The Way of the Future Sighting in Yuma

August 13, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Charter School Association has calculated student learning gains in grades 3-8 for every district and charter school in the state and posted the results online. Interestingly the same school came top in both math and reading- Carpe Diem E-Learning in Yuma Arizona. They not only came in first, it was by a pretty wide margin.

So, what’s the secret sauce? They let you know right on the school webpage:

Our academic program is a “hybrid” program consisting of on-site teacher-facilitators (coaches) and computer-assisted instruction (CAI) utilizing a computer-based learning and management system. Our program offers an extensive online library of interactive instructional courseware, providing learners and teachers with access to thousands of hours of self-paced, mastery-based instruction.

Our program considers individual differences in ability, knowledge, interests, goals, contexts and learning styles. Our instructional resources and strategies give our “coaches” the power to effectively tailor their instructional practices, accommodating the individual needs of the learner with the goal of achieving student mastery.

In the Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School (CDCHS), we believe that all students should have a high quality experience and technology-based education designed to help them be successful today, tomorrow and in the future.  What is “success?” At Carpe Diem, success means the student must demonstrate appropriate character and content proficiency (learning mastery), not just course completion.

Hybrid model mixing classroom instruction and technology delivered content. Teacher really serving as a guide on the side rather than a sage on a stage, only in a context where is finally makes sense. Sound familar?

Clayton Christensen has predicted that as a disruptive technology the day would come, after of years of occupying niches here and there, steadily growing like the mice at the feet of the dinosaurs, when people would realize that online learning represents a superior technology to Jurassic schools.  After reaching this tipping point, Christensen sees a rapid rise in online learning.

Terry Moe and John Chubb also see a bright future for e-learning, albeit one a bit more constrained by politics. Moe and Chubb see a chance to substitute technology for labor, providing the opportunity to provide better education for less money. Needless to say, this leads to opposition from the education unions, but Moe and Chubb see technology subtly but surely eroding the power of the unions.

Two of the most obvious possible advantages of online learning: self-paced schooling and required mastery of content to advance, both of which are featured at Carpe Diem.  I’ll be keeping a close eye on Carpe Diem’s progress, but producing the state’s largest gains in a relatively low-income area certainly has my attention.