I listened to a panel this morning on “The Promise and Impact of Broadband Education.” The online panel discussed the role of high-speed Internet – including wireless broadband – on schools and looked at an initiative at Kramer Middle School, a public school in Washington, D.C.
The panelists were Kwame Simmons, principal at Kramer Middle School, and David Teeter, director of policy at the 3,800-member International Association for K-12 Online learning.
The session demonstrated one of the ongoing problems of online education. Both panelists encountered technical issues, which delayed the program. The moderator — referencing the “peril and the promise” of technology — had to stall for time, asking one panelist questions, while the other tried for several minutes to join the event. There were lots of “Are you there?”
Among the points made by panelists:
–30 states have virtual school/online initiatives.
–There is a trend to blend digital content and student management systems with classroom instruction. “In terms of what schools are doing, blended learning models have huge implications,” said Teeter. “No. 1, we are seeing increasing access to digital learning devices, which are enabling any-time, anywhere access of students, and for that matter, teachers to content and research with which to learn.”
–Limits still exist on the expansion of broadband education: They include bans on teachers teaching across state lines. Accreditation is often based on seat time rather than outcomes. There is a limited supply of high quality online learning systems and digital content. There is limited digital literacy among teacher and students.
–Expect an explosion of digital content in the next 5 to 10 years, including the replacement of traditional textbooks.
— Kramer Middle School principal Kwame Simmons said his school had been identified as persistently low performing. The school is supposed to increase its performance on district testing by 40 percentage points. Now, only 23 percent of the school’s students are proficient in reading, and 22 percent are proficient in math. So, the school is supposed to raise those rates to 63 and 62.
—To improve its outcomes, Kramer Middle School has chosen a blended instruction model, half digital and half face-to-face in the classroom. It will be Washington’s first blended learning school.
–Kramer Middle School piloted blended learning last year, using desktop computers, Smartboards and laptops. The school created an honors online math class using a Johns Hopkins University math program.
–Kramer Middle School will operate with a traditional 90-minute class block, 45 minutes of which will be virtual learning. The teacher will be in the room and able to provide feedback. All courses will have online teaching and learning, using several curricula and technical support providers including the Florida Virtual School, Johns Hopkins, Adaptive Curriculum and TVTextbook.
–Kramer teachers have received professional development to get ready for the change.
After the panel, I read a dozen news stories about the Kramer Middle School plan from Washington area media, including the Washington Post. I thought this Post comment from a District of Columbia Public School teacher was worth noting as it helps provide context to those low scores that the principal cited:
Being very familiar with Kramer and its population, I don’t think it will work. Kramer has some students with severe and unaddressed behavioral problems, a significant group (four classes and 1 Emotionally Disturbed) of Intellectually Challenged students, along with a high percent of special needs students (about 35%) that have been formally identified.
I’m willing to venture 10-15% of unidentified students would also qualify. Too bad the class sizes for these kids were larger than what should have been under DCPS guidelines, Blackmon consent, and the WTU contract. With that said, these kids need individual and human instruction and interaction, not a computer.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog