Archive for the ‘Dropout’ category

Redemption, Return, and Recovery: The Future of the Three R’s

September 13, 2010

Intro

Several years ago, I was charged with the responsibility of supervising an urban school district’s online credit recovery program.   At first, I reasonably questioned the validity of such a program relative to authentic student achievement and the dedication of non-traditional and at-risk students who formerly exhibited a devalued sense of the educational process and the associated achievement that can be realized through rigorous commitment.

For those unfamiliar with a credit recovery program, they are generally grounded in disruptive innovation theory and provide non-traditional student populations with an opportunity to claim academic credits that were lost due to course failure or excessive absence and time away from the traditional learning environment.

There are myriad examples of credit recovery programs currently in operation in the nation’s public schools.  I’ve witnessed everything from watered-down summer school programs to thoroughly organized,  demanding, and standards aligned  programs providing an asynchronous technologically integrative platform.  Like the Promise Academy Charter School in Cleveland, Ohio, which serves upwards of 750 students in an online credit recovery program housed in a three story renovated bank located in the business district of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, I chose to model what I observed to be a very successful and well managed program.  I flew from central Pennsylvania to Cleveland, Ohio and embarked on a two day period of intense site immersion in an attempt to collect the most relevant data for analysis towards the construction of an authentic framework for implementation back at home.

The purpose of this particular entry is not to necessarily focus on online credit recovery programs, but briefly provide insight as to the benefits of such a program to a challenging minority student population.

School records, Communication, and Re entry

The school district of record was experiencing a significantly high number of credit deficient students.  Roughly 1 in 5 students was behind in course credits, not on grade level, and prone to two outcomes:  dropout or attend school for more than the traditional four years. Even more impactful was the 10% drop in student population over the course of eight years. This indicated a serious dropout dilemma in the school district.

With this data in hand, I immediately began to work proactively by advertising this opportunity to administrators, guidance counselors, frustrated parents, community leaders, and anyone who was willing to hear my story whether at church, the grocery store, or barber shop.

Once the word got out that we were making a valid attempt to offer a paved road void of the obstacle laden experiences of their past, students ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-one flooded my office for an application, consultation, and request for immediate enrollment.

In the very least, the groundswell indicated the want to secure a high school diploma.  The current and former students wanted to get their lives back on track beginning with the successful completion of high school.

Consultation

To understand the gravity of this experience, interviewing the students and collecting the necessary information related to their enrollment and academic plan, I must admit that I was often left with critically consuming emotions.

The potential student population served through the credit recovery program ran the gamut.  From students who had not attended school in over one hundred days to relatively new mothers to young men recently released from juvenile detention facilities and county prison, these were the students that were lost in the downward spiral of the system.  These students existed within a grey area that was often dismissed by educators.  They were the non-traditional, the at-risk, and those who experienced a less than favorable experience while in school.  These students represented a growing trend in American society.  I realized that we could not dismiss them, ignore them, or relegate them to a life of low stratification wrought with the cascading dilemmas of an adult life burdened by a lack of personal achievement and ancillary resources.

As I interviewed the students and family members, my administrative office morphed into a counseling center as I listened intently to stories filled with the sorrow, regret, and a legitimately overstated want for an attempt at academic redemption.  Kleenex™ was a standard desk item.

Students were experiencing such a dearth in course credits that a return to a traditional high school setting was not a consideration.  For example, a nineteen year old teen mother who amassed just twelve academic credits and had not been to school for two years was not a candidate for reentry into a traditional school setting.  Her needs eclipsed those of the typical junior in high school.  She needed daycare, employment, and housing.  The only way to successfully claim lost credits was through an online credit recovery program.

A Commitment to Recovery

During the course of the year, we successfully enrolled three hundred students with close to two hundred claiming a number of lost credits, returning to the traditional high school at grade level, and subsequently graduating eighty eight students who would have either dropped out or taken another year and a half to graduate.

