13 Steps to Building Your Blended School

1. Who will attend?

  • Define grade levels and geographic service area.  Where will students come from?  Where will they continue their education? What dual enrollment opportunities can be created?
  • What community assets can be leveraged (e.g., museum, youth/family services)?

2.What do we want students to know and be able to do?

  • Build an intellectual mission robust enough to design a school around, one that incorporates a view of human development and citizenship.
  • Build on state and/or Common Core standards but frame academic aspirations with clarity and a sense of priority.
  • What emerging industry clusters are likely to be the basis of growth in family wage employment regionally?

3. In what ways will students learn?

  • A core curriculum of online courses is easy to administer and support but most are flat and sequential; they are better than textbooks in that rate, time, and place become variable.
  • Engaging and adaptive next generation learning experiences are becoming more plentiful but not yet easy to glue together into coherent pathways.  If you decide to ditch the first generation courseware and go with components, make sure you have teachers that can pull off.
  • Integrated projects are a great way to extend and apply and online core curriculum, but make sure they are standards-aligned and rigorously assessed.

4. How will they show what they know?

  • Take advantage of online adaptive, formative, and content-embedded assessment.
  • Require students to show what they know in regular demonstrations of learning
  • A mixed assessment model provides rich information about each student but is likely to require a customized dashboard—another benefit of participating in a network of schools.

5.How will students progress?

  • Students should have the ability to move at their own pace and get extra help when they need it, particularly in math.
  • Take advantage of cohort benefits with seminar dialogs, project teams, study groups, social learning groups, and peer tutoring.

6. What role will teachers play?

  • The courseware or components adopted should allow students to learn semi-autonomously for at least a portion of the day allowing larger staffing ratios than typical.  Some online activities can be supervised by non-certificated staff.  The combination of more autonomous work and alternative supervision creates time for master teachers to teach small groups of students and to mentor junior staff.
  • Some subjects possibly including advanced courses, foreign language, and some special needs instruction may be best taught by teachers working remotely.

7.What role will students play?

  • Digital learning enables a more self-directed learning especially in middle and high school.  Giving students some choices about what academic challenges to attack and in what ways they will demonstrate competency can create more ownership.
  • Digital learning can be used to extend the day and the year and, for some students, can double time on core skill development.
  • Peer tutoring is a great way to extend and apply learning.

8.How will student learning be supported?

  • An online core curriculum can be supported by 24 hour online tutoring to provide just-in-time support.
  • Middle and high school students should be supported by online guidance to promote college and career awareness and support appropriate course selection.
  • Students need active links to community-based youth and family services.

9. How will students access learning?

  • Tablets look like a good option for student access devices, but netbooks may be better for writing—something to think about if you want students doing a lot of writing every day.
  • Broadband at home facilitates extended learning.  For those without, it may be possible to identify community hotspots, check out air cards, or downloadable asynchronous learning applications.

10. How much time will students spend at school?

  • Like Rocketship, blended models can extend the day by 25 percent with little additional cost.
  • A regional school could be double shift (Mon-Thur, Tues-Fri) to draw from a wider radius
  • A mostly virtual school can offer one day per week check in for guidance and tutoring

11. What is the learning calendar?

  • How will technology extend learning?
  • A quarter system provides three breaks of at least two weeks that can be used to extend and enrich learning opportunities.   If stretched out over 240 days and combined with extended day options it could double core academic time for some students.

12. What is the opening/transition budget?

  • A generous tradition is to have a principal on board for a planning year.  It’s a good idea to have a core team together for at least six months to finalize plans, begin building culture, and coordinate an effective hiring process.
  • A generous pre-opening budget is $1.5 million for planning, marketing, and hiring excluding opening loses, deposits, and furniture, fixture and equipment.

13. Is the model sustainable/scalable?

  • At or before full enrollment, does the model breakeven (i.e., not require philanthropic support)?
  • Can sufficient operating surplus be generated to partially fund network growth?

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Ellen Bremen

Another suggestion: Follow Quality Matters http://www.qualitymatters.org best practices in online learning and "alignment" of objectives, content, and assessment. This is not only practical at the college level, but QM is also rolling out a K-12 version. I am a master reviewer for this organization; our whole WA state system subscribes. Ellen Bremen @chattyprof

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