Fox News: “Fixing our schools — here are solutions that work”

“Waiting for Superman,” “The Cartel,” and “The Lottery” are among the best known of documentaries, books and news stories sounding the alarm about the failures of America’s public schools.

But where are the stories, the documentaries about the solutions?

As a new school year begins, this documentary features happy students and inspired teachers. The students are learning, getting good test scores and look ready to take the next step forward in their lives. The teachers are excited by their success with students.

The show is called “Fox News Reporting: Fixing Our Schools.”

The documentary reveals how the answer to troubled schools is allowing teachers to teach to one child, catering to the student’s strengths and weakness with the help of computers.

The results are evident in dramatic improvements in student performance in several schools nationwide. From the “Carpe Diem” school in Yuma, Arizona to the “School of One” in New York City and the Mooresville school district in North Carolina, pilot programs using “Digital Learning” have reported a marked increase in student performance and sharp decline in drop-outs.

The key is making learning materials from texts, tests and even assignments available electronically. That allows the students, their parents and teachers to track a student’s performance in real time.

It enables teachers and parents to identify a student who is falling behind and give that young person extra help, specifically tailored to get them back on track and moving up.

It also allows teachers to reward the best students. Top students no longer have to wait for students who are struggling before the class can move ahead. Instead with customized or “Digital Learning” teachers can challenge the best students to achieve their full potential with advanced coursework.

But more importantly, in each of the schools we visited, I noticed high student morale. I saw happy children with a positive attitude towards learning who seemed genuinely glad to be at their schools. In some cases the infamous ‘Achievement Gap,’ between minority students and white students was eliminated with the help of “Digital Learning.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been one of the leading intellectual architects of education reform. He made digital learning a cornerstone of the “Florida Formula,” his educational policy during his time as governor.

“There are new technologies to make it easier, perhaps, to have an accurate assessment. There’s movement to make it so one test won’t be the end-all and be-all. There’s a way to test now that if you’ve mastered the information, you can move on to the next information, so we’re not holding kids back” he said.

“Given the technological advancements, [opposition to] testing, I think, will be less of a political tool by those that resist change” he added.

In an interview for “Fixing Our Schools,” Michael Horn, co-author of the book “Disrupting Class,” points to the large number of remedial classes in even the best colleges for students that have graduated high school but failed to learn the basics of writing and math.

The answer, Horn argues, is the combination of good teachers and technology – “Digital Learning.”

“It’s the Swiss Cheese problem – that’s what we call it in education,” said Horn. “They [students] move on even though they have big holes in their understanding. If you customize [curriculums for each student by using computers] and allow them only to move on once they’ve actually mastered something…whether it is through projects, lectures [computer programs] you give them a chance to actually succeed…this is what every child needs so they can succeed in the 21st century economy.”

Out of 65 countries around the world measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), students in the United States ranked 30th in Math, 23rd in Science, and 17th in Literacy.

Civic and political leaders — most recently former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein — are pointing to the decline of public education as a threat to America’s national security – with so many students failing to qualify for the military or diplomatic corps. And schools that fail to prepare students to be capable works as well as innovative thinkers are also challenge to America’s global economic competitiveness.

Talk of the need for overhauling our school—“No Child Left Behind” to “Race to the Top,” — has gone on for too long with too little result.  Generations of American children have grown up and lost their way while unions, politicians and foundations have talked, thrown around money and failed to make any big change.

One million students drop out of American public schools every year. Thirty percent of all American high school students drop out and never graduate. For black and Hispanic students, the number is above fifty percent.

When the tragic scale of damage to minority communities is considered, the education crisis has rightly been called the “greatest civil rights challenge of the 21st century.”

My main take-away from reporting for this documentary is that “Digital Learning” shows tremendous promise as an immediate solution for helping American students to succeed immediately.

And it helps America’s teachers, parents, students, employers and political leaders regain their trust and enthusiasm for our public schools.

As Joel Klein, the former Chancellor of New York City Public Schools who now works for News Corp. [the parent company of Fox News Channel] told me the computer revolution has touched every part of our lives but our schools.

“I think about how different the world is today in terms of the media, in terms of medicine, in terms of the way people really experience their lives,” Klein said. “But education is stuck in a 19th-century model. So I’m convinced that we can change the way we educate our kids.  “Use technology not [just] by giving a kid a computer but by really improving instruction, by helping teachers do their work in a much more effective way” he added.

Juan Williams is a Fox News political analyst. He is the author of several books including “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America–and What We Can Do About It” and “Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate.”

 

Carpe Diem Groundbreaking Education

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On May 2, under a glorious spring sky, a new charter school officially broke ground on the Northwest side of San Antonio. Carpe Diem Learning Systems’s first Texas campus will be located on Military Drive in the heart of District 6 and Northside Independent School District.

The event carried all the ceremony and anticipation appropriate for an effort that has been years in the making. In 2011 when Victoria Rico, chair of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, sought out Carpe Diem’s founder Rick Ogston at a Philanthropy Roundtable Conference she was told that he was unavailable because of a meeting with Melinda Gates.

Fortunately, Rico is not easily deterred, and four years later Carpe Diem Innovative School – Westwood is slated to open in the fall of 2015. If charter enrollment trends are any indicator, the blended learning innovator will have no problem filling up to 400 slots for 6-10th graders in its first year. From there the school hopes to scale with the 10th graders until they enroll 600 students in grades 6-12.