As I frequented the two classrooms housing the credit recovery students, a phenomenon was occurring beyond that of the intended credit accumulation.  Students were attending with a higher frequency than at the traditional high school.  Students were developing an independent nature that somehow never developed prior to this progressive technological experience.   As students accumulated credits, a circularity developed that caused them to add credits at an alarming rate.  Again, many of these students were the castaways, push outs, and discipline problems.  They moved through the academic program modules that were aligned to state standards and district textbooks. They were given periodic online assessments.  If they did not score proficiently in the online assessment, the module automatically reverted to a tutoring module that emphasized the areas of low performance.  Once completing these tutoring modules, students were, once again, assessed for proficiency with an entirely different assessment set.  The ability to fail and not be permanently penalized helped boost the self-esteem of the students.  They were able to develop their own learning and evaluative processing style that transcended the learning environment to their lives outside of school in terms of situational evaluation techniques.  Further, they were able to exist as themselves in an unbiased setting that too often challenged their identity during the most intense moments of identity development, consideration, and commitment.

Success

As another school year came to a close, eighty eight students were getting sized for graduation gowns, drafting lists of announcement recipients, and planning for a life after high school graduation.  As the administrator of a program that was criticized by both teachers and administrative peers caught in the architecture of a century old traditional model, I stood before these students with adulation and pride.  Many had overcome situations that you and I would never want to endure.  Many parents and students alike never thought that this day would occur.  Thankfully, online learning has made this a reality for over two million of America’s children.

Outro

The successful completion of the credit recovery program increased the graduating class of 2009 by twenty five percent. 

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Process Over Event: From Elementary Absenteeism to Secondary Dropout

August 4, 2010

Any given school day, across this vast landscape (USA), a kaleidoscope of urban minority school-aged youth are walking the street in various transitional states. Some children are huddled at the bus stop awaiting the arrival of the school bus while others are walking to school in small groups. However, many teenage males are congregating on street corners, females are sitting on porches, and both can be seen frequenting the neighborhood store for high calorie snack foods and drinks. For many, they are in the midst of transitioning from frequent absenteeism to truancy to dropping out.  You can witness this as one drives through any rapidly dilapidating neighborhood. The number of students seen in the neighborhoods while school is in session does not take into account the hundreds more who inhabit their residences without leaving for hours and perhaps days at a time. These children, of varying ages, are not in school during school hours.  Beyond being a compulsory policy, why are so many children absent from school, leaving school, and not graduating? What myriad factors are contributing to this dilemma? What policies and programmatic initiatives can reverse this skyrocketing trend (Rumberger, 2008; Steinberg, 2004)?

As a secondary public school student through the late 1970’s and 1980’s, my understanding was and remains that academic achievement is an active engagement that is accomplished through ongoing physical presence at an educational institution. Attendance enforcement in urban school districts has been a long-standing problem that affects school budgets, local law enforcement, and the judicial system.  Research has a divergent view of this quandary.  The existing complexities in urban communities and institutions coupled with a negative economic malady further contribute to the malaise associated with the graduation and dropout rates of inner city minority students (Orfield, 2004; Vartanian, 1999).

On the school front, things are not palatable either. Urban school districts are limited in their capacity to reach the thousands of students who are at risk for dropping-out.  Safety concerns, the lack of participant cohesion, high student-teacher ratios, dilapidated facilities, and performance pressures only inspire students to consider leaving school. Furthermore, programs earmarked for internal student support have inadequate funding and are vulnerable to elimination. Thus, these internal support programs do not receive the support necessary to assist a large number of students in overcoming the varying obstacles affecting their academic success, social and vocational development, mobility, and retention of those most at-risk for dropping out (Adelman, 2000; Gerwitz, 2009; Harris, 2007).

Gaps in the dropout research exist due to an absence of a standardized means by which to measure dropout rates nationwide as well as geographic and subgroup representation. Because the formulas used by school districts, state education agencies, and researchers vary, research has been conducted under the guise of different formulas.  Also, due to the No Child Left Behind Act, school district reports and associated achievement studies rely on graduation rates rather than dropout rates. 

