‘If I need geometry, I’ll learn it then’

Scott Hamilton is the Forrest Gump of education reform, although with a lot more IQ points and fewer chocolates, I write in an Education Next profile.

He worked for Bill Bennett in the U.S. Department of Education and for Benno Schmidt at the Edison Project. He authorized charter schools in Massachusetts, co-founded the KIPP network, quadrupled the size of Teach For America (TFA), and introduced blended learning at urban Catholic schools. He’s been around.

Now 47, he’s started a new initiative called Circumventure, based in San Francisco. Through surveys, focus groups, field tests, and interviews, Circumventure is asking fundamental questions: Do people want what schools are offering? If not, what do they want? Can technology make it happen?

Being a “good learner” is valued by the students and parents he’s interviewed. Being “well educated” is not. “Young Millennials and their Generation Z siblings” believe they don’t need school to learn new things. They’ll do it all themselves—if and when they feel like it. “Teens think, ‘I’ll never use geometry. If I need it, I’ll learn it then’.”

‘Lots of different ways to educate’ kids

‘Kids Are Different: There Are Lots of Different Ways to Educate Them,’ Glenn Harlan Reynolds (aka Instapundit) tells Julia Ryan in The Atlantic.

In The New School, Reynolds predicts “the future of American education is rooted in technology, choice and customization,” writes Ryan.

Vouchers, charters, homeschooling and private schools are competing for students, says Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee.

I think the sort of savior for the public school system is charter schools and things that let people exercise a lot of educational choice while within the public school system because when people stay within the public school system they retain loyalty to it, so they are more likely to support taxes for it and they get counted as enrollees for federal funding and the like.

Brick-and-mortar colleges won’t go away, but they’ll also have to compete for students, Reynolds predicts. 

There are a lot of older people who really don’t want to go back and spend four years as Joe College and Betty Coed going to classes but need to get an education. . . . Now whether it will also start to cut into the traditional 18 to 22 college population, it’s hard to say but if it’s going to be cost-effective, sure it will. If you’re 18 years old and you can go to college online, and also work in a job and also live at home, your net cost of going to college is vastly lower than if you leave home, go somewhere where you really can’t work much, have to pay to live in a dorm, have to buy a meal plan, and have to pay full tuition.

Reynolds’ daughter “did almost all of her high school” online.  She focused on one class at a time. “She finished a year’s worth of work in one class in three weeks of intensive effort instead of little dribs and drabs along the year the way they do in public school.”

Blend, flip, disrupt

In Blend, flip, disrupt, I report on a a Blended Learning in K-12 conference at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

When she introduced Khan Academy videos and quizzes to her sixth-grade math students, Suney Park had to “give up control,” she said.  “That’s hard.”

But the software lets her students work at their own level and their own pace, moving on only when they’ve mastered a lesson. More are reaching proficiency, says Park, who teaches at Eastside College Prep, a tuition-free private school in all-minority, low-income East Palo Alto, California.

“I’ll never go back,” Park said.

Before she tried blended learning, she struggled to “differentiate” instruction for students at very different levels. “You can try it, but you can’t sustain it,” she said. “Teaching to the middle is the only way to survive.” Now, her advanced students aren’t working on a task devised to “keep them out of the way.” They’re moving ahead.

Personalizing lessons for each student’s needs and providing immediate, actionable feedback on each student’s mastery (or not) are two of the biggest advantages of blended learning, said Michael Horn, co-founder of the Christensen Institute.

The vanishing teacher

Jane Healey is Becoming Invisible In My Classroom, she writes on TeachThought. Since she “flipped” her middle-school classroom, her students ”

are learning without seeing me teach, hearing me teaching or even knowing I am teaching.”

In an innovative classroom, observers might see a teacher wandering around from student to student answering questions about writing a paragraph. Or, they might watch a teacher leaning over students’ shoulders pointing at the “About us” button on websites to check credibility. Or, they might catch the scene of a teacher kneeling next to a table guiding a group trying to solve a math problem about a pyramid made of pennies.

What they won’t see are the hours of prep work finding a “problem that matters,” creating LibGuides for safe web crawls, and setting up the Question Formula Technique for students to create essay questions. They also won’t see the hours of assessments based on rubrics the teacher coached students to develop.

When she’s not talking in front of the classroom, she’s still teaching, writes Healey.  Her “voice and ideas and coaching” are “in different places than they were before.”

If you could design a school …

“If you could design a school what would it look like?” In Milpitas, a middle-class district near San Jose, Superintendent Cary Matsuoka asked teachers and principals how they’d redesign their schools, reports EdSurge News. Propsals had to “integrate technology, use data to inform instruction, be student-centered and flexibly use space, time, and student grouping.”