Victoria Rico with her children, Sophia and Lucas Rico, and Carpe Diem Innovative Schools - San Antonio Superintendent Nick Fleege at the ground breaking event for Carpe Diem Innovative School - Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

Victoria Rico with her children, Sophia and Lucas Rico, and Carpe Diem Innovative Schools – San Antonio Superintendent Nick Fleege at the ground breaking event for Carpe Diem Innovative School – Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

At the ground breaking event Carpe Diem Innovative Schools – San Antonio Superintendent Nick Fleege hinted that there was space on the 6.116 acre lot for downward expansion. This kind of entrepreneurial gusto is characteristic of the high performing charters out of Arizona. Carpe Diem will join BASISand Great Hearts Texas as the third Arizona-bred chain to capitalize on the charter-friendly climate in the Texas legislature.

Carpe Diem Learning Systems originated in Yuma, Arizona. Each expansion focused on a city with uniquely appealing characteristics. In Indianapolis, the mayor is authorized to award charters, cutting out layers of bureaucratic hurdles. The Cincinnati Public School system literally opened their doors, authorizing and sharing a campus with the Carpe Diem school. Fleege says that the blended learning approach is ideal for this sort of collaboration.

“I’m hoping to find a partnership like that in San Antonio,” Fleege said.

Whether or not any of San Antonio’s school districts will eventually share space with a Carpe Diem school remains to be seen, but for now the relentless pursuit of education reformers like Rico has played a large role in getting San Antonio to the top of the list for charter school expansion.

Carpe Diem is enjoying considerable local political support, in addition to the heavy hitting philanthropic foundations dedicated to their success.

Brandon Seale, board chair of Carpe Diem Innovative Schools - San Antonio welcomes the crowd to the ground breaking for Carpe Diem Innovative Schools - Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

Brandon Seale, board chair of Carpe Diem Innovative Schools – San Antonio welcomes the crowd to the ground breaking for Carpe Diem Innovative Schools – Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

“You can’t go into a market without knowing you have the support of the market,” says Joe Bruno, president of Building Hope.

Choose to Succeed, the Ewing Halsell Foundation, the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, Building Hope and the Charter School Development Corp have backed the $7.25 million project. Councilmember Ray Lopez (D6) and Texas District 124 Representative Ina Minjarez were on hand at the May 2 event to show their support as well.

Minjarez kept her remarks brief, having been in office for only a few days. Lopez, on the other hand, recounted the story of a long career seeking educational opportunity for the children in District 6. For him, the influx of school choice is only as good as its accessibility to all students.

“Those who don’t have the ability to come, we need to go get them!” Lopez said.

He praised the school for doing an excellent job informing the neighborhood about their new educational option. The showing of neighborhood families at the event represented the outreach efforts underway as Carpe Diem walks the neighborhood and builds its database of interest.

While the heavy machinery and hard hards left no doubt as to what was being celebrated, Robert Sommers, CEO of Carpe Diem Learning Systems, reminded the crowd that the real celebration, and the real work was yet to come.

“This is the easy part, the hard part is educating kids. That’s the real job,” Sommers said.

Valerie Robertson, principal of the Westwood campus was on hand and ready to accept that challenge.

“If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been walking around with a big smile on my face,” Robertson said.

If you ask Fleege, he’ll tell you that smile is the smile of confidence, because the administration of Carpe Diem Innovative School – Westwood believes that the students in their classrooms are getting the best education available.

State Representative Ina Minjarez and District 6 City Council Representative Ray Lopez join Lucas Rico (in the hard hat) and future students for the groundbreaking ceremony of Carpe Diem Innovative School - Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

State Representative Ina Minjarez and District 6 City Council Representative Ray Lopez join Lucas Rico (in the hard hat) and future students for the groundbreaking ceremony of Carpe Diem Innovative School – Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

“I think that Carpe Diem is what the future of education is going to look like,” says Brandon Seale, board chair of Carpe Diem Innovative Schools – San Antonio.

The hallmark of the system is blended learning. In addition to instructional classroom hours, the students spend half of their day in the learning center working with a software program that has been tailor-made to their academic levels. That’s “levels,” plural. Carpe Diem does not expect that a student will be on an even grade level across all subjects. While a few classes will be age/grade specific, such as state mandated 7th-grade Texas history (which, every out-of-state charter administrator finds worth mentioning), the rest will be grouped according to mastery level. Their highly tailored approach allows individuals to accelerate in one subject, while they work toward mastery in another.

“Our curriculum doesn’t just have a personalized component, the whole thing is personalized,” Fleege said.

The mastery component is another distinctive. Carpe Diem’s method treats mastery as a process, not a test score. They are not allowed to proceed to the next level until they have reached 80% or higher on all assessments. However, because they are working online, teachers have access to detailed records that show where the student is struggling. The teachers, who are freed from administrative minutia by the softwares record keeping, can then focus on instruction to help individual students in areas where they struggle. Rather than starting over and retaking the entire level, the students can revisit particular subjects or skills and work toward their 80% mastery.

State Representative Ina Minjarez voices her support for Carpe Diem Innovative School - Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

State Representative Ina Minjarez voices her support for Carpe Diem Innovative School – Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

“In our curriculum you can get one of three grades: A, B, or the opportunity to do it again,” Fleege said.

The benefit of this approach, according to Fleege, is twofold. First, students are not allowed to build on a shaky foundation. Trying to build calculus on 60% mastery of algebra is a doomed enterprise. Second, it keeps students from being held back in areas where they excel while they work on areas where they need more time.

The individualized approach also anticipates that not every kid will go to college. However, it is Carpe Diem’s goal that every student be well prepared for that option, and thus they intend to educate future tradesmen, craftsmen, entrepreneurs, and service members to the same standards. On every student’s workspace in the learning center will hang a card that reads, “Aspiring (career) …” Fleege anticipated changing those cards repeatedly as the students grow, focus, and learn, but whether the aspiration of the moment is academic, professional, or athletic, Fleege intends to honor that.

