Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated.

Operator overview

Name Chicago Public Schools
Type District
Locale Urban
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois
First year of operation
Grades served PreK-12
% FRL 86% (SY2008-09)
% Black or Hispanic 86% (SY2009-10)
Per-pupil funding $11,536 (SY2007-08)

Blended-learning program

Name Additional Learning Opportunities Initiative
Focus General
Year launched SY2010-11
Outside investments/grants
Enrollment 6,000
Blended grades
Blended subjects
Math, English Language Arts
Content HeadSprout, Destination Reading, Earobics REACH, MIND Research Institute
SIS None
Independent LMS None
Independent gradebook None
Independent assessment None
Professional development

Program model

Program model: Flex

Model description
After their traditional school day, all students receive additional instruction online in math and reading for 90-minutes. On-site teachers facilitate learning as students work with online tools.

Program background

History and context
Ron Huberman, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), was concerned with the significant disparity in student learning time between CPS students and their peers in other large urban school districts. He decided in May 2010 that he wanted Chicago students to enjoy the advantages of high quality blended learning by September of that year. He believed blended learning presented an instructionally beneficial and fiscally responsible way to expand learning time for CPS students. With help from The Chicago Public Education Fund, CPS identified 15 elementary schools to test pilot the new initiative. In August 2010, Mayor Richard Daley announced the new initiative—called Additional Learning Opportunities (ALO)—which used blended learning to provide students with another 90 minutes of learning time as an afterschool program each school day.

At the press conference for the launch, Daley said, “For many years I have argued that we must extend Chicago’s school year and school day because we know that the more time a child spends learning, the more he or she retains and the better they do year after year.” Indeed, Chicago students spent less time in the classroom each year than the national average. Daley said that compared to students in Houston, for example, Chicago students spent 30 percent less time in class on an annual basis. The challenge, however, was to provide additional learning time without having to revisit the collective bargaining agreement in place with the teachers’ union. Daley and Huberman hoped to find an answer in blended learning combined with partnerships with community organizations.

Blended model
The district launched the initiative in two waves—with five schools beginning the initiative in November 2010 and 10 additional schools beginning the initiative in January 2011. Across the 15 schools, 6,000 elementary school students participated in a mandatory 90-minute pilot ALO program. The district partnered with six community organizations, such as the YMCA, to provide adult facilitators for these 90 minutes. The community organizations were responsible for recruiting, staffing, training, and managing these facilitators. Often the community workers were activities leaders at the centers. Others were teachers, retired teachers, student teachers, parents, or other members of the community.

To participate, facilitators had to complete 10 hours of training prior to the launch of the program and 20 hours of additional training over the course of the year; be at least 21 years old; hold at least an associate’s degree or be enrolled in college; and pass a standard background check. The organizations provided two facilitators per classroom, or approximately one adult per 15 students. Facilitators were paid roughly $15 per hour, although the amount varied depending on experience.

To minimize transition time, students usually stayed in their homeroom classrooms for the program. Special education students who needed to work in a self-contained environment worked separately with a special education teacher and/or aide, who the district provided. At the start of each 90-minute block, the facilitators wheeled a computer cart, stocked with laptop computers and snacks, into each classroom. Although program scheduling varied somewhat by school, at most schools, students used the restroom and ate their snacks for the first few minutes while the facilitators set up the computers. Students then engaged in an online math program for 30 to 35 minutes and an online reading program for another 30 to 35 minutes. The last few minutes were for clean-up and dismissal.

After requesting proposals from software vendors, the district selected MIND Research Institute’s ST Math as the online math provider. For reading, they contracted with Headsprout for grades 1–2 and Destination Reading and Earobics REACH for grades 3–8. District personnel recently requested another round of proposals to provide schools with additional software choices.

During program hours, various personnel supported its operation, including the school’s principal or assistant principal, a security guard, an office assistant, and an education coordinator. The latter was a member of the school’s teacher staff and was responsible for helping to resolve classroom management issues, coach facilitators, and pull reports on a regular basis to monitor student and classroom progress. The district paid all of these personnel as district employees. Meanwhile, the community organizations employed a program coordinator for each school to run the operational aspects of the program and manage the facilitators. They also employed program supervisors, who provided support to three or four schools.

The district office retained several school outreach managers, who each served as liaisons to a set of schools, supported implementation by sharing best practices, assisted with technical questions, and escalated problems when necessary.

Notable results
At the time of publication, the program was too infant to produce demonstrable student achieve-ment results. District officials identified a few early observations about the implementation, however. They said that training facilitators about classroom management was critical before facilitators ever set foot in the classroom. The four to five hours of classroom management training that the program originally envisioned was not enough. Also, they found that back-up plans for offline activities were important to provide a substitute activity when the network went down. Finally, they said that carefully selecting software vendors was essential. Much of the online content on the market seemed geared toward classrooms with experienced teachers who could guide the students through the system. For Chicago, the software needed to be more engaging and completely hands off.

On the horizon
The district did not yet have expansion plans. Faced with a roughly $700 million deficit, CPS faced the challenge of carefully prioritizing programs going forward.


  • Christensen Institute
    Christensen Institute