As a result of the design challenge, two-thirds of the district’s elementary school classrooms are now using “blended learning.” Students spend part of the day using software that adapts to their individual learning needs and produces data for teachers.

Some plans were patterned after Rocketship, a charter network with five schools 10 miles south in San Jose with deep experience in experiment with technology–including teaching 90 student in one space at a time. Other schools, such as Marshall Pomeroy Elementary School run by Principal Sheila Murphy Brewer, instead focused on addressing the diverse needs of a school where fully half of the  506 students are English language learners. “Blended learning came out of the necessity of reaching all abilities,” she says.

Some classes use a one-to-one model, each student equipped with a Chromebook. Others rely on in-class rotations with some students on computers, some doing independent or group work, and others getting direct instruction from a teacher.

All blended classrooms use iReady, an adaptive reading and math program. Other popular tools include Khan Academy, Edmodo, Newsela and No Red Ink.

Burnett Elementary School’s learning lab relies on a huge garage-style door that slides up to divide the space into two rooms–and to harkening back to the days when Silicon Valley startups began in garages. The space is meant to be used for mixed purposes, offering soundproof areas for students to work on projects, while others can quietly work on the computer or receive direct instruction in small groups.

In classrooms, students are also doing classroom rotations. In the fourth grade math class, students rotate every twenty minutes between Khan Academy, group work on Common Core performance tasks, creating their own videos on Educreations, and peer coaching. Students put their name on a ‘peer coaching’ board, to volunteer to help other struggling students. Their teacher, Allison Elizondo, stands by to help struggling students and ensure that all goes smoothly.

“When you give kids freedom, they just go for it,” says Elizondo. “I don’t see myself as a traditional teacher, I see myself as a coach.”

The Hechinger Report looks at blended learning in an Aspire charter elementary school in Los Angeles.

On a recent Monday morning inside Freddy Esparza’s second-grade classroom, . . . a small group has gathered on the rug to hear Esparza read “The Country Mouse and the City Mouse.”

The remaining students log into their computers. One student reads a non-fiction book about beluga whales. Another takes a quiz on synonyms and antonyms, posting a perfect score. “Yessss!” he whispers, pumping up his little fist.

I’m attending (and tweeting!) a conference on blended learning today at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. I’m also finishing a freelance story for Education Next on a blended learning experiment in Oakland elementary and middle schools. Oakland Unified teachers typically have 32 students of widely varying achievement, aptitude and English proficiency levels – and no aide. Without adaptive software, differentiation is “fairy dust,” as one principal put it.

Americans want small classes, more tech

Smaller classes and more technology  would help schools the most, say adults surveyed for School Choice Signals, a new Friedman Foundation report. Merit pay and longer school days would be the least effective of seven reforms, the survey takers said.

Schooling made new


Technology can break the cycle of mediocrity in America’s public schools and bring down college costs, argues Glenn Harlan Reynolds in The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself.

In constant dollars, education spending rose from $1,214 per pupil in 1945 to nearly $10,500 in 2008, writes Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who blogs as Instapundit.

Online education and “gamification” will liberate public school students from the education bureaucracy and help homeschooling expand, he predicts. Young people seeking higher education will have low-cost alternatives to brick-and-mortar colleges.

Reynolds is the author of The Higher Education Bubble.

“I am a new breed of warrior that is trying to infiltrate from the inside by actually teaching math as it should be taught,” writes Barry Garelick in Letters from John Dewey/Letters from Huck Finn. “This means—I am told by teachers getting ready to retire—that I should teach in a private or a charter school. ”

As “John Dewey,” Garelick chronicles his journey through ed school as he pursues a second career as a math teacher.  Writing as “Huck Finn,” he describes his experiences as a student teacher and then a substitute teacher grappling with the “ideological, political and cultural divide in math education.”

Beyond the book report

Middle schoolers can analyze texts without writing book reports or essays, writes Beth Holland on Edutopia. Holland suggests programs that help students create trailers, podcasts, interactive e-books and “augmented reality author studies.” (I don’t really know what the last one means.)

She includes this wonderful look at how students approach book reports from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

New excuses

Flipped

In How one school turned homework on its head, PBS looks at “flipped” teaching at Clintondale High, a low-performing school near Detroit. “Teachers record lectures for students to watch online outside of class, and what was once considered homework is now done during class time, allowing students to work through assignments together and ask teachers for help if they run into questions.”