriors” have been hard at work.

This locally produced video just hit the STAR inbox.

It doesn’t pertain directly to BCPS’ digital transformation STAT, but to CBE (or personalized learning or proficiency-based education or insert your own buzzword) in general.  Watch until the end – it’s the viewer’s call to decide which reformer’s face could be superimposed over the wizard’s.

In Search of the Competency-Based Ed Reform Wizard

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF6lIijAp2s

Another locally produced work is BCPS parent and Towson University Education Professor Morna McDermott’s recent blog post about CBE and the new “gig” economy.

https://educationalchemy.com/2016/06/25/cbe-and-alec-preparing-students-for-the-gig-economy/

“CBE delivers curriculum, instruction and assessments through online programming owned by third-party (corporate) organizations that are paid for with your tax dollars. Proponents of CBE use catchy language like “personalized” and “individualized” learning. Translation? Children seated alone interfacing with a computer, which monitors and adjusts the materials according to the inputs keyed in by the child.”

The final – and most critical – locally produced work is BCPS’ revamped Grading and Reporting Policy 5210 and accompanying Rule 5210

BOTH EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2016.

The details were outlined in a May 2016 presentation.

If we didn’t already know that Baltimore County is in the throes of CBE or Mastery-Based Education (MBE), this presentation proves it.

Stepping through the presentation, all the CBE/MBE signposts are there, including meaningless goals such as “Activate students as the owners of their own learning”  (one of the five “non-negotiable” components of effective formative assessment):

  • “In contrast, students who are motivated by mastering learning goals persevere in the face of such challenges. Difficult tasks or setbacks do not diminish motivation or self-esteem. Students with learning orientations—or growth-mindsets—are more likely to choose more difficult but rewarding ways to demonstrate learning. These students believe effort will lead to eventual success, and thus they develop a willingness to try and persist.” (COMMENT: This sounds like “grit”.)
  • “Teachers should remind students that they are working with them to help them reach mastery” and “teachers are responsible for … determining the degree to which students have mastered grade-level standards based on the body of evidence.”
  • “BCPS also believes penalizing students for late or missing work is not a practice that promotes learning. Recording a zero on a student’s assignment will not motivate the student to work harder or learn content at a higher or faster rate (O’Conner, 2007). While BCPS curriculum guides suggest a standard pacing of instruction, penalizing a student for requiring more time, support, or resources to master a standard or learning goal is contrary to differentiation, customization, personalization, and best practices in teaching and learning.”
  • “Determining final achievement grades based on a collected body of evidence aligned to course expectations and standards.”

The final, and most logical, signpost:

“The final marking period grade … must be based on individual mastery of knowledge and skills.”

Devices are in students’ hands, third-party ed-tech contracts have been signed, teachers have been retrained, curriculum has been revamped (or removed, depending upon your perspective), and the grading and reporting policy has been reworked. It’s official – Mastery-Based Education is the new model for Baltimore County Public Schools.

Playing Dice with Our Children and Our Tax Dollars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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