Edsurge LA Summit

Tech 4 SchoolsThis post will encapsulate everything I saw and experienced at EdSurge’s LA Summit on Saturday, April 25, 2015. So glad I attended. Good food, good people, and some amazing products. The event was held at the Magic Box at The Reef just south of downtown LA. My first impression of goformative was is this a tool that could go with getkahoot? I saw another data visualization tool that looked pretty impressive called venngage. I wonder if I could use it to present all of the data from my summer MOOC Improving Historical Reading & Writing?

After a nice breakfast, a keynote was delivered by an USC education psychologist on student motivation. There were speed dating style presentations from a plethora of ed tech startups. Teachers were given in-person product demos for two hours before lunch. I have made the a link out of the product name. My notes attempt to explain the product, be sure to follow the links to learn more.

Edivate – the new PD 360 – one million+ community of educators featuring 4,000 PD videos approximately 10 min each, adding 10 per month.

MrElmer – School Culture System – Doug McKay

Otus – 1:1 made easy – Chris still a social studies teacher. Yay! LMS free for teachers.

Team(you) Cynthia Harrington – school culture management tool. Positive Behavior Support
Incentivize student engagement and change their world

TeachBoost – Jill – supercharge professional growth. Tightens feedback cycle in observation and Evaluation. Cultivate talent that is already in your district.

MangaHigh K-10 ends at Geometry. Game-based math curriculum. Adaptive quizzes aligned with games. Help students learn new concepts. Gradebook aligned with common core. Students compete with students from other schools. Web-based. $4.00 per student per year.

MotionMath – Brandon K-6. Founded from Stanford 3.5 million downloads. All games are included in one app. Free pilots of MotionMath free through June.

SokiKom – Katie Stevens – 3rd grade teacher. Funded by US Dept of Ed. Variety of detailed reports for providing feedback to students.

Solvy – High School Math Homework.

Todo Math – Helping all children succeed with math. 7 languages. Pilot program with 1,400 classrooms. Online teacher dashboard that allows T to set preferences for entire class.

123D Circuits – Free online tool used for designing three dimensional circuits.

TinkerCAD – Andy Taylor. Design made simple. Online browser-based free 3D modeling tool. Make 3D modeling fun. Simple CAD, coding, import TinkerCAD models into Minecraft.

Nepris – Christina – connecting industry professionals to your classroom in a virtual learning platform. Sounds like Educurious.

Nureva Troove – Digital portfolio software Tabitha Tatum. Used with 6 year olds. Student Centered. Students take ownership of their work. 1,000 Teachers. 3,000 parents.

Pearltrees – Organize all your interests. Visual library. Save, organize and share your knowledge. Social network. Follow and share other collections that interest you. Launching an ambassador program.

BrainRush – Adam. 6,000 NGSS and Common Core aligned games. Co-founded with founder of Atari. Mastery-based. Teacher tools to monitor students. Teachers can modified or create their own games and add to system.

Cashtivity – Rosa. Teaches business and entrepreneurship. Financial independence increases choice in life. Financial Literacy Tool.

GlassLabGames – Commercial quality games. 8 games on website. Adding 8 games per year. Adam taught at Franklin for 8 years. 60 day free trial. Middle to lower High School.

Gonoodle – Taylor. Focus, engage and motivate your classroom. Free website. 100 games and videos to get kids moving throughout the day. Make your classroom ready to learn.

GradeSlam – Your personal genius 24/7. Philip Cutler. Private online tutors around the clock for K12. Tutors are screened and undergo a background check. On Demand marketplace of tutors. Offering free hour of tutoring.

Redbird Advanced Learning – Joe Brownfield – Stanford digital education. K-7 highly adaptive algebra curriculum. STEM based project at the end of every unit. 100 games delivered at point of instruction.

Choosito – Scholarly search engine for education. Personalized resources at each student’s reading level in real time searches. 1 Trillion pages on the web. 100 million pages added every day.

Edulastic – Jordan Taylor. Formative assessment platform. Create share and customize effective math and ELA assessments. Debut July 2014.

Nextlesson – Bonnie – Connect Learning to the Real World. K-12 Performance tasks that emphasize problem solving. 5,000 resources, 50K teachers, 250K resources downloaded.

ThemeSpark – David Hunter, former middle school teacher. Curriculum design tools for teachers. Helps teachers improve instruction. Resource for Chris Hitchcock?

