Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated.
Blended Learning Program
Program model: Individual Rotation
Students rotate between online learning for concept introduction and instruction and face-to-face learning for reinforcement and application. Each rotation is 55 minutes and customized for each student.
History and context
Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School (CDCHS) began in 2000 as a trad-itional high school that served nearly 300 students in face-to-face classrooms. In 2003 its executive director, Rick Ogston, began developing the blended model now in use. In 2005, the owners of the church facility that CDCHS was renting decided to sell the property. Without a building, Ogston and his team felt they had no option but to quickly transform their model. Within a few months, school leaders put in place the new blended model and moved to a temporary location in a University of Phoenix building. In 2006, they relocated to a new building, which was custom designed for their blended approach.
The new building has 300 individual cubicles and computers housed in a central learning center, which is similar in layout to a call center. Students attend class four days a week, although the days are longer (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Students attend 145 school days per year and receive a total of 1,007 hours of instruction. Typically there is little or no outside homework. Students rotate throughout the day between online activities in the learning center and face-to-face classroom instruction, where a “coach,” or teacher, re-teaches, enhances, or applies the material introduced online. Each rotation lasts 55 minutes. Students complete the online/face-to-face cycle two to three times a day. Physical education is actual, not virtual.
CDCHS only hires six full-time certified teachers: one each for math, language arts, science, physical education, social studies, and electives. These teachers serve as the coaches during the face-to-face classroom time. They teach all of the students in the school; for example, the math teacher alone provides all face-to-face math instruction that the 273 students receive throughout the week. Furthermore, the same teacher teaches all grade levels, so that teacher is able to provide continuity as students progress through the system. The charter district consortium provides special education services, which means that CDCHS splits this cost with another school. CDCHS pays its teachers at or above district salaries and offers a better benefit plan than that of other schools in the area. The plan includes state retirement.
During online instruction periods, “assistant coaches” offer direction and help. Assistant coaches are highly qualified paraprofessionals in accordance with state standards, but are not necessarily certified teachers. The school has two administrators, one serving as principal and the other as guidance counselor and office administrator. The guidance counselor helps place students in the right courses for their ability—so that students can advance at their own pace— and arranges for community internships.
CDCHS uses e2020 for content, which it prefers because of its multi-modal pedagogical approach; students must type, listen, watch video instruction, read text, explore links, and take short-cycle assessments. The school doubles up on assessment by contracting with Acuity to conduct extra-curricular assessments, which enables the school not to rely on e2020 or state assessments alone to assess the effectiveness of e2020 content. e2020 also manages the student gradebook and sends out automatic weekly results emails to parents.
PowerSchool provides the student information system, including gradebook, report cards, and the attendance records that are sent to the state.
In 2010, CDCHS ranked first in its county in student performance in math and reading and ranked among the top 10 percent of Arizona charter schools. A similar tale played out in 2009 when, based on its scores on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test, CDCHS ranked first in the county in student performance for almost all grade levels and subjects. In almost all instances, at least 90 percent of the students at CDCHS passed the test in all grade levels and subjects tested. In many instances, 100 percent of the students passed.
Savings on labor costs are substantial because of a model that allows for only six certified teacher FTEs (plus various support staff) for 273 students. In addition, CDCHS’s new building, opened in 2006, contains only five traditional classrooms, which is fewer than half as many as a traditional school requires for a similar enrollment level. The building cost $2.7 million to build. In comparison, a building currently in the planning stages in the same neighborhood, the traditional Desert View Academy, will cost roughly $12 million and accommodate only 200 more students than CDCHS, which means that it will cost more than twice the capital expenditure per pupil as the CDCHS building.
Businessweek recognized CDCHS as one of the top high schools in America in its 2009 report, and U.S. News & World Report gave CDCHS the same recognition in its 2010 report.
On the horizon
On the learning tools side, Ogston anticipates that someday CDCHS will have access to an integrated system that seamlessly manages assessment data from Acuity, curricula from e2020, and student data from PowerSchool. The Arizona Charter School Association, of which he is a member, is currently working on this project.
On the policy side, he notes that federal stimulus funding often has replaced—not added to—education allocations from the states, and these federal monies usually carry more restrictive, time intensive, and unwieldy auditing and compliance mandates, thus leaving schools with less money than before the stimulus funds were offered. He also says that because funding is unpredictable and unstable, school administrators are unnecessarily crippled in their budgeting and planning abilities.
Ogston recently obtained approval from the State Board for Charter Schools to scale the CDCHS model. He is beginning with a new school that will offer two days per week of face-to-face instruction with the rest offered remotely online. He plans to base this school in Yuma and market it to students who are unmotivated by the traditional paradigm.