Master teachers take the lead

A master teacher, an assistant and blended learning produced “great results” at a new charter school with very disadvantaged children, concludes Public Impact‘s Opportunity Culture project. Touchstone Education opened Merit Preparatory Charter School in Newark in 2012 with a class of sixth graders. Most were several years below grade level; 90 percent came from low-income families.

By March 2013, seven months into the school year, students demonstrated two years of growth in reading and 1.25 years of growth in science. In math, where Touchstone leaders were unable to hire a master teacher, students made three-fourths of a year of growth by March.

The model allows master teachers, who lead teams of novice and developing teachers, to earn up to $100,000 a year, within per-pupil funding. Tiffany McAfee, the master teacher in literacy, worked with first-year Teach For America teacher Jonathan Wigfall in the school’s first year.

Laptop-equipped students were grouped by skill level. McAfee lead whole-group instruction and helped students work through their playlists of individualized lessons, while Wigall rotated among students to help them with questions and keep them on track.

For example, one day students worked in groups to study slides on figurative language,then watched a music video while listening on headphones,taking notes on examples of figurative language in the lyrics. Meanwhile, both teachers moved through the room, overseeing their work. Students then came together for a whole class discussion with McAfee, who asked higher-level questions about the purpose of figurative language and the author’s intent.

Helping less-experienced teachers improve their skills is part of the master teacher’s job. McAfee and Wigfall reviewed the week’s data every Friday and planned the following week’s lessons. The master teacher also worked with the school’s reading specialist and the special education teacher to plan the daily, three-hour reading block. (Students are pulled out for an hour of P.E.)

Next year, Merit Prep will hire a master teach in math in hopes of achieving gap-closing progress.

Charlotte, North Carolina is redesigning teachers’ jobs to improve low-performing schools, write Public Impact’s Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel in Education Next.  Again, the idea is to give more students access to excellent teachers, while using novices in support roles.

Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.New Teaching Roles Create Culture of Excellence in High-Need Schools explains the plan. In One Teacher’s View of Becoming a Paid Teacher-Leader, a veteran teacher talks about becoming a multi-classroom leader.

Study: Blended math boosts learning

Students learned significantly more when they used Carnegie Learning’s hybrid algebra program — a blend of online and classroom instruction — reports a two-year Education Department study, which used a randomized control group.

There were no significant results in the first year, reports Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.In the second year, students who used Cognitive Tutor Algebra I improved by 8 percentile points.  That’s double the amount of math learning most high school students achieve in a year, said Steve Ritter, a founder and the chief scientist of Carnegie Learning, in Pittsburgh.

The improvements were similar across students of different ethnic and socioeconomic background, and high, regular, and low initial math ability, Ritter said. The researchers found similar improvements among participating middle school students—higher-performing math students typically take algebra in 8th grade rather than in high school—though the middle school sample was not large enough to show significant effects in the same way as the high school students.

Usually students worked with the individualized tutorial program for two days a week and spent three days learning in the classroom.

Future teachers

Digital learning will change teachers’ jobs, but we’ll still need teachers, writes Michael Horn in Forbes.

As blended learning grows in K–12 education, it is not eliminating teachers, but eliminating certain traditional job functions of teachers. This change in the role of the teacher is, as others and I have noted, in part about allowing computers to do what computers do well to free up teachers to do what only humans can do.

. . . It appears likely that there will be more room for teachers to focus on deeper learning by working with students on higher-order skills and the application of knowledge in rich projects. Teachers should spend less time handling mundane administrative tasks that suck up time and less time delivering one-size-fits-none lesson plans. Teachers will have far more time to work with students one-on-one and in small groups and target their interactions in more meaningful ways.

Many blended-learning schools are unbundling teachers’ roles, Horn writes.

Some teachers serve as content experts and others as mentors and learning coaches. Some focus on tutoring, whereas others specialize in small-group projects or on making the learning relevant to the outside world. Still others act as case workers or counselors (but actually spend the majority of their day in the learning environment with students) to focus on the non-academic problems—like food, health, or emotional issues—that too often trip up students (and sadly receive short shrift in many schools today).

Unbundling has enabled Rocketship Education to pay teachers more. At Summit Public Schools, a team of teachers works with students in a large learning environment.

How to blend great teaching, digital learning

Schools need a “better blend” of high-quality digital learning and excellent teaching, argues Public Impact in A Better Blend: A Vision for Boosting Student Outcomes with Digital Learning. Technology alone isn’t enough.

‘Flipped’ engineering raises pass rates

“Flipping” and “blending” a San Jose State engineering class raised pass rates dramatically. The university partnered with edX on the pilot.

Eighty randomly selected students in an entry-level engineering course watched online lectures from MIT (the flip), while solving problems in class, with the professor’s help (the blend).  Ninety-one percent of the flipped students passed the class. Only 55 and 59 percent of non-flipped students passed.

All-online classes tend to have low pass rates. Community college students say they feel “on their own” in all-online courses.

D.C. debates growth of charter schools

The majority of public school students in Washington D.C. could be attending charter schools in a few years, reports the Washington Post.

Rocketship Education, a California nonprofit group that blends online and teacher-directed learning, wants to open eight D.C. charter schools that would enroll more than 5,000 students by 2019. Rocketship’s model has worked well for low-income and minority students in San Jose.

Rocketship’s charter application — which is the largest ever to come before District officials, and which might win approval this month — arrives on the heels of Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s decision to close 15 half-empty city schools, highlighting an intense debate about the future of public education in the nation’s capital.

. . . “Maybe we need an entire school system full of charters,” said Virginia Spatz, who co-hosts a community-radio talk show on D.C. education. “But we need to have that after public conversation, not by accident.”

