Cafe Tables As Education Reform?

from USA Today's gallery on Rocketship schools
from USA Today’s gallery on Rocketship schools
Is there any educational justification for placing young students in front of computer screens for substantial portions of their school hours each day? (more photos, USA Today gallery) If not, why is the District of Columbia preparing to shift up to 6000 students to this model over the next few years? If so, why is DCPS not considering such options to reduce the cost of “grouping,” course variety and other issues Chancellor Kaya Henderson says are behind her Consolidation plan, closing 15 schools and displacing of 2600 students?

from Nexus Academy website
from Nexus Academy website
Is any DC leader examining the overall effect here? The District is preparing to displace 2600 students — and more than $20 million in annual per pupil funding — from traditional public schools, while simultaneously preparing to place more than twice that number — and roughly $60 million in annual per pupil funding — in untested “blended” (classroom plus computer time) schooling.

The Mayor says he is responsible for such coordination. But Mayor Gray did not respond to queries on the District’s overall plan regarding blended learning in the District. Nor did spokespersons for DCPS, the Public Charter School Board, or the Deputy Mayor for Education respond to queries.

Lack of Research

Researchers for the U.S. Department of Education conducted several reviews of the literature concerning virtual schooling (entirely on-line) and blended models (traditional instruction combined with computer time). The 2009 review, “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies,” found few studies focused on K-12 learners:

Caution is required in generalizing the study’s findings to the K-12 population because the results are for the most part based on studies in other settings, such as in medical, career, military training, and higher education.

With regard to K-12 learners, the review concluded: “Educators making decisions about online learning need rigorous research examining the effectiveness of online learning for different types of students and subject matter as well as studies of the relative effectiveness of different online learning practices.”

Subsequently (2011), University of Colorado researchers completed, “Understanding and Improving Full-Time Virtual Schools.” And in 2012, the US DOE released “Understanding the Implications of Online Learning for Educational Productivity.” This review, much like the one three years earlier, concluded:

No analyses were found that rigorously measured the productivity of an online learning system relative to place-based instruction in secondary schools.

Research on blended learning is even more scarce. The most often cited materials — The-Rise-of-K-12-Blended-Learning, e.g. — are produced by organizations with a financial interest in the findings.

Cafe Tables as Reform?

With little academic foundation on which to stand, “experienced operators” seeking fast-track approval to begin programs in the District stress flexibility for students and teachers and a “futuristic” vision:

A typical Nexus Academy freshman – let’s call him Travis – takes the city bus to arrive at school at 8:30 am for the school’s morning shift. He swipes his key card at the door, greets the principal, and reports directly to his Team Zone to claim his spot at the high café table where he does his best work….
–description continues at Nexus Academy website

Check back for more on the multi-billion-dollar corporation seeking to bring Nexus Academy to DC. The pubic hearing on the three corporations — Pearson Education (Nexus), RSED (Rocketship), and K12 (Flex) — seeking fast-track approval through the Public Charter School Board is scheduled for January 28. Check back, too, for agenda and details. Meanwhile, note that these “futuristic” programs are not being considered for any location west of Rock Creek Park (See related DC Action for Children maps).

UPDATE 1/25: Agenda and details here.

UPDATE 1/25: See this link for information on >Pearson/Nexus

Questions Asked of Mayor, DME, DCPS, PCBS

Research on blended learning is scarce, and research on virtual schooling is mixed with regard to results.Still, DC schools appear to be moving — as is much of the country — toward at least partial adoption of such models. Kramer Middle School within DCPS has adopted blended learning. PCSB is considering fast-track approval of new charter schools in DC run by corporations offering blended school products: RSED (Rocketship), Pearson Education (Nexus), and K12 (Flex).

Please share with the community what resources you are using to explore blended learning options and outline how you are planning to coordinate blended learning between DCPS and other LEAs.

1) One of the benefits of blended learning, according to its producers, is that programs can be offered across many smaller school environments without those schools needing a full staff to implement programs. Were blended learning options considered in cases where DCPS has determined that a school must be closed due to smaller than capacity enrollment?

2) According to figures on PCSB’s website, more than 6000 students are to be served, at capacity, if the three new blended charters are approved. This is far more than the number of students to be removed from “consolidating” DCPS schools due to under-enrollment. Please share coordination regarding these two planning elements.

Some community members argue, in fact, that DCPS consolidations are intended to move per student funding into corporate hands (such as the three large corporations seeking fast-track charter approval in DC). If you would like to comment, that would be appreciated.

3) Does DC have any independent, outside studies regarding blended learning at the K-12 levels?

4) If supported by research, what is the plan to further explore this option within DCPS? in other LEAs? How is this being coordinated?

5) Are outside studies of the program at Kramer Middle School being conducted?

6) Are there plans to replicate what is happening at Kramer, if successful?

7) When will we see blended learning west of Rock Creek?

8) High schoolers interviewed about their experiences with blended learning options indicated that one of the strongest points in the model’s favor is that it gives them some voice in their own education. Are District schools — in any of our LEAs — attempting to incorporate this factor into other schooling models?


One comment

  1. Your claim that the study “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning” published by Innosight Institute was produced by an organization with “a financial interest in the findings” is totally false. Innosight Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank that was founded to apply Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation to the educational challenges this country faces. Professor Christensen is the co-author, with Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson, of the seminal book that launched the digital revolution, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” Of the two models you mention, Rocketship is a public charter school and is funded by the State of California; there is no financial interest at stake here. Flex Academy is run by K-12, Inc. which is a for-profit company but so are Pearson and McGraw-Hill who have been making handsome profits providing text books to our schools for decades.


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