Zeal – Ashley McDonald 4th grade teacher in SF. Free web-based assessment app. Grades K-8. Hot te – xt, multiple part, fill in the blank questions.

Actively Learn – Reading app. Stop skimming, start learning. Let students find joy and purpose in reading. Ask students to collaborate inside text. Teachers can collaborate to curate instructional resources.

Books That Grow – Daniel. Meets students at their level. Helpful for ELL students. Like rewordify. Text that can be read at multiple levels of complexity. All students can read together and have a common discussion about the text. Meant to be used in day-to-day instruction.

Curriculet – Thomas – leveled readings with the capability for embedded questions.

Ponder – Alex. A scaffold for inquiry. Checks students’ critical thinking skills with microresponses. Comprehension, analytical, emotional heatmap.

Scrible – Victor – Supports critical reading, research & evidence-based writing. Annotate, cite, save, and share online articles. Close reading. Curate articles. Tools to support the research process. Analytics allow visibility into student workflow and progress.

ThinkCERCA – Spencer – Online literacy platform Grades 4-12. Making a claim, supporting claim with evidence. ELA, Social Studies and Science. Argument builder and peer collaboration. Writing platform works well in blended model. Teacher tool.

Feel free to listen to the podcast Edsurge made during the event. I look forward to attending again next year. Meanwhile, I look forward to testing these products over the summer.

SITE Presentation Materials

SITE Logo I have been studying teacher innovation for the last five years. My research examines the confluence of teacher entrepreneurial orientation, blended learning, and online teacher professional development. What I have found is that these areas are converging in the so-called “MOOC-osphere.” This means there are great opportunities for leveraging and scaling MOOCs as assets in teacher professional development programs. We know from research (Barnett, 2002; Borko, 2004; Darling-Hammond et al, 2009; and Killeen, Monk, & Plecki, 2002) that teachers often view professional development as ineffective. Most PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools. MOOCs offer a scalable way to train staff anytime, anywhere and in very large groups. This approach produces robust data sets that illustrate which learning activities are effective and which are not. This data can be analyzed to fine-tune the variety of trainings essential for rolling out comprehensive curricula implementations, blended learning initiatives, and 1:1 programs. EO Dimensions The entrepreneurial orientation (EO) construct has been studied for 40 years and these studies have been published in 256 scholarly journals. Although primarily used in Management research, the construct has been successfully adapted and validated as a scale for measuring teachers and administrators along domains of innovativeness, proactiveness, and risk-taking. This work provides precise definitions for each domain as well as a baseline for comparing teachers who seek out PD opportunities online to those who do not. Dede et al (2005) reviewed 400 articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher PD programs and found 40 represented high-quality empirical research. They developed five areas for examining best practices (a) Design, (b) Effectiveness, (c) Technology, (d) Communication, and (e) Methods. These focus areas may provide a framework for evaluating MOOCs PD assets. As a final takeaway, I would like to clarify that I am NOT suggesting that we do away with all other forms of PD, however, Districts should be supplementing their professional development programs with MOOCs and using that data to drive their follow-up offerings. While for-profit corporations proliferate, marketing online education programs with dubious success rates, perhaps the smart play is to market MOOCs to people who want to be life-long learners, improve their technical skills, and increase their pedagogical moves.  These people are already in your buildings. They are your teachers.


Dede, C., Breit, L., Jass-Ketelhut, D., McCloskey, E., and Whitehouse, P. (2005). An overview of current findings from empirical research on online teacher professional development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA. November, 2005. Accessed at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~uk/otpd/final_research_overview.pdf

Petri, S. M. (2013). Where are the risk takers? Using the entrepreneurial orientation construct to identify innovative and proactive teachers (Doctoral dissertation, California State University, Northridge). http://scholarworks.csun.edu/handle/10211.2/4464

Entering the Online School Marketplace

Recently, I sat across the table from a man who runs a $160M per year Charter Management Organization. He asked me I would do if I had a blank check to start a new virtual school. The challenge was electrifying. New research shows that at-risk students benefit the most from ed tech. As a traditional classroom teacher and administrator serving the at-risk population, I have long been fascinated with blended and online learning. As a 1:1 teacher, I experienced firsthand how blended learning cut my course failure rate by 50%. This could be the chance for me to put my money where my mouth is and make a commitment to online teaching.