*Featured/top image: Future students join administrators, elected leaders, and philanthropists in the ground breaking ceremony for Carpe Diem Innovative School – Westwood. Photo by Bekah McNeel

Groundbreaking ceremony at Carpe Diem Westwood in San Antonio

Groundbreaking ceremony at Carpe Diem Westwood | San Antonio Charter Moms

On Saturday, May 2, 2015, Carpe Diem Innovative Schools—San Antonio hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at its Carpe Diem Westwood campus, its first in Texas.

Future students and families gathered with school leaders and philanthropists under a white tent pitched on a flat, 6-acre rectangle of land located on the west side of San Antonio, near the intersection of Highways 90 and 151. A warm breeze blew the organic smell of fill dirt,  and heavy equipment, including graders and steamrollers, continued working on the site throughout the ceremony.

The first Carpe Diem public charter schools were located in Yuma, Arizona; the network has expanded to Indiana (earlier post) and Ohio (earlier post). The Commissioner of Education approved Carpe Diem’s Texas charter application in 2013, as discussed in thisearlier post.

Carpe Diem is known for its innovative school model, using technology to provide students with instruction that’s adapted to their level. Carpe Diem Westwood will open in August 2015, serving grades 6-10 in 2015-16, and expanding each year to eventually serve grades 6-12.

By building a campus in San Antonio, Carpe Diem will join a portfolio of schools supported by Choose to Succeed, a harbormaster organization that has been working to bring high-performing, high-growth charter school networks to San Antonio. The Choose to Succeed portfolio includes KIPP San Antonio, IDEA Public Schools, BASIS San Antonio & BASIS San Antonio North, and Great Hearts Texas. As these schools expand, they have the potential to dramatically increase the number students from San Antonio who are well-prepared to enter college and complete four-year degrees, and hopefully return to San Antonio to fuel rapid economic development for the next generation.

Groundbreaking ceremony at Carpe Diem Westwood | San Antonio Charter Moms

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Brandon Seale, Board Chair of Carpe Diem Innovative Schools—San Antonio, emphasized the benefit of bringing Carpe Diem’s personalized learning model to San Antonio.

Nick Fleege, superintendent, Carpe Diem Innovative Learning Systems--San Antonio | San Antonio Charter Moms

Nick Fleege, the Superintendent of Carpe Diem Innovative Schools—San Antonio, thanked the people who helped make the school happen.

Ray Lopez, District 6, San Antonio City Council | San Antonio Charter Moms

Ina Minjarez, newly-elected State Representative for District 124, and Ray Lopez, City Councilman, District 6, welcomed Carpe Diem to the community.

Victoria Rico, chairwoman and trustee, George W. Brackenridge Foundation | San Antonio Charter Moms

Victoria Rico, Chairwoman and trustee of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, recalled her first meeting with Carpe Diem leaders in 2011, when it seemed like a long shot that they would choose San Antonio for expansion.

Joe Bruno, President, Building Hope | San Antonio Charter Moms

Joe Bruno, President of Washington, D.C.-based Building Hope, shared his enthusiasm for helping to create a new facility for Carpe Diem Westwood, but stressed the importance of the teachers and students who will bring the school to life.

Bob Sommers, CEO, Carpe Diem Learning Systems | San Antonio Charter Moms

Bob Sommers, CEO of Carpe Diem Learning Systems, and Valerie Robertson, Principal of Carpe Diem Westwood, expressed eagerness to get the school ready for operation. Robertson said she is actively recruiting students and is available to answer questions about the school.

Carpe Diem Westwood groundbreaking | San Antonio Charter Moms

An eager group of future students joined the adults to don hard hats and pick up shovels to turn over scoops of dirt. The industrious kids kept shoveling, even after the photo ops were over and the adults had scattered to share news and congratulations.

While talking to future students, I realized how Carpe Diem Westwood fills a niche like no other school in San Antonio. Casaleah Coyne, pictured below next to Principal Robertson, started at a charter school in Arizona; after moving to Texas, her family realized that their neighborhood public school was not meeting her needs, so her dad began homeschooling her. To make it possible for Casaleah to attend 8th grade at Carpe Diem, the family is relocating to San Antonio from their home in a small Hill Country town, and her mom is looking for a new job. Casaleah is an aspiring actress and is looking forward to exploring San Antonio.

Carpe Diem Westwood Principal Valerie Robertson with future students Casaleah and Seth | San Antonio Charter Moms

Carpe Diem Westwood is still accepting applications for the 2015-16 school year. Students can apply online or visit the temporary office in downtown San Antonio at 700 North Saint Mary’s St., Suite 880, San Antonio, Texas 78205. The address at the new campus will be 8038 W. Military Dr., San Antonio, Texas 78227.

Read more: “Carpe Diem Groundbreaking Education”, Bekah McNeel, Rivard Report, May 2, 2015.

Changing the Game with School Design

By Ben Jackson

This post was originally published on the TNTP Blog.

If you ask 100 people to picture a baseball diamond and imagine where each player stands, they’ll all probably describe the same thing. But according to the New York Times, the traditional baseball set up started changing around 2010, based on new evidence about where batters tend to hit the ball.

If you ask 100 people to picture a school, they’ll probably all describe the same thing, too: a building with walled off classrooms, each filled with one teacher and twenty to thirty students of the same age. The difference is that unlike baseball, schools and teachers are still organized in largely the same way they were decades ago. If the third baseman doesn’t have to stand right off third base, why does a teacher still need to stand in front of 25 students?

