Charter Pulse

Selected readings on US charter schools

US: Nex-Gen Models Leverage Opportunities, Blend Tech & Experiences, Break New Grounds

A 3-in-1 read on reform types, learning models, and system design elements reflected by the 20 Next Generation Learning Challenges grantees:

Part 1/3: Nex-Gen Models Attack Problems, Leverage Opportunities

next-generation-learning-challengesIt’s great if you think you have a good sense of how a next-generation school would work, but good luck trying to get funding. Most school districts don’t have a process to respond to new school proposals much less funding them. And good luck getting a grant for a charter school before you get a charter approved (i.e., when you really need the money). That’s why, given the emerging potential for personalization, the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) is a timely and important program.

Launching in October 2011 with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NGLC
issued an invitation for proposals for breakthrough school models for college readiness, “schools designed from the ground up to cultivate success on a rapidly growing scale.” (Stacey Childress outlined NGLC aims on HuffPost on Monday.)

NGLC intended to “spur next-generation development of schools with a relentless focus on personalization that enables students to individualize learning plans, proceed at a self-determined rate of mastery, apply relevant real-world experiences, and receive appropriate support regardless of classroom size.” The Educause managed initiative was based on six beliefs:

  1. Outcomes matter;
  2. Education should be learner centered;
  3. Students learn differently and advance at varying rates;
  4. Technology can enable a personalized learning experiences;
  5. Tech-enabled models can loosen the resource constraints; and
  6. Models must be affordable and sustainable.

In December, NGLC released profiles of the 20 breakthrough models; 18 are secondary schools and 14 are charter management organizations. They are all interesting models of blended learning and important directional signals for what is to come. This is the first of three posts on NGLC breakthrough models. The three posts will address reform types, learning models, and system design elements reflected by the 20 grantees.

The 20 models reflect three important reform models, turnarounds, higher education partnerships, and the converting high performing charter networks to more scalable blended networks.

Turnarounds. Four of the grantees submitted blended school improvement models.

The Education Achievement Authority (EAA) of Michigan is a statewide improvement district (modeled after the Louisiana RSD). Chancellor John Covington, building on work he started in KC MO, is leading development of a blended competency-based turnaround model using a model platform, Agilix Buzz, from the makers of BrainHoney. The personalized learning system helps “Students map their learning paths, make choices and decisions around progression and pacing, conduct self-assessments, and learn to understand the consequences of their decisions,” and the system tracks it all. A 210 day year provides extra learning time. The improvement model could expand to serve dozens of schools across Michigan.

Generation Schools Network, working in Denver’s West High, is deploying a combination of restructuring and personalization: a long day and year, big blocks of time that reduce teacher loads, and half-class, mini-lab rotation. They use open and proprietary digital content sources and JumpRope to track competences.

Horry City Schools, South Carolina, is turning around a middle school with a “blended core academic curriculum and a carefully constructed system of supports.” It is a “competency-based model that both accelerates academic gains and develops students’ lifelong skills and dispositions.” One hundred “students will move among the four Learning Team classrooms based on their personalized learning plans, constructed around each student’s aspirations, learning preferences, and demonstrated proficiency.” They use PowerSchools and EdElements.

Matchbook Learning is a turnaround model working with middle schools in Detroit. The conversion focuses on school culture, teacher coaching, stakeholder engagement, and blended classrooms powered by EdElements. Students are “grouped into small and flexible groups based on student readiness, interests, learning style and profile, and specific instructional objectives.”

Higher Ed Partnerships. Four of the grantees proposed interesting post-secondary partnerships.

Cornerstone has a 20-year record of delivering high-quality Detroit schools. BrainHoney hosts learning content including Compass Learning, Apex, Revolution Prep, and Achieve 3000. To progress students must show mastery on a variety of assessments. Progress is noted on dashboards and reviewed weekly with a Relationship Manager. Differentiated roles also include Rigor Managers and Relevance Managers. Cornerstone Charter Health High School has a close partnership with the Detroit Medical Center. “Throughout their academic experience, students are encouraged to explore health- related careers and competencies through projects, coursework, and internships.” (See a Getting Smart feature.)

Da Vinci Schools uses project-based learning to engage Los Angeles students and Illuminate to track progress. The fourth Da Vinci school will be an early college high school in partnership with a community college. “Students benefit from easy access to college classes, extensive counseling and academic support, and a streamlined transfer process,” the case study reported.

Fayette County Public Schools in partnership with the University of Kentucky is preparing to open a STEAM academy. “Advisory groups will meet bi-weekly throughout the year to provide guidance in college and career readiness skills, personal goal setting and monitoring, and problem identification and solution finding.” “Students will take ownership of their learning by choosing their instructional delivery, schedule, and learning style and engaging in real-world problem-solving projects that interest them.” As soon as they are ready, students will be able to enroll in courses at UK. The school will host a variety of open content on Moodle.

