A Big Idea: Blended CBO

The nation received a friendly ‘C’ in the annual state of the nation last week. We need quality at scale and there is finally a way achieve it.
More than two million students learn online.  The scaled providers (Apex, K12, Connections, Florida Virtual, NC Virtual, and Lincoln Interactive to name a few) could triple in size given 60 days notice and do it with consistent quality.  We’ve never had an opportunity like that; it’s only local and state policy that stands in the way  of better learning opportunities for several million kids and fast.
Community–based organizations (CBO) build powerful sustained relationships with youth, engage them in developmental activities, and connect them to youth and family services.  Many of them are frustrated by working around struggling schools.
If we combine the two assets—online instruction and powerful community connections—we get one big scalable idea: blended CBOs.  A blended school model incorporates online learning and onsite support in ways that are often more flexible and cost effective than traditional schools.
Michael Robbins, Department of Education’s Office of Faith-Based Partnerships, is interested in expanding the educational impact of CBOs.  He thinks blended CBOs is a big idea.  Over breakfast at DC’s Tabard Inn, Michael and I sketched out a couple ways this idea could scale:
1. Virtual charter schools that sprout blended CBO partnerships.  Take the K12 Flex idea—an online school meeting in a conference room in San Francisco—and add a YMCA with a fitness center.  When California drops it’s silly effort to limit online learning by county, K12 and the Y could open 50 small blended Flex schools statewide—and do it before the end of the school year.  (In this case K12 would hold the statewide multi-campus charter.)
2. CBO networks: CBOs can become school developers like Community in Schools Performance Learning Centers or Commonwealth’s Diploma Plus.  Boy’s and Girls Clubs of Michigan could apply for a statewide virtual charter that included daily check in at a club and academic services by Connections Academy–a blended CBO CMO.
3. Where public school choice exists (e.g., Washington State), districts providing statewide online learning (directly or with a partner) could extent statewide access and support in partnership with CBOs.  After Washington drops its harmful scale disincentives, schools like the Internet Academy could issue an RFP for CBO partners in two dozen towns and pay each of them about $1,000 per student for check in support, application and integration opportunities, and advisory services.
An innovative group like Internet Academy could pilot a merit badge approach and embrace CBOs as partners in supporting learning experiences.
We think this is a big opportunity to extend online and community connected learning, a strategy to develop cost effective long day/year learning solutions, and a way to create quality options where they don’t exist—and fast.
It took AHSI about 10 years to create 300 alternative high schools; this may be a way to create 1,000 in a year or two.
I think this is worth another conversation in DC.  Let me know if you agree

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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