Virtual School

Online or virtual schooling is rapidly increasing in US K-12 education. In 2012-13, thirty states had multi-district, fully online schools with enrollments of about 310,000 students, and twenty-six states have state virtual schools with over 740,000 course enrollments. Online course enrollments have doubled in four years. According to California Learning Resource Network’s eLearning Census of 1,810 districts and charters, 53% reported having students participate in virtual or blended learning and 21% stated they were planning to implement online or blended learning (Watson et al, 2014).

The CLRN census counted 174,632 virtual and blended students in 2013-2014, a 39% one-year increase. The virtual student population has not grown significantly since 2012, but the number of blended students has skyrocketed, increasing 49% since 2013 and 74% since 2012. The adoption of blended and online learning is expanding in both traditional public and charter schools and the number of students participating in eLearning at each type of school is rising steadily. The 2014 census found that 60% of charter schools embraced virtual and/or blended learning as compared with 48% of traditional districts. Traditional public school districts account for the majority (67%) of California’s blended learning population, while charter schools make up 82% of the virtual population. The blended learning population grew 49% this year and most of that growth happened in charters. Since 2012, blended learning has grown 43% in traditional districts while charters have experienced a 287% increase. An encouraging talking point is that 58% of districts and charters feel their virtual and blended programs have resulted in greater student engagement and increased course completion rates.

So, if I had a blank check and a boss willing to enter a competitive marketplace, the first thing I would do would be retain United Talent Agency’s Brand Studio to develop a brand and strategy. Larry Vincent is an old friend from Disney and has written two great books on brand management. He is a rock star in this area.

Next, I would engage John Watson & the Evergreen Education Group to identify curricular products and delivery systems that would enable a new online school to compete with Connections Learning, K12 Inc., and FLVS Global. Being a good educational leader is recognizing where to get help when you aren’t an expert. I am not an army of one. John’s group produces the Keeping Pace in Digital Education series and is the premier research group reporting on blended and online learning. I would give their advice some serious reflection before starting on this journey.

Online Enroll by Sub

Lastly, Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is considered the gold standard in online schools nationally. They started in 1997 with seven staff members and 77 students, then increased to 477 students the next year, and had 2,500 students by their third year. Currently, they have 411K part time students and over 50K full time students. The entire K-12 online education market consists of 740,000 online course enrollments (Chingos & Schwerdt, 2014). FLVS would be the first place I would start recruiting employees to carve out a niche in this market.

If you had a blank check how would you build and staff your dream online school? What blended or online learning models would you incorporate into your program? How could you do a better job than the dominant players in the market?

RT to Help At-Risk Students

Linda Darling-Hammond, Molly B. Zielezinski, and Shelley Goldman just published Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning. This thoughtful review of more than seventy recent studies found that educators using technology to improve student learning have had mixed results. Often, the promise of ed tech has failed to meet the high expectations policymakers have heaped on the sector, however, there have been many successes and the authors sought to reveal promising approaches for technology implementation.


In one study, several 9th-grade English classrooms were given technology to practice skills and create new content. Those classrooms outperformed advanced placement sections that studied the same material without technology. The teacher reported that technology allowed for more active instruction that could be differentiated to meet the needs of individuals and that students wanted to be a part of that personalized and active environment.

The following bullets may be retweeted without crediting me. Feel free to hashtag them #SCOPE, or #AtRisk. They came from a Twitter barrage that summarized and highlighted the sections of the report that resonated with me as an ed tech enthusiast, who has worked with large numbers of at-risk students over the last 11 years. These students deserve access to effective education technology. Getting these tips out to policymakers and education thought leaders is one way to make that happen.

