Dance Shakes Up Baltimore County’s Tech Plan, Teachers Miffed

Citing that it’s time to move away from teaching technology in a computer laboratory, the Baltimore County school system is eliminating the jobs of more than 100 technology teachers in elementary schools next fall.

The change means students in some schools can forget the once-a-week computer class, using a computer lab to learn skills and do research. The district intends to provide pupils and their teachers in 10 elementary schools with tablets or laptops next year under the new technology plan. The pilot program will eventually 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.”

However, 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 were left angered by the move — but during the transition, no teacher will be laid off.

“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. The technology teachers were never consulted about what they believed would be the best way to move to a new teaching model according to Beytin.

The most recent conflict with the teachers union was sparked by Superintendent Dallas Dance’s decision on computer classes. Saying that new education initiatives force teachers to work long hours beyond their normal workday, the union filed a grievance against the school system in the fall. Additionally, 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, according to the teachers.

Burke said that instead of a computer lab, students will take art, music or gym that period. Not all of the county’s 111 elementary schools still teach the weekly technology class. As reported by Liz Bowie of The Baltimore Sun, 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. To Burke, technology teachers might have the skills needed for the professional development jobs, but they will be required to apply for them.

Baltimore County schools will continue to need technology teachers over the next two years until the conversion is fully in place according to Beytin. She said those teachers are invaluable, often co-teaching lessons. In addition, she said that 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. She believes that 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.”