No, I am not going to discuss cars or corn. Neither am I going to write about cross-breeding animals. I have just learned–yeah, I am on the slow side–about “hybrid schools.” Schools that cross-breed low-tech schooling with high-tech learning–or in the argot of techie champions: “bricks and clicks” schools. New York City’s “School of One” is a hybrid. So is San Jose’s Rocketship schools, San Diego’s High Tech High, and Hawaii’s Kapolei SEED Academy.
Using different schedules, these hybrid schools blend time when students interact with teacher lessons with chunks of time where individual students work online with Khan Academy snippets, lectures from college professors, and step-by-step demonstrations of chemistry experiments. Much variation exists among these “bricks and clicks” schools as there is among schools that rely wholly upon “clicks” and those that don’t.
Imagine a high-tech continuum of schools where at one pole there are cyber-schools that use online learning to individualize lessons for students working from home and no face-to-face time with teachers–all clicks. Then imagine at the other pole, schools with most lessons taught by teachers to groups of students with mobile and stationery computer labs–more bricks than clicks. Then with these examples at each end, the above hybrids hug the middle of this continuum.
Venture capitalists enamored with charters, business-oriented policymakers, and Utopian techies hype these hybrids as a crucial step toward the eventual transformation of public schools, particularly ones with large minority and poor enrollments. Or as the published investment strategy of the Charter School Growth Fund put it:
“These ‘next generation’ school models will combine new advances in …learning technology with the key tenets of successful bricks-and-mortar CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) to deliver outstanding academic achievement, meaningful operational efficiency, and significant scale.”
These hybrids immerse students in a digital world where individual lessons are hand-crafted to fit students for part of or most of the day. In these schools, some teachers teach traditional lessons while others coach individual students to make sense of what they have learned. In hybrids, there are fewer teachers–that is where efficiency enters– with much student time spent online. These hybrids bring the “real” world of digital ubiquity that children and youth experience 24/7 at home, with friends, and elsewhere–into schools for part of the day.
For many technology-enthused policymakers and teachers such hybrids renew the dream of 19th and 20th century pedagogical progressives Colonel Francis Parker, John Dewey, Ella Flagg Young, and George Counts who sought to end traditional classroom drill, rote memorization, and regimented group activities and create student-centered learning connected to the larger world and relevant to students’ lives. That dream, however, crashed as other efficiency-minded progressives, embracing the “scientific management” preached by Frederick Taylor, eventually trumped those pedagogical pioneers and ended up dominating public schools through the 1950s.
But to latter-day pedagogical progressives such as Alfie Kohn, Deborah Meier, Pedro Noguera, Michelle Fine, and others, these hybrids added to the dominant testing and accountability policy consensus carry too strong a whiff of modern-day Taylorism.
Even if “next generation” hybrids smell like earlier efforts of learning-by-doing and student-centered pedagogy, there is a much larger conceptual problem that “bricks and clicks” school have in their long march toward transforming public schools into wondrous learning places. And that problem is the historically narrow view that techno-enthusiasts proselytize as the purpose of public schools: Schools must expose students to more information than teachers and books can provide to prepare them for an ever-changing high-tech world.
And that is the conceptual error that techno-enthusiasts, Charter School Growth Fund investors, online learning entrepreneurs, and many others futurists make repeatedly. They equate access to information with becoming educated–more of one leads to more of the other. These very smart people ignore other crucial and purposes public schools have served historically in a democracy. Too often, these goals have been taken for granted like the air we breathe and the water we drink. What can be as important as students acquiring information? Try socializing the young, developing engaged citizens, moral development, and, yes, even custodial care of the young.
Schools have never been solely information factories; they have been and are social, political, and moral institutions whose job is to help children and youth acquire multiple literacies, enter the labor market well prepared, vote, serve on juries, contribute to their communities, think for themselves, and live full and worthwhile lives. A century ago, these purposes for public schools were obvious; now they remain in the shadows. Few policymakers, few philanthropists, few civic and business leaders have challenged (or are willing to challenge) the decided tilt toward transforming schools into information factories.
- Kids show up for online classes at high school (sfgate.com)
- Second Rocketship School Catapults into “Top 15″ with Outstanding Student Achievement (eon.businesswire.com)