Submitted by Lisa Andrejko, Superintendent
Note: The information in this profile represents SY2011-12 unless otherwise indicated.
Program model: Self-Blend
Students supplement courses taken at a brick-and-mortar school with online courses taught by district teachers. These online courses can be completed by students at home or during a cyber period at school. Students work at their own pace to complete their online courses and adhere to minimum pacing guidelines as set by teaching staff.
History and context
Quakertown Community School District (QCSD) serves roughly 5,500 student grades K-12. The district began its blended-learning endeavor in 2008 with the hope of keeping high-risk students from dropping out of the system and offering more flexible course offering for students with outside of school commitments and those wishing to accelerate. The first iteration had 91 students, 33 of those students taking between 5-9 mostly core courses. The program was a combination of contracted courses and those taught by QCSD teachers. The program has since expanded its scope to offer all students the opportunity to take an online course and have control over the pace of their learning. Since 2009 the number of students enrolled in online courses has tripled. Now, roughly one-fourth of the district’s 2,966 students grade 6-12 are taking at least one class online. At this juncture, 60 classes 6-12 can be taken in an online format with 10 more to be added for the next school year. These courses reflect the QCSD “face to face” curriculum and are designed and taught by QCSD teaching staff, with the exception of Chinese and Japanese.
QCSD offers students in grades 6-12 the option of taking one or more supplemental online courses. Recognizing that independent online learning is not a good fit for all students, the district has developed an initial assessment that students take to determine if online classes will fit their learning style. All students complete a cyber orientation course prior to enrollment in academic cyber courses.
Courses are asynchronous and students can work on them any time during the day. Many students take advantage of this option in order to work around vocational programs, work schedules, and extracurricular interests. Some students work on their online classes at home, whereas others work on them at school during cyber periods.
QCSD has created designated areas in their middle and high schools for students to work on their online courses. These spaces are set up like comfortable cafes and are called “cyber lounges.”
All online courses are taught by QCSD teachers, with the exception of a few subjects (like Mandarin) for which there is no certified teacher in the district. QCSD also employs one full-time mentor to ensure that students are consistently and actively participating in their online coursework. About half of all QCSD teachers teach at least one online course, and two district teachers teach only online courses. Because most QCSD online teachers are also teaching face-to-face classes in district schools, students who are blending online and face-to-face classes have the ability to access their online teachers in person. Many online teachers host online and in-person office hours during their prep and cyber periods.
QCSD’s online courses allow students to move at their own pace and complete courses based on competency rather than being tethered to the traditional semester timeline.
During the 2010-11 school year, QCSD’s high school dropout rate decreased by 10 percent, thanks in part to the district’s ability to accommodate students who needed more flexibility in their schedules due to work or familial responsibilities. The district anticipates that the blended options will keep more students from leaving in the future.
Some previously cyber charter students have reentered the district because of the availability of online courses. This offers a financial benefit to QCSD, which recouped $11,000 per re-enrolled student last year.
In 2011 the district achieved its highest SAT, ACT, and state test scores to date. QCSD is careful not to directly attribute these results to the availability of online courses, but administrators feel that these options have certainly contributed to this increase.
The district has successfully partnered with the local teachers union in this blended-learning effort. The local union president has taught online classes and is partially responsible for the district’s professional development surrounding online learning. The superintendent notes that having union leaders onboard with online learning in a tangible way is a great step forward for reform.
In 2011 QCSD won the Innovator Award for Innovative Online Learning Practice from iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.
On the horizon
QCSD hopes to continually expand and improve blended-learning options for its students, especially by devoting more time and resources to help improve teachers’ online teaching skills with ongoing professional development. Each year more and more courses are offered in a blended-learning format with 10 new courses being added for the 2012 -2013 school year.
To increase accessibility, QCSD has successfully partnered with Best Buy to provide discounted laptop computers and with Comcast to provide low-cost high-speed internet to increase students’ access to online classes and resources at home. Additionally, one-to-one laptop and Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiatives are being implemented in QCSD high schools to create almost seamless blended instruction.
QCSD teachers are encouraged to integrate digital tools in every class, not just their online courses, in order to provide student access to course materials if they have to miss class for any reason. Teachers are also exploring the possibility of video recording critical classroom demonstrations to catalog for out of school access. With the hope that time and funds to devote to online options will increase, officials at QCSD plan to channel their strong desire for quality blended programs into many improvements and developments.