* Watch a VIDEO about the Phaedrus blended learning model.
OVERVIEWThere are two big and seemingly unrelated trends in American education. The first is hundreds of urban Catholic schools disappearing, becoming things of the past, and leaving fewer good education options available to underserved children. The second is technology—cheaper computer hardware and advanced software—starting to change the way today’s youth experience schooling and learning. Rather than simply let these two unconnected trends continue independently, one can be harnessed to reverse the other. Technology can now be used to halt the disappearance of urban Catholic schools, schools that led the way and served the poor in America so well for so long.
For this connection to work, the use of technological learning tools cannot be token, but rather robust, comprising 25% or more of instructional time at school. To be worth doing, it must also be done in a classically Catholic school way that also prioritizes relationships, character-building, and social capital. Seton is working to make this connection happen—to show what is possible by helping Catholic schools become “blended technology” learning centers that help students build knowledge, skills, and good character, AND are economically viable.
Technology in Education
Computer technology has changed most aspects of our lives. Whether it is computers and e-mail for work, travel planning and all kinds of shopping on line, or the cell phone/camera/instant messaging device in the hands of millions of teenagers and their parents, technology has brought a lot of change in how we communicate.
Until this century, education had somehow escaped much change from technology. Teachers still teach rows of students in classrooms. While whiteboards have replaced many blackboards, and computer projectors have replaced many overhead projectors, the lessons and projects are typically done in the same way they were a few decades ago.
Education’s time for change with technology has arrived. In 2012, over four million students were participating in some kind of formal online-learning program. The trend started and is still strongest for high school students, but more and better software has been developed for elementary and middle school students.
Technology has allowed a handful of poneer schools to increase enrollment and/or decrease teaching staff in order to achieve a 20% reduction in per pupil operating costs. It has also helped tailor instruction to the needs of each individual student, leading to some impressive academic results.
THE PHAEDRUS INITIATIVE
In 2011, Seton piloted its Phaedrus Initiative at the Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco, and in 2012, Seton replicated the model at St. Therese Academy in Seattle. The unique blended learning program implemented in both schools has been featured in The New York Times, Education Week, The Seattle Times, Education Next, and US Catholic Magazine.
In its two Phaedrus sites and in future sites, Seton has two overarching goals:
Improve and increase student learning through small group, individualized, and data driven instruction.
Reduce per pupil operating costs and improve operational efficiency by increasing enrollment and class size.
Seton worked with both school leaders to assess their facility and enrollment to determine what blended technology model would work best educationally and economically. Both schools chose the in-classroom rotation model to maximize small group instruction and to try to increase enrollment to about 30 students per classroom/grade. Seton then helped the schools assess and select the software/content for language arts, mathematics, Spanish, social studies, and more. At St. Therese, Seton also assisted in injecting best practices from the high-poverty, high-performing “no excuses” schools to help St. Therese to re-brand itself and build strong school culture.
To date, Seton has learned the following lessons from its pioneering blended learning work:
Blended learning can increase student achievement dramatically. Both Phaedrus sites saw robust academic gains for students after implementing blended learning.
Students can and should drive their own learning, but the context of incentives, competition, and other motivation systems are key.
Technology is a GREAT tool, but it must be a tool used by good teachers in a strong school culture.
Different models and digital curricula work better for different ages; what works well for 1st graders may not work for 8th graders.
Enrollment is the key to creating economic benefits from blended learning, especially with classroom rotation model. (Staffing can be reduced with lab model.) Enrollment takes effort!
Year one is just the start, with more ideas, changes and improvements being driven by the teachers who have now become accustomed to the possibilities that digital learning offers. Best practices are now distilled into end-to-end process instructional YouTube clips and shared between the two schools.
REDUCED COSTS, DRAMATIC ACADEMIC GAINS
Since joining Seton's Phaedrus Network, Seattle's St. Therese Catholic Academy and San Francisco's Mission Dolores Academy have seen climbing enrollment, reduced per pupil costs, AND improved student achievement. The percentage of Phaedrus scholars achieving 1+ years of growth in reading and math outpaced the national average by double digits.
Read more about results from Phaedrus' second year.
APPLY TO BE A PHAEDRUS SITE
Based on its early successes, Seton is looking forward to working with more Catholic elementary and middle schools to help them implement blended learning. A Catholic school or network of schools interested in becoming a Phaedrus blended learning site should please contact Director of Phaedrus Jeff Kerscher at Jeff@SetonPartners.org.