Reading and math scores rose significantly in Washington, D.C. from 2005 to 2011, note Aaron Churchill and Mike Petrilli in a Flypaper post that asks: Do demographic shifts explain cities’ test-score changes? Median household income also is on the rise in D.C. (Your tax dollars at work!) 

Personalized learning with 48 students

In The Right Mix, Education Sector’s Susan Headden profiles a charter high school in Los Angeles that’s using blended learning to personalize instruction — despite having 48 students in a class. The Alliance Tennenbaum Family Technology High School “combines online and traditional instruction and allows students to learn in three different ways,” she writes.

On this particular fall day, 16 students are getting traditional in-person instruction in Algebra I from teacher Wendy Chaves; roughly the same number are doing math problems online; and still others are gathered in clusters of four tutoring each other. No matter where they are in the rotation, they see the student-to-teacher ratio as what it effectively is—an ideal 16-to-1.

Students work at their own pace, Headden writes. “With the software taking up chores like grading math quizzes and flagging bad grammar, teachers are freed to do what they do best—guide, engage, and inspire.”

Tennenbaum’s BLAST model breaks the day into two-hour blocks with students spending 40 minutes at each station.

Students report to stations based on what regular pre-tests have shown they can do. The low performers go right to direct instruction with the teacher, the high performers start with the collaborative session, and those in the middle start with online work.

Let’s say the English lesson is about effective use of literary devices. Students might start with a teacher-led lesson on metaphor, personification and the like, followed by an online tutorial on the MY Access! writing program. They write a short essay, which the computer immediately scores for mechanics and grammar. If the student has too many mistakes, he takes another tutorial and writes the essay again. He sets himself a deadline (say, all clean by the third draft), and when he has met it, submits the piece to the teacher for feedback on meatier qualities like content and orga­nization. Finally, in the collaborative session, students critique each other’s work, making suggestions for improvement based on what they have learned from the teacher and online.

Students don’t move ahead until they show mastery. Online programs let students review a lesson until they understand it. The software analyzes keystrokes to collect data on each student’s learning.

Tennenbaum has excellent teachers, but mediocre software, says Principal Michelle Tubbs.  “There is no A-plus software out there,” Tubbs says. “Most of it is C-plus or below.”

Technology lets the school hire fewer teachers, but the savings are wiped out by technology costs. However, once the school reaches full enrollment, the technology is expected to pay for itself.

“When computer-assisted learning fails, it is usually because technology has been deployed as an add-on,” writes Headden. “BLAST shows that for technology to make a difference in student learning, it must be integral to instruction, and it must come with humans attached.”

Public Impact’s new Opportunity Culture Charter School Network hopes to use technology to enable excellent teachers to reach more students. Four new schools plan different approaches to creating an “opportunity culture” for teachers: Foundations College Prep (Chicago), Ingenuity Prep (Washington, D.C.), Touchstone Education (Newark) and Venture Academy (Minneapolis).

 

New Jersey union fights blended learning

New Jersey’s biggest teachers’ union is suing to shut down charter schools that use “blended learning,” a mix of online and group learning, according to the Hechinger Report.

Merit Prep opened this fall in Newark with 80 sixth-grade students, “mostly black, poor and below grade level,” and plans to add one grade level each year. Students spend part of the day working on laptops. They’re able to move forward at their own pace.

The online curriculum feeds each student’s answers into a data center operated by Touchstone Education, the non-profit school management group that runs Merit Prep. The data center then spits out reports that (math teacher Ben) Conant can use to monitor his students’ progress, figure out what one-on-one coaching each student needs and adjust what he will teach when he pulls a few kids aside into glass-enclosed seminar rooms for small-group instruction.

However, the New Jersey Education Association has gone to court to shut down Merit Prep and another charter school that uses blending learning, reports Hechinger. “The union’s lawsuit argues that charter schools can’t emphasize online instruction until the New Jersey state legislature evaluates and approves it.”

“Should we be experimenting with students during their academic experience?” asks Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. “They only get one trip through the public schools.”

After all, non-blended learning is a proven success in Newark. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

Replicating Rocketship

Rocketship Schools‘ blended learning model is producing high test scores in the network’s San Jose charter schools. Can Rocketship replicate? Learning Matters takes a look.

The model is being updated: Rocketship is considering shifting students’ online time from learning labs to the classroom and looking for ways to use online data to improve classroom teaching.

Beyond blended learning

After trying blended learning for a year, two San Jose charter high schools redesigned the math program, writes Diane Tavenner, CEO of Summit Public Schools, on Getting Smart.

In our pilot this year, we have five math instructors and two learning coaches who work as a team to support 200 students at one time. . . . Our math team serves as coaches and mentors, curriculum curators, developers and intervention specialists.

. . .  students are not in ninth or 10th grade and are not taking a defined math course such as Algebra or Geometry. Instead, they are progressing through a competency-based curriculum dependent on their own path and pace.

Each student has a personalized Math Guide that details what they already know (highlighted in green), what they should be focused on today (highlighted in yellow), and what they are not quite ready yet to tackle (highlighted in red). Students use their guides to set daily and weekly goals.

Our students begin math each day at their individual workstation.  They first log into their email to read a daily message from the math team, including a schedule of learning opportunities offered that day, along with available projects and seminars. Depending on their learning goal, our students can choose whether to remain at their workstation for individual, or with their peers, learning and practice using a host of online resources available to them as ‘Playlists,’ or participate in a seminar and other small-group projects taking place in the four learning spaces off of the main room. For those students who struggle with this autonomy, our math team provides mentorship and coaching to ensure students are on the right path.

Summit is collecting data to see how well the new system works.