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Name game

"Name game" Continued...

Issue: "School choice," Aug. 25, 2012

At Rocketship schools, a non-certified aide supervises students in the computer lab, while teachers instruct other classes. This system allows one fewer teacher per grade, saving each charter $500,000 annually. This money is reinvested into paying teachers 20 percent more and hiring an academic dean.

"Our approach gets attention because it is cost-saving, but we like to focus on how it allows the teacher a higher level of assessment on each student. Teachers are freed up to do what they do best, which is to develop students," says Kristoffer Haines, Rocketship's senior director of national development.

At Mateo Sheedy, fourth-grade math teacher Rodney Lynk introduces concepts of perimeter, area, and volume. Later, students will work in the lab on problems using formulas for these concepts. But in class, they are drawing architectural blueprints for a house they call "project dream house." Sketching from an eagle-eye view, students plan the space and depth of each room, while figuring out how much would fit in the rooms.

"I am able to look at their work from the lab to see if they are doing the problems correctly, but with this project, I wanted to press them to understand these principles conceptually," says Lynk, 25, a Teach for America member.

Still, Haines admits online learning tools could be better: "It's a young, fledgling industry. We're seeing results when it's functioning at 20 percent. As technology improves, the benefits to students will be even greater."

Saving Catholic schools

By Mary Jackson

Seton Education Partners

Just north of San Jose, a San Francisco investment group started a blended learning initiative to help revive Catholic education. Since 2000, over 1,800 Catholic schools in the United States have closed. "We want to reverse that trend by using technology to increase results and make our schools more economically viable," said Scott Hamilton, a managing partner at Seton Education Partners.

To start, Seton garnered over half a million dollars in funding from private donors to help merge two San Francisco Catholic schools on the brink of closure. Mission Dolores Academy (MDA) joined Megan Furth Academy last fall and reopened with a blended learning platform to 225 K-8 students.

MDA, a school originally established in the 19th century, has high ceilings, large windows, and floor heaters. Desks and chairs face whiteboards, but in the back of each classroom, over a dozen sleek, flat-screen computers line two rows of tables.

Teacher Michelle Escobar has 27 eighth-graders in her language arts class. She starts her first-period class instructing 14 students on how to write persuasive essays. The other 13 students read and identify similes, metaphors, and the main plots from poems and short stories online. The school tests students at the beginning of the year, so they each work at different grade levels based on their proficiency. After 30 minutes, Escobar has them switch. "I am able to always have small group instruction while teaching," she said, while admitting to occasional difficulties in keeping students quiet at the computers.

One of her students, Manuel Mora, appreciates Escobar's individualized instruction: "In the past years ... if we asked a question, [our teachers] would try to help, but if they couldn't, they would just move on."

After its first year, MDA saw overall math scores go up 16 percent. Reading scores went up 6 percent. With the split class, teachers say they can handle a few more students per grade-and MDA predicts operating costs will go down from $15,000 per student to $7,000 by the fall of 2013.

Now, Seton is helping St. Therese Catholic Academy in Seattle reopen this fall using the same model. The task for teachers is to communicate concepts, and the software programs then help students improve their proficiency and test them on what they know and whether they're ready to move to the next topic.

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