Flex Schools Personalize, Enhance and Accelerate Learning

Innosight Institute’s seminal report The Rise of Blended Learning outlines several emerging school models that combine the best of onsite and online learning.   Besides students taking online courses when possible, there are basically two emerging school models:

  1. Rotation: Students spend 20 to 50 percent of their time online.  The Bay Area’s Rocketship Education is a high-performing elementary network where students spend two hours per day in a computer lab.  KIPP Empower in Los Angeles has classroom centers that students rotate through.  At Carpe Diem, a Yuma Arizona high school, students split their time between workshops and personal learning online. Matriculation at rotation schools is typically by cohort but with more flexibility to meet individual needs than a traditional school.
  1. Flex: Core instruction is conducted online with on-site academic support and guidance, integration and application opportunities, and extracurricular activities.  Students in flex schools progress as they demonstrate mastery in most courses.  In some courses, particularly those with teachers at a distance, they may remain part of a virtual cohort.

In short, rotation schools add some online learning to what otherwise may look like a traditional school while flex schools start with online learning and add physical supports and connections where valuable.  As a result, the potential for innovation is higher in flex schools.
There are four big benefits of flex models:

  1. Competency-based: Students progress based on demonstrated mastery; they use cohort groups and teams when and where they are helpful.
  2. Customized experience: Flex models make it easy to customize the experience for each student.
  3. Portable and flexible: Students can take a flex school on the road for a family vacation or for a work or community-based learning experience.
  4. Productive operations: Flex models have the potential for more productive staffing and facilities solutions.

AdvancePath has two dozen academies nationwide that help hundreds of students get back on track for graduation with personalized online learning, a supportive environment, and motivating teachers.  Students that are a year or two behind have the opportunity to get back on track by earning credits more rapidly than would be possible in a typical classroom.  AdvancePath has used the flexibility of the flex model to develop a robust response-to-intervention (RTI) solution for high school–a personalized pathway for every student–something that they typical course, credits, and a master schedule make extremely difficult for a traditional school. (See Q&A with AdvancePath president John Super)
Meeting similar needs for in Prince George’s County, Connections Academy ACCESS delivers supplementary courses in a blended learning environment specifically for 11th and 12th graders who have specific credits needed for graduation.  For students with a variety of risk factors, the motivation and support of onsite teachers often works better than virtual credit recovery options.
K12, the leader in online learning, is a leader the development of flex schools.  San Francisco Flex and Silicon Valley Flex combine the K12 core curriculum with a full day of academic support, clubs, and activities.  (See a Q&A with K12’s Darren Reed.)
The next development in flex will be the addition of social learning, project-based learning, work- and community-based, and expeditionary learning.  Development of a flex network could pilot the benefits of customized competency-based learning while encouraging development of schools that:

  • leverage community assets like museums, theaters, historical sites, and natural resources
  • link to emerging industry clusters and internship opportunities
  • travel with competitive teams

Using a flex model, every rural community can afford to have a great high school.  Where it would have been difficult to serve 100 students with a traditional comprehensive high school model, a flex program can offer every AP course, every foreign language, every high level STEM course–all in an affordable and well supported environment.
Every community should have a flex option that provides a fully supported individualized pathways to graduation.  Every community should use a flex model to leverage local resources and meet specific needs.
This blog first appeared on Huffington Post
Disclosures: Tom is a director of AdvancePath.  Connections and K12 are Getting Smart advocacy partners.

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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Dana Reinecke

Flex programs sound like a great solution for students with a variety of needs and strengths. The Sage Colleges' Achieve Degree is a fully online Bachelor's Degree program that provides high levels of support to students with autism and other special needs. While technically not a flex program, because we do not have an onsite component, we are building similar levels of flexibility and support into our program. For example, students are able to access content in multiple formats, and to choose preferred methods of assessment. The online format itself is great for providing geographic flexibility, and allowing students to self-schedule and self-monitor. It's really encouraging to see how technology is being used in so many different ways to support all kinds of learners.

Rosen clark

I think the flexibility to personalize content and learning modalities is what drives performance in today’s dynamic world of education- From Flex Schools to FlexBooks. The first time I heard about the significance of Flexibility in delivering content was with CK-12, which with its FlexBooks, allows you the flexibility to create and customize content based on your/ student’s needs. But it’s not just the students that benefit from FlexBooks, even teachers get the support and the freedom to create more student centric curriculum by getting the power to add literacy scaffoldings.

Shelley Welch

I am preparing to implement a similar program in the fall. I am aiming for a flex model, because I am a big fan of letting students be in charge of their own time, place, pace, and path. I think a model like Flex, with proper motivation, can encourage students to be in charge of their own learning. In most cases, I think students will surprise us with what they can accomplish.

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