Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a long essay from Phil McRae, an official with the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Mr. McRae’s article is highly dismissive of blended learning, which he suggests is a “myth” comprised of old ideas repackaged by private corporations seeking to make inroads into public education funding. He warns of the dangers of getting too excited about the blended learning models that are occurring in schools across North America:
“Blended learning is not a new term nor a revolutionary concept for classrooms in this second decade of the 21st century. However, the way it is being (re)interpreted could be hopeful or harmful depending on how it is implemented. It is an increasingly ambiguous and vague notion that is growing in popularity as many groups try to claim the space and establish the models, despite a lack of evidence and research. We should therefore be skeptical around the mythos of blended learning before endorsing or lauding it as the next great reform.”
Mr. McRae offers no indication of having observed the blended learning models he writes about firsthand. In fact, he seems to confuse blended learning with online education offered by private providers like Virginia-based K-12, for whom he clearly has a distaste.
The definition of blended learning Mr. McRae puts forward to dispute is not the widely-accepted, three-part definition from Michael Horn and Heather Staker most recently in their 2015 book Blended, but rather a somewhat obtuse definition offered by University of British Columbia visiting professor Norman Friesen. That he then rejects this obscure definition as overly broad is little surprise.
The only specific model Mr. McRae analyzes is that used in Rocketship charter schools, currently operating in Northern California, Milwaukee and Nashville. Mr. McRae, who clearly holds a disdain for the charter school model, ignoring Richard Whitmire’s definitive 2014 book about the charter school network, On the Rocketship. Rather, he relies on older accounts, particularly of Rocketship’s co-founder John Danner’s commercial ventures, largely compiled from various news stories.
Making no mention of Rocketship’s substantial track record of strong student performance (the network is consistently in the top five percent of school districts in California serving predominantly low-income student populations), the author warns that Rocketship’s model would take education in the wrong direction:
“If blended learning through the rotation model is to be defined by reducing the number of certificated teachers in schools and placing students in computer labs to spend half of their day in front of math and reading software programs, then education in the 21st century is indeed heading down an antiquated and very dangerous path.”
Quick to reject digital content outright, the only educational software Mr. McRae demonstrates any familiarity with is from Khan Academy, which he dislikes because its use can result in students falling behind in the classroom.
While he does cite an Education Week story’s mention of a shortage of control-group research on the effectiveness of ever-adapting blended learning models, he appears to have made little effort to pursue this question further.
For example, the Clayton Christensen Institute and the Evergreen Education Group recently published a series of Proof Point summaries presenting profiles of promising blended leaning models that are being introduced in school districts across the country. The analysis highlights blended models from traditional school district across the country, including the Horry County Schools of Conway, SC to the District of Columbia Public Schools showing that students are benefiting thanks to new blended learning classroom models.
Mr. McRae is adamant in asserting that blended learning is nothing new. But he offers no indication he has left the comfort of his home and its somewhat out-of-date library in an effort to seek out anything new, either.
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