Frequent absenteeism from school assuredly increases the amount of time students must officially enroll in school while acting as a gateway to dropping out of school.  Marino (2008) identified three prevailing instances of nonappearance:  Absenteeism, truancy, and school refusal.  Marino defines absenteeism as a period-of-time away from school legally approved by the parent while truancy is absenteeism without parental approval.  Too often, the assumed lack of adult supervision for potentially truant students leads to delinquency and anti-social behaviors.

Psychological research (Reid, 1999) indicates that truant students and unrelenting absenteeism  yield a population that has ” lower academic self-concepts, lower general levels of self-esteem, greater patterns of alienation from school over certain issues, higher levels of neuroticism and higher levels of antisocial behavior”.  Lastly, school refusal is an “inappropriate fear of leaving home” and/or an “inappropriate fear of going to school”.  The fear of leaving home can manifest itself through clingy behaviors used as a coping mechanism for adolescents who have a historically cultural dependence on the family for safety and support.  This parallels the fear of going to school which can eventually elicit separation anxiety and an overwhelming feeling of loss coupled with a fear of being alone (AACAP, 2008; Eisen, et al, 2006).  These behaviors, if not addressed, can promote social and educational problems throughout a student’s life. These problems are assuredly factors that further ensure academic failure. Unfortunately, there is not enough emphasis on studies relative to the possible link between truancy and psychological criteria such as anxiety (Brandibas, et al., 2004).

Absenteeism generally occurs at the elementary level when students have limited control and decision making capacity relative to their movement through the community.  Truancy develops from absenteeism, often evolves into anti-social behaviors, and are assigned to secondary students who are deemed responsible enough to care for their transport to and from school as well as their own supervision through the peak hours outside of school.

No matter the cause, academic failure can seriously malign a student’s ambition towards graduation.  The ongoing absence from school or class can result in academic failure, which is amongst the contributing factors for dropping-out (Mayer & Mitchell, et al., 1993; McCluskey, 2004). Reports (Ormrod, 2008; Rumberger and Lim, 2008; Schargel, 2007) have suggested that potential drop-outs can exhibit characteristics and risk behaviors as early as elementary school.  Elementary school aged children who demonstrate low attendance rates are at risk for academic failure for a variety of reasons.  These students do not have the opportunity to grow cognitively, socially, and academically due to increased time away from the structured learning environment.   The earlier in life a student exhibits such repetitive behaviors, the higher the likelihood for a student to be developmentally and academically behind their peers throughout their educational career. Thus, the drop out process can be set in motion by a variety of risk factors as early as elementary school (Alexander, 2001; Rumberger, October, 2008). Students entering high school are often several years older than their grade level peers due to prior retention and periods of high absenteeism. Age appropriateness along with course failure, retention, and developmental deficiencies are factors that contribute to dropping out (Rumberger, October, 2008).

Status Variables and Alterable Variables 

Lehr (2007) identifies two explicit tracks by which drop-outs are associated: status variables and alterable variables.  As an extension to Bloom (1980), status variables are comprised of standard factors that are unchangeable or a challenge to change due to complex dynamics.  Alterable variables consist of characteristics that are prone to flux and can experience a transformation with the application of appropriately aligned interventions.  Status variables and Alterable variables consist of a number of contributing factors:

Drop-out Status Variables and Alterable Variables

              STATUS VARIABLES             ALTERABLE VARIABLES
Race/Ethnicity Behaviors
Gender Student Grades
Socioeconomic Status (SES) Absenteeism
Parental Employment School Policy
Family Structure School Climate
School Size and Type Retention
Age Support Services
Region Attitudes
Ability/Disability  

(Lehr, 2007; Rumberger, 1995)

 Although influential, no factor in isolation can be assigned to dropouts without considering the presence and impact of other contributory factors as well as the impact from the other variable. Indicating all potential contributory factors further assists in the identification of those most at-risk for dropping-out.  In other words, an exhaustive investigation into multiple contributory factors reduces the possibility of under identification errors when identifying potential dropouts. With this, the combination of complex predictors is limitless as they play significant roles in the drop-out crisis.

