Guest Blog: The Journey begins for Ohio educators in the Leadership in Blended Learning Program

Editor’s Note: The Ohio Blended Learning Network kicked off its first session of the Leadership in Blended Learning in June with a gathering of principals and administrators in Central Ohio. Guiding that group is Stephanie Hollar, a facilitator trained in the program to bring skills and knowledge to principals so they can lead blended learning initiatives in their buildings. We asked Stephanie to share her thoughts about the program, blended learning, and the challenge these principals face as they begin to work through this program.

By Stephanie Hollar

Blended Learning. Is it just the new buzz-term in education? Another form of educational jargon that will prompt us to spend more money, more time and more resources toStephanie Hollar take us down yet another dead end path to nowhere? If not strategically implemented, it might be, and leading Central Ohio administrators taking part in the first ever national Leadership in Blended Learning cohort know it.

The transformation from traditional to modern education (currently deemed Blended Learning) has reached a tipping point that necessitates an overhaul in how we educate students and set up the systems, schedules, and functions of daily school life as we know it. This is no small change for our education system. If not purposefully and strategically implemented, money, time and resources can be wasted.

That’s why this group of forward-thinking central Ohio administrators, whose schools are members of the Ohio Blended Learning Network, jumped at the offer from Andrew Benson, executive director of Smarter Schools and the Ohio Blended Learning Network to join a six-month intensive blended course developed by the Friday Institute of North Carolina State University. This course, Leadership in Blended Learning (LBL), was developed by the Friday Institute in conjunction with a partnership with the Learning Accelerator. It was designed to support principals and other building leaders who are leading the transition to blended learning environments in their buildings and districts. Originally piloted across North Carolina, the LBL course is now a pilot running nationwide.

I was honored (along with about 12 others from the state of Ohio) to be sent to NC State by the Ohio Blended Learning Network and the ESC of Central Ohio to be trained as a facilitator of this pilot course. Nearly 75 leaders from across the country assembled to become trained to facilitate the LBL course.

I was able to spend the week not only learning the intricacies of the course but also collaborating and networking with participating leaders from my own state as well as those from California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, and Rhode Island. Once trained, facilitators were charged with coming back to their home states to organize and facilitate the pilot course. Because the program was piloted in North Carolina last year, we are benefiting greatly from what they learned from that experience. Additionally, as we take part in year two of the pilot, our cohort members will also be providing the Friday Institute with valuable feedback to continue to improve the quality of the experience and value of the take-away for participants.

By the completion of the course, all participants will come away with a road map that defines their vision, and next steps for implementation of quality blended learning. As participants think through and create plans to move the work forward they focus on five major areas: defining blended learning, creating a culture for blended learning, shifting teaching and learning, supporting teachers through professional learning and implementing and sustaining blended learning.

For me, the opportunity to connect with others across the country makes the LBL course a powerful learning experience. Not only do I have continued access and networking capabilities with those in attendance from the facilitator training, but all participants in the course have access to hundreds of participants across the country from which to learn and collaborate.

The Friday Institute has designed a powerful blended course that allows the participants to experience first hand the role of the “student” in quality blended learning. Participants take part in 5 full face-to-face days over the next six months and are required to complete online pre and post work for each session in addition to communicating and collaborating online. The responsive, highly qualified team of educators at the Friday Institute provides facilitator support and mentorship for me, and maintains an online presence with course participants. Their commitment to preparing and connecting principals and other building leaders is commendable and exciting to me.

I see so often in my work that districts are quick to assume principals don’t need support in how to implement and sustain high quality blended learning. If support is provided at all, it’s usually for teachers. However, I’ve found that principals who don’t have an educated vision of what quality blended learning looks like and don’t have the opportunity to learn from other districts about what is working and not working, severely limit the opportunity and ability to build capacity and sustain the implementation of quality blended learning in their building.

