Moving Beyond Blended Learning to Optimized Schools

This post is the third in a seven-post series exploring the practices of leading blended learning practitioners across the country. The blog series comes in conjunction with the release of five detailed case studies on blended learning operators written by FSG with support from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. This particular post explores how Summit Public Schools used its first year of experience with blended learning to continually refine and improve its educational model.

The 2011-2012 school year was a transformative one for Summit Public Schools. What started out as a blended learning math pilot in our two San Jose schools has fundamentally reshaped the model of our next generation schools, the first two of which will open in the fall of 2013. The pilot’s success has influenced how these schools will look and feel, as well as how students will interact with teachers and progress through learning levels.

As an organization, Summit Public Schools is focused on preparing all students not only to attend but to succeed in four-year colleges and beyond. To better meet that goal, we began, in the summer of 2011, to explore ways to accelerate our students' learning. We were especially interested in addressing academic gaps that dated back to elementary and middle school. Our belief was that technology offered us the ability to create a more personalized learning environment for every individual student, delivering exactly what they need, when they need it and how they need it.

Step one: Testing the model
To test this theory, we launched a targeted blended learning pilot in partnership with Khan Academy last fall. We started small, with just 200 ninth grade students in our two San Jose schools. We designed a blended learning curriculum that could support the mastery of ninth grade math concepts including algebra I and geometry. The model also included daily individualized learning time to ensure students could address any academic gaps. The pilot was a success. Our students achieved significant growth, filling academic gaps with a higher degree of success than we had experienced in our previous ten years of non-blended and personalized efforts.

Step two: Optimizing the whole school
However, we quickly realized that to truly personalize learning for all students, we needed to move beyond the targeted approach to blended learning we’d taken in the pilot. We needed to rethink the entire school experience. Every element of the school, from how learning spaces are designed, to the use of time, to the role of the educator, needed to be personalized for, and centered around, our students.

We have come to believe deeply that the most effective way to personalize learning is to provide what we are calling an optimized school model, which we will be piloting in our San Jose schools this coming year and launching in our first two next generation schools in the fall of 2013.

Click to read the rest of this post on the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation website.

Diane Tavenner is the founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools. 

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