The answer is rooted in tradition. Schools look the same largely because they’ve historically been designed the same way: built and staffed from the district central office outward. But these models are often out of sync with what we know about how students learn and the expectations for today’s workplace. Not all students learn best by listening to a single teacher lecture at the front of the room, and many careers now require people to access information independently and generate ideas and solve problems virtually and collaboratively. Yet, most American schools have made only minor adjustments to their design.

Just as some baseball teams have pushed the envelope by using data to place their defenses more strategically, across the country, there are districts and charter networks responding to these changes and beginning to do things differently. At TNTP, we’re starting to think about how to support innovative school design, so we’re chewing on three key questions that need to be answered to build schools that start from students, rather than central offices:

1. What do students need? Who’s at bat?

Teams play defense differently against a powerhouse hitter than a pitcher who is likely to bunt. The stats dictate where the defense plays on the field. Similarly, designing a school, whether it’s brand new or a turnaround, requires figuring out what the students there really need. For some students, the traditional school model with some updates and adjustments still works well. But what about students who, for example, learn better in a project-based setting or who may struggle with writing, but understand advanced concepts in science and need more challenging work? While many needs are common to most students (like effective teachers), there may be some that are more critical than others for a given group of kids.

2. What’s the plan to get students what they need? What’s the right defensive strategy?

Teams use other information—who’s on base, the score and how many outs there are—to determine the best defensive strategy for that situation. In a school setting, once students’ needs are determined, an instructional model should be determined to make sure those needs will be met. Would a blended learning model work? Or an expanded school year?

At Carpe Diem Meridien in Indianapolis, no two students are taking the exact same course load. As teacher Josh Woodward explains in Education Week, students’ course loads are determined by their instructional needs in each subject, as well as their areas of interest. Students and teachers have one-on-one and small group time to work on collaborative projects that bring their digital curriculum to life.

At Generation Schools, students have up to 30 percent more hours in the school year, compared to most traditional school models, and teachers have a notably reduced course load and a minimum of ninety minutes per day for collaborative planning. Match charter schools incorporate a high dose of one-on-one tutoring into every student’s school day. A Colorado district abandoned grade levels to move toward a competency-based model that’s more closely aligned to their immediate learning needs. All of these models are examples of districts and charter networks getting creative with school structure to put students’ unique needs first.

3. Who can get students what they need? Who’s on first? And second?

Some personnel are more effective in different situations—that’s why baseball teams have closers. A typical school district spends a majority of its budget on personnel. But different instructional models require different personnel, and if districts can allocate budgets based on the instructional model rather than the number of students in the building, there’s more room for innovation. A blended learning model might mean fewer teachers are required to reach students, because students divide their time between digital and in-person learning. The Match approach requires additional tutors. At the Academies of Nashville, Metro-Nashville Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education program, students spend time learning from professionals in various practical and technical fields.

In addition to staff, there are considerations around how much time should be allocated for different activities (and for the entire day), what materials are needed to deliver on the instructional model, and what the school space should look like, to name a few. There’s no reason for these to be uniform from school to school.

*

Baseball has been slow to change over time. And in some ways, this is a good thing. We love the game because of its traditions. In the same vein, the traditional school design model still has some advantages: Centralized district bureaucracy tends to be fairly stable, for example. But its biggest advantage is near-universal social and cultural acceptance—that very fact that everyone thinks of the same thing when they hear the word “school.” The real challenge is that most of us literally cannot imagine the alternatives. Like baseball, American public schools are treasured institutions that, for most of us, go back to our childhoods, so we shouldn’t expect that changing them will be easy: The anxiety that comes with upending a set of deeply ingrained expectations and values is genuine. But for school design to take significant leaps, we have to confront that.

Now is the time to do so. Data have done a lot for the game of baseball. Likewise, the past century has taught us a lot about how students learn and teachers teach, and about the best use of technology in aiding that process. As we move forward, districts will need to adapt to support a variety of schools. And they’ll have to grapple with big questions, like how to get parents, teachers and students to embrace changes in what the school experience looks like, how to remain flexible so schools and classrooms can continuously adapt over time, and how to address the urgent instructional needs of students while helping future and current teachers transition to new ways of teaching.

If America’s pastime can evolve, though, surely our schools can too.

Ben Jackson is Partner, Emerging Services at TNTP.

The 13 Most Innovative Schools in the World

Makoko Floating School. Lagos, Nigeria. The school that floats.

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In the floating neighborhood of Makoko, this all ages school serves as a communal learning space and example for future building projects in Africa’s coastal regions.

Makoko’s triangular frame is three stories high, built to resist rising water levels in the lagoon. At 1,000 square feet, the school (created byarchitecture firm NLÉ, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the United Nations) includes a play area, compost toilets, and classrooms, all of which can house up to 100 students or residents.

AltSchool. San Francisco, California. The school of Silicon Valley.

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AltSchool is a complete departure from traditional education, shirking the traditional testing model for one that improves technology skills and gets kids thinking flexibly so they can adapt as the world changes.

Kids turn everyday objects into circuit boards and learn 3D modeling to build playhouses, all in the pursuit of feeling comfortable with the future that greets them.

Brightworks School. San Francisco, California. The school that teaches dangerously.

brightworks-school-san-francisco-california-the-school-that-teaches-dangerously

Launched by visionary Gever Tulley in 2011, Brightworks takes some of the most dangerous things parents tell their kids not to do and makes an entire curriculum out of them. Kids in grades K to 12 get dirty, play with fire, take apart home appliances, and complete art projects all in the same day.