I commend the principals and other building leaders involved in this cohort for making this a priority. In their position of leadership time is scarce, and taking part in this cohort speaks volumes about their commitment to their students, teachers and all other stakeholders.

In our central Ohio cohort, the stage is set to promote innovation and creative problem solving. The leaders in our cohort have met twice and each time I’ve been energized and excited about the potential the LBL program has to impact the quality of education in our state and in our nation. We harness the power of varying levels of experience, knowledge and wisdom of our cohort members to collaborate and push one another in thinking differently about the design and delivery of educational experiences. As Henry Ford is once rumored to have said, “If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. We’re charging the members of our cohort to rethink the way we do school. Innovating means being vulnerable to failure. However, if we do not step up and meet the challenge of change before us we will fail our students and our future.

As a leader of this cohort, my goal is to see members grow and learn to be better able to support those that look to them for leadership around this work so blended learning becomes more than just the new “buzz-term” in education. Strategically approached and implemented, blended learning will actually save us time, money and resources while we improve educational experiences for students in the 21st Century.

Stay tuned and follow us on Twitter at #LBLOH and through the Ohio Blended Learning Network.

Some Highest Hopes and Greatest Fears identified by Central Ohio Cohort Participants around implementation of quality blended learning. Do any of these resonate with you?


Hopes Fears
●      Have a positive impact around student learning

●      Ultimate success of full blended learning with data driven differentiation

●      Teachers will find success and feel excited about building growth this year bcs of blended learning

●      This will be a great vehicle for moving vision forward

●      Teachers will begin to use technology to design instruction more than drill and kill

●      We should have been doing this two years ago

●      Limited Time

●      Our current systems will crush the implementation of blended learning

●      We put cart before horse

●      Momentum for blended learning will push the pace of change faster than teacher buy in

Stephanie Hollar is logging her second decade in blended learning, having founded a blended learning school in Ohio in 2000 – before blended learning was really “a thing.” She is co-founder of connectingEd, a Columbus-based professional development consulting organization serving schools and other educational organizations in professional development, instructional coaching and educational consulting. She serves as a facilitator of the Leadership in Blended Learning in Ohio for the Ohio Blended Learning Network and the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio.


Ohio on cutting edge of blended learning practices

OBLN grant puts Ohio as one of seven in new national blended learning pilot

This month, more than 70 educators from 16 Ohio school districts will begin six months of a program that at its completion will put them ahead of their peers in knowing how to advance blended learning.

These principals and administrators are part of the Leadership in Blended Learning program provided by the Ohio Blended Learning Network through a grant from the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University. An additional three Ohio school districts will get started this fall with the Mentor Public Schools, which is a partner on the Ohio grant. In all, more than 100 Ohio principals and administrators will have started or gone through the program by the end of the year.

This job-embedded professional learning experience was developed by the Friday Institute, which had previously created and delivered a similar professional development program for principals in North Carolina. The Learning Accelerator (TLA), a national non-profit shepherding high-quality blended learning, saw that the work of the Friday Institute filled a gap in the development of blended learning, that being having principals who could support and lead on blended learning initiatives in their buildings.

TLA funded the Friday Institute to develop curriculum for this national pilot. OBLN was one of seven to receive the grant, valued at more than $300,000, and joins educators across the country as they advance blended learning.

The other six organizations that received Leadership in Blended Learning grants are as follows: Fulton County Schools, GA;
Greeley-Evans School District 6, CO;
LEAP Innovations, Chicago, IL;
Rhode Island Association of School Principals, RI;
Rocketship Education, CA, TN;
and Rogers Family Foundation, in Partnership with Oakland Unified School District, CA.

Facilitators from each of the grantees received intensive training in Raleigh, N.C. earlier this year. The facilitators from the Ohio Blended Learning Network were already experienced technical assistance providers.

In Southwest Ohio, the facilitators are Lynn Ochs, Senior Learning Designer at the Mayerson Academy, and Trisha Underwood, Curriculum and Instruction Supervisor at the West Clermont Local Schools. In Central Ohio, they are Stephanie Hollar and Sarah Folzenlogen, consultants at connectingEd. Mentor Public Schools has several facilitators as well.

The course, delivered in a blended learning format, is rolled out in five modules over five to six months, resulting in an action plan for principals to use in their buildings to advance blended learning.

The key questions that will be addressed in the learning experience include:

  • What is blended learning?
  • How do I establish a culture for blended learning in my school?
  • What support do teachers need to transition to blended learning?
  • What systems need to be in place for a successful blended learning transition?
  • How do I plan for sustainability of the blended learning initiatives?

My hope is that the course and ongoing technical assistance to participating schools and districts will result in building significant capacity in the state to begin to deliver at scale high-quality blended learning in the state.

The participants represent a cross-section of school districts across three regions, each with differing levels of experience in blended learning.

In Central Ohio, 42 participants are from Delaware City Schools, Gahanna-Jefferson Local Schools, Grandview Heights City Schools, Marysville Exempted Village Schools, Olentangy Local Schools, Reynoldsburg City Schools, and Worthington City Schools.

In Southwest Ohio, 30 participants are from Batavia Local Schools, Deer Park Community City Schools, Forest Hills Local Schools, Loveland City Schools, Madeira City Schools, Mariemont City Schools, Milford Exempted Village Schools, West Clermont Local Schools, and Wyoming City Schools. Most of these school districts are members of the High AIMS Consortium.

An additional participant is from the Hamilton County Educational Service Center.

Later this year in Northern Ohio, nine participants from Vermilion Local Schools, Perkins Local Schools, and Antwerp Local Schools will get underway with the principals and administrators at Mentor Public Schools.

In all, this first round of professional development includes districts representing nearly 100,000 students. A second cohort beginning in December is being planned by the Ohio Blended Learning Network, and we will bring forward more details soon on how to be considered for that cohort.

In the end, Ohio will be able to provide a significant advantage to students in those buildings where the principals and teachers can make the shift to high-quality blended learning. That shift can result in teachers being able to use existing resources more effectively, resulting in greater personalization of learning for students.

Ohio already has great examples in some districts and some classrooms. Now, the state is poised to build an infrastructure that can support and scale blended learning to the building and district level in most several regions.

Stayed tuned.

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Time for state to take the lead in blended learning

The popularity of blended learning – and the use of the word, “blended learning” – has risen tremendously over the past five years, (though the term was coined some 15 years ago.) Today, blended learning holds the promise that teachers can reach every student with what he or she needs by extending that teacher’s reach through the use of technology.

Most have settled on a version of the following definition of blended learning:

“Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace, and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.”

That leaves a lot of flexibility in how a school or district or teachers approach blended learning, which is a good thing, but it also leaves a lot of room for flexibility, which can be a bad thing. Since there are no Blended Learning Police, lots of programs that merely provide computers are being called blended learning, but some educators haven’t really figured out how to integrate those computers into instruction.

That’s because high-quality blended learning posits a shift in teaching and learning from the traditional model of lectures, worksheets, occasional projects, a pop quiz, and more worksheets. That shift, done right, results in students starting to move at their own pace, starting to select what they learn, and seeing their progress through skills and competency and not just through course completion.

Making that shift, though, can be hard work, and it can take some time. Just ask Reynoldsburg City Schools, which has had consultants in several buildings (including blended learning experts Education Elements) over the past two-plus years helping teachers make that shift. This suburban Columbus school district has visionary leaders and the attention and resources of the national blended learning advocate, The Learning Accelerator.

But not all schools and districts in Ohio can get that kind of help right now. Even with the $250 million Straight A Fund in Ohio funding innovation over the past two years, only 21 of the 61 funded innovation projects incorporate some aspect of digital learning, and it remains to be seen whether these projects have the expertise that will result in high-quality blended learning leading to personalization.