  1. 16M Students live below the poverty line. 8M get free lunch. Children in poverty are 50% of US students.
  2. Many schools serve 100s, or 1,000s of users with the same bandwidth as a single home user.
  3. 30% of households don’t have high-speed broadband. Slow connection rates are in nonwhite and low-income households
  4. Research shows that if at-risk students gain access to technology, they can make substantial gains in learning
  5. Drill and practice activities in low SES schools tend to be ineffective.
  6. Uses of tech are disproportionate in high-SES schools where they achieve positive results.
  7. A benefit of well-designed interactive programs is they allow students to see concepts from multiple perspectives.
  8. Students learn more when they use technology to create new content themselves rather than receiving of content designed by others.
  9. Researchers found that 1:1 availability is important for lower-income students’ ability to gain fluency.
  10. Teacher assistance seems to be mandatory for the online learning of underprivileged students.
  11. Reports of the flipped classroom are generally positive overall. Students prefer interactive classroom activities
  12. College students in flipped classrooms are more likely to watch video lectures than to complete readings
  13. Tech policy should aim for 1:1. At-risk students benefit from opportunities to learn that include 1:1 access to devices.
  14. Technology access policies should ensure that speedy internet connections are available.
  15. At-risk students benefit from technology that promotes high levels of interactivity with data & info in multiple forms
  16. Coupled with PBL & support for teachers, digital learning can shift school culture & strengthen 21st century skills
  17. Plan for blended learning environments to have high levels of teacher support & interaction between students
  18. Instructional plans should enable at-risk students to use technology to create content as well as learn material.

This report complements the findings of Pollock et al (2014) who characterized the types of support teachers should provide in hybrid classrooms. The SCOPE report reiterates that replacing teachers with technology will not be a successful formula and that teacher assistance “seems to be mandatory for the online learning of underprivileged students.” This report was released by the Alliance for Excellent Education and Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). A copy of the full report is available here: https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/scope-pub-using-technology-report.pdf

20 Qs for BL Networks

Joe Ableidinger recently authored an interesting thought paper that provides snapshots of blended learning networks. Building blended learning networks may help implementation in traditional school models. Educators could pilot test instructional models and collaborate on solutions to scaling up problems. Networks may constructively critique each other’s ideas and foster connections that will help grow programs.

The paper created five categories for 20 key questions: (a) Desired outcomes. What will the network ideally do or create? (b) Recruitment, screening, and selection. Who should be in the network? (c) Training and support. What will the network provide to its members? (d) External partners. Which outside experts should be involved, and in what ways? (e) The pioneering cohort. How should the network get started?

BL Models

Creators of blended learning networks will need to answer the questions below. The answers to these will shape the character of the network and the ultimate effects of the network over time. Research has not given us the correct answers. The “correct” answers to these questions will depend on the willingness of education leaders to meaningfully implement blended learning.

  1. What are you attempting to introduce that does not already exist, and what impact do you hope to achieve?
  2. What are the metrics by which you will judge your success in creating a strong blended learning network?
  3. Of what value to the city’s schools, teachers, and students is having a vibrant education technology ecosystem?
  4. Do you want to develop or network creators or users of education technology (or both)? What are the metrics by which your success in creating a strong education technology ecosystem will be judged?
  5. Will your network aim to connect creators with users?
  6. Will you bring together innovators or innovative ideas?
  7. Do potential participants self-select into the applicant pool, or is the pool pre-selected by network organizers or created through a nomination process?
  8. What criteria should you use to vet prospective network participants? What questions should you ask as part of the application or selection process?
  9. If you are planning to create a network of innovators, should you focus on individuals or teams?
  10. To create a network of proponents of innovative ideas, what stage of development should you target?
  11. Should the network focus on blended learning at the whole-school level, at the classroom level?
  12. Should the network be limited to particular grades and/or subjects?
  13. Should the network be limited to certain geographies?
  14. Should the network be limited to educators, or open to innovators?
  15. What types of training and support should the network provide?
  16. Should network activities be loose, or prescriptive?
  17. What are the best roles for external experts to play in supporting the network?
  18. What structure do you want to create for mentoring relationships in your blended learning network?
  19. Should you gather the best available candidates to pilot the network, or work with a preselected group?
  20. How much should the first cohort be about “getting it right,” versus serving as a test case for future iterations?

Unfortunately, most brick and mortar schools have not leveraged blended learning techniques that may turn students’ online time into increased instructional time. Ableidinger’s thoughtful work may provide those tasked with bringing blended learning to the masses a framework to consider before setting up field tests.


Hello Fellow MOOCers

Hello Fellow MOOCers,

Welcome to Improving Teacher-Student Relationships. We are excited that over 800 of you have decided to join us for this course. We have spent the summer curating resources for this MOOC. It has been a wonderful intellectual journey for us. We hope it becomes a rewarding endeavor for you and helps you improve the relationships in your classroom.

While Mr. Thomas is an experienced online educator, I have been more of a traditional classroom teacher throughout my career. Last year, I became a 1:1 iPad educator, which not only helped me lower my class fail rate by 50%, but also helped me forge deeper relationships with my students.

I have used student surveys for years. We will talk more about them in Week Three. Classroom surveys have definitely helped me learn what is important to my students. Last year, working in a 1:1 environment also helped me personalize education and connect with more students. For the first five weeks of the semester, I had a student who I will call Valerie (not her real name). I knew she was very smart, but she wasn’t engaged in class, wasn’t completing her classwork, and wasn’t doing any of my homework. She was painfully shy and would not interact with me or the other students.

Life Preserver

After a survey revealed that approximately 90 percent of my students had internet access at home, I started offering extra-credit assignments online. To my surprise, Valerie became my early adopter. She started posting to the class discussion boards even though she would never contribute to discussions in class. She began participating in virtual field trips and engaged in every online assignment that I offered. Within five weeks, her grade had gone from an F to a C and it was rising each week.

I began talking to her about comments she had made online. It was evident that she understood the World History readings and could connect the materials to modern day problems. One day, I lobbed a softball her way by asking her a question she had answered on the discussion board. One of my particularly domineering student’s head swiveled in astonishment as Valerie completed her answer. “You know how to talk and you know what you are talking about,” he gasped. I saw a little flash of a smile slide across her face and she never looked back. Although, Valerie never blossomed into what I would call an extrovert, she began actively participating in most class activities and finished the year with the highest grade in the class.

As I reflected on the year, I realized that if it weren’t for the 1:1 environment, I probably would have written Valerie off and she most likely would have failed my course. I was only able to reach her via online methods. After we built a virtual relationship, she felt comfortable enough to establish a real relationship. This school year, I was pleased to see Valerie hanging out on the quad with another student from our class. She has turned her high school life around.

Happy Grad

Teaching can be such a rewarding profession, but it is not easy. Sometimes students make it near impossible to build positive relationships with them. I know I am frequently haunted by thoughts of the students that I have been unable to reach. We all know what life is like for high school dropouts. Educators save lives one at a time. I hope this course helps you find and connect with the Valeries in your classes. I look forward to spending the next six weeks with you.

Live from EdmodoCon

What does Edmodo do? Simply put, it brings teachers and students together. Using social media to connect with students, or using tech to improve relationships between teachers and students were major themes in this year’s EdmodoCon14. To follow the backchannel go to #EdmodoCon on Twitter.

For me the highlights of EdmodoCon were:

Middle School ELA teacher Nathan Garvin took the crowd through methods to use Edmodo to improve student writing practices. He suggested awarding student badges for thesis statements, intro paragraphs, and other steps in the writing process. A big fan of mashups, Nathan made me realize that teachers are professional mashup artists, we stealing from the best and truly believe there is no pride in authorship, or as our students say “sharing is caring.”

Floridian Robert Miller has created Edmodo profiles of historical figures and had them join student history groups on Edmodo. He also took the conventioneers through a series of very creative formative assessments.

Sheryl Place spoke about using technology to connect with students. She opened her heart about the miracles of improved relationships between teacher and student and how online conversations have transformed her teaching. One great tip was using Edmodo to automate birthday messages for students. What a great way to personalize and let students know you care. Another recurring theme was that rules without relationships equal rebellion. While, Edmodo builds relationships and trust. Many other educators chimed in noting they love the relationships they have developed with students via Edmodo. Now the quiet ones in class are not so quiet online.

Valerie Knauer talked about her experiences asking students to write about personal topics.  Several of her examples brought tears to my eyes. Valerie reminded me that great teachers are haunted by the students that they tried to reach, but didn’t. I still remember a 10th grader whose mom was in prison for life, a top-notch debate student who had to quit the team because her father would be too drunk to pick her up after 6:00 pm, and a student who had transferred into my school after a humiliating YouTube bullying act of cruelty. It is important to remember the ones whose lives you do touch and change. One of my 7th grade student’s father was killed in a fight during the school year, which put that young man into a tailspin of depression. Thanks to social media, I kept in touch with that young man over the years and I am happy to report that he just finished his BA at a Cal State U. Valerie’s presentation demonstrated how teachers save lives one kid at a time.

