In May, NBC - 12 education reporter Kim Covington visited Carpe Diem Collegiate School in Yuma, Ariz. to see how a blended learning high school works. We asked her five questions about the story, below.
1) How long has the school been in existence? Has it been evaluated yet?Executive Director Rick Ogston, who, by the way, is a former marine and pastor, started Carpe Diem about seven years ago while he was running a small charter school. He got fed up when he realized that under the current system students could not be prepared for the 21st Century. The hybrid or blended learning school he created did not gain national and state attention until recently with its amazing academic gains. More than 95 percent of their students are proficient in all subjects compared to about 50 percent statewide. The school leads the state of Arizona in growth with those impressive gains, which we have seen year after year, even though about half of the students have great socioeconomic challenges and are on free or reduced lunch.
2) Carpe Diem’s school structure is radically different from the traditional school model. Which prevalent education problems in Arizona does this method address?After visiting hundreds of schools and talking to countless teachers and students, I believe the blended learning model addresses the complex problem of teaching to multiple intelligences and learners. Struggling students I have talked with say they are either bored or believe the teacher can’t relate to them or meet them at their level. This type of computer-assisted learning allows the students to work at their own pace, track their own progress and, when they get stuck, there are live instructors to help them. That independent learning approach seems to work well for this generation. The blended learning may also help solve budget problems. Carpe Diem only needs six teachers for 300 students and only half the space of regular schools. And the schools spends half as much per student than the national average, which is about $10,000. But, the middle and high school does not offer transportation, sports or food service, so that’s a huge savings too.
3) What reaction did you get from viewers to this story? Was anyone particularly excited about or displeased by the blended learning environment?The reaction was interesting. Policymakers and younger viewers were excited and inspired, but when I talked to some teachers and parents they were a bit concerned that it appeared as though computers were replacing face-to-face instruction and collaboration. After spending time at the school, it appears students actually get a great amount of face-to-face instruction. When students are working on their online assignments, teachers and the principal are constantly walking around the students’ cubicles, monitoring their progress to see if they need assistance. They then have classroom workshop time and further classroom instruction.
4) Does this type of school work for everyone?Carpe Diem is only among a handfull of schools that offer blended learning across the nation, so I can’t answer that yet. There is just not enough research showing their overall effectiveness. However, most older students who crave and love technology, and who are motivated and canwork independently, would thrive in this type of environment. Others would probably need a bit more interaction.
5) Do you think this is the school of the future?Yes, especially in Arizona where a new law just expanded online learning allowing all charter and district schools to offer K-12 classes over the internet. And there is a back story of policymakers working to create a sort of online service center or network. Expect to hear about that soon. Also, I attended the Education Innovation Summit here in Phoenix a couple of months ago. It was also attended by major education investors from across the nation and blended learning was the hot topic. I discovered that in just one year, more than $350 million has been invested in education companies providing innovative online solutions. And according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, the industry continues to grow at an annual pace of 30 percent. That’s huge. Many virtual schools show annual growth as high as 45 percent. So the time is ripe and it appears companies are willing to invest in this change.
Kim Covington is the weekend news anchor and education reporter at NBC - 12 in Phoenix, Ariz.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.