Union officials and lawmakers seized on Baltimore County's bungled rollout of a Common Core curriculum to renew calls to give teachers and school districts more time to implement the new rigorous education standards.
The county school system paid $2.1 million last year to edCount LLC, the company it hired to write new language-arts course plans, even though it described the work as unsatisfactory in email exchanges obtained by The Baltimore Sun. The district severed ties with the company in June and had a team of county teachers and administrators take up the work.
"The implementation of the Common Core has been rocky for too many schools across Maryland," said Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, a teachers union. "Experiences like these underscore the need to make sure that we have the time, resources, and support to get the Common Core right."
The edCount contract in Baltimore County arose out of a commitment made by Maryland — and most states — to use the Common Core education standards, which were approved by the state Department of Education in 2010. The state school board required local districts to have a curriculum in place to match the standards by fall 2013.
The Maryland State Education Association, which represents the majority of teachers across the state, would like to see more resources and time devoted to helping teachers learn the Common Core standards. The standards outline what students should know by the end of each grade in both math and language arts.
Baltimore County teachers complained about the elementary language arts curriculum that arrived shortly before school started last fall, saying it was not well-written and was difficult to access on an online platform.
"There is a lot at stake here," said Del. Susan Aumann, a Baltimore County Republican. "We are experimenting on our future, and I don't think it is right. ... Why don't we take a pause and figure out what we are doing and do it really well."
Half of the school systems in the state rolled out Maryland's new standards, at least in part, beginning in the fall of 2012, according to Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.
He declined to comment about requests from county leaders to slow implementation of the Common Core, but state Superintendent Lillian Lowery has said repeatedly that the state will forge ahead.
In March, Indiana was the first state to pull out of the Common Core, and dozens of bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the nation, calling for a slowdown of the Common Core's implementation or prohibiting the standards from being implemented.
One bill calling on Maryland to pull out of the Common Core failed in the General Assembly this past session.
Not all school districts in Maryland had difficulty with the new standards. Baltimore City public schools, for instance, handed its teachers the language-arts curriculum more than a year ahead of the county.
And city officials asked teachers to begin teaching parts of it during that school year, giving the teaching corps time to discuss the new approach and provide suggestions for revisions to those writing the new curriculum.
Baltimore County officials fell behind, partly because the district hired a new superintendent who started in summer 2012. Superintendent Dallas Dance decided in January 2013 to hire edCount LLC to produce a new curriculum that needed to be in the schools eight months later.
However, documents obtained by The Sun in a public records request show that from the beginning, school leaders and edCount officials had a contentious relationship.
School officials severed the contract in late May after criticizing the company for missing deadlines, not giving the project adequate staffing and refusing to communicate with key employees. The company, meanwhile, argued that school staffers imposed unrealistic deadlines and required them to continually revise the curriculum.
For its money, the school system got the first six weeks of the elementary language-arts curriculum, an outline of a second six-week unit and an unfinished digital platform. The contract called for the completion of a total of six units.
"We are very proud of the work we did," edCount President Ellen Forte said in a recent interview.
The county staff took over writing the curriculum and provided teachers with lesson plans just weeks before they were to be taught.
When complaints began to pour in from elementary schools, Dance apologized to teachers and acknowledged in a public meeting that the county was building the plane while flying it.
Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican who was a sponsor of the bill to end the Common Core that failed, said Monday that the blame for the problems falls on Dance.
"Apparently you are flying a plane that isn't built, and you aren't paying attention to how it is being built," McDonough said. "The children and the teachers are the victims."
McDonough compared problems with Baltimore County's curriculum to the troubled rollout of the state's online health insurance exchange. The new curriculum, he said, was one of the most important initiatives in county schools, and Dance should have overseen the work more closely.
Baltimore County school officials declined to comment Monday. They said previously in a statement: "Our team of writers has been very successful."
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who with the County Council approves the school system's budget, also declined to comment.
Aumann said she is upset at the waste of $2.1 million in tax dollars to pay for the unfinished language-arts curriculum and online platform that could have been spent on other student needs.
The problem, she said, is not the Common Core standards but the way they are being implemented. "The curriculum hasn't been vetted and tested," she said. "I think we are really putting kids at risk."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun