Digital Learning

Innovation: It’s an education reform cliché. But what is innovation, really?

Ask most people about innovation and they’ll probably talk about products—airplanes, laptops, smartphones. But innovation also refers to process. That’s what blended learning is for education. It turns the process of teaching upside down.

Today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in partnership with Knowledge Works and Reynoldsburg School District, welcomed Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements, to Ohio. Founded in 2010, Education Elements is a California-based company that advises schools on how to adopt and implement blended learning models. Education Elements has assisted charters (KIPP Los Angeles), traditional public school districts (Houston Independent School District), and parochial schools (Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco).

Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements

Kim began the conversation with an audience that included superintendents, teachers, lawmakers, and state board members by describing his blended learning model. According to Kim, blended learning has three goals:

  • To differentiate teaching by breaking the classroom into smaller groups
  • To increase the collection and use of student achievement data to improve teaching
  • To create more efficient schools

How does blended learning achieve these goals?

First, blended learning can address some of the challenges of teaching students who read, write, and do math at different levels. Blended learning deploys a classroom rotation model: students are first broken into groups and then these groups rotate through different work stations throughout the school day.

Kim presented a three-station model, in...

The Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act has many of us talking about checks and balances, so let’s use this teachable moment to examine how separate branches of North Carolina’s government have left its first virtual charter school in limbo.

The North Carolina Board of Education simply ignored a law it didn’t like.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the North Carolina Virtual Academy can’t open this fall because the state’s Board of Education never said it could. The academy had won preliminary approval from the county school board where it would have been based, but Judge Abraham Penn said that ultimate approval lies with the state board.

The problem—one that even Judge Penn acknowledges—is that the state board refused to even consider the academy’s legitimate application. And this is where governance in the Tar Heel State breaks down.

When North Carolina’s 2011 legislative session ended in the summer of that year, lawmakers lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and allowed for the creation of virtual charters. Months later, in October 2011, state Board of Education Chairman William Harrison told his colleagues, without asking for a vote, that the board would not consider virtual school applications for the academic year starting in fall 2012.

In other words, the Board of Education, whose members are chosen by North Carolina’s executive branch of government, never bothered to advise its Department of Public Instruction how to execute a law established...

Famed business-school thinker Clayton Christensen was splendidly profiled in The New Yorker a few weeks back, which set me to reflecting on his influential meditation on K-12 education, Disrupting Class, the 2008 book (co-authored with Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson) that startled the edu-cracy with its bold prediction that half of all high school courses will be delivered online by 2019 and its explanation that technology will produce the “disruptive innovation” in education that previous reform efforts have failed to bring about. As I read the profile, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the more disruptive force in education is lower-tech and already more widespread than Christensen himself realized.

Old steel mill
Disruptive innovation drove out of business organizations in the steel industry that didn't adapt.
Photo by hanjeanwat.

“Disruptive innovation” is his seminal insight, perhaps better summarized in Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile than in the education book itself. “How was it,” he started wondering, “that big, rich companies, admired and emulated by everyone, could one year be at the peak of their power and, just a few years later, be struggling in the middle of the pack or just plain gone?”

He figured it out by closely observing the steel industry. The huge American steel firms (U.S. Steel, Bethlehem, etc.) were challenged and gradually undone by small, nimble producers...

As Bobby Jindal learned last week, upending teacher tenure and emancipating thousands of students with private school vouchers will get you sued by adult interests hostile to this kind of disruption. But what if you’re a fledgling virtual charter school that plays by the rules established by your legislature? Should you have to turn to the courts to get launched? And should you expect the fury of most of the school districts in your state? How much disruption can one school cause?

This one school has challenged our suppositions of school boundaries and governance.

A lot, according to sixty of North Carolina’s 115 school districts, which have joined a lawsuit that aims to stop the North Carolina Virtual Academy from opening this fall. One school board member in Wake County, which has signed on to the fight, said districts are incensed that the virtual charter could enroll students from any county in the Tar Heel State. What’s worse, say the plaintiffs, the school will be managed by the for-profit K12 Inc.

In other words, this one school, which would be North Carolina’s first online charter academy, has challenged our suppositions of school boundaries and governance. That’s the sort of disruption that’s arguably more threatening to the status quo than school vouchers, for it’s a disruption that leads to a re-definition of “local control” and school choice.

In this case, the school board in Cabarrus County gave permission to a nonprofit group called NC Learns Inc. to base the...

Not so long ago, I doubted that computers, cell phones, and the internet would make any more difference in American education than television had. Ringing in my ears was a comment by the late Ralph Tyler that the sole technological advance in a century that had really affected classrooms was the overhead projector because, he wisecracked, it was “the only one that the teacher could use while still keeping an eye on her students.”

Loud Objects at iMAL
Education technology is finally moving past the overhead projector.
Photo by Marc Wathieu.

Computers, I figured, would continue to be useful to scientists and engineers and others with complex calculations to make. Cell phones would function like traditional telephones, only portable. The internet (whether or not Al Gore had anything to do with it) was for emailing and such. And “information technology” was sort of like engineering, a field for wonky college students wanting to write computer code. K-12 education might benefit marginally from bits of all this but mainly would sail on like a clipper ship of yore, powered by the same winds that had always propelled it.

Well, I was wrong. But this confession isn’t just another paean to the potential of online learning. That’s there, of course, and real. What has struck me more, however, is the...

I’ve seen the future of blended learning and it is exciting. The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) organized visits to three cutting edge schools and Silicon Valley-based education entrepreneurs Junyo and Education Elements. The CEE-Trust contingent included 17 educators, new school developers and philanthropists from New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City, Rochester, NY and Nashville.

The group visited the following charter schools:

  • Aspire Eres Academy in Oakland. Eres operator is Aspire Public Schools. Aspire is one of the nation’s top-performing charter school operators and serves about 12,000 K-12 students in 34 schools across California. Aspire Eres is Aspire’s first foray into blended learning. The Eres Academy serves about 220 students in grades K-8. The student population is 98 percent Hispanic, 97 percent free and reduced-price lunch and 60 percent English Language Learners.
  • Downtown College Prep (DCP) in San Jose. DCP opened its first building in 2000 and currently operates a high school and a middle school serving grades 6-7. The flagship high school serves about 400 students, while the DCP Alum Rock middle school is currently serving about 180 students. The middle school will serve grades 6-8 in 2012-13 and expects 300 students at full capacity. Students at DCP Alum Rock spend 90 minutes a day in a learning lab run by the school’s blended learning wizard Greg Klein. Klein and his team have developed a blended learning program that provides students with a variety of offerings including Khan Academy (math), Teen Biz/Achieve3000 (ELA), MangaHigh
  • ...

I’ve seen the future of blended learning and it is exciting. The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) organized visits to three cutting edge schools and Silicon Valley-based education entrepreneurs Junyo and Education Elements. The CEE-Trust contingent included 17 educators, new school developers and philanthropists from New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City, Rochester, NY and Nashville.

The group visited the following charter schools:

  • Aspire Eres Academy in Oakland. Eres operator is Aspire Public Schools. Aspire is one of the nation’s top-performing charter school operators and serves about 12,000 K-12 students in 34 schools across California. Aspire Eres is Aspire’s first foray into blended learning. The Eres Academy serves about 220 students in grades K-8. The student population is 98 percent Hispanic, 97 percent free and reduced-price lunch and 60 percent English Language Learners.
  • Downtown College Prep (DCP) in San Jose. DCP opened its first building in 2000 and currently operates a high school and a middle school serving grades 6-7. The flagship high school serves about 400 students, while the DCP Alum Rock middle school is currently serving about 180 students. The middle school will serve grades 6-8 in 2012-13 and expects 300 students at full capacity. Students at DCP Alum Rock spend 90 minutes a day in a learning lab run by the school’s blended learning wizard Greg Klein. Klein and his team have developed a blended learning program that provides students with a variety of offerings including Khan Academy (math), Teen Biz/Achieve3000 (ELA), MangaHigh
  • ...

Pricing the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost States and Districts?

Pricing the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost States and Districts?

The Common Core is coming, with forty-five states and the District of Columbia challenged to implement these new standards. Yet mystery surrounds how much this will cost states (and districts)—and whether the payoff will justify the price.

On May 30, the Fordham Institute will peek behind that curtain with a lively panel discussion of "Pricing the Common Core." Taking part will be former Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith, Achieve President Mike Cohen, former Department of Education official Ze'ev Wurman, and University of San Francisco professor Patrick J. Murphy, who will present the findings of a new Fordham study that he co-authored. It estimates the dollar cost of the implementation process for each participating state—and shows how the pricetag varies depending on the approach a state selects.

The Price of the Common Core

The Price of the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards will soon be driving instruction in forty-five states and the District of Columbia.

While the standards are high quality, getting their implementation right is a real challenge—and it won't be free, a serious concern given the tight budgets of many districts and states.
But while critics have warned of a hefty price tag, the reality is more complicated.

Yes, some states may end up spending a lot of money. But there are also opportunities for significant savings if states, districts and schools use this occasion to rethink their approach to test administration, instructional materials and training for teachers. The key is that states have options, and implementation doesn't need to look (or cost) the same everywhere.

States could approach implementation in myriad ways. Here are three:

• One, stick to "Business as usual" and use traditional tools like textbooks, paper tests, and in-person training. These tools are very familiar in today's education system, but they can come with reasonably high price tags.
• Two, go with only the "bare bones" of what's necessary: Experiment with open-source materials, computerized assessments, and online professional development in ways that provide the bare bones of more traditional, in-person approaches. This could save major coin, but could require more technology investment and capacity for some states.
• Or, three, find a middle ground through "balanced implementation" of both strategies, which offers some of the benefits—and downsides—of each model.

But how much money are we talking? Take Florida: 

If Florida sticks to business as usual, it could spend $780 million implementing the Common Core. Under the bare bones approach, the tab could be only $183 million. A blend of the two? $318 million.

But that's the total cost; don't forget states are already spending billions of dollars each year on textbooks, tests, curricula, and other expenses. Look at it that way and the sticker shock wears off: The estimated net cost of putting the Common Core in place in the Sunshine State, for example, ranges from $530 million to roughly $67 million less than what we estimate that they are spending now. 

Each implementation approach has its merits—and drawbacks—but states and districts do have options for smartly adopting the Common Core without breaking the bank. Further, they could use this opportunity to create efficiencies via cross-state collaborations and other innovations.

To learn more, download "Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?"

Digital Learning: The Future of Schooling? Session 1

Digital Learning: The Future of Schooling? Session 1

Join us for this important, nonpartisan event about digital learning and where it will take education in Ohio -- and the nation -- in the years to come. National and state-based education experts and policymakers will debate and discuss digital learning in the context of the Common Core academic standards initiatives, teacher evaluations and school accountability, governance challenges and opportunities, and school funding and spending.

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