EdX will ‘blend’ with community colleges

Two Boston community colleges will partner with edX, Harvard and MIT’s online learning venture, on a “blended” computer science class. Three MIT professors will teach the online course; community college professors will provide classroom instruction and support.

Blended learning: What works?

Education Week has a special report on Evaluating What Works in Blended Learning.

High tech and high touch

Rocketship charter schools are known for “blended learning.” Students — most from Mexican immigrant families — spend two hours a day in a computer lab.  But at Rocketship’s Discovery Prep, Thomas Toch discovered a high-tech school that’s also high touch, he writes in The Atlantic.

Each morning at Discovery Prep and the rest of the Rocketship network, everyone gathers on the playground for announcements and a sing-a-long. Students receive recognition and rewards for outstanding behavior and achievement and teachers and students (the oldest are 5th graders) sing and dance to songs by Michael Jackson and other pop stars, surrounded by parent-volunteers. In the same spirit, teachers greet every student by name as they enter their classrooms, a routine that Rocketship calls a “threshold invite.” Personal connections between adults and students are paramount.

Parents are everywhere in the life of 640-student Discovery Prep. The schools organize meetings on curriculum, instructional strategies, and student behavior to enlist parents as educational partners. They take students and parents on bus trips to Stanford, Berkeley, and other local colleges and universities to get them invested in higher education. And they ask parents to spend 30 hours a year in their children’s schools and most do.

“A uniform and a deeply engrained behavior-management system creates clear expectations for students along with lots of positive reinforcement,” Toch writes. That creates a safe, orderly atmosphere.

Every day, students spend two hours in headphones in one of a hundred brightly colored cubicles in a big, open “learning lab,” doing a wide range of exercises in reading and math through programs with lots of audio and animation. They also routinely take “adaptive” quizzes that adjust the difficulty of questions to the accuracy of students’ answers.

Rocketship saves money by hiring aides to supervise the lab. The savings fund tutoring for students who need individual or small-group help. Rocketship also pays its teachers more and invests in improving the quality of teaching.

Because students work on basic skills in the lab, teachers have more time to teach advanced skills.

During my visit to Discovery Prep, a first-grade teacher was working with her students on “thinking like a scientist,” having them sit in a darkened room and develop hypotheses about what would happen when she shined a flashlight at aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and other materials.

Students’ lab results are analyzed to show their progress in mastering state and national standards, giving teachers “data dashboards” they can use to design classroom lessons, Toch writes.

But using technology intelligently isn’t enough, Toch concludes. Young students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds need caring adults. Digital education without flesh-and-blood people won’t work.

Catholic schools learn to compete with charters

Tuition-free charter schools now enroll more students than Catholic schools, writes Sean Kennedy in City Journal. But Catholic schools are learning to compete in order to survive.

These days, expenditures on lay teacher salaries and repair of dilapidated buildings have blown up the price tag at Catholic schools to three times the rate of inflation. In nominal dollars, per-pupil costs nearly doubled between 1998 and 2010, from $5,600 to $10,800; average tuition for incoming ninth-graders at Catholic schools more than doubled, from $4,300 to $8,800.

Innovative educators and philanthropists are “developing a path forward for Catholic education . . . by borrowing ideas from the best charters, just as charters once borrowed from Catholic schools,” Kennedy writes.

In San Francisco, innovators launched Mission Dolores Academy, which uses “blended learning”— a mix of classroom and online instruction — to individualize instruction while controlling costs.

Students’ specific skills are assessed every day as they do their schoolwork on interactive computers, and lessons are tailored to fit their progress. . . .  the curriculum is mastery-based—students only move on when they master the material. Teachers spend more time in direct interaction with each student or in small group lessons. Online tools collect real-time data on student performance and allow teachers to intervene with students or accelerate the pace of instruction.

The Seattle Archdiocese’s Fulcrum Foundation has opened St. Therese Academy, an elementary with an overwhelmingly African-American student body, using the blended learning model.

Greene: We don’t need more teachers

“Hiring more teachers won’t improve student achievement,” writes Jay Greene in the Wall Street Journal. “It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits.”

In 1970, public schools employed one teacher for every 22.3 students, according to federal data. In 2012, we have one teacher for every 15.2 students. Math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, writes Greene. High-school graduation rates are stuck at 75 percent.

Parents like the idea of smaller class sizes in the same way that people like the idea of having a personal chef. Parents imagine that their kids will have one of the Iron Chefs. But when you have to hire almost 3.3 million chefs, you’re liable to end up with something closer to the fry-guy from the local burger joint.