Ohio has been, however, taking incremental steps to encourage blended learning. Senate Bill 316, passed in 2012, offered a new definition of blended learning, allowed for districts to operate all or part of a school using a blended learning model, required the State Board of Education to revise operating standards to allow blended learning classrooms exemptions from certain rules, like student-teacher ratios, and permitted schools to be classified as blended learning schools. (Disclosure: I was part of a team to put some of these elements of SB316 into place.)

The draft operating standards being considered by the State Board of Education hold great promise of spurring meaningful personalization on the ground. The draft standards would set the stage for student-centered learning through blended learning – if districts have the capacity to deliver it.

But the state seems largely passive right now in providing technical support to schools and districts as they clamor for more blended learning. High turnover at the Ohio Department of Education and a need to ramp up blended learning expertise leave the state not quite ready to take the lead in supporting the growing interest in blended learning.

But there is a path the state can take to provide that support in a just-in-time approach, and there are organizations that are laying out the steps the state can take to be the supporter that schools and districts need to do blended right.

The Learning Accelerator, a California-based non-profit, has made its mission to support high-quality blended learning demonstrations, and it just released its state framework to help guide the discussion around what states can and should do. Rhode Island, with support from TLA, is an early adopter state to make all its classrooms blended learning.

These steps call for setting out a comprehensive vision for blended and personalized learning, and assessing that vision against the policies and regulations governing the work of educators. They also call for demonstration projects on the ground to show how it can be done.

Others have called for creative solutions to the lack of state capacity around innovation. Andy Smarick and Juliet Squire in April 2014 released a report in which they advocate that state education agencies (SEAs) outsource the management of crucial reforms.

They write,

“SEAs were designed—and evolved over decades—to address a relatively narrow set of tasks: distributing state and federal dollars, monitoring the use of these funds, and overseeing the implementation of federal and state education programs. They were not created—nor have they developed the core competencies—to drive crucial reforms. Accordingly, we argue that despite the best efforts of talented, energetic leaders, SEAs will never be able to deliver the reform results we need.
“But there is an alternative. We should view the SEA through the lens of Reinventing Government (1993), the path-breaking book by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. In short, Osborne and Gaebler call for state agencies to “steer” more and “row” less. Here, we call for federal and state leaders to apply their thesis to SEAs, scaling back the tasks SEAs perform and empowering nongovernmental organizations to take up the slack.”

The notion of the state creating a public-private partnership to oversee the a shift in teaching and learning through blended learning, competency education, and other student-centered policies holds promise for Ohio going forward.

Ohio earned a “D” on the last report card from Digital Learning Now. But it has the pieces and tools to do much better for its students, if only it could stitch together those pieces into a comprehensive reform effort.

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Guest Blog: Our teachers are demanding blended learning

Ohio Blended Learning Network will help district staff do better

By Kevin Snyder, Director of Educational Technology Services, Lancaster City Schools

Often when people talk about integrating technology or blended learning, the skeptics’ voices are louder than the rest. And some of the loudest criticisms are that teachers don’t want this, that teachers can’t do it. But having seen what has happened in Lancaster over the last few years I fundamentally disagree. Teachers want this. In fact, they are demanding it.

I came to Lancaster five years ago as the Director of Educational Technology Services. At the time, the district was using technology as an additional resource. We had computer labs and some computer carts and computers for students to use, but the use was not integrated with student learning.

In 2011, we received a Transforming Teaching through Technology grant for our high school to integrate technology and project-based learning. We started with some iPads and then with iPad carts as demand increased. But the teachers wanted more. So we increased the number of carts, and then increased them again.

Within a year we realized that until there was a device available for every student, the demand would continue to grow. So we started planning, and we started training. We were thoughtful about how the devices would be used to transform teaching and learning. We knew that giving teachers a device without training wasn’t enough, so we went slowly and deliberately and provided a lot of support. And a year later we launched our 1:1 initiative in the high school with nearly 1,700 students.

