Report: Blended learning could hit or miss

There are still obstacles that are preventing blended learning from reaching its full potential, says the report.

Blended learning has the ability to transform education, according to a new report—but if certain guidelines and practices aren’t ensured, blended learning could become just another add-on to an archaic system on its way out, the report warns.

The report, titled “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning,” by Michael B. Horn, co-founder and executive director of education at the Innosight Institute, and Heather Clayton Staker, a senior research fellow for education practice at the institute, describes how blended learning can affect education, but why it also could fall short of its potential.

The report defines blended learning as “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.”…Read More

Study: Students need more paths to career success

School reform should include more emphasis on career-driven alternatives to a four-year education, says the study.

The current U.S. education system is failing to prepare millions of young adults for successful careers by providing a one-size-fits-all approach, and it should take a cue from its European counterparts by offering greater emphasis on occupational instruction, a Harvard University study published Wednesday concludes.

The two-year study by the Pathways to Prosperity Project at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education  notes that while much emphasis is placed in high school on going on to a four-year college, only 30 percent of young adults in the United States successfully complete a bachelor’s degree.

While the number of jobs that require no post-secondary education have declined, the researchers note that only one-third of the jobs created in the coming years are expected to need a bachelor’s degree or higher. Roughly the same amount will need just an associate’s degree or an occupational credential.…Read More

Readers sound off on value-added model, district efficiency

While reader response was mixed, many readers were skeptical of these new measures.

In recent eSchool News stories, we asked readers if teachers should be evaluated using the value-added model, which uses a student’s past performance on high-stakes tests to determine how much “value” a teacher has added in a given year, and whether school districts should be judged based on their efficiency—that is, how well their students achieve in comparison to how much the district spends on each child. The results are in, and our readers were largely skeptical of these controversial measures.

In Contributing Editor Cara Erenben’s story, “Should student test scores be used to evaluate teachers?” Erenben reports on the early results from a Gates Foundation study suggesting that researchers have found some validity in the value-added model. But when asked, “Should the value-added model be used to evaluate teachers?” only four percent of readers said this was a “valid and objective tool for measuring effectiveness.”

Fifty-four percent of readers said the model should be used, “but only in conjunction with other measures of teacher performance.” Forty-two percent of readers said they think the model is “unreliable.”…Read More

If education were a business…

More than a million students are enrolled in highly inefficient districts, says the CAP report.

A controversial new study published by the Center for American Progress (CAP) analyzes K-12 school districts based on their productivity: the academic achievement a district produces relative to its education spending.

CAP researchers call their new index for evaluating school systems “educational productivity,” and according to the study, low efficiency costs the nation’s school systems as much as $175 billion a year in unproductive spending. Released last week, the report was blasted by many critics who argued that the success of a school system cannot be measured like that of a business.

“At a time when states are projecting more than $100 billion in budget shortfalls, educators need to be able to show that education dollars produce significant outcomes—or taxpayers might begin to see schools as a weak investment,” says the report.…Read More

U.S. public wants an easier way to fire bad teachers

Seven in 10 say it should be easier to fire principals.

An overwhelming majority of Americans are frustrated that it’s too difficult to get rid of bad teachers, while most also believe that teachers aren’t paid enough, a new poll shows.

The Associated Press-Stanford University poll found that 78 percent of respondents think it should be easier for school administrators to fire poorly performing teachers.

Yet overall, the public wants to reward teachers—57 percent say they are paid too little, with just 7 percent believing they are overpaid and most of the rest saying they’re paid about right.…Read More

Report: Only one percent of ‘bad’ schools turn around

A lot of attention is being given to the idea of school “turnarounds” lately–the concept of taking a poorly performing school and drastically changing the staff, curricula, or other elements in an effort to make it much better. But a study out Tuesday underlines just how hard it is to actually turn around a failing school, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The study, “Are Bad Schools Immortal?,” examined more than 2,000 of the worst-performing district and charter schools in 10 states over five years. It found that very few of them closed, and even fewer–about 1 percent–truly “turned around.”

 “So far, [turnarounds] happen rarely and unsystematically,” says Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which released the study. “And nobody to my knowledge has a proven recipe for making it happen in a reliable or predictable or scalable way…. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”

That may be bad news for the Obama administration, which is investing some $3.5 billion in school-improvement grants to try to address America’s chronically bad schools. The money can be used in four ways, which include smaller steps–such as replacing the principal, adding time to the school day, and changing curricula. There are also more-drastic steps like closing a school, reopening it as a charter, or implementing a turnaround model in which most of the staff is replaced and a new principal is given increased autonomy. But the study comes with some caveats, including the fact that those more-extreme turnaround models have only recently been getting more attention. They were tried very little in the time period (2003-2009) that the study examined.…Read More

Have stimulus funds helped spur educational technology gains?

School budgets are about to be squeezed when the federal stimulus funds run out.

Nearly two years after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed, two new reports offer varying perspectives on how successful the billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds were in spurring educational technology gains and school reform.

One report, from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), highlights important educational technology gains across many states, while another report takes a more critical look at the effect that federal stimulus funds have had on education and school reform in general. Both reports warn that the future will be less than smooth for cash-strapped districts once the stimulus funds run out.

The Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) state block-grant program received $650 million under ARRA. In FY2010, EETT suffered cuts that brought its funding to $100 million, and the Obama administration has proposed eliminating EETT altogether in FY2011, instead making educational technology funding a key part of its school reform and improvement programs.…Read More

High school graduation rate is increasing, report shows

The U.S. high school graduation rate has increased for the first time in 40 years.

Higher standards, better data use, and more parent engagement are among the strategies responsible for the first significant improvement in America’s high school graduation rate in 40 years, a new report suggests.

America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center banded together to release the report, titled “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.”

The graduation rate of U.S. high school students increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008, according to the new data. The report also says there has been a decline in the number of “dropout factories,” or schools in which the graduation rate is at or below 50 percent. Dropout factories only make up about 10 percent of all U.S. high schools but account for half of the country’s dropouts. There were 261 fewer dropout factories in 2008 than there were in 2002—a decrease of about 13 percent, according to the report.…Read More

Growth of online instruction continues, though unevenly

Online education programs are now available to at least some K-12 students in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Online instruction continues to grow quickly overall, according to the latest snapshot of online education programs in grades K-12. But the shape and pace of this growth remains uneven throughout the U.S., and two states—Delaware and New York—still don’t offer any opportunities for K-12 students to take classes online.

That’s according to the 2010 edition of “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning,” an annual review of the status of online instruction in the U.S., published by Evergreen Education Group. The latest “Keeping Pace” report says tight budgets, new policy developments, and changing technologies are accelerating the growth of online education programs in some states, while slowing their growth in others.

As of the report’s publication, online education programs were available to at least some K-12 students in 48 states and the District of Columbia, its authors said—but no state provides a full range of opportunities for online instruction, which the report defines as both supplemental and full-time options for students of all grade levels.…Read More

Study: Teacher bonuses failed to boost test scores

Students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores fared no better than those whose teachers were given no such incentives.
Students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores fared no better than their peers.

Offering big bonuses to teachers failed to raise students’ test scores in a three-year study released Sept. 21 that calls into question the Obama administration’s push for merit pay to improve education.

The study, conducted in the metropolitan Nashville school system by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives, was described by the researchers as the nation’s first scientifically rigorous look at the effects of merit pay for teachers.

It found that students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores registered the same gains on standardized exams as those whose teachers were given no such incentives.…Read More