Online learning will help schools innovate and save money, argues Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO and charter school advocate. Hastings bought the education software company DreamBox Learning for $10 million and donated ownership to the non-profit Charter School Growth Fund, reports Educated Guess. He believes tech-savvy charter schools will expand, showing school districts how to use “innovative technologies that will improve learning.”
Rocketship Education, a San Jose charter school organization, is Hastings’ model. Rocketship’s first elementary school, which serves low-income minority students, earned a very high 916 Academic Performance Index score last year.
Rocketship has incorporated a learning lab into a quarter of the school day; the savings from the hybrid model of online and direct instruction reduces the number of certificated teachers from 21 to 16, saving each school $500,000 annually – a huge amount in low-funded California. That money is plowed back to raise teacher pay, improve instruction and pay for the next Rocketship’s building. Rocketship is opening a third school this fall, with the fourth in 2011.
At a Rocketship strategy meeting, Hastings said DreamBox offers adaptive math software for grades 1 to 3. “It can identify areas that individual students aren’t getting, then diagnose and break down the problem areas into pieces that the students will understand. Students go at their own pace.” Rocketship hopes “improved online software and assessments can provide close to 50 percent of instruction.”
But Don Shalvey, the co-founder and board chair of Aspire Public Schools and now deputy director of the Gates Foundation, cautioned that students will still need the social and emotional support of adults in school in ways that cannot be done from distance learning. Non-teaching adults in schools will play larger roles. School culture will remain critical.
Some teacher unions will see online education as a threat to their jobs and fight its inclusion in district schools.
But Shalvey said online learning, by freeing teachers to teach critical thinking and problem solving and by creating savings that can be directed to teachers’ pay, has the potential to “raise the dignity” and respect for teaching as a profession – an exciting opportunity.
The Gates Foundation is looking for high-performing charter schools that serve as “lighthouses of cooperation,” Shalvey said.
Online schooling is attracting special education students, especially those who have trouble functioning in a classroom, reports Education Week.