Low-performing schools have been a chronic problem in the District. But a new tool, blended learning, has local school officials hopeful that they may be solving the issue and turning the tide.
According to Ed Tech magazine, blended learning is an education model that integrates online instruction with the traditional classroom learning experience. Instead of all students in a classroom working from the same textbook, blended learning allows individuals to engage with material at their own pace.
John Rice, blended learning manager for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Office of Teaching Learning, has an even simpler definition.
“Blended learning is a combination of the best of what teachers can do with the best of what technology can do in the classroom,” he told the AFRO.
The technology-driven model first entered DCPS in math classrooms approximately six years ago. Before 2011, its use was described as “haphazard” by the American Enterprise Institute, because a centralized strategy did not exist. Blended learning appeared “only in places where enterprising teachers or administrators had decided to experiment on their own,” according to a case study, “Blended Learning in DC Public Schools.”
However, since then, implementation of the learning tool has picked up because it has the ability to “meet students where they are,” school officials said. Blended learning was first used to increase technical skills in Algebra.
“Blended learning levels the playing field,” said Rice. “It helps educators find the right lesson for students’ rights where they are in their current stage of learning.”
After seeing successful results in mathematics, school officials expanded into other curriculums and areas of study. Some form of blended learning can be found in at least eight of the city’s public schools; public charter schools also use the model.
“Chancellor Henderson believes in the application and power of technology across all levels of learning,” David Rose, DCPS deputy chief of educational technology and library programs told the AFRO. “This makes our school district different from others which may only have these models in certain schools or grades. You can find blended learning in classrooms across the K-12 spectrum.”
Randle Highlands Elementary School in Southeast is one of the successful DCPS schools utilizing blended learning. School officials have seen an improvement in math and reading scores, and a decline in teacher turnover and student suspensions since the program began.
Reactions to the new model have remained positive among teachers, parents, and students. School officials said parents enjoy learning about new technology with their children, and students enjoy using cutting-edge materials.
Initially, veteran teachers seemed hesitant toward the new technology and curriculum model, but DCPS officials have worked to make professional development integral to the program’s roll-out.
“We place big emphasis on professional development for our teachers and have committed resources district-wide to aid in this effort,” said Rose.
One of the concerns about the program is whether it can be continued when a child returns home.
“We recognize that not all of our families have technology or significant resources at home and, at the same time, we live in a world where a comfort level with technology is nearly a requirement,” said Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokesperson for DCPS. “We want our students to surpass this requirement.”