Sturdy hybrid vigor

“Hybrid” schools that combine face-to-face teaching by teachers with online instruction are the next big thing, reports Education Next. The Rocketship schools in San Jose, School of One in New York City, Denver School of Science and Technology, Carpe Diem in Yuma and San Diego’s High Tech High “use technology intensively and thoughtfully to tailor instruction to individual students’ needs, and provide robust, frequent data on their performance,”  write Jonathan Schorr and Deborah McGriff, NewSchools Venture Fund partners.

In the lab, the 1st graders log in by selecting from a group of images that acts as a personal password, and then race through a short assessment that covers math and reading problems. Faced with the prompt “Put all the striped balls in one basket and all the polka-dotted balls in the other basket,” a student named Jazmine uses her mouse to move the objects to their places. Then it’s on to the core activity of her 90 minutes in the lab: a lesson on counting and grouping using software from DreamBox. . . .  A bit later, she’ll read a book from a box targeted at her exact reading level, and make a return visit to the computer to take a short quiz about what she read.

Hybrid schools realize productivity gains, Schorr and McGriff writes. Rocketship hires an aide to monitor 43 students in the computer lab. The money saved is used to pay teachers more and keep class size down in the face-to-face part of the day.

In the future, Rocketship hopes children will be able to “learn much of their basic skills via adaptive technology like the DreamBox software, leaving classroom teachers free to focus on critical-thinking instruction and extra help where kids are struggling.”

Likewise, teachers will be able to “prescribe” online attention to specific skills. Part of the model involves providing teachers with a steady stream of data that will help them adjust instruction to kids’ specific needs, and to guide afterschool tutors.  overwhelming to teachers.

High Tech High uses ALEKS, “a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system,” which provides “a snapshot of a student’s knowledge in a given content area, recognizing which topics he has mastered and which he has not.”

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  1. Todd Oppenheimer’s The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Techonology paints a significantly less rosy view of “hybrid” schools. It’s an interesting read, I highly recommend it.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    Thanks for recommending the book. Just downloaded it. Off to a good start.

  3. A TFA teacher who works at a Rocketship school and who had some concerns about the model shared her ideas in her blog
    There was nothing extreme, and she was generally positive about the school. The higher ups found out about it and made her take it down without responding to any of the problems she discussed. This raises all kinds of red flags for me. If they’re not doing anything wrong, why all the secrecy?

  4. CarolineSF says:

    I think the Rocketship people are spending the money they save by using an aide to monitor 43 students on a sales force. They’ve called everyone at San Francisco City Hall and given them a persuasive sales pitch, and now the City Hall people are calling school officials.

    When WILL people get past falling for the latest “it’s a miracle!” hype?

  5. ALEKS doesn’t tailor instruction. ALEKS does tailor practice. Practice is a necessary but not suficient condition for mastery.

    But ALEKS doesn’t teach material well. The material it presents is overly simplistic. It does not provide either the depth or breadth needed to teach conceptual understanding, and it won’t lead a confused student to procedural fluency either.

    *Instruction* requires understanding the material you teach and understanding what your students need to know and what they do know. Assigning different ALEKS work isn’t instruction.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    In industrial psychology, there is a phenomenon named after an experiment at a GE plant decades ago. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name. The point is that, any time you start an experiment, the first full run is highly likely to look really good, irrespective of the experimental factors.
    “Greenwood effect”. Something like that.
    The proper thing to do is run another experiment, not get a bazillion dollars for funding it.

  7. “Hawthorne Effect.” is the name of the phenomenon; the study took place at the Hawthorne Works in Chicago.

  8. Mark Roulo says:

    When WILL people get past falling for the latest ‘it’s a miracle!’ hype?

    Um … never?

    It isn’t like this behavior is restricted just to schools. The business world has its fads, too: Management by Walking Around, Quality Circles, Three-Sigma, etc.

    And computer programming/Software Engineering has fads, too. One year Tcl is the big thing, then we’ve moved on to Python, which is *clearly* better than anything else. Until a few years later the herd has moved to Ruby. Object Oriented programming/analysis/design, followed by (or complimented by) rapid prototyping, then agile programming, then …

    The diet and weight loss industry, of course, does this, too ..

    I suspect that several things motivate this:

    (1) We’d *like* to believe that there is an easy way to do something that is hard.

    (2) Plugging away at basic blocking-and-tackling grunge work is both hard and unexciting. It gets better results than following fads like an Irish Setter, but isn’t as fun. Most people would rather sign up for the fun/sexy activity than the dull/effective activity.

    (3) Business (both big business and consultants) can’t get paid a lot of money for books/lectures/programs/whatever to say basically, “You know, there are these basic skills and you need to master them, and then you need to apply them and keep getting better at them.” We’d basically see the same book come out every year. Not much money in that.

    (4) Finally, every so often something comes along that actually *IS* an improvement. Part of my job as grizzled veteran is to keep the Irish Setter like behavior of chasing the new stuff in check, while also being open to the idea that occasionally something better comes along. It is a lot easier to either chase every new (shiny! squirrel!) thing, or decide that you’re never going to move from the tried and true.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    BB. I knew that. Learned about it in college going on half a century back. You’d think there’s a lesson there someplace. Wouldn’t you?
    Well, some do.

  10. Cardinal Fang says:

    I have used ALEKS. I don’t mean that I’m a teacher who has assigned ALEKS; I mean I, personally, used ALEKS to brush up on math before taking more advanced classes.

    ALEKS is a program that drills students in math. It’s exceptionally good at being an online workbook, targeting questions on exactly where the student is weak. Students study math by doing problems, which is, in fact, the way to learn math.

    However, ALEKS only works when the students already have some understanding of the math. The teaching part of ALEKS, the part you use if you just have no idea how to do a problem, is weak, so weak as to be almost useless. I doubt that a student could learn math just by using ALEKS. ALEKS should be paired either with a human teacher, or with online lectures such as those offered by the Khan Academy.