Future Schools: Blending face-to-face and online learning
DSST Public Schools
The constant, real-time stream of student assessment data is a crucial element of the most promising tech-enabled schools, including some high flyers that don’t fit neatly under the blended label. One of the most interesting is charter school network DSST Public Schools, named for its flagship, the Denver School of Science and Technology. DSST enrolls a mostly-minority, 47 percent low-income student population and has achieved national renown for its extraordinary results, including the second-highest longitudinal growth rate in student test scores statewide. Among graduates, 100 percent have been accepted to four-year colleges, where an astonishing 1 percent require remedial courses, in comparison to 56 percent for the Denver district. Technology is everywhere as one strolls through DSST’s Stapleton campus in northeast Denver, just barely within sight of peaks of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. In a 6th-grade social studies class recently, students used collaborative user-made web sites called wikis to access and respond to in-class and homework assignments. The teacher projected a map of Asia and posted prompts on the wiki for students to respond to as they learned about the geography of the region.
DSST’s assessment system provides real-time, instant feedback to teachers and students on students’ progress, measured through quick assessments that students take on netbooks. Teachers at DSST have been developing these informal assessments and in the 2010–11 school year are working with a consultant to review the validity of the assessment items and gather feedback that will in turn make teachers better item writers. The data enable teachers to differentiate instruction and connect instructional strategies with student results. As at School of One, both teachers and students at DSST can track mastery on a particular standard. Teachers can quickly adjust groups and/or identify topics for re-teaching. Through these assessments and classroom observations, teachers identify students in need of extra support, who are then assigned to afterschool tutoring the same day. Teachers use the information to plan lessons, deciding whether to spend more class time on a certain area or focus on individual tutoring based on class scores. DSST is also using data to analyze teacher performance. “The technology enables us to collect good data on our school performance, which is used to drive and motivate student achievement,” says founder and CEO Bill Kurtz. “We believe that education innovation will be driven by common data.”
Carpe Diem Collegiate High School
Elsewhere in the charter universe, schools are incorporating hybrid and blended structures into already successful school organizations, which increasingly seek efficiency, even as they expand and work to maintain excellent student achievement. The impact has been dramatic, for example, at Carpe Diem Collegiate High School of Yuma, Arizona. Carpe Diem represents what will likely be a crucial chapter in the story of blended schools: a turn to a blended model because of financial or facilities challenges. The charter school, which serves 250 mostly low-income students in 6th through 12th grades, faced a crisis after losing its lease on a church building. Its founders radically transformed it from a traditional structure to one heavily dependent on online instruction. In the reinvented school, small groups take classes directly from teachers, while most students take online classes in a learning center that features 300 low-sided cubicles in one brightly painted room. Student cubicles have a desktop computer and monitor; many have been personalized and decorated with artwork. The learning center is staffed by the principal, two instructional assistants, and a course manager, who also talks with students about their progress.
Students begin their day by logging onto a software system called e2020 and accessing the calendar, selecting a subject area, and looking at their lists of assignments for the week. On any given day, based on the data, teachers may gather an entire grade or a subset of students, sometimes in groups as small as one or two. Some students work through all subjects each day, while others focus on math for the week on one day, science for the week on another day. Carpe Diem has been a state leader in student growth for the past two years.