USC Hybrid High “is open up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 310 days a year. Technology and differentiated staffing allow the school to innovate with time, staffing and space.” A project of the USC ed school, “The model allows for personalized and mastery-based learning and provides significant out- of-school learning opportunities and an advisory structure for social-emotional supports.” Students spend about half their time engaged in self-paced Apex courseware and the other half on “challenge-based projects, internships, dual-credit courses, and community service.”

Blended Networks. NGLC grantees also include a group of “no excuses” charter networks that optimized the standards-based data-driven cohort model, but see improvement and sustainability potential in incorporating personalized digital learning.

Aspire Public Schools, the largest K-12 network in California, is opening blended K-8 schools featuring a classroom rotation model in Memphis this year. The first school will feature “STEM-focused education, individualized technology, rich learning opportunities, and explicit instruction in computer coding skills.”

KIPP Chicago opened College Prep Middle school last year with a learning lab featuring i-Ready, LearnZillion, and Wowzers on Edmodo and Chromebooks with Eduvant dashboards.

Summit Public Schools is a four high school, Bay Area network that has been innovating with Khan Academy and Illuminate on a blended math program. Summit will open two more blended high schools in 2013.

Like Horry County, these charter models all incorporate technology but they start with college and career ready standards and a culture of high expectations.

NGLC is helping innovators break new ground in turnarounds, partnerships, and sustainable high performing networks. Tomorrow, we will explore how networks are incorporating experiential and project-based learning into blended models.

Part 2/3: Next-Gen Learning Models Blend Tech & Experiences

Critics argue that blended and competency-based learning is just testing all the time. They chafe at what appears to be more mindless box checking. When I visit credit recovery labs and see students flying through online lessons and taking end of unit multiple choice quizzes, we worry that there is some truth to the criticism.

The good news is there are thousands of schools incorporating deeper learning strategies and innovative examples of new schools blending personalized learning technologies with hands-on and experiential learning.

The Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, issued an invitation for proposals for breakthrough school models for college readiness. This is the second of three blogs outlining the 20 next gen grantees. The first blog outlined turnaround, partnerships, and blended charter networks. This post features NGLC grantees proposing schools models that engage, extend, challenge, and inspire. (View two page profiles of all 20 models and see excerpts below.)

PBL. The following five NGLC-awarded models incorporate project-based learning in blended environments:

  • Da Vinci: “Project based learning underpins Da Vinci’s model and much thought has been put into designing engaging and enriching activities… Projects will be planned by teams that may include Da Vinci faculty, industry experts, college faculty and students.”
  • Aspire’s middle school instructional model in Tennessee will be STEM-focused and move from a rotation environment to a one-to-one, project-based environment.
  • Summit will debut a new learning model in 2013 “with a robust, custom-built LMS; continuous student access to content and assessments, and an Intersession program that regularly offers all students intensive, hands-on opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge, explore their passions and interests, investigate careers, and learn outside the school walls.”
  • Intrinsic students at the Chicago network will “move fluidly between individualized adaptive digital content, multimedia content, small group instruction, seminars, and group and independent project work.”
  • Franklin Central Supervisory Union supports schools in several Vermont towns and is developing a new high school, Academy 21, where each student will manage his or her own individual learning plan. Based on work pioneered by the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition students will develop and demonstrate competency by creating interest-based individual or team projects. “Students capture and share those projects (research papers, videos, presentations) in a multimedia e-portfolio, accessible to their teachers and parents, and portable beyond graduation.”

New Tech Network (supported by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation) and Edvisions each have about 100 high project-based high schools working together in a network with common tools and supports.

Experiential. In a recent paper on “How Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning” we illustrated that learning technologies are not only preparing students for critical thinking, new tools and blended schools are supporting new roles — students as journalists, producers, scientists, entrepreneur, and project managers. (Check out this cool infographic.) It’s exciting to see new school models incorporating these ideas. A few of the NGLC grantees promoting experiential and authentic learning in blended environments include the following:

  • Cornerstone Charter Health High School will leverage a hospital partnership to help students “explore health-related careers and competencies through projects, coursework, internships, and other real-world learning experiences.”
  • USC Hybrid High students are “responsible for creating their own projects that they pursue either individually or in small groups. They work with their teachers to define the project and interactively create rubrics for evaluating the work products.” And, “The ultimate goal is to empower students, engage them in their learning, and provide them with constant support.”
  • Venture Academy is a year-round, 6-12 school opening in Minneapolis in the fall. Each student will chart a unique path with charted weekly during a 1:1 session with their personal coach. Venture will blend “digital content and tools with hands-on project and discovery learning.”
  • Touchstone opened Merit Prep Newark last fall with a significant focus on out of school externships and authentic learning. “In small groups with master teachers, students are challenged to demonstrate their learning through projects, experiments, guided group work, and discussions designed to show that students can apply their skills to relevant and challenging activities.”

