Laptops neither effective nor welcome by parents

We appreciate the in-depth piece by Liz Bowie (“Four years in, Baltimore County schools $147M laptop program has produced little change in student achievement,” Dec. 13). As parents of Baltimore County Public Schools students, we have spoken numerous times to the Baltimore County Board of Education about the opportunity costs exposed by this expensive initiative and the need for smaller class sizes and more human supports for students. As the article points out, the true costs of the initiative are actually much higher, once the $140 million additional new contract for laptops this past spring and the high costs of the many software programs and on-line curricular materials are counted. The ethics behind many of these contracts is clouded by payments received by former Superintendent Dallas Dance and current Interim Superintendent Verletta White from a consulting company called Education Research & Development Institute which has many of these school system vendors as paying clients.

As parents of multiple children who had no choice but to participate in this expensive experiment, we write to point out that there has been no unbiased parental input or feedback as part of the contracted evaluation by Johns Hopkins University. The article refers to a school system-designed stakeholder survey when it states that, “The researchers found that the technology program generally is supported by ... parents.” This stakeholder survey was flawed and biased and fails to meet the basic requirements for a high quality survey. Parents could state their level of agreement with two confusing and complicated statements about the technology initiative which were both biased in favor of technology. Many parents have raised concerns about the video-game-like atmosphere of much of the software, problems with the devices working reliably, connectivity, distraction and off-task behavior, health and safety concerns, and the use of software for the delivery of curricular content. Many parents have appealed to BCPS and the school board to fairly obtain parental feedback about the nuts and bolts of the initiative, as well as concerns about the cost of the initiative in light of other more pressing needs of our students.

Despite any claims to the contrary, the initiative was, in fact, intended to affect student achievement. Much of the information about the initiative is now removed from the system’s website, but the fact remains that achievement was always an intended outcome. We hope that the new school board and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. will take a hard look at the program and consider a less costly way of providing access to technology in order to provide funds for pressing student, teacher and staff needs.

Cynthia Boyd, Towson and Brenda Peiffer, Timonium

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