How technology will help county students succeed

Today, more than 108,000 students will leave their homes and return to Baltimore County Public Schools classrooms ready to prepare for the future. Today, the families of our students will entrust their children to us for 180-plus days of learning. Today, more than 805,000 citizens of Baltimore County will depend on us once again to operate schools and educate students in a way that enhances their communities, raises property values and attracts business and investment.

It is a new year for all of us, and we all have a lot riding on what happens. Over the summer, we worked with staff to instill greater understanding of the "urgency of now" in terms of academics, safety, communication and organizational effectiveness. Our students have one chance to be the age they are, one chance to be in the grade they are in, and they need us to support them now in preparing for a future that is beyond our imagination.

Earlier this year, I announced at our first State of the Schools event that in collaboration with our community, we have developed a new five-year strategic plan, Blueprint 2.0. This plan calls on us to graduate young people who are globally competitive and to accomplish this by establishing a 1:1 digital learning environment (where every student and teacher is given a device, access to the curriculum and software that is usable anytime and anywhere) and expanding world languages instruction and opportunities so that every student can graduate proficient in a second language.

The point of that message was not that technology is the sole answer to improving education. The point is that technology offers us an opportunity to make authentic the promise and fulfill the moral imperative of "All means all." Technology is part of the answer to the question: How do we personalize education for every student, in every school, in every community? Technology affords us the opportunity to better relate to our students as digital natives, facilitates customizing education to meet each child's needs, enables greater connection with teachers and learners around the globe, and provides 24/7 access to learning.

The answer is not simply to hand every student an electronic device. We are beginning our conversion to 1:1 by redeveloping our curriculum to have greater rigor for all students, better align with the Common Core State Standards, and be effectively delivered via a digital platform.

In other words, we are putting curriculum first, as it must be. School systems live and breathe by their curriculum. Our curriculum needs to provide our students with a strong foundation in traditional core subjects and support them in developing the skills needed for success in today's and tomorrow's worlds: communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. Our curriculum and our instructional methods need to put students in charge as problem solvers. Since all of the information in the world is at our fingertips and since the body of knowledge is growing exponentially, students need to know how to find, evaluate, and use it, and teachers need to facilitate this process. A successful classroom now is one where more questions are being asked than answers being given.

Some have questioned why we need to bring more technology into the classroom when students already have so much access to it outside of the classroom. The truth is that even though the use of smartphones has vastly increased Internet access, there is still a substantial digital divide. Access to the Internet on a phone is not the same as access to a computer and having an Internet connection in the home. According to data from the U.S. Census and other sources, owning home computers and having Internet access still vary widely depending on age, race, income and educational level.

Our curriculum, instructional methods and culture need to value the richness we gain from our diversity and the multiple intelligences and strengths that our diverse students, families, staff members, and stakeholders bring to Team BCPS. And we need to leverage technology on behalf of our young people.

We are excited to have one of the best graduation rates in the nation and to have more than half of our high schools ranked among the best in the country, but we also know we need to constantly improve. This will be an exciting school year, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with our families, county government, state and federal government representatives, and other community stakeholders to support all of our students in reaching their potential.

Dallas Dance is superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools. His email is

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