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

School/organization overview

Name Grand Rapids Public Schools
Type District
Locale Urban
Headquarters Grand Rapids, Michigan
First year of operation
Grades served PreK-12
% FRL 86%
% Black or Hispanic 76%
Per-pupil funding $13,366 (SY2007-08)

Blended-learning program

Name Centers of Innovation
Focus General
Year launched SY2009-10
Outside investments/grants
Enrollment Unavailable
Blended grades
Blended subjects
Math, English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science
Content e2020 (Education2020), NovaNet
SIS Total Recall, PowerSchool
Independent LMS Moodle
Independent gradebook Gradebook
Independent assessment None
Professional development

Program model

Program model: Flex

Model description
Students take four core classes per day online with face-to-face support and two face-to-face electives in traditional classrooms. The face-to-face teacher is the teacher of record.

Program background

History and context
District leaders from Grand Rapids Public Schools in Michigan first became interested in blended learning because of a desire to provide students with greater exposure to technology. To advance that objective, Grand Rapids began a blended program in three of its four Centers of Innovation—newer high schools with a college- and career-prep focus. The blended program launched at the 9th-grade level for the 2009–10 school year, but district leaders planned to add subsequent grades each year until the program served grades 9–12 by year four.

Blended model
The blended program now in place for participating 9th graders includes six class periods per day—four core classes and two electives. The core classes are typically 55 to 70 minutes long and are fully online in a computer lab. The sizes of core classes remain the same as those in the district’s traditional high schools and range from 30 to 34 students. During the core class periods, four adults, including a lead instructor, special education instructor, paraprofessional, and tutor, work with the students in the lab. Whereas in the traditional model the average adult-to-student ratio is 1 or 2-to-32, in this blended model it jumps to 1-to-8. The district pays for this increase in personnel through a redirection of funds that include Section 31a funds for at-risk youth as well as Title I funds. The extra staffing provides students with significant face-to-face support on an as-needed basis as they work through their online lessons.

Besides the four online core courses, the students attend two elective courses. These take place in a traditional classroom with one teacher at the front of the class and 30 to 34 students.

Grand Rapids modeled its content strategy for the core classes after that of Michigan’s nearby Kent Intermediate School District, which had engaged in a rigorous selection process and elected to license e2020 content. For some core classes, the Centers of Innovation also use NovaNet, which is already a fixture of the district’s alternative education program. As students work in the computer lab, the e2020 and NovaNet software assess their performance in real time. This allows the four roving adults to catch problems quickly and offer face-to-face intervention.

Grand Rapids uses Total Recall for the student information system, although it began migrating to PowerSchool during the 2010–11 school year. The intention is to integrate PowerSchool and e2020, while still using some customized programming in Total Recall.

Students complete most online core coursework at school, although they can occasionally work on some assignments at home if they have computer access. Students work at an individualized pace and can move forward only when they demonstrate at least 70 percent proficiency. Teachers use Gradebook to keep track of student grades and assignments. Parents can access these records through Gradebook’s parent portal.

Notable results
Initial test results at the Centers of Innovation indicate that participating 9th graders on average outperformed all other students in traditional high schools in the district. Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers have been pleased with the blended program. Special education teachers in particular claim that the hybridization is much more effective for their students on a whole.

On the horizon
Grand Rapids has extended its foray into blended learning for the 2010–11 school year to all comprehensive high schools, where all 9th-grade math and social studies courses (plus an introductory science course at one high school) are experimenting with a rotation model of blended learning. Instead of offering four out of six classes online each day, the new model features a rotation between online and face-to-face learning within each course. In this model, the high schools allocate Day 1 for 100 percent traditional teaching, so that teachers can introduce concepts in a lecture style to a classroom of 30 to 34 students. On Day 2, students work online in computer labs with four adults, including a teacher, special education instructor, paraprofessional, and tutor. They use e2020, Moodle, HippoCampus, and other website content to reinforce the materials they learned on Mondays. On Day 3, students work partly online, but also spend time presenting their findings to their peers. This cycle then repeats.

District superintendent Bernard Taylor recently announced that this rotation may change from three days to two to give teachers more time for direct instruction.

Michigan State University and the University of Pittsburgh have agreed to advise and audit the new rotation-model program at the comprehensive high schools.


  • Christensen Institute
    Christensen Institute