Using Blended Learning to Close the Achievement Gap at a High Percentage Special Education School

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Using Blended Learning to Close the Achievement Gap at a High Percentage Special Education School

This post is the fourth in a 7 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 FirstLine Schools in New Orleans planned for and implemented blended learning and the benefits its blended model have provided to students, particularly those receiving special education instruction.

Arthur Ashe Charter School opened in 2007. The school is one of five FirstLine Schools’ open enrollment public charter schools in New Orleans. In 2010, after several years of operation using a traditional instructional model, Ashe began planning to move to blended learning. The school had multiple reasons for making the switch, chief among them improving achievement for scholars, including a high percentage of special education learners.

Ashe became the first FirstLine school to launch a blended learning pilot for all grades, K-8, during the 2011-2012 school year. (We also piloted the program in the 9th grade of our high school.) Making the move to blended learning as an established school had its challenges. Key to our success was a very deliberate change management process, the first step of which was to define the problem we were trying to fix: Ashe scholars were making great gains to close the achievement gap, but to best serve students, we needed to ensure the gains were even greater.

Making the switch
We next asked two questions: Why weren’t we making larger gains each year, and how could we help teachers accelerate students' progress? The answer to the first question was fairly straightforward: The traditional instructional model didn’t allow us to personalize education to each scholar’s precise needs. Once we had that insight, we quickly lighted on blended learning as a potential solution.

We knew that in order to make a successful transition to a new instructional model, we'd need to do two things: 1) Pilot the program, and 2) ensure that staff, scholars and our community were on board with the approach. To manage through the change, we first brought Ashe teachers to the table to help design our blended learning model and to test educational software options. Our goal was ensuring that decisions were made at the staff level, rather than as a top-down mandate.

Once we’d achieved teacher buy-in, our job became less theoretical and more pragmatic: We were no longer focused on winning hearts and minds, but on changing techniques and designing an effective implementation. This process began in the spring semester and involved some scholars. We included students in the change management process to help build excitement in our community.

By the fall of 2011, we were ready to launch the pilot.

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

Chris Liang-Vergara is the director of blended learning and instructional technology at FirstLine Schools in New Orleans. 

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