Sean Cavanaugh’s article, Districts Scour Budgets for Potential Savings , in the new Ed Week report, Quality Counts 2011, examines how schools and districts, facing hard budget choices, are looking for new ways to save money or reduce budgets.  One example he cites is Rocketship whose blended learning model is also a cost savings tool.  He writes:

Some schools, meanwhile, are finding ways to save money by rethinking how they provide academic services.

One such model is the one used by Rocketship Education, a nonprofit operator of elementary charter schools in northern California that works with low-income communities. The program supplements traditional classroom lessons with online instruction. Its model allows it to reallocate about $500,000 annually per school, based on savings in staffing and class structure, and put that money toward higher teacher salaries, tutoring, mentoring teachers, and other areas.

In Rocketship’s schools, students receive instruction throughout the school day from certified teachers. But the school also carves out about 40 minutes of time each day for a “learning lab,” supplementary lessons focused on math or literacy skills, which are led by noncertified teachers. Using online technology, learning labs build upon the math and literacy content students receive in their traditional classes. The labs allow for more individualized lessons that can be tailored to meet the needs of both struggling students, who may need extra time on a topic, and more advanced students who are ready to move at a faster pace.

Rocketship Education saves money from not having to pay a certified teacher for the lab portion of the day, says Judith McGarry, the vice president for marketing and development for the organization, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif. It also keeps costs low because the learning labs allow for relatively large class sizes, serving up to 40 children, she says.

That money is reallocated into teacher salaries that are higher than those of surrounding districts, she says. It also pays for electives such as art and music, which, in hard-pressed districts, are often targeted for cuts. In addition, the money allows Rocketship to hire “academic deans,” administrators focused on improving achievement on its campuses.

“Kids are getting better, individualized instruction,” McGarry says. “On top of that, we’re able to make the economics swing so they’re getting more enrichment than in typical public schools.”

Rocketship Education’s model offers some advantages over traditional public schools that allow it to use funding creatively, she says. It has more freedom to modify its curriculum and school day than might be the case in many districts and states. In addition, in some regular schools, building design and space limitations might make it difficult to accommodate learning labs or classrooms structured like them, McGarry says.


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