EdModo Viewing

The dog wouldn’t join our viewing party and really only Daddy had a great time. This session reaffirmed that my 3 desert island apps would be Edmodo, Quizlet, Kahoot. I used TweetChat throughout the conference and was dismayed when I went back to write this post, many of my Tweets were never sent.  I wonder if other Twitterers have had that same experience? Thanks EdmodoCon14. Now, I need to go check out Storylines, Curriculet, and HaikuDeck.


Online Learning Lessons

Is quality elusive in online education? Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s lead education blogger, wrote an interesting story lamenting the frequently futile search for “quality” in online education. She reported that last year more than 7 million students, slightly over one-third of all U.S. college students, took at least one course online for credit. As a traditional brick and mortar teacher who has eyed online teaching with great interest, I can’t help but be disappointed in the results of virtual instruction. See my previous posts here and here.


My feeling is that a great deal of large publishing houses decided that digitizing their textbooks and offering “online” education would be an additional revenue stream. The big players jumped into the market and an arms race ensued. Major players spent dollars fast and furious developing virtual programs. Virtual/online curriculum proliferated in college programs (see graphic below), and spread to K12 school districts, as online charter schools took off. Fast-forward a decade and the outcomes of online learning start coming out in the research. The picture is not pretty. Major corporate interests have invested millions only to find out that online education doesn’t work. Minority students aren’t well served. At-risk students aren’t well served. Credit-deficient students aren’t well served. The only significant group thriving with online education is the GATE/gifted population and it turns out they don’t need much to thrive anyhow. Now these publishing houses have found out that their content and programs are not compelling, so they are rebranding distance/online/virtual education into “blended learning.”

Online EnrollmentMost online courses contain brief video lectures, readings, self-correcting multiple-choice quizzes, and discussion board forums. Basically, educational publishers have copied the traditional classroom read-lecture-write-discuss format in the online realm. Audrey Watters questions whether we should frame teaching and learning in the language we use to talk about the Web and media. Can high quality education be reduced to mere content delivery? Will effective teaching ever be as easy as putting resources online? Kamenetz suggests we need to define and measure “quality” in online education. Admittedly this will be difficult, as four hundred years of education research has not yet yielded any consensus on a definition for quality in face-to-face education.

Adaptive learning shows promise in online education, especially in the area of reaching remedial students. A central feature of adaptive learning is that it varies the presentation of content according to the user’s responses. If you get questions wrong, the machine adjusts and gives you easier questions and if you get questions right, the machine starts giving you harder questions. This is hard for a teacher to do in front of a live audience of 35-40 students, but a computer can do it easily. I suspect that the survivors in online education will be the institutions that have a deep stable of dynamic teachers capable of forging positive relationships with their students and facile enough with computers to personalize engaging lessons with adaptive technology.

Younger and at-risk students may benefit from gamification strategies, however, middle class, college-ready students may not need these bells and whistles. Deep down, they already know that education is a lot like life – you get out what you put in. And as it turns out, delayed gratification is a lesson that is extremely difficult to teach online.





Can MOOCs Improve Teacher PD?

School districts spend the equivalent of $200/pupil on professional development (Killeen, Monk, & Plecki, 2002). Unfortunately, teachers often view professional development as ineffectual or a waste of their time. Many programs offer “fragmented, intellectually superficial” seminars (Borko, 2004, p 3). Worse, these PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools (Barnett, 2002). This makes it difficult for teachers to implement new practices in environments resistant to change.

Anant Agarwal argues that massively open online courses matter and they should be viewed as next-generation textbooks. Educational leaders should take what we already know about MOOCs and use that information to drive change. For instance, research shows the people who benefit most from MOOCs are people who are already employed and who have multiple degrees. In my industry, we call these folks unionized teachers. There are approximately three million of them in the United States. Educational leaders should pilot test using MOOCs as PD modules and pair them with screening tools that identify teachers who are innovative, and proactive risk takers. Then, when districts want to implement new technology or pedagogical initiatives, they have a ready pool of talent are willing to try new things.

Dede et al (2005) reviewed nearly four hundred articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher professional development programs (the full list is available at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~dedech/oTPD_list.pdf). The researchers examined forty research studies that represented high quality empirical research. The focus and purpose of these studies addressed five areas of concern: (a) Design of professional development; (b) Effectiveness of professional development; (c) Technology to support professional development; (d) Online communication and professional development; and (e) Research methods. These best practices deserve greater examination and experimentation.