Samaschool. San Francisco, California. The school that says it’s not too late.

samaschool-san-francisco-california-the-school-that-says-its-not-too-late

In-demand jobs are hard enough to find, let alone for people in low-income areas. But those are the peopleSamaschool wants most, which is why the school gives adults who struggle to find employment a leg up, with an education focused on the digital and entrepreneurial skills necessary in today’s market.

Ørestad Gymnasium. Copenhagen, Denmark. The school in a cube.

restad-gymnasium-copenhagen-denmark-the-school-in-a-cube

Ørestad Gymnasium is one giant classroom, where more than 1,100 high school students spend half their time learning in an expansive glass cube — a “gymnasium,” as parts of Europe still call secondary schools — to avoid traditional instruction.

By encouraging students to collaborate in wide-open settings, the school hopes kids will be equipped to think flexibly on diverse topics later in life.

Sra Pou Vocational School. Sra Pou village, Cambodia. The school for building community.

sra-pou-vocational-school-sra-pou-village-cambodia-the-school-for-building-community

Designed by Finnish architecture firmRudanko + Kankkunen, the all-ages Cambodian school was built by community members, for community members, to learn how to turn their passions into full-fledged businesses. A local NGO provides teachers to guide students on that path.

Building the school was a lesson in itself, as architects created the structure side by side with local residents, giving them pointers on how to construct similarly styled buildings on their own.

Carpe Diem Schools. Aiken, Ohio. The school built like an office.

carpe-diem-schools-aiken-ohio-the-school-built-like-an-office

The Carpe Diem school look more like an office building than a classroom.

Inside the main room, known as The Learning Center, there are 300 cubicles (one for each student). These cubes house a computer that guides the student through his or her education.

Big Picture Learning. Providence, Rhode Island. The school in the real world.

big-picture-learning-providence-rhode-island-the-school-in-the-real-world

The Big Picture Learning model breaks down the walls between education and the working world.

From the beginning, k-12 students learn their creative passions will come first. To help stoke those passions, students are paired with mentors who work in the fields the students want to someday enter.

P-TECH High School. Brooklyn, New York. The school that bridges high school and college.p-tech-high-school-brooklyn-new-york-the-school-that-bridges-high-school-and-college

P-TECH was launched in 2011 by IBM to give teens in New York a way into college that avoided the usual four-year high-school track.

Instead, P-TECH students complete a six-year degree. Boosted by mentorship and internships in STEM fields, the fifth and sixth years earn students an associate’s degree from the nearby New York City College of Technology, and many go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree afterward.

Innova Schools. Peru. The school built by world-class designers.

 

innova-schools-peru-the-school-built-by-world-class-designers

Innova is Peru’s response to failing standardized education in the country. The school combines several different forms of instruction — tech-heavy online learning, guided lessons, group work — in a setting that was designed to be modular and adaptable to the location.

Ex-engineer Jorge Yzusqui illionaire businessman Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor approached Yzusqui with plans to collaborate and expand, with help from global design firm IDEO. Today, there are 29 schools across the country.

Egalia Pre-school. Stockholm, Sweden. The school without gender.

egalia-pre-school-stockholm-sweden-the-school-without-gender

The Egalia school system is founded on total equality between students. The system is made up of two schools, Egalia and Nicolaigården, which reject gender-based pronouns in the hopes of grooming kids to think of one another on equal terms.

Instead of “he” and “she,” kids are either called by their first names or referred to as “they.” It’s part of a mission to avoid discrimination of all kinds.

Steve Jobs School. Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The school that thinks different.

steve-jobs-school-amsterdam-the-netherlands-the-school-that-thinks-different

Like its namesake suggests, the Steve Jobs school rejects the conventional wisdom in full: Instead of corralling kids through the same educational system, they go at their own pace.

Maurice de Hond, the school’s founder, tells Tech Insider that each student begins with an Individual Development Plan (IDP), which is evaluated and readjusted every six weeks by the child, his or her parents, and the coach. (The school doesn’t call them “teachers.”)

Blue School. New York, New York. The school fusing compassion and creativity.

blue-school-new-york-new-york-the-school-fusing-compassion-and-creativity

Creativity is king at Blue School, which was founded as a playgroup in 2006 by the Blue Man Group. Sensing a gap in how schools operated, the group strove to bring its quirkiness and love of inquiry into education.

As part of the curriculum, kids in grades 2 to 8 come up with ways to improve recycling, create 3D models of New York City, and fix home appliances.

Blended Learning (Pt. 1): Changing the Face of Education

A new way of teaching and learning is making its way into some public schools that, if it gains enough traction, could turn the traditional education system on its head. “Blended learning” is not about credits or grades; it’s about mastery through personalized learning. Students typically have no preset grade level. Nor are there predetermined course completion dates.

Blended learning combines face-to-face and digital lessons in an adult-supervised environment. The way it’s done varies from school to school, but a common denominator is that the location, tools and pace of instruction are carved out for each student’s learning needs.

“They get through at a pace based on their individual goals — not because they are in seventh grade. And they don’t accept a ‘C’ or ‘D’ because it is passing. They stay with [the class] until they master it. Conversely, if [advanced students] finish in nine weeks rather than 15, they move on to the next course,” said Bob Sommers, CEO of Carpe Diem Learning Systems, describing that Ohio-based company’s blended curricula, which is similar to other programs.

Ninth-grader David Unthank had a whole curricula tailored for him, at least with his chosen elective in interior design, which he plans to study in college.