The school year is now wrapping up and the initiative has been a success. We have learned some lessons and will make adjustments for next school year. Most significantly, technology is now an invaluable tool for student learning. Teachers now use technology to personalize and differentiate, parents understand more about what is happening in the classrooms, and students are taking more ownership of their learning. Our students are learning and applying skills that will prepare them to be successful in college and in career. Student engagement is higher, attendance is higher and behavior problems are down. If we were any other district, we might call it an unqualified success and get on with it. But that’s not who we are. Learning and improving is part of our DNA.

Therefore, we joined the Ohio Blended Learning Network because we think that as good as we are doing, we can do better. We believe being part of a community of districts with a shared set of goals, where we can learn from and teach others will help us to get to even better outcomes. The OBLN is an opportunity to share best practices and work together to create new learning opportunities for our students. We will get to work with and learn from other districts and from our partner organization, Education Elements.

Through this network we will improve on what we are doing, and be able to do it in more places as we continue to expand our online and blended learning models throughout the district. At the district level, we are excited about being part of the Network, but even more importantly, our teachers are excited about using technology. They want this; they are demanding it. They see the value in using technology to individualize instruction and in creating new learning opportunities for students. Our teachers who are not yet doing blended learning see its impact and are asking us when they can do it too. With OBLN, we are able to tell them it’s coming soon.

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Smarter Schools helps secure Straight A Fund grant for Milford and Cincinnati schools

Ohio’s new education innovation fund has awarded 24 grants for funding next year as part of the state’s unique effort to seed school districts with innovation. The Straight A Fund Governing Board selected from 570 initial grant applications these requests totaling more than $88 million.

As an education philanthropist at KnowledgeWorks Foundation, I was supportive of the state’s proposal to create the education innovation fund by designating $250 million over two years for that purpose. (See my previous blog post on the Straight A Fund.)

Now, as an education architect and founder of Smarter Schools, I am pleased to join Milford Exempted Village Schools, Cincinnati Public Schools, Partners for Innovation in Education (PIE), and others in receiving a $1.1 million grant from the Straight A Fund to further an innovative approach to teach STEM fields in elementary grades.

“There was tremendous competition to receive a Straight A grant,” Dr. Richard A. Ross, superintendent of public instruction, said in a news release yesterday. “All of Ohio will look to the winning proposals for ideas to reduce costs and transform learning in our state.”

This project for Milford and Cincinnati builds on a promising case-based method of teaching STEM in elementary schools that was piloted by PIE at the Kilgour Academy in the Cincinnati Public Schools last year. In the pilot, teachers worked with the non-profit organization to develop a case-based, vertically integrated curriculum that featured the development and application of critical thinking skills using authentic STEM content. Aided by technology, students solved the challenge by applying concepts in math, engineering, business development and financial literacy.

Kilgour students were asked to solve a challenge requiring the development of new products and services. After reviewing relevant facts, figures and data, students learned key concepts, such as the product life cycle, SWOT analysis, and the “5P’s” of marketing. To apply these skills, students developed an accompanying “app” and became the first public elementary school to launch an app available globally via the Google Android Store. With every $0.99 download, the “Cash Cow Lemon Smash™” app provides revenue to the district. (Link here to see the Enquirer story on the pilot.)

This project will repeat the pilot at Kilgour and expand it to 11 other Cincinnati Public School buildings. Milford, the lead applicant on the grant, will implement the project in six elementary school buildings.

Another unique feature of the project is the use of the case method of teaching, which is a teaching approach often associated with business schools. Harvard Business School, for instance, teaches most of its classes using the case-based method. Typically, the case method places the student in an active, decision-making role. The case presents facts and context but relies on the student to actively pursue a solution, with the instructor serving as facilitator and guide.

