Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools S. Dallas Dance shares eight steps to help students succeed in the global economy.


Listening to yourself read to improve fluency, speed, and pronunciation. Building computational skills with exercises that adapt to your level and interests. Re-watching a mini-lesson at your pace. Continuing a classroom discussion through blogs and online forums to enrich evaluation of texts. Sharing pictures and videos of your work with your parents on your e-portfolio.

This is the student experience of the instructional digital conversion in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), which touches everything we do through eight conversions—curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, infrastructure, policy, budget, and communications.

The heart of Blueprint 2.0, our five-year strategic plan focused on academics, safety, communications, and organizational effectiveness, is equitable access to digital learning environments and second language proficiency that will prepare all students to graduate globally competitive.

Some ask: Why disrupt the status quo in a district where many students achieve at high levels? Our rationale is simple and urgent. Even our on-time graduates need new skills in an economy where success depends not on what you know, but what you can do with what you know, as described by international researcher Andreas Schleicher.

Poverty in our growing county is on the rise, and achievement gaps persist. Digital access, reliability, and use vary among schools and at home. Purposeful use of technology is the key to personalizing learning for each student and making our district mantra of “All Means All” a reality.

Placing a device in the hands of every teacher and student might capture headlines, but what’s important about our approach is putting curriculum first. BCPS teachers are creating a digitally-enhanced curriculum in the core content areas that redefines how to deliver instruction in a blended learning environment, while raising expectations in alignment with new academic standards that place greater emphasis on critical thinking and analytical skills. One-to-one technology can extend educator capacity to engage students with tools that are intuitive to them, differentiate instruction, and provide timely feedback that supports these more rigorous demands.

These sound like buzz words until educators can observe digital learning environments in action. BCPS Lighthouse Schools will model interactive and blended instruction as learning labs to prepare all schools for success. Intensive professional development, wireless internet, and broadband capacity will serve as critical infrastructure for the 10 Lighthouse Schools to begin implementation in fall 2014.

Leaders of these schools balance the excitement of pioneering the initiative with the responsibility to light the way for other schools and create school cultures where educators feel safe taking the risks needed to try out technology-empowered learning.

The instructional digital conversion will help us give every student a rigorous, responsive, relevant, and accessible learning environment to build the skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary success, as outlined in the BCPS Teaching and Learning Framework. Our kindergarten students who are using touch-screens and read-aloud technology to practice the alphabet will graduate from high school as the class of 2026. What will their world be like?

We have the responsibility to provide learning environments that respond to the new ways that students think and process information. We must start now to prepare them for a future that is beyond our imagination.

S. Dallas Dance is Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools.