APS virtual summer school pilot: Online or off course?

Nearly 800 high school students in the Atlanta Public Schools attended an online summer school that had to be overhauled when it became clear it wasn’t moving students fast or far enough.

Along with adding two days to the 16-day summer term, APS discarded the online component and brought in teachers for small group instruction.

NO CAPTION

Does online work for all students or those who are self-driven?

In explaining the sudden shift, APS spokeswoman Jill Strickland told the AJC, “The district took this action based on the varying learning modalities of our students — meaning some students work better face-to-face.”

I asked APS for more information — specifically, was its online summer term a flop? My goal wasn’t to denigrate APS for innovating, but to get a better fix on what works and what doesn’t in virtual classrooms. We’re in the early days of a revolution, with a growing number of k-12 learning experiences going online. Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties are all offering some form of online summer school this year.

We need data, real data, on how these programs are working and for whom.

My 16-year-old son finished a world history course yesterday through the state Department of Education’s Georgia Virtual School. The amount of time he devoted to the class — which compressed a year-long course into five weeks — suggested to me that online learning works best for motivated and disciplined students. On average, the class required five to six hours a day because of all the reading. The GVS course drew around 50 students, most from high-performing north Fulton high schools who enrolled to free their regular school schedules for more science.

Strickland said APS used a blended learning model, “which included 75 percent online instruction and 25 percent face-to-face instruction for students enrolled in the summer credit recovery program.” So, the students were not overachievers seeking to take accelerated math in their junior year. These were kids who didn’t pass their classes and needed to attend summer school to get back on track.

So, APS sat them down in front of screens at four high schools with an off-the-shelf program from a company that provides online and blended courses. The computer-based program began with a test that identified where students needed help and adapted the lessons accordingly.

“In a traditional model, students could possibly spend a majority of their summer school hours sitting through lessons on standards they have already mastered, but this adaptive tool ensures that teachers are able to target instruction based upon the specific content for which the student needs additional support,” said Strickland. “Many students attending summer school have not been successful in a traditional model. This nationally recognized technology solution caters to the learning modalities of many students who do not learn best with a traditional stand-and-deliver approach.”

But do students who are unsuccessful in traditional classrooms fare any better with computer-based approaches, which may require even more focus and discipline?

I still don’t think we know. It’s a critical issue as more systems embrace online courses for benefits of scale and costs.

APS described the 16-day summer term as a pilot, and apparently realized after the second week it wasn’t succeeding as students and teachers complained to the media. Asked at the 11th hour to catch up lagging students, one teacher told Channel 2 Action News, “Some students have completed just 10 percent of the work. They’re telling us to do something that is impossible.”

In a bit of artful dodging to the question of the program’s success, Strickland said, “As the world of technology evolves and provides increased opportunities for the individualization of education, APS is committed to embracing innovative practices that ensure more students are successful. With that innovation, however, comes the expectation that there will be a steep learning curve, and that not every implementation will go flawlessly.”

(Whenever I read one of these rhapsodic PR statement from APS, I expect to hear a swelling John Williams score in the background.)

The issue isn’t whether the program or its implementation was flawless. Was it effective?

Here are the other answers APS ought to provide to parents:

Should the pilot have been limited to fewer students? That would have allowed a comparison — how did the online learners compare to those who had teacher-led instruction?

Will APS follow these high school students to see if they mastered enough content over this summer term to gird them for the regular school year?

Should summer school students — under the assumption they may know their own strengths and their own capacities — have been able to choose between online or teacher-led classes?  Some students know online instruction will not work for them because they cannot resist distractions and need a teacher to lean over them, look them in the eye and remind them to stay on task.

 

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91 comments
An American Patriot
An American Patriot

You know, I seem to recall about three to four years ago, I made comments on this very forum that on-line learning/virtual schooling would be in full swing in ten years.  I was scoffed at and called (maybe not the exact words) crazy.  Well, here we are, we're now cussing/discussing it.  Brick and mortar schools have become too expensive, teachers and administrative personnel to carry on the everyday classroom needs have become too expensive.  As a result, your ad valorem taxes are increasing at an alarming rate with a full seventy percent going to fund schools..  Right now in Decatur there are discussions about putting a seventy-five million bond referendum on our next election ballot to FUND NEW SCHOOLS.  For a family whose abode is assessed at two hundred thousand dollars, that's a $300/years ad valorem tax increase FOR THE NEXT THIRTY YEARS and there will be more in coming years.  I realize everything is relative; however, we are assessing and taxing our citizens to death for SCHOOLS.  There's got to be a better way.  


Virtual schooling is the better way.  This is not to say those brick and mortar schools will come down.  We will always have those; however, the excessive taxing has got to stop and the costs have got to start going down, not up, up, up. Maybe things are not going very smoothly at present, but as time passes and with more experience and technical advances, it will become reality.  It's got to and it will.....get ready for it.

Astropig
Astropig

@An American Patriot


Good points. It seems wayyyy premature to criticize this program before it hasn't even copleted its first year.

CSpinks
CSpinks

When I see what Facebook can do with data, my mind boggles at the prospects of effective, affordable, personalized, diagnostic-prescriptive, Intra-/Internet-based individualized instruction for all, or almost all, kids.


Are "our leaders" working with Silicon Valley and Seattle to accomplish this vision? Shouldn't they be?

Astropig
Astropig

@CSpinks


Actually, I think that they are,but its relatively early in the game.Part of the problem is that trying to introduce the latest technologies to a system as hidebound as the traditional brick and mortar,zip code school cartel is resistance by some that will be exposed as idiots or technophobes. We got a glimpse at this earlier in the spring and clearly,it's going to be a less than smooth integration into the state of the art in virtual learning. It's like trying to drop a supercharged Porsche engine into a Model T that will be maintained by surly,ill trained mechanics that couldn't work at just about any other job and then running in the Indy 500.



MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@CSpinks


There are no easy answers to individualized instruction - which is sorely needed.  When I first taught school in a south Georgia junior high school during the 1970 - 1971 school year, full racial integration of the schools was just happening.  The Board of Education was looking for individualized ways to handle the wide range of student achievement levels in reading through the use of boxed reading kits of individual laminated cards which were filed in the box by color codes such as yellow, green, red, etc.  The colors of the set of reading cards all filed together stood for grade level functioning abilities in reading.  If a 7th grade student were reading on 3rd grade level, he worked on the cards in the yellow set.  If another 7th grade student in the same class were reading on 5th grade level, he worked on the green set of cards, etc.  All students in the same class worked at their own individual pace through the set of cards in the whole box which ranged from 3rd grade level to 12th grade level.


This was a form of continuous progress but its inherent problem was that that instructional delivery tactic became boring to students who, for the most part, seek interaction with others, emotionally and intellectually.


I am sure that most people reading my comments can see the correlation between the boxed kit of of reading cards from grades 3 - `12 for the room of 7th grade students to a "personalized, diagnostic-prescriptive intra/internet-based individualized instruction for all, or almost all, kids" which you have suggested, above.  Moreover, most readers will understand the historical - not genetic - reasons that the majority of the black students in south Georgia, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, were behind the majority of white students at that time, although the range of reading levels was just as wide for individual students in either race category.  There was a Sheriffs Boys Ranch of white orphaned boys who scored as low on the initial reading tests as the majority of black students.  They, especially, needed the emotional nurturing of a flesh and blood teacher and interaction with others, children and adults.


There is no ONE magic instructional delivery method which will be successful for all students in order to achieve each child's being placed on his own, correct instructional level and working at his or her own pace.  All methods must be tried with different students, as I learned.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig @CSpinks


You might find it interesting that many of those Silicon Valley" techies are deliberately sending their children to schools that do not use computer based learning, and disconnecting them at home as well.   I will repeat that, they send their children to schools that DO NOT use computer based learning.


Now, you can hardly call them "idiots or technophobes" so I wonder what they perceive that those of you so ready to embrace the idea of children sitting and staring at a screen for hours on end at school (then likely going home and doing the same thing for more hours) do not see?