Mary Welsh Schlueter, the founder and CEO of PIE, is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and helped adapt the case-study method for elementary school students to explore STEM disciplines.

That’s important because Ohio needs to encourage more students to develop skills in science, technology, engineering and math. In five years, Ohio will demand a total of 257,800 jobs requiring STEM skills, and 90% of those jobs will require postsecondary education, according to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

However, Ohio and other states struggle to graduate enough students in STEM disciplines. Only half of all students who start college with a STEM major graduate with a STEM degree; thus only 19 out of every 100 students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree are in the STEM fields.

Researchers are more recently focusing on ways to harness the natural curiosity of elementary school students to generate interest in pursuing STEM fields. According to the National Center for STEM Elementary Education, a third of students lose interest in science by the fourth grade. By eighth grade, almost 50% have lost interest. “At this point in the K-12 system, the STEM pipeline has narrowed to half. That means millions of students have tuned out or lack the confidence to believe they can do science.”

One of the problems, the center notes, is that elementary school teachers often lack the background and the confidence in STEM fields to teach the subjects effectively.

This consortium, which includes non-profits PIE and Smarter Schools, will further refine and test this novel approach to STEM education and develop a scalable instructional model available for widespread use. Other partners include the Mayerson Academy and the Northern Kentucky University Center for Applied Informatics.

The recommendations from the Straight A Fund Governing Board need final approval from the State Controlling Board on Dec. 16. The grant period begins in January 2014.

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Straight A Fund Raises Spirits of Ohio Educators

If you ever find yourself down about public education, get in the car and head over to Hilliard’s Ridgewood Elementary School. Nestled in the western suburbs of Columbus, this school at first glance will seem like many other elementary schools: Colorful artwork by children on display in the hall, kids jumping and rolling in the small gymnasium and teachers lining up their small charges to head from the classroom to the cafeteria.

 But the real story, one that will reaffirm your faith in public education, is taking place in the classrooms, or more specifically, in the minds of the educators there.

 Unprovoked by state regulators or federal mandates or district rules, the teachers there are upending entirely the way they teach to better serve their students. For several months, fifth-grade teachers have been letting computer technology do some of the more mundane aspects of teaching – delivering the basics of fractions, say – which gives them more time to work individually with students who need help to catch up or to move on to the next thing.

 The move to blended learning – defined by the Blended Learning Implementation Guide 2.0 as a shift to online delivery for a portion of the day to make students, teachers and school more productive – comes as school districts are being asked to do more with the resources they have, or with even fewer resources. These teachers, like others in the state, are willing to smartly incorporate technology and change the way they teach because they believe it will benefit students.

 Don’t just take my word for it. Let one of them tell the story.

 “I can honestly say that this is the most excited I have ever been in the classroom!” says Henry Rauhaus, a veteran fifth-grade teacher at Ridgewood. “Through blended learning, it was immediately clear that for the first time in 24 years, I was provided a medium in which I could personalize learning experiences so that each and every student would have their own specific path to learning.”

 Rauhaus is surely one of those teachers that fifth-graders love.  Bearded and beefy, he’s wearing a colorful Hawaiian print shirt and talks animatedly about what he has experienced.

 “Through blended learning, I can access meaningful individual student data instantly, which helps me make informed decisions about what each student needs in order to be academically successful,” he says. “I also found that blended learning provided me the means so that not only could I group students effectively according to like needs, I also had many more opportunities to conference with individual students about their specific needs.

 “Blended learning gives a voice to those struggling students who would usually remain silent in a more traditional classroom setting.”

 Rauhaus and his fifth-grade colleagues at Hilliard are among hundreds of educators who have responded to the call from State Superintendent Richard Ross to build on their great ideas and innovations to help improve student achievement or reduce costs. Earlier this year, Governor Kasich proposed and the Ohio General Assembly approved a $250 million innovation fund, called the Straight A Fund, to encourage educators like Henry to apply for funding to advance innovative strategies.

