The Empower Model

This is a guest post by Roy Chan, NCTL's  Manager of Effective Practices.

As momentum for expanding the school schedule spreads across the country, there are two common questions we hear from schools and districts: ‘how will this benefit our children?’ and ‘how much is this going to cost?’  Our friends at KIPP recently released a great video that answers both of these questions.  Due to the state’s economic crisis, KIPP Empower Academy (KEA) in Los Angeles was faced with the challenge of continuing their nine hour long schools days with $200,000 less in their budget.  Instead of cutting staff or shortening the day, KEA turned to blended learning—combining small group, teacher led instruction with adaptive software that delivers individualized content.  As the video shows, KEA students are receiving a daily mix of teacher led instruction and adaptive software each day, and the results are encouraging.  Nearly all KEA students scored above the national average in both reading and math.  We’ve seen other expanded day models—particularly Rocketship, a California based CMO—that have utilized blended learning to save money while producing strong student gains.

As we know, time is not always money. Blended learning is being used as one cost-effective method of expanding the day that can also be effective for student learning.  But, we would be remiss to not include two disclaimers.  First, blended learning is an emerging trend in education, leading to an explosion of new content providers.  Meanwhile, proper quality controls have lagged behind, leaving many educators without perfect information with which to choose, out of many, the best program(s) for their student populations.  Second, another concern is the issue of seat time requirements as they apply to blended learning.  Many states are grappling with the question of whether, or how, to count the time children spend in front of these adaptive software programs.  Those of us who work in or have an interest in education are staying attuned to these developing situations.  As clarity begins to build around these uncertainties, we are hopeful that more KEA’s emerge to prove that expanded time, done right, does not have to break the bank.