Interventions to reverse dropout numbers have been instituted using both status and alterable variables as criteria. Recognizing what can be changed and what cannot be changed are important when designing intervention strategies and programs for at-risk students who have the propensity to drop-out of school. Although informative and influential in decision-making, status variables are comprised of factors that extend beyond the scope of school district interventions. Research (Christenson, 2004, page 36; Lehr, 2007) indicates that schools are best suited to address the alterable variables due to their “utility” and capacity to change.  Nevertheless, the convergence of status variables and alterable variables toward comprehensive policy development that positively affects the outcomes of student achievement is a topic for further investigation.

Adelman, H., Taylor, L. (2000). Moving Prevention from the Fringes into the Fabric of School Improvement. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 11(1). Retrieved January 28, 2010 from http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/psych188a/24%20moving%20prevention%20from%20the%20fringes%20into%20the%20fabric.pdf

Alexander, K., Entwisle, D., & Kabbani, N. (2001). The Dropout Process in Life Course Perspective: Early Risk Factors at Home and School.  Teachers College Record. Retrieved on April 3, 2009 from https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=10825.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (May, 2008). Facts for Families: Children Who won’t Go to School (Separation Anxiety). Retrieved on January 27, 2010 from http://www.aacap.org/galleries/FactsForFamilies/07_children_who_wont_go_to_school.pdf.

 Bloom, B. (February, 1980). The New Direction in Educational Research: Alterable Variables. Phi Delta Kappan,  61(6). 382.  Retrieved on January 10, 2010 from http://www.jstor.org/pss/20385509.

Brandibas, G., Jeunier, B., Canet, C., & Foursate, R. (February, 2004). Truancy, School Refusal, and Anxiety. School Psychology International, 25(1). Abstract retrieved February 1, 2010 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ690516&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ690516.

Christenson, S., Thurlow, M. (2004). School Dropouts: Prevention, Considerations, Interventions, and Challenges. American Psychology Society, 13(1). Retrieved on January 29, 2010 from http://dropout.heart.net.tw/information/1-4%20SCHOOL%20DROPOUTS.pdf.

Eisen, A., Engler, L., & Sparrow, J. (2006). Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety or School Refusal. Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Publications.

Gerwitz, C. (April 1, 2009). Rules Allowing Extended Time on Graduation. Education Week, 28(27), 1.

Harris, L., Tsoi-A-Fatt, R. (July 12, 2007). Recommended Changes to the No Child Left Behind Act to Address Workforce Issues. Center for Law and Social Policy. Retrieved on January 28, 2010 from https://www.policyarchive.org/bitstream/handle/10207/13946/nclb_youth_recs.pdf.

Lehr, C.A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C., Cosio, A. (2007). What Do We Know About Who Drops Out and Why?  Retrieved on June 10, 2009 from http://www.adlit.org/article/20795.

Marino, R. (2008).  AAP Textbook of Pediatric Care [Online].  Retrieved on January 11, 2009 from http://www.pediatriccareonline.org/pco/ub/index/AAP-Textbook-of-Pediatric-Care/Topics/A.

Mayer, G. and Mitchell, L. Clementi, T., Clement-Robertson, E., Myatt, R., & Bullara, D. T. (1993). A Dropout Prevention Program for At-Risk High School Students:  Emphasizing Consulting to Promote Positive Classroom Climates, Education and Treatment of Children 16(2), 135 – 146.

McCluskey, C, Bynum, T., and Patchin, J. (2004). Reducing Chronic Absenteeism: an Assessment of an Early Truancy Initiative. Crime & Delinquency. Vol. 50. Retrieved on April 3, 2009 from http://cad.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/50/2/214.

