March 4, 2014
Dear Dr. Dance:
After multiple requests beginning in November, you met with two members of Hereford Works on February 18th to discuss concerns resulting from your hasty decision to change the schedules of eleven top-performing Baltimore County high schools next year. Hereford High School has used a “4X4 semester block” schedule for the past 20 years. This schedule option provides opportunities for all students to meet their full potential. By removing the 4X4 semester block, learning opportunities are being eliminated for all students in Baltimore County because they can no longer accelerate through rigorous courses in their field of interest and focus on in-depth learning for higher retention of subject matter. Your publicized compromise is as unacceptable as your schedule change mandate. It fails to address significant misgivings about the reasons for the reduced schedule options offered to students. You justified this decision by using irrelevant portions of the mobility numbers for Baltimore County.
1. Your administration has repeatedly stated that the issue of mobility was the driving force behind the decision to change high school schedules. In your letter you stated that Hereford High School had a 5% mobility rate and that would translate to 60 students per year. You are incorrect. Only two out of 53 transfer codes apply: entry code 10 (transfer from another BCPS to Hereford High) and exit code 10–T (mid-year withdraw from Hereford High to another BCPS). Using these two codes, our research shows the mobility at Hereford High School for last year is closer to zero. When you extrapolate the two codes relevant to county mobility, every school would have a lower number. To use inaccurate numbers to justify your decision is dishonest and deceitful. (See attachment for detailed transfer codes.)
2. Your letter promises a compromise using flexibility of scheduling for juniors and seniors. This compromise would not benefit freshman, sophomores, future students of our school, or of any other school in Baltimore County. There is no tangible plan in place at Hereford High School to benefit next year’s juniors or seniors either. We are bewildered by a compromise for only juniors and seniors when we made it clear that we are concerned about every student. It is beyond our comprehension why you would think we would settle for a fatuous plan such as this when we’ve had a successful 4X4 semester block schedule for the past 20 years. There is no cost difference between the current schedule and your mandated schedule and the mobility issue is nonexistent. Your scheduling solution lacks thoughtful consideration of the numerous concerns brought to your attention since the announcement of your mandate.
3. In the meeting, Hereford High’s principal suggested having students get on a fast track for math and language in middle school as a remedy for removing the acceleration offered by the 4X4 semester block schedule. It is unreasonable to think that a parent and/or child would be able to plan an academic path through high school when the child is eleven years old. Developmentally, most children are not ready to make such a decision at this early age. Another benefit of our current schedule is that it allows for rapid acceleration once a student has found his niche. And, students in need of remediation can repeat a course and not fall behind due to the genius of our current schedule. Unlike a magnet school, Hereford High does not choose its’ student population.
4. Your administration spent approximately $250,000 on a consultant study and failed to follow their recommendations. We phoned the S3 consulting firm to find out why they recommended the 4X4 semester block schedule be removed as an option for high schools. We were told that they had no intention for that to happen. It is negligent to spend hard-earned tax dollars on a study only to ignore its’ findings.
5. At the February 25th board meeting, Dr. Nancy Hubbard, a world renowned educator, spoke about a global trend in education toward fewer classes being studied at a time, allowing in-depth learning and increased subject-matter retention. Your decision moves BCPS backward by eliminating the schedule option that is garnering accolades around the world. With the schedule change mandate, we are in a “race to mediocrity,” at best.
6. In your State of the Schools address from March 2013 you urged us to “spend time thinking about what we – as Team BCPS members – can do to expand the deliberate excellence of this school system and ensure that it enhances learning for every student.” The schedule change mandate will do just the opposite: narrow the excellence of this school system as students in Baltimore County lose academic opportunities. Tier 1 students (high performing) will lose the only schedule, the “4X4 semester block,” that allows for acceleration into more rigorous academic subjects sooner, according to the S3 report. This is a contradiction of the “culture of deliberate excellence” you so often refer to in BCPS.
7. Tier 3 students (low performing) will be forced into an atmosphere that will be overwhelming. The 4X4 semester block provides an environment that has irrefutable success in dealing with the many complexities of learning disorders and disabilities. The board’s informal motto of “do what’s best for the kids” is being ignored in this decision. Your lack of response, as parents and students plead for a voice for this group of kids, is astounding.
You state in your letter that findings are mixed on the effectiveness of various scheduling options. The research, you say, “is mixed primarily because any schedule is about implementation.” Thousands of stakeholders (students, parents, teachers and principals) have spoken out against the implementation of this schedule change. If you stand by your word of involving stakeholders in decisions that affect them, and that implementation is key; please delay the mandate, allow for stakeholder input, and do the research and educational studies necessary to insure the school system is making the correct decision.
Finally, you write in your letter that “in the end, it is important to remember that what makes a high-performing school has very little to do with the schedule it implements…” We disagree and notice that others do, too. The following groups, comprising 50,000 voices have asked for a delay in the mandate because they believe that a high school schedule and its’ implementation are paramount to a school’s success:
Bill Lawrence, executive director of CASE (Council of administrative and Supervisory Employees) stated to the board in November, “None of the other initiatives or projects (common core, teacher evaluations, overcrowding) has the disruptive impact of changing a high school schedule.”
In November, TABCO (Teachers Association of Baltimore County) president, Abby Beytin, asked for a delay in implementation of the schedule change on behalf of 8700 BCPS teachers.
Within the last two weeks, the PTSA Council of Baltimore County advocated for a delay in the implementation of the schedule change. This motion carries with it the support of 40,000 county-wide PTSA members.
Members of Hereford Works (which also includes representatives from Towson and Dulaney High Schools and has 1300+ members) raised alarming concerns. You used misleading mobility information to justify your scheduling decision and you disregarded the findings of a $250,000 consultant report which recommended the need for additional research and study.
Senator Mike Collins, (BOE member) was quoted recently in the Baltimore Sun stating that “the decisions that are being made are very big decisions.” Mr. Collins emphasized that he was speaking for himself, not the board, about these decisions. “They have a dramatic effect on the classroom teacher and the building administrators. There seems to be minimal attempt to gain buy-in from those groups. There are too many things, well-intentioned, that are being done too quickly.”
There is no reason for Baltimore County Public Schools to be going “backward” with scheduling options as we navigate the competitive 21st century educational climate. In the best interest of all students the 4X4 block semester schedule should be placed back “on the table” as an option for all Baltimore County high school students. If this is not an option, we recommend a delay of the implementation of the schedule change mandate until educational impact studies using accurate mobility numbers are completed.