New York Post
The New Jersey Education Association has declared war on two Newark charter schools, Merit Prep and Newark Prep. It sued to shut them down, but lost in court — so now the union’s asked the state Legislature to kill them.
Of course, teachers unions are generally hostile to charters — innovative public schools that operate outside the usual bureaucracy. But what has the NJEA up in arms is that these schools use an approach that threatens union pieties — even as it produces significantly better outcomes than almost any traditional public school, especially for low-income kids, yet costs taxpayers less.
The key innovation at both schools is a radical model called “blended learning” that has the potential to transform K-12 education for the better.
It aims to deliver the right lesson to the right student at the right time. Instead of giving every student in the room the same lecture at the same time, and identical homework, it personalizes learning.
Instructors use online tools and interactive assessments to develop a real-time profile of each student’s mastery level. Based on clear student results, instructors can individualize each child’s lessons — via one-on-one tutoring, small-group instruction and online resources like the lesson videos that Khan Academy puts up on YouTube.
So students progress through lessons at their own pace toward subject mastery. One child who’s struggling with right triangles this week gets extra attention and time, and can breeze right through her lessons regardless of her classmates or her teachers’ schedules.
Charter schools across the country are implementing the model to great success. In San Jose, Calif., the five Rocketship Schools are among the highest-performing elementary schools in the state of California — though 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 75 percent are classified as English Language Learners. Last year, a new branch was recognized as one of California’s top five first-year schools that serve predominantly low-income student populations.
Rocketship plans to open its first charter school in Milwaukee this summer, and is being considered in Washington, DC, and other cities.
And regular public schools are starting to adopt blended learning, too. The Pennsylvania Hybrid Learning Initiative, a coalition of 14 public schools across 11 school districts, went live last fall with a blended-learning program that has the potential to change how traditional public schools work statewide.
Blended learning delivers another efficiency that should be music to the ears of taxpayers — sustainable per-pupil savings. Using this approach, San Francisco’s Catholic K-8 Mission Dolores Academy has slashed per-pupil costs by 20 percent in two years, while student test scores have jumped.
Another blended-learning school, Carpe Diem Collegiate Charter HS in Yuma, Ariz., has been termed a “school of the future.” Per-pupil costs are a quarter less than the state average — while more than 90 percent of students are proficient or advanced in reading and math.
Blended learning does more for less because its model requires fewer but better teachers. Merit Prep and its counterpart Newark Prep have no need for mediocre teachers to “manage” classrooms.
With guidance from data-integration technology and dedicated administrators, these teachers can save time and focus on what they do best — help kids learn.
Let’s hope NJEA doesn’t manage to strangle these schools — they offer the hope of a better future for all students. New Jersey’s students and taxpayers have a lot to gain and very little to lose.
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