“It’s a software program where you design 3D room models. You can drag and drop furniture from an aerial view,” said David.

He also uses tools enabling him to research average income and what a day would be like as an interior designer. And he can check out college programs online.

David usually starts his day in the learning center at his charter school, which is part of Cincinnati Public Schools. He logs on to his computer, and up comes a blue screen with color-coded charts, telling him the percentage of each course he has completed. Throughout the day, the chart turns from red to blue to green, depending on whether he is on track, falling behind or ahead.

“It’s intimidating if you get behind, but you can always get help,” he said. Students shoot a virtual ticket to the instructor, roaming the room with his electronic notepad, who walks them through their challenge.

“When I am ahead, I am free to go to other classes. I don’t end up bored, working on what I can already do,” said David. While the student next to him studies Biology, David listens to a “virtual teacher” elaborate on the Civil War PowerPoint presentation that fills his screen. Later he regroups with a few peers who heard the same presentation, and they sink into an in-depth conversation about what it will mean for freed slaves to enlist in the Union Army.

Schools around the nation are reporting improved performance outcomes -especially in low-income districts where kids have struggled, such as two California schools. The top score on that state’s academic performance index (API) is 1,000; 800 is the target score. Two years after implementing blended learning, a Los Angeles school got a 991 on the API and, shortly after, a neighboring school’s score jumped to 978.

US Department of Education meta-analysis found that students in fully online courses outperformed those in “live” classes. And blended learning students outperformed those in fully online courses.

Riverside School District in California offers blended learning in kindergarten through 12th grade. Requested test scores were not disclosed to Huffington Post. But Rick Miller, the superintendent of schools who brought the model to Riverside, shared anecdotal testimony.

“Students are increasingly better learners and more inquisitive,” he said, recalling what happened after each child received a device with Internet access.

“We got a bill from the phone company with roaming charges. These kids were off on vacation, still working on their Algebra. We hear from parents they’re in the car on the way to Grandma’s doing their assignments. They are reading chapters two or three times when they may not have read them through once in a text book,” said Miller. He believes the motivation is driven by two factors: students’ ability to immediately access information and their attraction to technology.

Miller is bringing blended learning to Santa Ana Public Schools, the sixth largest school district in California. The project is a work in progress as he addresses issues like limited bandwidth, and obtaining a computer for each student.

“We should have a bandwidth of 2 gigabytes by the end of this year. In another year we should be at 5 gigabytes, which is when everyone can get on line.

“And today, I have 30,000 devices and 60,000 students. So we are half way there.”

Blended learning demands a radical change in teachers’ roles.

“Teachers are transitioning to facilitators who must use multiple resources [such as computer programs tracking student’s progress]. They have to decipher from a lot of data that shows how students are doing.

“And they must be able to adjust their [lesson] plans, based on that information to reinforce concepts,” said Kelli Campbell, senior vice president at Discovery Education. Discovery develops digital curricula that schools around the world use to supplement live classroom work. The organization also sends coaches into classrooms to teach faculty an entirely new way of doing their jobs.

Their “Flipped Classroom” model exemplifies some new demands on teachers. Lessons that are traditionally done in class become homework. And what is traditionally homework is done in class.

“Students may listen to a recorded lecture at home. Then come to school and engage in interactive lessons based on concepts they gleaned from the lecture,” said Campbell.

“The teacher may have to adjust instruction based on what needs to be revisited, and be prepared to give feedback immediately.”

Often, parents can log into a secure portal to track their children’s progress and attendance.

David’s mother, Kim Unthank, likes this — and she likes that she can talk face to face with her son’s teachers and the school board. She home schooled her son for years.

“In time, I felt he had surpassed me academically and that I wasn’t challenging him enough. But I didn’t want to send him to a traditional public school. He would have been in three classes of 30 kids each; I didn’t want to throw him in that huge mix.

“I feel like he’s in better hands education wise. But I can still be involved.”

Currently, there are more than 7 million online learners in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Michael Horn, co-founder of Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonprofit engaged in education policy conversations. As the trend continues, he said, “I think we will see more innovation in mainstream public schools. But we are in early stages of making change.”

Read “Blended Learning (Part 2): Policy Issues and Best Practices”

Half of the World’s Most Innovative Schools are in the U.S.

The discussion about educational choice is usually accompanied by innovative education techniques and learning that differs from the norm of the typical classroom. Tech Insider, a digital publication, recently featured 13 of the world’s most innovative schools. The United States is ranked 17th behind other developed countries in education; however, six of the 13 schools are located in America.

America has been attached to the same public school system for many years, but it is finally being recognized that the system does not serve all students in the same way. Children’s learning styles are as unique as they are, requiring some students to need more specialized curriculum and others more hands-on learning.

These innovative schools featured in the article all have their own special characteristics, but the one thing they do share in common is putting the students first. The schools have designed curriculum around the students’ learning needs, allowing students to work in specialized fields of study and at their own pace. Teachers serve as mentors and guides but don’t offer the same full classroom instruction that most readers are familiar with from public school settings. Students learn to question and harness their enthusiastic curiosity in order to learn and digest information.

Contrary to what many believe, students are thriving and excelling by using these innovative learning models. A school launched by IBM in New York called P-Tech gives high school students a new lease on the idea of college, focusing heavily on STEM fields and allowing students the opportunity to complete real-world internships and gain an associates degree over a five to six year learning period. However, the first graduating class completed its course of study two years prior to its estimated finish date. “P-TECH is transforming high school,” IBM’s Stanley Litow, key architect of the P-TECH model, tells Tech Insider. This offers students “a clear pathway from school to career, giving young people options that they could not imagine, and directly advancing the nation’s economy.

At first glance, Carpe Diem School may look like an office building, but students each have their own cubicles where they assist in designing their learning structure and complete online course work. “Carpe Diem-Yuma, in Arizona, outperformed every public school in the county on the Arizona Instrument for Measuring Standards (AIMS) test four years in a row. Average proficiency was 65%. Meanwhile, Carpe Diem’s was 92%.

Every student is different and while these models work for some children, more traditional models of education are a fit for other groups of students. The point is, “in the land of the free” we need more innovative education models. Parents need to be empowered with the freedom to find the right learning environment for their children. Only then will we see true success and children reaching their full potential.

 

Blended Learning is the Future of K-12 Educational Technology

One of the popular providers of online education solutions, Edgenuity, has released its official list of outstanding schools and district implementers of the blended learning programs based on the 16,000 schools that the company partnered.

These educational institutions are perceived to have taken the extra miles in implementing different education strategies and innovative techniques to increase the learning outcomes of their students. They have delivered new learning experience to their students through original and student-centeredinstructional models.

Edgenuity’s Chief Executive Officer, Sari Factor, said that he is glad in recognizing the efforts of the schools in coming up with contemporary approaches for their academic instructions.

“There is no doubt that blended learning is a proven solution for transforming the educational experience for students,” said Factor. “We’re glad to recognize these schools and districts for effectively executing on a vision of using technology to empower students and teachers, and we look forward to sharing what these schools have learned to help more and more students across the country.”

“Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has a commitment to ensuring success for every student,” said CMS Director of Virtual Learning and Media Services, Hope Kohl. “Edgenuity has been an important partner, enabling us to provide rigorous, aligned content in online and blended formats. It is exciting that Edgenuity recognized CMS as a top district for innovative approaches and commitment to students.”

Included in the top 10 are Carpe Diem Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Clark County SchoolDistrict, Derby Public Schools, Henry County Schools, Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy, Rio Rancho Public Schools, East Pennsboro Area School District, Tift County Schools, and Village Green Virtual Charter School.

Currently, Edgenuity works with 9 among the 15 school districts in the United States. Some their partner schools are planning and developing effective blended learning programs for their students through different kind of innovative approaches.

What is the Future of Higher Education?

A bachelor’s degree is more valuable than ever before, and yet college enrollment in the United States is on the decline. As the economy has improved and tuition has increased, more young adults have sought options outside of higher education. The plight of for-profit colleges—which tend to enroll low-income students—has accounted for much of drop in enrollment. State support for higher education has also weakened. Seven in 10 seniors who completed their degrees at public and private nonprofit colleges in 2014 graduated with student debt.

Colleges have resorted to an array of cost-saving measures, relying increasingly on adjunct faculty and student-tuition increases, among other strategies. Although MOOCs—massive open online courses—may be past their heyday, virtual education continues to gain traction. Vocational and career-and-technical education is having a comeback, while liberal-arts programs are under attack.

One of the most remarkable phenomena to reach colleges this year have been the student protests, their participants vying to improve race relations on their campuses. The unrest has prompted schools to rethink their institutional missions and services and commit to properly serving new types of students; several staffers and university leaders have been fired or resigned amid these administrative shifts.

We reached out to some of the leading scholars of, experts on, and advocates for higher education, and asked them what, as the year comes to an end, is giving them cause for hope and despair. Below are their answers, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Reason for despair: I am in the field of higher education, and I am continually reminded of how challenging it is to transform this world through technology. While we’ve seen technology revolutionizing so much of the world around us, and providing so much access to everything from entertainment to communication, the same cannot be said of quality education. Education is a basic human right, but has remained relatively resistant to technology, and continues to be either of poor quality, or simply out of reach for so very many people around the world.

Reason for hope: The progress we’ve begun to see in technology-enabled learning gives me reason to hope. Online learning has the potential to revolutionize education in both quality and scale, enabling anyone with an Internet connection and a will to learn access to an education. Experiments with MOOCs have demonstrated that quality education can be offered to millions of students worldwide at near-zero marginal cost. Recently, barriers to university credit for MOOCs have also begun to come down, giving me tremendous hope that soon people will be able to get an education and also a meaningful credential to showcase their work.

Education has also been recognized as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations, so I’m hopeful that nations will now see a reason to invest more heavily in education.

9 Innovative Schools Looking to Redefine Public Education in the U.S.

Public schools are often criticized for not keeping up with student needs — and that’s hard to refute.

In a world of constant change, the majority of public schools have remained rather in changed for decades. The structure is so standard that the public school you attended probably looked a lot like the schools your parents and grandparents attended — even if they did walk uphill both ways in the snow to get there.

SEE ALSO: Photos: Low-income high school seniors march their college applications to the post office

But the needs of students are ever-shifting — and public schools are struggling to keep up.

Technology is now ingrained in our lives, but noticeably absent from poorly funded school districts. Racial justice movements are dominating modern activism, but history books remain whitewashed. Inequalities in public school access still exist, but we aren’t working to level the playing field. Standardized testing is the sole barometer for a public school’s success, but many argue these tests prove little about student or school success.

All of these issues play a role in what many say is a public school crisis.

Every 26 seconds, a student drops out of high school in the U.S.

Every 26 seconds, a student drops out of high school in the U.S. Approximately 25% of students who enter high school fail to graduate in four years.

If public schools received a grade by advocates for comprehensive education, it would undoubtedly be a “needs improvement.” And those advocates are taking up the challenge to raise the grade — and the bar — of public schooling. The first step? Reimagining what public school could look like.

