Note: The information in this profile represents SY2012-13 unless otherwise indicated.
To see a profile from San Francisco Flex Academy for SY2010-11, click here.
Flex Public Schools (Flex), in partnership with K12, Inc., opened San Francisco Flex Academy (SF Flex) in September 2010 and Silicon Valley Flex Academy (Silicon Valley Flex) in September 2011. Both are charter schools currently serving grades 6–12 in the Bay Area. Silicon Valley Flex serves students from a different demographic than SF Flex. Flex Public Schools plans to open several other Flex Academies in the Bay Area and is working with K12, Inc. to bring the model to other states as well. The academies use K12, Inc. curriculum in an on-site school model to enable individualization for each student.
Program model: Flex
K12, Inc. delivers all curriculum and instruction, but face-to-face teachers use a data dashboard to plan targeted interventions and supplementation throughout the day.
Blended-learning design and context
The Flex Academy schools offer core subjects using the Flex blended-learning model. The teachers of record are on-site for these courses and provide support for each individual student as needed, including through small-group instruction based on data from assessments embedded in the K12, Inc. curriculum. The teachers us a data dahsboard to inform their targeted interventions. For non-core subjects, Flex Academy schools deploy the Self-Blend model. The teachers of record are off-site and students can choose from over 150 electives in K12, Inc.’s catalog. Elective courses are entirely online with an online teacher.
Flex Public Schools requires students to be present at its brick-and-mortar facilities from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The SF Flex building was previously the San Francisco Press Club and includes ballroom spaces that SF Flex has converted into large study rooms with library carrels, flat tables, and small-group collaboration spaces. It also has an Internet cafe and social areas with couches, as well as a science lab and other study areas in the basement. Silicon Valley Flex is located in a former two-story office building, similarly converted to accommodate students learning both online and face-to-face. The schools issue each student a laptop computer.
Students meet with an academic adviser at the start of each semester to choose core and elective courses from K12, Inc.’s catalog of over 150 online courses. The K12, Inc. online platform is the starting point for delivering all curricula and assessments. Students progress through their courses online, with the learning management system occasionally directing them to engage in offline enrichments, such as working with tangible manipulatives, reading physical books, or participating in a wet lab. A K12, Inc. database integrates information about student course progress, assessment results, attendance records, parent communications, and all other student information into one portal, called Total View, that teachers, advisors, administrators, and parents can access. Teacher-graded and computer-graded assessments determine mastery of objectives at the lesson, unit, and subject level.
Despite this online delivery platform, the Flex schools regard face-to-face teachers as a critical component of its model for core academic courses. Indeed, a central objective of the Flex model is to re-imagine the traditional teacher role. SF Flex has at least two face-to-face English teachers, two math, two science, two history, and two special education teachers plus online teachers— for electives to serve a student body of 500. The role of these teachers is to monitor student performance by using the integrated Total View dashboard and then call students into a physical classroom for specific individualized support or for when the teacher wants the students to have a certain experience, such as a live debate about the Civil War. The student’s schedule changes every week based on the blend of face-to-face and online that the teacher designates for the week. Physical teachers and students communicate both face-to-face and through email and threaded discussions.
The model at full size includes eight academic coaches, who assist the teachers as paraprofessionals, supervise students in the large study areas, and are responsible for helping students progress through the system. From 3 to 5 p.m., the school remains open for students to participate in clubs, office hours, and sports teams.
The school currently provides laptops to every student to allow for mobility and flexibility; students can move around the facility, can bring the computer to teacher breakout sessions or student collaboration sessions, and can take the computer home in case of illness.
Because all coursework is cloud-based and web-accessible, Flex administrators are contemplating a switch to using “thin-client” machines in future schools. Thin-clients include a keyboard and screen without a hard drive. The demand for laptop mobility is not as high as expected, because most teacher break-out sessions do not require students to bring their computers and most students have computers at home. Future schools using thin-clients will provide a small number of loaner laptops for students who do not have access to a computer outside of school.
Flex administrators chose to use wired connectivity rather than wireless to increase stability, with wireless connections for supplemental capacity and flexibility.
Flex Public Schools were started by K12, Inc., a full service management and curriculum service provider. All software and instructional content is provided by K12, Inc. As the largest charter operator in the country with over 100,000 full-time students, K12, Inc. supplies a full array of electives, courses, and instructional content. The comprehensive nature of K12, Inc.’s offerings allowed for streamlined simplicity in opening Flex Academies.
Each Flex Academy employs up to 10 teachers for core subjects and eight paraprofessionals as academic coaches to supervise student progress. Flex would prefer to hire credentialed teachers to oversee the Flex center, but because of cost restraints, administrators decided to employ recent graduates with ambitions of becoming teachers and school leaders.
Because the Flex model is predicated on an intervention model that requires teacher flexibility, Flex seeks to hire teachers who are willing to use data in a more powerful way than in traditional models. Teachers meet with students based on student need and focus on helping students rather than delivering all the content. As a result, Flex looks for student relationships skills, content knowledge, and willingness to adapt when hiring; traditional classroom management skills, curriculum development, and assessment development experience are not needed in this model.
Ongoing professional development
K12, Inc. provides an initial 40-hour online and live teacher training model as well as an ongoing teacher development program. K12, Inc. has a complete professional development team to train over 3,000 teachers nationwide each year, and local principals lead the ongoing training. Flex schools appreciated this option to keep professional development streamlined with curriculum and teaching models and did not consider any other professional development options.
Each Flex school requires about $1.5 million in startup capital for buildout, furniture, computers, and so forth. Federal and state implementation grants have provided about $450,000 in start up funds at SF Flex and Silicon Valley Flex, and the remainder of the required investment came from a K12, Inc. advance.
Flex’s blended-learning model is revenue neutral. The model allows for fewer FTEs than in a traditional school, but also requires increased technology costs. Flex administrators cite that the school model has been designed to enable much more personalization, but not financial savings.
Because Flex Academies are entirely new blended-learning schools, rather than traditional schools converted to blended-learning schools, they do not reflect a cost-savings strategy.
Initial baseline test results are promising. Scantron national norm referenced tests, given at the beginning and end of the school year, show significant growth during the first year of implementation. At SF Flex, students in 10th and 11th grades last year gained ~384% of the national norm growth in Reading, while at SV Flex, students in 8th and 9th grades made 217% and 283% growth compared to the national norm respectively.
California’s API scores measure the academic performance and growth of schools on a variety of academic measures. The scores range from 200 to 1000, with 800 as the statewide goal for all schools. SF Flex exhibited a 645 API score for 2012, improved by one point from 2011; Silicon Valley Flex scored a 790.
Name: Mark Kushner
Email: [email protected]