Monday, October 28, 2013

Former CMS leaders in thick of Guilford tablet mess

Peter Gorman and Maurice "Mo" Green,  former superintendent and deputy superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  are facing questions about their roles in a botched purchase of tablets for 15,000 Guilford County students and faculty,  according to the Greensboro-based Rhino Times.

Green left his job as Gorman's deputy to take Guilford's top job in 2008. Gorman resigned as CMS superintendent in 2011 to work for the news division of Rupert Murdoch's education technology company,  now known as Amplify.  That's the company that got a $3.2 million contract with Guilford County Schools to provide the tablets,  which have been recalled after problems with cracked screens,  overheating and exposed wires,  according to various news sources.

The Rhino Times, an alternative weekly that used to have a Charlotte publication, made a public records request for emails between the district and Amplify.  "The emails disclose a close and long-lasting relationship between former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrators,"  especially Gorman and Green,  Paul Clark reports.  Former CMS staffers Nora Carr,  Jocelyn Becoats and Cynthia Shah-Kahn,  who now work for Green,  and Robert Avossa,  now superintendent in Fulton County,  Ga.,  were all part of the email exchange about the selection of Amplify,  the purchase of tablets and/or publicity about the purchase,  according to the article.

"The reason the school board got only one choice appears to lie in the complex web of pre-existing relationships between former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrators,"  Clark writes.  "The Guilford County school board has a terminal case of Charlotte envy.  Almost everything launched at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools finds its way to Guilford County."

I haven't done any reporting on this situation  --  CMS keeps me more than busy  --  but the article raises some important questions about the process in Guilford and the tactics used to sell and promote educational technology.  I had to grin when I saw that Shah-Kahn had rejected Amplify's attempt to get the district to sign off on a fake quote from Green promoting the company.  "The mo quote is awful,"  she is quoted as saying in an email to Guilford administrators.

Every district in America is spending big bucks on educational technology,  which means every taxpayer in America has a vested interest.  The Guilford mess is a good reminder that it's wise to be cautious,  even when the vendor has a familiar face.


Tom Davis said...

If there was an "effective" Strategic Plan in place to align educational performances to measurements to the the budget cycle, this would NOT have happened. In addition Suppliers would have been vetted to insure the Customers needs matched the product. It is paramount the new CMS Strategic Plan "determine" measurements prior to the Spring budget cycle and remove the To Be Determined (TBD)measurements.

Anonymous said...

Next to big time religion, big time education is where you will find the most scam artists and access to easy money.

The bleeding-heart crowd knows no limits when it comes to spending other people's money.

Who dares to question "good intentions"?

Especially when it's all for "the children".

That's why this happens over and over.

Shamash said...

If you disagree with all that spending, you must be anti-Guilford, anti-education, and anti-children.

The Bloomberg Business week article on this mess.

Tablets in Schools: What Could Go Wrong?

"If you’re in search of a worse-case scenario, take Amplify’s situation in Guilford County, N.C., an early customer of the company’s tablets. Last week the school district said it was going to stop using the devices because of safety concerns.

Ten percent of the tablets already have broken screens. In addition, one had actually melted after overheating because of a problem with the charger.

On the other hand, the school district said it had no complaints about the educational value of the content on the devices."

(FWIW, The photo in the article looks like my son's Kindle Fire HD one week after he got it. And NO ONE fixes those cracked screens. It's cheaper to buy a new one.)

Anonymous said...

Gorman spent his last year in CMS setting up his future with these shenanigans. Remember when he and rep. Samuelson got the legislature to force in a new flurry of tests in all classes, even classes like library assistant? Then, he leaves for a company that produces and sells the tests. Just follow the money trail. Mo Green has no educational experience as an administrator prior to his promotion from cms lawyer to deputy superintendent!

Shamash said...

I certainly hope they aren't using "bare bones" tablets in the schools.

At the very least they should get the ruggedized versions the military uses or else get the best "service plan" on the planet.

When my son's Kindle HD screen cracked, there was no one in the Charlotte area who could fix them.

I just put one of those plastic screens over the top so he wouldn't slice his fingers and made him use it as is. To the device's credit, it is still working with a cracked screen.

The iPad we've had for over two years now hasn't had any problems, though.

Based on the Amplify website, their tablets have a "One-year manufacturer’s warranty, with optional extended warranty and theft and damage warranty"

I hope they bought the extended warranty plan.

Surely, SOMEONE considered the possibility of damage.

Anonymous said...

Mo should have known better than to trust Peter Gorman.

Anonymous said...

Terminal case of Charlotte envy...does that mean Berger has a permanent case of Florida envy and we should expect the worst from that "relationship" too?

Anonymous said...

Los Angeles schools recently ended their tablet project due to students breaking the security software on the tablets and being able to surf anywhere on the web from anywhere other than school.

bobcat99 said...

What a disaster. Gorman moved from selling his snake oil behind the scenes with Rep. Ruthless Samuelson to selling the stuff outright to the public. Apparently, Mo Green is still his lap dog. Mo has no business administrating anything and everyone in the Guilford County Schools knows that by now. No bid contracts = a racket.

Anonymous said...

Great conservative article by the senior citizen Republican Tea Party female blog owner who needs to run for political office as GOP mayor, governor or congresswoman to get a handle on massive fraud waste and spending while ample giving teachers raises and back pay once that MIA 8 trillion overspending by Obama in Washington is located.
Being an elected conservative public servant can be very rewarding to clean up this godawful corrupt liberal mess local, state and national.

Also clean up this scandalous pro sports racket in Charlottetown and America helping to destroy the economy and destroying education on all levels. End tv cable contracts.
Never allow stolen taxpayer money in any form to fraudulently finance any type of pro sports stadiums or pay these outrageous mega million dollr salaries of these professional sports bums.

It never too late to become a good conservative public servant to help clean up the mess.

Charlottetown City Conservative Historical Society of
Mecklenburg-Strelitz County.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful performance in Accountability. How these people sleep at night I dont know. I guess the Ritz has cozy beds ! Keith W. Hurley

BolynMcClung said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Please conduct MUCH better research before posting articles. There is a lot more to this story than what you are reporting...none of it to do with a relationship between the higher ups. How much research have you actually done in regard to the board meeting debate which actually resulted in the selection of the units? Do you know the technical reasons for the selection? Please provide facts in your reporting, not just dribble.

BolynMcClung said...


When CMS received the Gates Foundation for 5503 iPads the price tag was $4.1 million. Guilford’s 15,000 tablets cost $3.2 Million. Yes, there were quality problems, but I sense those aren’t as serious as news reports make them. Batteries problems and gravity aren’t new.

CMS needs to keep an eye on this because it can learn a lot about balancing low price against performance.

My guess is that in two years a 7 inch tablet will cost CMS about $30 each. And a deluxe 10” model about $65.

But the real problem has nothing to do with price or quality. CMS has yet to set a policy on how devices are to be used in the classroom.

What will a teacher do when she sends an assignment home to be done on a device and five students return with incomplete assignments because the Internet connection was down or the bill wasn’t paid? And, the Board needs to make some clear policy connections between devices and student achievement.

Technology is good. But it is only as good as the road map to use it.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Kudos to both Bolyn and 10:20 for pointing out that this blog post is missing a lot of important details while pretty much smearing certain individuals. This may be standard operating procedure for many blogs but when the blog is written by the Observer education reporter and appears on the paper's website it should be scrupulously accurate and include all relevant information. Yes, much of the post comes from an article from another publication. But since when has the Observer given much credence the Rhino Times?

Nameless said...

Many of us parents on PTA/PTO/SLT etc. complained for years about the over-hype marketing of tech toys to schools. Examples, eReaders (obsolete), SmartBoards, Promethian Boards, Doc cameras, netbooks (obsolete), FLIP Cameras, etc. etc. These products are already obsolete by the time they are purchased. The contracts required by schools also elevates the cost because the folks with industry ties (in other words, have a back up job when they leave schools)make deals to require high retail prices and maintenance contracts. While you can pay under $100 for a tablet, administrators ignore the pleas of the wise and continue to pay $500-600 for the same functionality.
These products only confuse teachers/staff that already have NO TECH SUPPORT or training worth a darn and are expected to become multimedia experts instead of teaching our kids real school subjects. Teachers DON'T have ANY SPARE TIME to learn the technology effectively. They aren't rewarded for their efforts if they do. If anything, the rest of the staff dump more work on them if they do know it. If others can't get it to work quickly, they won't use it. Most of this new tech is sorely underutilized until the next great toy comes along. Any kid can learn to tap a touch screen at home. Most homes have this stuff already and you don't have to make a big deal about it at school to "engage" students. Pouring money via taxes or fundraising into these things has been PROVEN to NOT make a difference. It is actually worse as they cause a distraction in the classrooms and administration.
Unfortunately this bureaucratic flocking to the latest thing is human nature. So we've seen waste on all levels in schools. The best opportunity to change this really rests on middle level admins who could shut this behavior down, but don't take the necessary risks to say "this is not really what I need".

Anonymous said...

This has made national news. There is more than this blog talking about it.

Shamash said...

Whenever I need a good laugh about technology in the classroom I can always go back to the "progressive" 1960's...

This could have all been nipped in the bud if only they had used the

Dictaphone Electronic Classroom

(using Dictaphones with Dictabelt technology!)

as recommended by Beulah Brown in the Journal of Negro Education back in the summer of 1966.

