…[A]ll across the country numerous organizations are rethinking how to deliver instruction and redefining what it means to be a “school” and a “teacher.”
Carpe Diem Public Charter Schools pair in-person and online instruction in an environment that looks unlike any school you’ve ever seen. Students at Carpe Diem spend a large part of their day in a kind of cubicle farm, progressing through customized educational programs on computers. Teachers circulate through the room, tracking student progress and periodically corralling small groups into classrooms that ring the large “learning center” to reinforce topics for students that are struggling or to personalize discussions of subjects like Literature.
The results are staggering. In 2012, the flagship campus in Yuma, Arizona saw 83 percent of its sixth graders, 91 percent of its seventh graders, 80 percent of its eighth graders and 91 percent of its 10th graders rated as proficient on the Arizona state accountability exams in reading, besting state averages of 80 percent, 84 percent, 72 percent and 80 percent respectively. It saw a 91 percent graduation rate for its class of 2012, besting the state average of 78 percent. What is more impressive is that the school did this at a cost of $6,500 per student, less than the Arizona average of $7,600.
As research organization Public Impact points out, even with several years of the most strident of today’s teacher policies – aggressively hiring and retaining the best teachers and firing the worst – only 40 percent of classrooms across America would have a high-quality teacher in the front of the room (according to their estimates, only 25 percent or so have one now). Scaling up successful schools is a huge problem. But, through leveraging technology and innovative staffing, schools like Carpe Diem point to a workaround.
The problem? In recent years, lawmakers across the country have been establishing teacher evaluation programs that might constrain the growth of these innovative models. In 2011, Arizona established the Arizona Framework for Measuring Educator Effectiveness that requires between 33 and 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be driven by quantitative data on student academic progress and 50 to 67 percent by evaluation of teaching performance on established rubrics based on national standards and approved by the state board of education. This mirrors the teacher evaluation programs that states all across the country have enacted in order to receive No Child Left Behind waivers from the U.S. Department of Education.
If observation tools for teacher performance or quantitative measures of academic growth are not sensitive to schools that “unbundle” the act of instruction and split it amongst teachers and technology, schools could struggle to comply with the law. These laws are written with a traditional school model – 25-30 students in an age-graded classroom progressing through a state-sanctioned scope and sequence of material in a nine month school year – in mind.
Is there an established rubric to measure teacher performance in a hybrid environment? If there is, I haven’t seen one. How does a student’s value-added test score get split between what the computer taught the student and what the teacher did? Should it? If an overeager state bureaucrat believes that these schools are out of compliance, it could lead to serious problems.