Teachers at Si Se Puede also begin every school year with three weeks of PD in August to best develop instructional best practices (for example, how to administer assessments), and receive PD in analyzing trends and data.
Every Thursday afternoon, teachers meet to discuss their day and to collaborate. Teachers also have meetings four days a week to plan with other teachers and meet once a week with their coaches.
“We learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t, with blended learning, not so much from scientific research—since there’s not a lot out there at the moment, anyway—but from what we’ve heard from our own schools. It’s mostly internal data that we know how to analyze and put into action,” said Bufalino.
Part of what helps teachers to analyze data is software. Si Se Puede currently uses Illuminate for weekly data assessments and Schoolzilla for data warehousing.
Other programs used for OLPs include Dreambox Learning, ST Math, and iReady. The school also uses Education Elements as its online portal—a software Elliott-Chandler said is critical for schools implementing online learning.
Elliott-Chandler noted that while the blended learning model, when used effectively with data analysis, is great for boosting student achievement, student responsibility, and student familiarity with technology, there are still some challenges.
“Many teachers are still nervous when it comes to relying on OLPs because if a component of technology doesn’t work like it should, they’re left scrambling; they worry about their performance. But that’s normal and it’s just like any other school using technology. It’s not necessarily specific to blended learning.”
Another challenge is the start-up funding for more blended learning public charter schools, though Rocketship Education says many communities are willing to contribute for the start-up costs if it means their children can have access to a good education.
“The start-up costs [which typically are needed for the first 18 months of the school’s operation] are needed for things like payroll because even though our schools run solely on the state’s per-pupil expenditure [roughly $5,400 per pupil in Cali.], the initial state funding doesn’t come for about three months,” explained Elliott-Chandler. “Part of the beauty of our success is that we do manage to run on the state’s allotted per-pupil funding, because it means that this model can be scalable for many other schools in the state! We’re not ‘creaming’ students out and we’re not some gleaming castle on a hill-we’re in the communities, serving local students and everyone is invited to learn at our school.”
“Our schools are able to run on what’s allotted because though we’re a large school, we typically have less teachers and less physical classrooms. We can better allocate resources, like for PD,” said Bufalino. “We pay teachers 30 percent more on average than schools in the surrounding area.”
Rocketship Education is about to open its first school in Milwaukee, and has been approved for an additional seven schools. In 2015 the network will also expand to Tenn., D.C., and Indianapolis.
“At the end of the day, it’s less about state politics about charters and more about the community,” said Bufalino. “We want to be in any area with large achievement gaps. Right now we have 2,500 families on the wait list for our schools and it keeps growing. So we’re not just trying to grow to grow, we’re here to serve our communities.”
Editor’s note: This is the second part in our series on blended and hybrid learning. Read Part 1 here.