New Orleans Charters Innovating with Blended Learning

Arthur Ashe Charter School and other Charters in the FirstLine charter school network are embracing an innovative new approach to teaching called "blended learning," using time in the computer lab to help individualize the way students learn, writes Andrew Vanacore at the Time-Picayune.

FirstLine's CEO, Jay Altman, says his charters are the first public schools in the city to systematically embed software like this into the school day, but he predicts the idea will spread quickly, with the strategy poised to have a big effect on education in Louisiana.

Rocketship Education, a charter operator launched in 2007, backed by tech heavyweights such as Netflix and Facebook, is planning ­to open eight new elementary schools in Louisiana during the next seven years, starting with a campus in New Orleans, if approved by the state board of education.

"People have had great visions of technology transforming education for an extremely long time," Altman said.

Altman says setting aside time in the school day for the computer lab is less about technology and more about "addressing the challenge of how we personalize learning for more of our students. Technology just happens to be a tool for doing that."

The software helps quickly identify areas in which students struggle, constantly recording data and progress for teachers and administrators during math and reading work. The software is Web-based, which allows students to take their lessons away and work at home if they want or need.

"I'll think, ‘How did this kid log seven hours this week?'" Duncan said. "They can make progress even when they're not here."

However, one drawback is not knowing how quickly Ashe's students are progressing towards mastering Louisiana's annual LEAP exam, as no firm data has been compiled.

The LEAP exam is the most important measuring stick used by state officials to judge school quality, and a lot rides on it. But Altman said Ashe students are taking a round of benchmark assessments during the next two weeks and that will give some indication.

Teachers and administrators at Ashe say it's had an obvious impact. One teacher has reported on how one of her fifth-graders has already made it through a year's worth of material before Thanksgiving.

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