NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charter School Successfully Uses Virtual Blending in Education

August 6, 2013

At the Alliance Tennenbaum Family Technology High School, a charter school on Los Angeles' east side, every teacher is responsible for at least one-third more students than any mainstream educator would recommend. But these are not traditional classrooms. The school uses a hybrid model that combines online and traditional instruction and offers students three different ways to learn, says Susan Headden, a senior associate for public policy engagement at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

  • On one day, 16 students are getting traditional in-person instruction in Algebra I from teacher Wendy Chaves; roughly the same number are doing math problems online; and still others are gathered in clusters of four tutoring each other.
  • As public budgets shrink and technology enables increasingly individualized instruction, schools are rightly looking toward online models for ways to improve student performance.
  • The criticism of online learning has long been that, however cost effective, it cannot replace the human element in teaching.

The beauty of a hybrid model, also known as blended learning, is that it enhances the human element.

  • Computers help students to achieve competency by letting them work at their own pace.
  • And with the software taking up chores like grading math quizzes and flagging bad grammar, teachers are freed to do what they do best: guide, engage and inspire.

An increasing number of educators and policymakers see blended learning as one of the most promising means of educating students with a wide variety of learning styles and abilities.

  • Tennenbaum, which opened in 2011, is one of its pioneers. The school graduated its first class of seniors in June 2013 -- only six out of 74 in the first class were unlikely to graduate. When they arrived, only half of these students were on track to graduate.
  • In the months since it adopted the rotational model, known as Blended Learning for Alliance School Transformation, or BLAST, Tennenbaum has learned that adaptation to radical change does not come quickly or easily.
  • But it is showing that with commitment and a willingness to experiment, blended learning has great potential not just for improving efficiency and reducing costs, but for boosting student achievement across the board.

Source: Susan Headden, "The Promise of Personalized Learning," Education Next, 2013.


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