Look it up... it might surprise you.


Oh, and I notice you tossed in yet another reference to the "teachers are such idiots they couldn't manage any REAL WORLD job" meme.  Never let a good insult go to waste I guess.

Mandella88
Mandella88

Whenever I hear a parent describe their little genius angel as a "motivated and disciplined" student, I expect to hear a swelling John Williams score in the background....

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

800 students seems like too much to me.    How were the teachers trained on implementing the solution?  Typically, blended learning is a combination of teacher-led in a classroom combined with online instruction.  I'm not sure what you've described is truly "blended learning."  The Innosight Institute has extensive reports on the different types of blended learning programs and also best practices.   You'd think that APS would have figured out how to get this set up properly, and it seems like they dropped the ball big time.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@MaureenDowney ,  I'd like to suggest you reach out to my friend Michael Horn for an analysis.   Anytime you use the term, "blended learning," he's your guy.   Not sure APS has implemented blended learning optimally, and I'm sure Michael can help you determine why it didn't work out the way they'd hoped.

popacorn
popacorn

Any educational delivery method requires sharp, open-minded, persistent monitors/teachers to be successful. Will Online Education be successful with today's bunch, APS or otherwise? Of course not. Nothing would be. 

CSpinks
CSpinks

Prime criteria for desirability of educational curricula and methods: Efficacy and efficiency, not novelty and degree of technological sophistication.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@CSpinks


Kind of a vague plan dontcha think - efficacy and and efficiency. Are the state leaders not willing or able to create a credible, specific plan? If not, we need better leaders.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

BTW, who got paid (and how much) for this APS debacle?  What did the software cost?  And other costs?

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


Why is that important? There are so many factors outside the control of the developers that the cost is almost irrelevant.If the system set unrealistic goals,if the implementation was flawed,if the kids don't give a toss (they just spent 9 months of classroom work-maybe their hearts and minds are elsewhere),- All of these play into the success or failure of a particular approach.


I get it that you don't want your particular boogeymen (testing companies) to get any precious tax money that could be given to cheating teachers and worthless administrative deadwood.I get that.But new approaches in any large endeavor will frequently have dead ends,false starts and outright failure until the best approach is discovered. Demanding out-of-the-box perfection for a program of any magnitude is unrealistic.

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig @Wascatlady


No. But CC is almost irrelevant also because it is crystal clear that CC standards will not be enforced when they become onerous.CC will (most likely) be seen as another flavor of the month (like NCLB) that made a few people happy,a few people rich and a lot or people disillusioned.


As it has not been pilot tested,the guinea pig kids will bear the brunt of the damage.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig 



I see, but money wasted on "virtual schooling"which has not been pilot tested is okay, because " Demanding out-of-the-box perfection for a program of any magnitude is unrealistic."....


Got it.

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig


No, I don't think you see anything you don't want to. As I mentioned,this is a pilot test at APS,and for all of the grief that they get,I'm willing to give them credit for trying something that is not just a variation on failed programs that preceded it.Maybe it will work,maybe not,but we won't know until its refined a little,which is why this article is premature at best.


But CC will be rolled out with the bugs built in and unforeseen problems will cost billions with a "b" to solve.And again,we are not enforcing current,milder standards,so I'm wondering what will happen when new,tougher standards start to bite.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig 


There are no "bugs" in the standards that cannot be solve very simply and without much cost at all.


The real "bugs" are in the testing that is linked to the standards, but then you like all the testing.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Noticed that GVS offers free class allotments to private school and home school students while using an adjunct teacher model as one method of delivery that pays the teacher 26K to teach 100 full FTEs (with no benefits I guess). So, free classes for private schools and lower pay for teachers. I'm shocked!

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@AvgGeorgian Here is the fee schedule per the state website:


Public school students: Local schools will pay tuition and fees for students enrolled in a GaVS course that is part of the student's regular school day. 

Private and home school students: During fall and spring semesters, students are able to make use of a state-funded allotment that is available on a first-come first-served basis. Students can take up to six half units or three full units of credit per semester using state funds. Once the allotment is reached, all students will be required to pay tuition.

Out of state students: Students are required to pay all tuition and fees associated with their GaVS courses. 

Tuition Schedule 
High school A or B course: $250 tuition 
High school AB course: $500 tuition 
Middle School course: $250 tuition 

Fee Schedule  
Out of state fee: $150 per course

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@MaureenDowney @AvgGeorgian


Let's see. 50 kids x 500 = 25K for 5 weeks. If the state wants reform, how about we empower proven certified current or retired teachers to sell 5 week intensive classes using empty classrooms? The teacher could teach all 50 on an AB schedule(students are doing most of the work independently), pay the school system 1K for use of classroom and gross 24K for 5 weeks work. Everybody wins.


It has it all - choice, reform, competition.

anothercomment
anothercomment

Not for Summer classes! For Summer Classes you must pay $250 for 1/2 credit classes and $500 for Full courses.

One has to look at the fact that each child who is taken out of Brick and mortar public school, is saving the public schools lots of Money. Those of us who send us kids to Private schools tend to pay higher taxes then many of those who attend pUblic schools.

For example, the Fulton County Public Schools have absolutely been invaded in Middle school and High school by illegals and low income apartment dwellers. I live in the better middle school, and 74% is free lunch. It is infested with bullies, gangs ( boys and girls). I did my child a horrible disservice ever sending her their, being a bleeding heart liberal.

Right now you can't find a house on the market for under $500k. The taxes at that are $4,000 in School taxes. Just my little neighborhood has zero kids now in Middle or Highschool anymore everyone even in the $500-700 low end homes not just the $1million up houses has to send their kids to private schools. Less then a mile away is the third world. School bus after school bus drops kids off at every nasty apartment. The closest one to my house, has 66 apartments is listed in the Fulton tax roles with a Value of $2.1 million even though it sold at Foreclosure in 2010-2011 for 2.5 M ( every house in my neighborhood meanwhile is valued at least $50k more then any recent sale by Fulton County). So that is about $37k per apartment. Or less than $300 in school taxes per year. When the two apartment complex for the Gateway project were torn down Fulton county said out of those 2 complexes with less than 300 apartments they had 1000 students registered in the schools. So that is about 3 .3 students per apartment. So let's just say they are only getting $100 in taxes to educate these apartment kids. They on the other hand are pulling say an average of $6-7k off of every house and very few houses send any kids to Public schools. So yes folks that send their kids to Private school or Home school should get these virtual classes for free. They more than pay for them with their property taxes.

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian @MaureenDowney


Interesting how you use the "students times tuition equals big bucks" method to see that the money spent on education frequently ends up somewhere other than the educators pay envelope. Welcome to the party. Lots of reformers have pointing this out for years and have been excoriated by the eduacracy.



AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@anothercomment I have no problem with each person getting their own education tax payments back to spend as they please. Sounds like your local school system is not what you want for your kids. Is it possible to move to a district that provides a better situation? 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

One more comment, on letting the students decide whether they will take a credit-recovery class online or with a living teacher: Most folks will choose the EASIEST way, that requires the least effort and accountability, rather than thinking about their strengths.  These are not the kids trying to free up space for more science or another foreign language.


popacorn
popacorn

@Wascatlady Umm. The easiest way is with a living teacher. See Maureen's post regarding her own kid's experience this summer. As a rule, if properly delivered, online courses require more focus and work than classroom based courses. This is one of the great myths/excuses used by so many to bash something they do not understand.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@popacorn @Wascatlady


As a rule?  Has not been my experience with online courses... and since I have taken several of them from various vendors I might have some understanding of how they work.


Now, if you are a highly motivated, type A personality and you tend to put in more work than necessary, then yes, an online course can require more work because YOU determine how much you are going to put into it.  Online courses are good for those who push themselves, and self- motivated, who prefer to work at their own pace, and do not need as much guidance.  They also have a lot of cons... they are not good when it comes to classroom discussion, asking questions in real time, getting immediate feedback, talking a subject beyond the basic assignment, interacting with peers and getting different points of view on a subject. etc.  Thus, they tend to work best with subjects where answers and work are cut and dried without any broader context.  

popacorn
popacorn

@Quidocetdiscit @popacorn @Wascatlady

Pretty obvious you have never seen a virtual classroom. 

Don't judge all of online ed by a couple of college Teacher Courses/Professional Development you took online. There is a big, real time, world available out there just ready to be explored and improved. By creative, forward-thinking people. 

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@popacorn


Hmmm. Let's see.  I have taken eight online style courses (quite a few more than 'a couple").  Some were graduate level educational courses and were by far the most strenuous.  One was a "Teacher Course" as you call it, and it was by far the worst.  The others were all courses in other disciplines offered through other departments besides education.   I am sure there are more interactive classes that I have not experienced since technology is quickly changing.  However, I have yet to find a "virtual" anything that is truly as responsive to the individual learner as reality. 


I certainly would not go as far as to claim that "as a rule" online classes are harder than classroom based classes.. That is a very broad statement.  It would depend upon the discipline, the class, the expectation of the  teacher etc.  

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

Okay.  If you had asked any teacher if requiring students who were already struggling in traditional classrooms to complete online classes over their summer break without direct supervision was going to work, they would have told you, NO!  


Sheesh.


And to take the behavior of highly motivated, high performing students who are independent learners as your "norm"?  


Double sheesh. 


But I bet it was "cheaper" than actually hiring teachers to run a summer program with direct student contact.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Quidocetdiscit 


Some of the ed. money grab  plans may involve putting a paraprofessional or other non-certified monitor in a room with kids taking different online courses. This will free up money for the "right" people. This could be done through teacher certification waivers for charter and IE2.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@AvgGeorgian @Quidocetdiscit


And unless this is limited to highly motivated, independent learners, it will end up being a total disaster and a waste of money. 


Then they will come back and blame it on the teachers, no doubt. 

SouthGATeacher
SouthGATeacher

This just supports the known fact that online education is not for everyone. 

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@popacorn @SouthGATeacher


Glad you acknowledge what we teachers have been saying all along, Pops.  Now, if you could just convince the "reformers" who seem to think online education is going to solve ALL our education problems, we would be very grateful!

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @popacorn @SouthGATeacher


Please name one responsible reform advocate in any position of public authority that has EVER stated that online learning will solve ALL education problems(emphasis yours).


That kind of sweeping generality is what makes our little talks around the campfire here a dialog of the deaf. 

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig 


There certainly is a strong push towards using online learning across the board.  I can recall several posters here who have forwarded the idea that "teachers" are no longer needed, and all we need to do it have one "super" teacher record their awesome lessons then put those online to be viewed by hundreds of students, thus saving the costs of teachers, classrooms, schools etc. After all, ALL students are really interested in video games, so why shouldn't online learning be the same?  Just plug them into Khan Academy and watch them blossom!


I do not recall any of those posters suggesting online classes being used only in specific circumstances... but rather proposing it as a general approach to educational innovation.  


As to being "in position of public authority" is THAT the new criteria?  Are we only to bother engaging "responsible reform advocates in positions of plebe authority" when it comes to discussing reform ideas, and we can just dismiss the rest of you?


If so, this forum is going to be a great deal more quiet.

popacorn
popacorn

@Quidocetdiscit

I don't recall anyone ever suggesting that teachers would not be needed in online settings. What is it with educators and quoting/ recalling? Or are you reading minds again?

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@popacorn @Quidocetdiscit


If you were a teacher, and you read the comments from folks discussing not needing many teachers and saving money by having ONE teacher record their lesson and broadcast it to hundreds - while low paid non-certaified personal circle the room to "assist", thus saving all the money needed to pay dozens of classroom teachers, run schools, pay for benefits etc.  - you would tend to remember.  


Or you could just go read An American Patriots comment about his predictions from a few years ago.