 If they get a state grant, Henry and fifth-grade teachers at all 14 elementary schools serving 1,200 students in Hilliard will be getting the expertise of Education Elements, the Silicon Valley firm that is providing technical assistance on blended learning across the country. Hilliard is part of the Ohio Blended Learning Consortium, a group of 12 schools and districts seeking $13 million to create and implement blended learning strategies in 34 school buildings serving 13,410 students. (The other 11 are: Mentor, Nordonia Hills and Stepstone Academy in Northeast Ohio; Reynoldsburg, Pickerington, Lancaster and KIPP Columbus in Central Ohio; and Middletown, Milford, Valley View and Northwest in Southwest Ohio.)

 The Straight A Fund last month received 570 funding requests totaling more than $868 million, more than eight times the money available this year. So, there is no telling whether Henry and others will get their funding request. A decision is due in the coming weeks.

 But, for these teachers, just the opportunity to think big and dream of a time when time is not such a limiting factor for them to reach every student is energizing enough.

 “It is exciting to see the teachers so energized by the quick, positive results they are getting from using a blended learning model to support their personalized instruction for students,” says Tamar Campbell-Sauer, the Ridgewood Elementary principal, and getting the grant will help them go even farther.

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They’re not talking about a revolution

I sat on a panel last week that examined Ohio’s budget bill as it relates to education, and the discussion touched on numerous topics: Charter schools, an expansion of vouchers, a new innovation fund, changes in tax law, state spending decreases for education and, then, state spending increases. For more on that panel, see this news report.

The conversation was quickly taken over by a lively discussion about the effectiveness of charter schools and the wisdom of providing vouchers for parents to use in opting out of public schools and enrolling children in private schools. We’ve had these discussions before – many times.

What struck me is that the talk about education reform strategies like charters (I don’t classify vouchers as an education reform strategy – they are a cry from state leaders that they don’t like and can’t fix the current system, sort of an opt out strategy) is they often crowd out the much-needed discussion about new reform strategies that can help students, especially the 95% of students in public schools.

Granted, I am for any education strategy that helps students learn, and especially those that efficiently use limited resources. But let’s face it, charter schools have had 20 years – 16 years in Ohio – to establish themselves as an effective education reform strategy. As has been widely reported, the numbers are not there.

Of course, there are great charter schools doing great things for students. But there are also great traditional public schools as well. It seems to me that what charter schools were offering – a relaxation of burdensome regulations and rules, from the state, districts and unions – was not enough to make charter schools an effective education reform strategy all by itself. Charters are often struggling with the same kinds of issues that public schools are struggling with. Consider that charters in Ohio were subject to “turnaround strategies” in the federal Race to the Top grant just as traditional public schools. That’s sort of reforming the education reform.

So, if charters are not the answer, what is? Well, there is not just one answer, but many, and the strategies need to keep changing to address the ever-changing need for higher standards, global competency, and better use of limited resources.

Current effective practices include small schools with plenty of opportunities for teachers to get to know students, frequent use of data and feedback to address where students need more help, high standards that reflect 21st century skills, and curriculum and pedagogy that is delivered in projects or problems that students work through and complete, both individually and in teams. Blended learning offers the possibility of teachers working individually with groups of students as others move projects forward or practice skills on line or through a computer program. And different measures of progress – better keeping track of what students know and not what classes they took – can help better guide teachers and students to global competency.

All of these new strategies take time and cost money, as schools need reliable and modern technology, and teachers need professional development to learn to teach differently. But they offer the promise of more effective strategies at less cost than tradition education.

Suffice it to say, at the panel, the discussion about the old reform of charters – and the opt-out strategy of vouchers – crowded any time for a deeper discussion of new reforms, leaving the audience of public education advocates riled up about our current direction but not deeply focusing on a new one.

Maybe it is time to reform the talk about education reform?

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