The New York Times published a front-page story yesterday about the huge commitment that Baltimore County has made to technology in the classroom.
The story begins slowly, as a conventional account of a district that wants to prepare its students for the new world of technology.
Baltimore County is one of the nation's most ambitious classroom technology makeovers. In 2014, the district committed more than $200 million for HP laptops, and it is spending millions of dollars on math, science and language software. Its vendors visit classrooms. Some schoolchildren have been featured in tech-company promotional videos.
Tech companies are salivating over the school market, which is supposed to reach $21 billion in spending by 2020.
School leaders have become so central to sales that a few private firms will now, for fees that can climb into the tens of thousands of dollars, arrange meetings for vendors with school officials, on some occasions paying superintendents as consultants. Tech-backed organizations have also flown superintendents to conferences at resorts. And school leaders have evangelized company products to other districts.
These marketing approaches are legal. But there is little rigorous evidence so far to indicate that using computers in class improves educational results. Even so, schools nationwide are convinced enough to have adopted them in hopes of preparing students for the new economy.
But then as we read on, we learn about covert payoffs, payola, lavish expenses, cozy deals between vendors and school officials, and the mysterious resignation of the superintendent who started this expensive initiative. We see a district committed to spending hundreds of millions on technology while some children are in trailers for classrooms, and water fountains are spouting brown water. In other words, basic needs have been neglected to pay for the shiny new machines. One parent, a physician, says that the relationships between school officials and the industry reminds her of Big Pharma and its cultivation of medical professionals.
Then we learn, almost as a throw away line, that the machine that the district settled on, was not the one with the highest evaluation.
The district wanted a device that would work both for youngsters who couldn't yet type and for high schoolers. In early 2014, it chose a particularly complex machine, an HP laptop that converts to a tablet. That device ranked third out of four devices the district considered, according to the district's hardware evaluation forms, which The Times obtained. Over all, the HP device scored 27 on a 46-point scale. A Dell device ranked first at 34.
The superintendent appeared in an HP video, promoting the company. The HP product ran Microsoft software, and Microsoft honored the district as a Microsoft Showcase. The district's tech leader was honored as an "Intel Education Visionary."
Worse, we learn that the company that makes the machine has discontinued it.
Recently, parents and teachers have reported problems with the HP devices, including batteries falling out and keyboard tiles becoming detached. HP has discontinued the Elitebook Revolve.
Mr. Dickerson, the district spokesman, said there was not "a widespread issue with damaged devices."
An HP spokesman said: "While the Revolve is no longer on the market, it would be factually inaccurate to suggest that's related to product quality."
No, of course not.
While the superintendent has resigned, the interim superintendent is as deeply engaged with the tech companies as her predecessor.
Question for Baltimore County residents? Do you know or care where your tax money is going?
The article says:
Baltimore County's 173 schools span a 600-square-mile horseshoe around the city of Baltimore, which has a separate school system. Like many districts, the school system struggles to keep facilities up-to-date. Some of its 113,000 students attend spacious new schools. Some older schools, though, are overcrowded, requiring trailers as overflow classrooms. In some, tap water runs brown. And, in budget documents, the district said it lacked the "dedicated resources" for students with disabilities.
Parents, what are your priorities? How about prohibiting school officials from consorting with or taking favors of any kind from vendors? ******************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Department of Curriculum & Instruction College of Education and Human Services Southern Illinois University Carbondale 625 Wham Drive / MC 4610 Carbondale, Illinois 62901