Among its reputed benefits were (p. 248):

(3) Teachers can work more closely with the children and help build a more solid foundation for today's complex living.

(4) Teachers and pupils will find the "teaching-learning" experience loads of fun.

(5) Classroom discipline (surface behavior problems) will be almost nonexistent.

(6) Slower and less alert pupils will receive more from this personal belted teaching-learning experience.

(7) Potential dropouts will have a greater incentive to stay in school a while longer.

At least according to this "study":

"Learning is Fun" with the Dictaphone Electronic Classroom -- A Discussion.

By Beulah E. Brown, The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 35, No. 3, Summer 1966.

Anonymous said...

The Rhino Times would be more accurately described as an "investigative weekly", as demonstrated by this piece.

Rhino does a whole lot more leg work than the Observer, which busies itself reprinting government press releases.

Anonymous said...

There is a reason I pointed out clearly that I had NOT done original reporting here. This is a great story, and if it were local I'd be diving in deep. But Guilford isn't my turf. I thought it was fair to note the local connections and trust readers to read and judge what's in other publications. I know the people named here well enough to know it's valid to suggest they have connections going back to CMS, beyond that, I'm not judging their actions. As far as linking to the Rhino Times, this article seems to be based on some solid public-records reporting, which readers can judge on its merits.

Anonymous said...

Ann, do a story about BYOT with all point of view. As stated above, no one really knows what the kids are doing with their technology besides playing games and taking pictures during "free time." Which, by the long-the amout of free time in elementary school seems to be increasing this school year.

Also, does commone core=no spelling in 4th grade?

Anonymous said...

I am thinking Guilford County was the first to implement Common Core. It is all related. Follow the money!

Anonymous said...

These 2 learned the game while with CMS come on folks. Gormanator sleeping with the Fishes again. On the backs of children seems they dont care as long as its cash in the pockets. Follow the money folks with these 2 folks next moves.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone believe these "DEALS" were not going on while Gorman was with CMS...Ann, follow the money EVEN if it takes you to Atlanta and Greensboro. How do you call yourself a legitimate jounalist?

Mamma Mia said...

10:49 You are completely correct. The push for technology in the classroom is a joke. The BYOT program at my daughter's elementary school last year was a joke. Basically a free for all for the kids, they got to play video games every spare moment of class. Technology in the classroom is overrated. There is no evidence that the students learn more. Children already get 6-7 hours of "screen" time a day, they certainly don't need more of it at school.

I limit my kids to one hour of tv/computer time a day, unless they have a school project due. Their phones shut off at 9pm and we monitor all devices and communication. Yeah, it sucks living in my home but I know what my kids are doing, and who they are with. Wake up parents!

Shamash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shamash said...

Anon 12:38pm,

According to this guy, common core will mean an increased emphasis on spelling.

But, we'll see, I guess.

Either way, I'm continuing to teach and emphasize spelling for my kids.

Because even a spell-checker can't always tell which word you meant to use when you misspell it.

And as I always tell my son, he'll never know much of anything if all he learns is what they teach him at school.

Ultimately, it is still up to the parents and students to get the job done.

Anonymous said...

I agree the parents need to be involved...but its almost November and there haven't been any spelling words.

Anyone else?

I'm curious to know if there are parents who have pulled their kids out to homeschool in greater numbers this year. I would if I could.

Anonymous said...


Corrupt buying and spending of taxpayer money for technology and tests, all on the backs of the teachers.The same workers who have lost tens of thousands these past 6 years while administrators receive bonus money and "market adjustments".

Anonymous said...

Bolyn: I look forward to sitting near you in the gallery as the next school board makes policy.

Hope you don't stop posting here after Bailey wins.

Susan Plaza said...

12:38 - free time in elementary may have increased due to the extra 45 minutes of time added since 2011. Teachers don't have time to plan for the extra time since their planning time was taken away!

Anonymous said...

I'm being hit up every week at our school for money to buy technology, and to fix existing technology. why aren't we getting any of these freebies?

Anonymous said...

Susan Plaza-sorry, but I think that teachers should plan after or before school. You know-the way our teachers did. You think its okay to have the kids play on the BYOT? The school year is becoming increasing a joke.

Having quarterly planning during the school day with parents subbing as the teacher is completely unacceptable. Sorry to bring up the North-but that does not happen up there!

K. Bates said...

Just curious, do all schools have teacher planning meetings during school hours? How is this being handled at CMS ES, MS and HS? As a previous poster mentioned, our south charlotte elementary school uses parents as Sub teachers to cover classrooms for 3 1/2 hours so teachers can attend meetings. Is this standard procedure at other CMS schools? As a parent, I find it very strange.

Anonymous said...

Public education has become too incestuous to be of any value.