MOOCs offer educational leaders an opportunity to cost-effectively pilot test staff training programs. Further, they produce robust data sets that illustrate which learning activities are effective. This information can be analyzed to fine-tune the rollout of costly programs like 1:1 implementations. While for-profit entities shop their online education wares to low-income students in need of credit recovery, perhaps the smart play is to market MOOCs to people who want to be life-long learners, improve their technical skills, and increase their pedagogical moves.  These people are already in your buildings. They are your teachers.


Dede, C., Breit, L., Jass-Ketelhut, D., McCloskey, E., and Whitehouse, P. (2005). An overview of current findings from empirical research on online teacher professional development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA. November, 2005. Accessed at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~uk/otpd/final_research_overview.pdf

Low Income Student College Readiness

Low Income Student

Credit recovery is the fastest growing area of online learning (McCabe & St. Andrie, 2012). These programs are highly unregulated and there is minimal information on their enrollments or effectiveness. It would be fair to say that most credit recovery programs have not been examined empirically. For virtual learning providers, this segment has proven to be a gold mine. Apex Learning, estimates that 50% of its enrollments are for credit recovery. Aventa Learning reported a 500% increase in its credit recovery business. The Sloan Consortium stated that credit recovery is the most popular type of its fully online courses. Molnar (2013) predicted that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry would grow by 43% between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion. As an educational researcher, this begs a question: Are virtual school/credit recovery operators preying on low-income students?

I assume that a disproportionate number of credit recovery students may be low-income. This may be due to my personal experience of working in a district where 80% of students are eligible for free and reduced priced lunch. Miron & Urschel (2012) found 39.9% of K12, Inc’s online students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with 47.2% for the same-state comparison group. In my district’s virtual academy, only 61% of students are classified as low-income, which is 19% lower than the district as a whole. Therefore, you might expect stronger academic performance from the virtual program, however, with a 630 API, the virtual program ranks 116 points below the District’s API of 746.

Decades of educational research have made it clear that low-income students are at the greatest risk for school failure. The ACT corroborates this in a recently released report: The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students From Low-Income Families. The authors used data from 1.8 million ACT-tested high school graduates from the US class of 2013. Of those, 428,549 (24%) were identified as being from low-income families. Nearly all (95%) of low-income students indicated they want to go to college, but only 69% took the recommended college prep curriculum in high school. Worse, only 20% of students met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Nearly half (49%) of students from low-income families did not meet any benchmarks.

CR Benchmarks

It is difficult to understand why educational leaders keep pushing low-income students who are the least likely to be successful into virtual/online programs where ten years of data from California Community Colleges (the very places where most of the low-income students wind up) has demonstrated that 4 out of every 10 of them will fail. Perhaps it is time to end the credit recovery experiment in low-income schools. Reichert & Hawley (2014) argued that the teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out.

If policymakers were data-driven like teachers, they would understand that it is time to intervene and push virtual/online programs into affluent schools and ration our high-cost, high-touch, empathetic teaching talent for the struggle in low-income public schools. Instead, I suspect we will allow the free market to propagate the current policies that result in half of low-income students going 0 for 4 on ACT college benchmarks.

2012 ACT Results by Income



ACT (July 2014). The condition of college & career readiness 2013: Students from low-income families. Iowa City, IA. Accessed at http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2013/states/pdf/LowIncomeStudents.pdf

City of Angels Virtual School & Independent Study Program. (2014). School profile:


City of Angels Virtual School & Independent Study Program. (2014).

API reports: http://api.cde.ca.gov/Acnt2013/2012BaseAsam.aspx?allcds=19647331996115&p=2

Johnson, H. & Mejia, M. (2014). Online learning and student outcomes in California’s community colleges. The Public Policy Institute of California. San Francisco, CA. Accessed at http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=1096



McCabe, J. and St. Andrie, R. (2012) Credit recovery programs. The Center for Public Education. Alexandria, VA. Posted January 26, 2012 at http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/Credit-recovery-programs/Credit-recovery-programs-full-report.html

Miron, G & Urschel, J. (2012). Understanding and improving full-time virtual schools. National Education Policy Center. Boulder, CO. Accessed at http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/nepcrbk12miron.pdf

Molnar, A. (2013). Virtual schools in the US: Politics, performance, and research evidence. National Education Policy Center. Boulder, CO. Accessed at http://greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Molnar_VirtualSchools.pdf