There is also a trade-off between the number of teachers we have and the salary we can offer to attract better-quality people. As the teacher force has grown by almost 50% over the past four decades, average salaries for teachers (adjusted for inflation) have grown only 11%, the Department of Education reports. Imagine what kinds of teachers we might be able to recruit if those figures had been flipped and we were offering 50% more pay without having significantly changed student-teacher ratios.

Unlike every other enterprise, public schools have not invested in productivity-enhancing technology, Greene writes. Outside the monopoly, charter schools such as Rocketship Academy in California and Carpe Diem in Arizona are using computers to provide individualized instruction while “teachers are primarily tutors, problem-solvers, and behavior managers.”

While Gov. Romney would leave education policy to state and local governments, President Obama proposes a billion-dollar “master teacher corps” with a goal of producing 100,0000 additional math and science teachers in the next 10 years. It’s “a Solyndra-like solution,” writes Greene. The federal government would pick the “winning” reform strategy.

To create champion teachers, blend

Blended learning can create more champion teachers, writes Allison Akhnoukh in Education Next.

Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion shows what the teaching craft looks like when effectively mastered, she writes. But we don’t have “remotely close to enough” champion teachers “because the job we’re expecting our teachers to accomplish is superhuman.”

When a teacher can effectively utilize all 49 of Lemov’s techniques in perfect harmony, it is feat at which to marvel. Much more commonly observed, however, is the teacher trying heroically – yet unsuccessfully – to fully engage each of his 30 students in the lesson he stayed up half the night planning.

Blended learning lets teachers focus their energies on the most critical teaching tasks, Akhnoukh argues.

 

How Americans would cut school budgets

If you had to balance a public school budget, would you lay off teachers, cut pay or raise taxes? Who’d go first if layoffs were essential? How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education reports on a Fordham survey.

If their own school district were facing a serious deficit, 48 percent said the best approach would be “to cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business,” rather than raise taxes or wait out the downturn. How?

Shrink the administration. A broad majority (69 percent) supports “reducing the number of district level administrators to the bare minimum” as a good way to save money because “it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.”

Freeze salaries to save jobs. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) say freezing salaries for one year for all district employees is a good way to save money “because the district can avoid laying off people.”

If teachers must be laid off, base it on their effectiveness, not years of service. About three in four (74 percent) say that those with poor performance should be “laid off first and those with excellent performance protected”; only 18 percent would have “newcomers laid off first and veteran teachers protected.”

In addition, there was broad support for closing schools and merging districts, raising class sizes in non-core subjects such as art, music, and physical education and replacing expensive special ed programs.

However, respondents rejected shortening the school year and shrinking the non-teaching staff.

They split on charging fees for after-school sports and extracurricular activities, using blended learning (a mix of Internet and classroom instruction), and “virtual” schools.

Here’s part of the survey.

 

 

‘I feel like I teach students,’ not just science

Using blended learning, which combines face-to-face teaching with online instruction, a science teacher at Mott Hall V Middle School in New York City says she’s teaching students how to be students, instead of just teaching science. A boy says blended learning requires students to take responsibility.

Ed Week’s blended-learning story is for subscriber’s only.

Short Circuited

Short-Circuited: The Challenges Facing the Online Learning Revolution in California offers Lance Izumi’s take on the resistance to virtual, blended and tech-infused schooling.

Kindergarteners at the keyboard

Kindergarteners spend an hour at the computer each day at KIPP Empower School in Los Angeles, writes Jill Barshay for the Hechinger Report. The “blended learning” experiment has worked so well, it’s spreading to other KIPP schools.

While 14 students play learning games on computers during two half-hour periods, the teacher works with the other 14 students in the class.

Principal Mike Kerr says 95 percent of his kindergarteners scored at or above the national average in math after the first year, while 96 percent scored at or above it in reading. Nearly all KIPP Empower students come from low-income families: Only nine percent arrived in kindergarten ready to read, according to a pre-reading test. By the end of the year, 96 percent of kindergarteners reached the proficient mark on the same test, Kerr says.

Computer time shouldn’t replace “active, hands-on, engaging and empowering” activities with “electronic worksheets and drill and practice,” says Chip Donohue, director of distance learning at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.

Each day, KIPP’s technology instructional assistant, Elisabeth Flottman, collects data from the educational software on each student and gives the information to teachers.

The software can report, for example, if a student has been struggling with beginning sounds, ending sounds or blending sounds. This can help the teacher zero-in on individual student needs. It also reports if a student sat idly at the computer for an extended period of time.

There isn’t much good learning software for kindergarteners, says Kerr.