I was watching NBC news last night and they featured a story about Sal Khan. He's a guy who was trying to help his cousin in another state with math. He made a video lesson of himself teaching and got her through it and now's she's pre-med at Sarah Lawrence.
He created the Khan Academy which is a warehouse of about 2100 10-20 minute FREE video lessons from K-12 math (the original one) to biology, chemistry and physics with a little humanities (history and finance). From the website:
Each problem is randomly generated, so you never run out of practice material. If you need a hint, every single problem can be broken down, step-by-step, with one click. If you need more help, you can always watch a related video.
You can also get stats on how you are doing. You can track your progress or, if you are a teacher, your class' progress.
Sal started doing this while his wife was doing her residency. He had started to dip into his savings when, you guessed it, Bill Gates gave him a grant. (THIS is what I wish Bill Gates would do more of for public education.)
It is humbling to see the huge amount of work he has undertaken in this effort. I looked through some lessons and I think they could be helpful.
The NBC piece, though, was a little disheartening. There was lots of "it's fun" and I always get worried about that. Learning isn't always and won't always be "fun." It can be made easier to understand or more entertaining but learning takes effort.
The other, maybe darker side of the story, is this from our friends at the Broad Foundation. (By the way, fyi, MGJ isn't totally erased from that site.) There's a group of charter schools by a company called Rocketship Education. They are hoping to create a network of K-5 charter schools with a "hybrid school" model. Hybrid means classroom instruction combined online learning. From the press release:
Rocketship schools – which serve more than 1,300 students, nearly 90 percent of whom are
eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 75 percent of whom are English language learners –
are open enrollment public charter schools.
They also have a longer school day and many of their teachers are current and former TFAers.
Why they say it works:
Because basic skills are reinforced in the learning lab, teachers are able to spend more classroom time on high-level critical thinking skills, project-based learning and social skills. At the same time, frequent assessments allow Rocketship teachers to monitor student progress and tailor rich individual learning plans to each student’s specific needs, strengths and areas for improvement.
The bottom line, ah, here's where it gets interesting:
In addition to helping students achieve significant academic gains, the learning lab – which is
staffed with non-certified personnel – saves Rocketship the expense of additional teachers and
classrooms. Rocketship reinvests the resulting savings (about $500,000 per school per year)
back into efforts to raise student achievement, including small group tutoring, attracting the best
teacher talent by paying teacher salaries that are 20 percent higher than surrounding districts,
mentoring and developing teachers to continuously improve, and providing art, music and
Kind of brilliant, huh? Fewer teachers, cheaper teachers, fewer lesson plans for teachers to prepare (if the majority of it is online).
What is puzzling to me is that they say at their website that they training principals for one year before they get a school, they have mentor teachers (obviously if they have TFA) and they construct a new building for each school (but the land is leased). They do save a lot of money because of their heavy use of on-line learning but I'm surprised it would be enough to build a school and pay teachers more (although again, you are paying a lot of first year teachers).
Their Board of Directors is all TFA and other charter company officials.
I really am more interested here in what people think about this idea of fewer teachers and more on-line learning. I guess you would have to see how it plays out but yes, it might be how states save money on education. The problem is that you would have many, many beginning teachers (because that's where you save the money - fewer teachers AND cheaper ones). How this would play out long-term is anyone's guess. It certainly would change the numbers of teachers in the U.S.