How schools and policy makers can create a better blend, right now
GUEST COLUMN | by Bryan C. Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel
Blended learning holds unique promise to improve student outcomes dramatically. Schools will not realize this promise with technology improvements alone, though, or with technology and today’s typical teaching roles. In a new Public Impact policy brief, A Better Blend: A Vision for Boosting Student Outcomes with Digital Learning, which we co-authored with Joe Ableidinger and Jiye Grace Han, we explain how schools can use blended learning to drive improvements in the quality of digital instruction, transform teaching into a highly paid, opportunity-rich career that extends the reach of excellent teachers to all students and teaching peers, and improve student learning at large scale. We call this a “better blend”: combining high-quality digital learning and excellent teaching.
The Promise of Blended Learning …
The potential of blended learning to improve student achievement arises from two benefits of blended models that build on each other. One is the power of digital instruction to personalize learning. The other is the capacity of blended models to let schools reach more students with excellent teachers who ensure that students achieve ambitious, personally fulfilling goals.
… Is Not a Guarantee
Technology in our classrooms is nothing new. At various points in the past century, leaders have hyped new technologies in schools, which have generally failed to meet the lofty expectations. Even blended models and other recent digital-learning initiatives have yielded mixed results. And other promising, recent reforms have shown that a lack of focus on teacher quality typically leads to disappointment.
Today’s blended models will likely fall short as well, unless they include excellent teachers playing instructional and team leadership roles that maximize technology’s impact in tandem with their own.
How Schools and Policymakers Can Create a Better Blend, Right Now
For a better blend of technology and teachers, schools must first focus on implementation to combine excellent technology and teaching. It would be easy to move toward blended learning while leaving students’ access to great teachers exactly as it is today. Instead, schools should shift to blended learning while enhancing teaching effectiveness, through:
- Selectivity: Hiring selectively based on indicators predictive of outstanding teaching
- Reach: Extending the reach of excellent teachers to more students, directly and through team leadership
- Freed Time: Scheduling to give teachers time to collaborate, develop, and analyze student learning data during school hours
- Accountability: Giving excellent teachers credit and accountability for the growth of all students under their purview, including those taught by the teachers on teams that they lead
- Authority: Vesting excellent teachers with control of the digital content they use, allowing them to continuously drive improvements in instructional materials in ways never possible previously
- Rewards: Investing savings in paying teachers far more for achieving excellence with more students, making stronger recruitment and enhanced selectivity possible.
Then, to achieve excellent learning at scale, state policymakers must change state policy to enable and incentivize a better blend in large numbers of schools, through:
- Funding that is flexible and weighted by student need, so that schools may invest in the people and technology that best advance their students’ learning
- People policies that let schools hire, develop, deploy, pay, advance, and retain excellent teachers and collaborative teaching teams to reach every student with excellent teachers
- Accountability, using increasingly better measures, that drives teaching and technology excellence and improvement, so that excellent teachers and their teams get credit for using blended learning to help more students, and schools have powerful incentives for a better blend
- Technology and student data that are available for all students, allowing differentiated instruction for all students without regard to their economic circumstances
- Timing and scalability, including implementing a better blend from the start in new and turnaround-attempt schools—when schools often have more freedoms to implement new staffing models that do not over-rely on the limited supply of outstanding school leaders. This also includes helping new schools develop systems for scale, and giving excellent new schools incentives to grow.
Digital learning may be life-changing for students and career-boosting for teachers, but only if schools and policymakers commit to a better blend.