Blending online and experiential learning isn’t a new idea, many of the Expeditionary Learning and Big Picture schools (as featured by Lisa Nielsen yesterday) have been doing it successful for more than a decade.

Competency-based. All of the NGLC grantees are competency-based and ask students to show what they know. At the new opening this fall Summit Public Schools “plans to breakdown silos between grades and content to allow students to move at their own pace, both academically and physically.”

Schools For the Future, which opened an 8-12 school in Detroit, “is a new model for overage and under-credited students that uses a mastery approach to help them recuperate lost credits while accelerating their path toward college-ready standards and high school graduation.” The real innovation is the combination of a personalized instructional model with “intensive staffing with strategies to address social-emotional development with “wraparound” services like tutors and various technologies to support the diverse learning needs of students who are two or more years behind academically when they enter high school.

NGLC grantees are among the first generation of schools to combine the best of hands on learning with the emerging potential of personalized digital learning. The result is a new generation of engaging and supportive secondary schools that will prepare all of their students for college and career.

Part 3/3: Next-Gen Models Break New Ground, Promote System Redesign

The 20 breakthrough school models recognized by the Gates Foundation funded Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) took on the turnaround challenge, leveraged higher education partnerships, and improved the performance and sustainability of school networks (as outlined in part one of this three-part series). They also illustrate how blended learning supports and extends experiential learning ( part two).

This final blog illustrates ways in which NGLC blogs promote system redesign. Most of the profiled models (many referenced below) illustrate innovative staffing strategies that extend the reach of great teachers, pilot new platforms, and model new resource allocation patterns.

Staffing. MATCH Next will double down on the Boston network’s core strategy of high-dose tutoring: “In this new middle school model, there will be no traditional classrooms; technology will be used to complement and enhance traditional tutoring.” The model provides for a master teacher “to circulate through the room, pulling aside students who might need more intensive remediation or observing the [teaching] fellows to generate feedback for the next day’s morning strategy session.” By leveraging technology, a master teacher can provide support to 36 students.

Cornerstone Charter Health High School in Detroit did away with classrooms and grade levels; “pods” of 75 students work in a large open space. Teams include three distinct roles:

  • Relevance Managers provide direct instruction and support students in the design and evaluation of real world projects and internships;
  • Rigor Managers oversee online coursework, providing support and setting standards for mastery; and
  • Success Coaches work to help students make the transition to college and career, providing practical advice as students consider life after graduation.

Alpha Public School‘s blended middle school approach “centers on self-contained classrooms where teachers deliver instruction in all core content areas. One teacher stays with a class of 34 students throughout the day and throughout the year…During each lesson, a master teacher works with 17 students, engaging them through small group instruction and activities in one section of the room while the rest of the class works through online content at individual computers.”

The Schools for the Future structure is based on “a group of 12-14 students that remains together for the duration of the program. The team meets daily, co-facilitated by a trained youth development specialist and an academic teacher, or PACT leader.”

Our friends at Public Impact have outlined 10 more staffing models at OpportunityCulture. (Stay tuned for a March DLN SmartSeries paper on how blended learning improves working conditions and career opportunities for teachers.)

Platform. The NGLC program provided support to four networks building platforms. Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority partnered with Agilix on the Buzz platform. Summit Public Schools in Redwood City is working with Khan Academy and Illuminate on a blended math platform. Leadership Public Schools has developed a math program and a formative assessment platform (see Getting Smart case study). Alpha and Horry County are working with EdElements.

Resources. NGLC grantees are piloting new resource allocations. Hybrid High is rethinking the place called school by opening up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 310 days a year.

K-5 students at Aspire Memphis will spend 25 percent of their time in a classroom rotation using adaptive learning software.

KIPP Chicago stresses flexibility in meeting students’ needs down to the classroom furniture which is “light and flexible, allowing a lecture-style classroom to be taken apart and reassembled for individual learning on computers or clustered for classroom discussions.”

Venture Academy uses space differently. “The Learning Commons is a large, open area that includes study carrels where students can access videos, digital curriculum, and learning games and simulations on their own devices. Tables for group projects and small group work are scattered around the room.”

The NGLC grantees provide early pictures of blended learning–personalized, engaging, flexible, connected, and relevant. These models are important, as this three part series has illustrated, because of the experimenting they are doing with new instructional models and resource allocations, and the hard thinking they are doing about scalability.

Sources (all written by Tom Vander Ark):

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