Note: The information in this profile represents SY2012-13 unless otherwise indicated.
To see a profile on eCADEMY for SY2010-11 profile, click here.
Program model: Enriched Virtual
After meeting face-to-face with eCADEMY faculty at the beginning of each semester, students work through online curriculum. Students who maintain a C grade or better do not have to show up on the physical campus again during the course, although some choose to use the computer labs on campus. Teachers are available to meet with students during physical office hours if students want further face-to-face interaction. Those whose grades fall below a C must attend school every weekday, or work out a similar schedule with their teacher.
Blended-learning design and context
Albuquerque Public Schools, a 94,000-student school district, set up the Albuquerque Evening School nearly 90 years ago to provide dropout- and credit-recovery services, primarily to war veterans. The Evening School used a high school building during the traditional school’s off hours, but in recent years it began to outgrow this space. District officials considered shuttering the Evening School in response to the fear of looming spending cuts.
Instead, the district decided in 2009 to use the Evening School to pilot a new blended-learning model. The new mission was to provide alternative education opportunities through a variety of electronic delivery methods that promote independence and excellence in learning. The model promised to save money and thus operate within the confines of the district’s tighter budget. The model also promised to be a strong fit with the majority of the school’s clientele. Students at the Evening School frequently had trouble staying in school because of their day jobs. The administration hoped that by moving to a blended model, students could use their newfound time flexibility to work while also completing diploma requirements. Surrounding schools supported the idea because they generally found this group of students challenging to serve and were glad for an alternative.
In the spring of 2010, the alternative school opened its doors under the name of eCADEMY and offered its first 11 courses to students across the district’s other high schools. The district later constructed a new building to house eCADEMY. Dr. Tom Ryan, who led the effort to set up eCADEMY, partnered with the principal of Evening School, Dave Wells, to work with the administration and the teachers union to define a new charter for the school, including how to adapt existing teacher contracts for the new model.
Currently, eCADEMY’s computer labs are open to students from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Until the new eCADEMY facility was completed in April 2011, eCADEMY students shared a facility with a traditional school.
At the start of the spring, fall, and winter semesters, students meet face-to-face with eCADEMY faculty. Students who maintain a C grade or better do not have to show up on the physical campus again during the course, although some choose to use the computer labs on campus. Teachers are available to meet with students during physical office hours if students want further face-to-face interaction. Those whose grades fall below a C must attend school every weekday, or work out a similar schedule with their teacher.
New Mexico’s seat-time requirement stipulates that students must log on to a virtual classroom for as many days as they would be required to appear in a traditional classroom. (The law does not specify the length of time students must be online with each logon, however.) Thus, students generally must at least log on to the virtual classroom five days per week. A designated mentor—either a teacher or parent—receives alerts if a student fails to log on enough.
The school offers all subjects online, except for five face-to-face classes, which are being phased out. eCADEMY’s faculty departments create courses themselves, although they use or incorporate content from the state’s virtual high school, Ideal New Mexico (Ideal-NM), and the National Repository of Online Courses (NROC), a free open-source repository of online course content.
Blackboard provides the learning management system, which includes short-cycle assessments to help teachers customize pacing for each student. Courses generally include end-of-the-week assessments. Some also require a pre-test at the beginning of the week. All schools in the Albuquerque district upload student information and the active directory into Blackboard.
Teachers at eCADEMY earn $190 per semester per student per class. The school arrived at this rate by dividing an average full-time teacher salary by the average total number of students that teachers would have if they were teaching a full load at a traditional school. Officials negotiated with the teachers union to agree to this new pay formula. eCADEMY also opens the opportunity for teachers to work all year, which substantially improves their earning potential.
After sharing facilities with a traditional district school, eCADEMY opened its own building–a reconstituted alternative school–in April 2011. Considering the obstacles faced with the traditional school facilities, eCADEMY administrators significantly increased both data ports and electrical outlets in the new building. They also enhanced the wireless infrastructure. The building is currently separated into classrooms that accommodate up to 30 students at computers, and administrators would like to move to more open architecture to allow for larger rooms and easier supervision of students.
eCADEMY chose to use laptops and netbooks as well as wireless Internet connectivity on its campus. There have been some challenges with this wireless infrastructure, but these are outweighed by the benefits of providing maximum flexibility and mobility for students. Because district policy does not allow students to bring their own devices to school, laptops are available for students to check out when needed. eCADEMY sees a need for greater district level support to help address infrastructure problems and craft policies and processes for when issues arise.
Primarily because of cost constraints, eCADEMY staff has focused on using open educational resource (OER) content providers to help teachers develop their own online courses. This has empowered teachers but has also limited the number of courses that can be developed in a short period of time. eCADEMY staff chose to develop their own courses because of it did not want to pay upfront cash to license third-party content. They also recognized that core content providers did not offer as much room for personalization to accommodate the unique needs of eCADEMY’s students, many of whom are English Language Learners and/or have work and family obligations outside of school. The school decided to build some custom programs to interface with district systems to allow for maximum flexibility for teachers to design and implement strategies. eCADEMY chose to use OER to develop its own courses instead of using proprietary course providers because the advantages of flexibility in design and control outweighed the disadvantage of a lengthier development process.
