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Curious Minds - Education News

Education News


Blended learning—a combination of technology-based and in-person instruction—is getting a lot of press. In fact, twice in the last week it’s been the subject of feature stories in Education Week.

In “Growing Pains for Rocketship’s Blended-Learning Juggernaut,” Benjamin Herold describes how a Rocketship Education charter school in San Jose, California, is modifying its “station rotation” model of blended learning that had “students cycling each day between about six hours of traditional classroom time and two hours of computer-assisted instruction in ‘learning labs.’”

Initially, the approach looked promising: test scores improved, particularly in math, and for English-language learners and students from low-income families. But according to Rocketship’s Lynn Liao, it turned out that students “knew the basics, and they were good rule followers . . . but getting more independence and discretion over time, they struggled with that a lot more.” The model, writes Herold, left “too wide a gulf between the computer-based learning labs and traditional teacher-led classrooms,” and has been replaced by one seeking to more seamlessly blend online and direct instruction.

In “Bringing Blended Models Home No Easy Task,”Amanda M. Fairbanks highlights a more concrete version of the so-called “technology gap”: bringing technology into the homes of low-income students at VOISE Academy High School on Chicago’s West Side. (“VOISE” stands for Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment.) “Those barriers include concerns that the devices will be lost or stolen, and worries that impoverished students do not have access to the Web at home, creating inequities,” she writes. The solution: offer students access to in-school technology on Saturdays.

Read more: Blended Learning Models Seek to Bridge Gaps Both Conceptual, Concrete

Under a new online initiative launched last fall, the Office of Education Outreach and Partnerships (EOP) in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin—Madison is bringing teachers together to explore issues critical to their work in the classroom.


The initiative, in the form of online book discussion, directly supports EOP’s mission of furthering teachers’ professional learning.


The first topic to be discussed: the Common Core State Standards (CCSS); the correlating book is Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement, by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman.


Members of EOP’s Professional Learning Team say the issue is timely: although the CCSS have been adopted in Wisconsin, there is some discontent in the greater educational community about their value, as well as questions regarding implementation.


Read more: In Online Book Discussion, Educators Discuss Common Core Standards


Perhaps not since the 1960s, when parents founds themselves as befuddled as their children by the so-called “new math” phenomenon sweeping the country, have moms and dads felt as confused about the newest educational trends.

The reason, according to Washington Post education blogger Liz Willen, is a “communication breakdown” that has educators mired in jargon-filled language featuring “buzz words like scaffolding, scaling, implementing, learning outcomes, pedagogy, stackable credentials, data-driven instruction, high-impact educational practices, human capital blended learning, and hybrid learning.”

In “Ball of confusion: How ‘edu-speak’ leaves too many parents behind,” Willen notes that she regularly reports on school reform efforts, “but I can’t help mourning the hideous jargon that’s crept into the education lexicon. It’s absolutely critical for parents to understand not just what’s going on in their children’s schools, but also how it fits in the large picture of U.S. public education . . .”

Although phrases such as “backward design,” “curriculum mapping,” “learning pathway,” and “growth mindset” easily trip off the tongues of educators and fly from the keyboards of journalists, parents all too often find themselves tuning out, or their eyes glazing over when assaulted by such jargon. 

Read more: Parents Tuning Out "Edu-Speak"

Yesterday, an e-newsletter from the Office of Parent and Family Programs at my son's university landed in my inbox. It included: a greeting from the program director, information on upcoming events, and updates on the school's winter break operations.

But most notable was a special message from the school’s office of Counseling and Psychological Services addressing a growing issue: “Our students are overloading themselves with too many classes, too many credits, too many activities, and too many commitments! This often results in students feeling overwhelmed and without time to ‘just be.’”

The message went on to concede that this particular university’s environment could be seen as “very competitive . . . with highly ambitious students who often feel like they don’t want to do less than their peers. . . Our students often push themselves until they are sleep deprived and unable to perform well because they are stretched too thin. And many of these students are stubborn about lessening their load.”

While such words are difficult for parents of college students to hear, they sadly also ring true for parents of many academically talented, high-achieving high schoolers. Ironically, a large percentage of these students find themselves in similar situations precisely because they are striving to get into the nation’s most rigorous colleges and universities. Where, apparently, many will find more of the same. 

Read more: College: Too Many Classes, Commitments?

Veteran education reporter John Merrow has come out in support of a two-pronged school reform initiative that would eliminate 12th grade and use the money saved to expand early childhood education—an idea I think could be particularly well suited to a number of gifted students.

In a post titled “Subtracting to Add” published on his blog Taking Notelast month, Merrow urged states to “think outside the box,” noting that the move could “provide free, high quality, universal preschool for all of our 4-year-olds, and rescue our 12th graders from boredom at the same time.”

Read more: One Way to Cure Senioritis