From advocating for underserved students to completely redesigning how a curriculum is structured, innovative public schools are taking the glaring problems of the current model and working to solve them. Here are nine schools that are especially noteworthy in the quest to make public school actually work for youth today.

1. Carpe Diem Schools in Ohio and Indiana

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IMAGE: CARPE DIEM SCHOOLS/FACEBOOK

Breaking the traditional classroom mold, students at Carpe Diem Schools in Ohio and Indiana work in what looks like your typical office space — individual cubicles included. The school emphasizes a blended-learning model for students ages 6-12, shifting away from classrooms restricted by age and treating students as partners in each other’s success.

Students at Carpe Diem work on solo computer-based projects that cater to their individual interests, with collaboration and support from peers and teachers. These individual projects are enhanced by professional-level workshops, acting as classroom instruction. The model moves away from the lecture-based classrooms we all know toward a more collaborative learning experience. Students are admitted on a first come, first serve basis.

2. The Alliance School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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IMAGE: YOUTUBE

Serving middle and high school students, The Alliance School is a much-needed second chance for youth who have previously experienced bullying and harassment in other public school districts. Many of the students at The Alliance School identify as part of the LGBTQ community, a population of students especially at-risk for in-school harassment and is regularly underserved.

About 9 in 10 LGBTQ-identified students nationwide report experiencing harassment at school. The Alliance School was created with the goal of reducing this all-too-common reality, often cited as a success story and an example of how to properly support LGBTQ youth in schools. Interested students are required to set up a meeting with staff to discuss their needs and future enrollment.

3. Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Michigan

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IMAGE: CLINTONDALE HIGH SCHOOL

While most high schoolers focus on keeping up with lectures during the day and completing homework at night, students at Clintondale are experiencing their school days in reverse. Students watch pre-recorded lectures after school, but complete their homework in school, allowing teachers to work one-on-one with students to apply lectures to practice.

The school, which mostly serves low-income students of color, reports that the flipping of the school day has reduced student course failure rates by 33% and school disciplinary actions by 66%. The school accepts students based on a standard public school admissions model.

4. STAR School in Flagstaff, Arizona

Public schools are notorious for whitewashed history books that celebrate the triumphs of white “pioneers” while ignoring the violence against indigenous populations that enabled their so-called success. The STAR School in Flagstaff, however, works to recognize the histories and celebrate the cultures of indigenous communities — specifically the Navajo Nation.

The school, which serves grades K-8, operates on the Navajo tradition of valuing relationships, which is ingrained in the curriculum and operations. The school exists completely off the grid, powered by more than 200 solar panels and two wind generators to foster a healthy relationship between the school and the environment, which is vital for the community the school serves. Admission to the school operates on a public school model.

5. Brightworks School in San Francisco

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IMAGE: BRIGHTWORKS SCHOOL/FACEBOOK

Brightworks founder Gever Tulley is known for valuing the lessons of danger. His book, Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), is just the starting point of Brightworks School’s edgy philosophy.

The school, which encourages exploration, expression and exposition, motivates children to play with fire (literally) and other things often labeled off-limits to children — in controlled, supervised environments, of course. The school operates on the philosophy that engaging responsibly with danger is actually an important part of learning, enhancing problem-solving and imagination while also teaching children to remain in control of their environment.

Though the model is undoubtably controversial, Tulley says the pay-off is watching student confidence blossom. Potential students and families have to attend an information session and apply to the program.

6. Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn, New York

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IMAGE: PATHWAYS IN TECHNOLOGY EARLY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL/FACEBOOK

Pathways, which opened in 2011, goes above and beyond when it comes to public schooling — and that isn’t just a figure of speech. The school goes up to grade 14, relatively unheard of in the public school model.

This model means that students graduate Pathways with an associate’s degree at no cost to them — and that makes a world of difference. Through the program, students are set up for lifelong career and financial success, as the average associate’s degree holder in the U.S. makes about $10,000 more in median earnings than the average high school graduate.

New York City-based students need to apply to the school due to space, with preference given to students who attend information sessions.

7. The Primary School in East Palo Alto, California

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IMAGE: THE PRIMARY SCHOOL

The Primary School, projected to open in August 2016, is an initiative started by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who is a pediatrician. The nonprofit K-12 initiative will bring together quality public education and comprehensive health care services for students and their families.

The school will especially focus on low-income families and families of color, which are regularly underserved by both health and educational systems.

8. Quest To Learn in New York

Children are taught that play is for recess, not for the classroom. Quest To Learn, a product of the Institute of Play, works to dispel this myth by proving that play and learning can — and should — mutually exist.

The public school, which serves grades 6-12, uses game-based learning to encourage captivation and critical thinking for its students. Game designers co-design curricula with Quest To Learn teachers, resulting in an innovative classroom redefining the rules of education. To attend the school, students and families have to show a passion for the school’s “unique approach to curriculum” — no minimum test scores required.

9. Parley’s Park Elementary School in Park City, Utah

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IMAGE: PARSLEY’S PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL/FACEBOOK

In public schools, students who speak English as a second language are often discouraged from speaking their first language in class. This devaluing of language diversity is a problem Parley’s Park looks to solve.

Instead of requiring students to leave international languages at the classroom door, students spend half their day learning in Spanish and the other half learning in English. The school encourages this dual language instruction instead of making English dominate culturally, which leads to engaged students from both English and Spanish language backgrounds with the added bonus of constant language learning.

Other schools in the state offer a similar model, catering to students speaking Spanish, French and Chinese. All schools have a standard public school registration model.

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