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Transcript: Dallas Dance: Schools Needs Digital Tools, Language Classes

Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance has laid out ambitious goals for his system; a graduating class of all bilingual students within 10 years and vastly increased use of digital learning tools. Education leaders say the goals are exciting, but they worry about the costs. WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn reports.

Superintendent Dance wants to see more courses like this Chinese language class at Randallstown High. Chinese classes were added to the usual menu of  French, Spanish and a few other languages, at many county high schools in 2006. 

Currently foreign language instruction begins in middle school, although Wellwood International Elementary in Pikesville is a magnet French immersion school. Dance wants foreign languages taught in all grades, so that within 10 years, every graduating student will be bilingual. He says this will make students more competitive globally.

Twenty-seven percent of companies surveyed, that is close to one-third, say that they are more likely to hire someone who is multilingual, and reports are that when those individuals are multilingual they earn an average of about 10 percent more.

John Desmone, executive director of the county’s Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, which represents principals, applauds the initiative. But he wonders about funding and if existing programs will suffer.

There are schools that are still struggling. Are we going to be taking resources from those places that still need them for basic skills in order to take on this challenge of teaching foreign languages to as many of the students as possible?

Abby Beytin, president of the Teacher’s Association of Baltimore County supports Dance’s bilingual goals. But she too sees a few roadblocks.

One of the biggest issues we’re facing with that is finding enough teachers to teach bilingual language. How to fit it into the schedule in elementary schools. 4:37 and of course funds are part of that too.

Dance’s spokesperson Mychael Dickerson says administrators don’t know how they will pay for the initiative. Beytin says taped foreign language programs, online courses and other Internet resources may reduce the costs. 

Using digital tools in instruction is the other main goal Dance laid out in a state-of-the-schools speech last week. He wants all students to have iPads or other digital devices to track assignments, grades and in some cases, to be used instead of text books. He says the current workplace demands this type of digital knowledge.

Yesterday’s auto mechanic carrying a trusty tool box is today’s automotive services technician using computerized diagnostic equipment. Educating today’s children to succeed in tomorrow’s world can’t be done with yesterday’s educational system.

Desmone agrees that technology in the classroom is necessary but again, he is concerned about funding.

I want to be sure that we’re not robbing Peter to pay Paul. I want to be sure that the fiscal authorities are on board and they’re ready to do what’s necessary to make sure we have the resources to do what we need to do.

Beytin pointed out that by eliminating textbooks for some courses, the district could save on the buying, shipping, storage and upgrade costs they require. In terms of digital devices for students, she says her teachers want rules in place on when and how they can be used. 

Some teachers are reticent about it because they are afraid the students are going to misuse it and they have a legitimate concern there. However, many of our teachers are absolutely ready to get hands on with their students. They understand that the students already learn that way. It will only enhance their teaching.

County administrative officials say they realize no specifics on funding and time frames have been outlined for Dance’s initiatives. They say those will be determined in meetings this summer.