Course registration, transcript programs, and progress tracking tools were also initially developed specifically by and for eCADEMY. In the future, the administration would like to purchase or build better administrative analytic tools to monitor whole school, subject, and unit level progress. The administration would also like to develop better analytics on teacher performance, such as average time to respond, unit success rates, and teacher course tracking.
The establishment of eCADEMY diminished the need for many clerical staff positions. The non-certified staff of the Evening School was cut by 40 percent. Certified teachers at eCADEMY develop and teach online courses, hold face-to-face office hours, and provide supervision of students working through online coursework on campus. Because of district rules, paraprofessionals and any non-certified teachers cannot supervise eCADEMY’s computer labs.
In hiring, eCADEMY has looked for teachers who have not been “institutionalized” by the traditional face-to-face model. Teachers are hired as contract employees initially, working with a small group of students. Depending on success, they are provided opportunities to take on more courses and students. Teachers at eCADEMY must understand the role of technology to aid in focusing on the unique academic challenges of their non-traditional students, and must be very organized and have the ability to work independently.
All teachers must be “certified” as online teachers prior to being interviewed. The school district offers the certification program. Because eCADEMY developed out of a whole-school redesign, teachers have shown high motivation to complete online teaching certification to keep their jobs.
Ongoing professional development
Professional development for eCADEMY teachers is provided by the district online learning department. Initially, professional development was designed around introducing teachers to online pedagogy and skill development. Today, courses are provided in content design and development and skill enhancement sessions on topics such as collaboration, assessment, engagement, and podcasts. eCADEMY has an on-site professional to provide mentorship and oversight to new online teachers.
Each Friday, teachers meet face-to-face for “PLC” (Professional Learning Community). At this meeting, teachers work together to discuss the needs of eCADEMY’s unique student population and to collaborate about problems and solutions.
Because eCADEMY was reconstituted from a brick-and-mortar alternative school, no new start up funding was provided. eCADEMY had to make the transition within the existing Evening School budget. The school district already owned licenses for the district-wide LMS, and provided extra computers in the new school buildout. Additionally, the school received online professional development and training from the district’s IT department. All teachers from the Evening School could reapply for a position at eCADEMY if they became certified as online teachers, and the district negotiated a modified teacher contract for online teachers that allowed them to be paid on a per student basis for enrollments under 20 students.
eCADEMY experienced a 29 percent reduction in budget upon conversion to blended learning. These savings came from reduced operating costs from eliminating textbook expenditures, cutting non-certified staff by 40 percent, and reducing general supply budget costs related to paper-related supplies by 75 percent. The cost per student was decreased by 17 percent.
The model has also allowed for a restructuring of teacher pay. In a traditional setting, a teacher earns roughly $5,000 per class. At eCADEMY, by paying teachers a set $190 per semester per student per class, the school can offer classes for only a few students, at a rate of only $190 per student, rather than the $5,000 minimum charge. This offers the school flexibility to offer courses for smaller numbers of students per class.
The program stands out for its facility cost savings. Ryan said that a typical comprehensive high school for 2,000 to 2,500 full-time students in the area is about 450,000 square feet at a cost of $160 to $200 per foot. The new eCADEMY building, in contrast, is less than 100,000 square feet at a cost of less than $130 per square foot. It is the least expensive high school the district has ever built. The district is able to capture these savings because the building does not include a gym, shares campus space with another school building, has a small cafeteria that doubles as the multi-purpose meeting area, has few specialized rooms, and has a small parking lot.
eCADEMY is less than 25 percent of the size of a typical comprehensive school in the area, but it is able to accommodate the same number of students. This efficiency is the result of the school’s long hours, which allow the district to spread occupancy over more hours. The smaller facility leads to the reduction of attendant operating costs, including custodial, security, utilities, and cafeteria expenses.
The flexibility of scheduling with online learning also provides cost savings at eCADEMY. Because online courses are not restrained by time or place, scheduling efficiency is close to 100 percent at eCADEMY. In a traditional face-to-face school, unused teacher capacity caused by scheduling conflicts prevents cost savings available at eCADEMY.
Because of cost restraints, eCADEMY has limited ability to implement certain initiatives, such as purchasing cell phones for teachers to communicate more directly with students and purchasing better data analytic tools for tracking student and teacher performance. Instead, the school chose to spend on having new programs written that allowed for online registration for students.
As stated above, eCADEMY has realized significant cost savings with its teacher and facility expenses. eCADEMY also has found savings through the elimination of textbooks and of paper reproduction and storage expenses, as well as through the reduction of aides and support staff.
During the spring 2010 pilot testing period, eCADEMY had a 70 percent retention rate. This compares to the 50 percent retention rate before the school moved to a blended model. That summer (2010), eCADEMY enrolled over 500 students and reported a 90 percent pass rate among these students. In the summer of 2012, over 1200 students were enrolled in blended summer school. Summer school boasts course passing rates between 88 and 93 percent.
Teachers at eCADEMY keep logs on when they contact parents. Dave Wells, the principal of eCADEMY, reports that there has been a 35 percent increase in parental contacts with the blended program and that his work has shifted from disciplining students in the old face-to-face environment to working with parents toward the success of their children. eCADEMY expects to open a full-time virtual school in the fall of 2013.
Name: Tom Ryan
Email: [email protected]