The Baltimore County school system is eliminating the jobs of more than 100 technology teachers in elementary schools next fall, saying it is time to move away from teaching technology in a computer laboratory.
The change means students in some schools will no longer take a once-a-week computer class, using a computer lab to learn skills and do research. Under the new technology plan, the district intends to provide pupils and their teachers in 10 elementary schools with tablets or laptops next year. Eventually, the pilot program would be expanded.
"We want all teachers to become fluent users in the technology as part of their instruction instead of students gong to a computer lab once a week," said Billy Burke, the county's assistant superintendent of organizational development. "We want it embedded in the instruction."
But the move has angered technology teachers, who were informed during a meeting Wednesday that their positions would be eliminated and that they can apply for another teaching job in the system this spring. No teacher will be laid off in the transition.
"It is the rush to do everything. And have they thought through all of the issues?" said Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, the teachers union. Beytin said the technology teachers were never consulted about what they believed would be the best way to move to a new teaching model.
The decision by Superintendent Dallas Dance on the computer classes sparked the most recent conflict with the teachers union. The union filed a grievance against the school system in the fall, saying that new education initiatives force teachers to work long hours beyond their normal workday. Teachers said the county had fallen behind in writing curriculum for the new, more rigorous Common Core standards, making lesson plans unavailable until weeks before they were to be taught.
Instead of a computer lab, students will take art, music or gym that period, Burke said. He noted that not all of the county's 111 elementary schools still teach the weekly technology class.
The technology program would expand through the upper grades and into all elementary school classrooms in coming years. While details of the so-called digital conversion are still being worked out, it is likely that students will not lug around textbooks in the future, but will have the material available on their tablets only.
Across the nation, school districts are providing students with more technology, in some cases embarking on plans to put iPads and other devices in every child's hands, as was tried in Los Angeles this school year.
Some educators believe they can improve student achievement if the technology — in some cases widely used at home — is integrated into their lessons. But the rollouts have not always gone well, including in Los Angeles, where high school students quickly broke through the security walls and began using the devices for social media. The school district has slowed its implementation.
Burke said that to make the conversion in Baltimore County, the school system decided to provide a professional development teacher in each school who would instruct teachers on how to use the new tablets to improve classroom teaching.
Many technology teachers might have the skills needed for the professional development jobs, Burke said, but they will be required to apply for them.
Although the county school system employs 108 technology teachers, the central office budgets only for a part-time position for each elementary school. Most principals use discretionary money from their budgets to pay the rest of the teacher's salary. Therefore, the school district is eliminating funding for the equivalent of 45 full-time technology teachers. Those who work in middle and high schools are not affected.
Not all area school systems have technology teachers in every elementary school. Anne Arundel County schools, for instance, do not have a similar position, though they have "e-coaches," teachers trained in the use of technology in the classroom. They are paid a small stipend for taking on the added role of training teachers in their school, according to Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel schools.
Beytin says Baltimore County schools will continue to need technology teachers over the next two years until the conversion is fully in place. She said those teachers are invaluable, often co-teaching lessons. When a classroom teacher wants students to research a particular subject for a lesson, the technology teacher will help find appropriate and accurate information for a specific grade level on the Internet, Beytin said.
The technology teachers often help fix equipment and train teachers when new technology comes to the school.
Beytin said teachers are disappointed that they were not consulted and had no input in the decision.
"Because of the way it was handled, my teachers are really upset about it, and I think they have a good reason," she said. "If you want the best solution to any of the problems ... you bring the experts in the field."