Orfield, G., Losen, D., Wald, J., & Swanson, C., (2004). Losing Our Future: How Minority

Youth are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis, Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. Contributors: Advocates for Children of New York, The Civil Society Institute. Retreived on April 20, 2009 from http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/410936_LosingOurFuture.pdf.

Ormrod, J. (2008). Educational Psychology Developing Learners. Excerpt retrieved April 2, 2009 from http://www.education.com/reference/article/characteristics-students-risk/

Reid, K. (1999). Truancy and Schools, London: Routledge.

Rumberger, R. & Lim, S. (October, 2008). Why Students Drop Out of School:  A Review of 25 Years of Research.  Retrieved March 30, 2009 from http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/AssetFactory.aspx?did=18524.

Rumberger, R. (1995). Dropping out of Middle School: A Multilevel Analysis of Students and Schools. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 583-625. Retrieved January 18, 2010 from http://www.jstor.org/pss/1163325.

Schargel, P., Thacker, T., & Bell, J. (2007). From At Risk to Academic Excellence: What Successful Leaders Do.  Excerpt retrieved April 3, 2009 from http://www.focusas.com/Dropouts.html.

Steinberg, A., Almeida, C. (June, 2004). The Dropout Crisis: Promising Approaches in Prevention and Recovery. Retrieved  January 26, 2010 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/30/af/36.pdf

Vartanian, T., Gleason, P. (1999). Do Neighborhood Conditions Affect High School Dropout and College Graduation Rates? Journal of Socio-Economics. 28(1). Abstract retrieved January 25, 2010 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W5H-46V5WCT-1B&_user=10&_coverDate=12%2F31%2F1999&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1181256863&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=cd5fe2fa090ce377290ce1bedac566d5

 

Building Capacity Through Peer to Peer Mentoring Programs

May 2, 2010

I had a significantly opportunistic and life changing experience while employed by an urban public school district in central Pennsylvania.  As a fourth year teacher in 2001, I overheard that the district had access to approximately $150,000.00 US to implement an in-house alternative school program for truant and excessively absent students.  As I sat idly in my apartment that weekend, I analyzed the larger dilemma and began to construct a proposal for the district’s first attempt at a night school since 1969. I recall working feverishly all weekend and printing the final proposal late Sunday night. I returned to work on Monday and submitted my proposal to the head principal who reviewed the document and was satisfied by the contents. She further stated that she would present the proposal when the principals convened for their weekly meeting at the Office of the Superintendent.  

Several days passed when I received a telephone call requesting my presence at the superintendent’s office.  At this meeting, and as occurs with most originators of a program or mechanism, I was asked to leave my teaching assignment and subsequently offered my first administrative assignment supervising five teachers and 150 at-risk students.  To this date, I have not looked back since.

Alternative education

The students/attendees of the program were provided a core course daily assignment within the minimum time required by the state department of education. Further, an on-site employment preparation program was made available by a local African American female* who possessed a 501c3 (non-profit) with a focus on job skills and fiscal responsibility.  To make a 6-month story short, whole group average daily attendance increased from thirty-one percent (31%) to ninety-two percent (92%) while more than thirty percent (30+%) gained employment through the support and efforts of the kind but ambitious lady with the 501c3. Bottom line, communicating our desire and the dire necessity for students to attend and actively participate served as the lifeblood of the program.

Despite feeling possessive of my first program, it was time to let it go and allow the lettered professionals nurture and expand a small idea into a fully functioning alternative education program.  I was truly happy with the level of participation, learning, and confidence building wrought over the previous six months.

Transition

The success of the program coupled with fiscal accountability and strong program dynamics helped me gain access to the ‘big house’, otherwise known as central administration.  As the newest and youngest member of the grant writing team, it was in this seven foot by thirteen foot room that a phenomenon was unfolding that would drastically alter my perception of public school education.

The initiative: Renaissance Program

Several months had passed before I was called to the Office of the Superintendent and informed that I was being given an assignment to meet with a local contractor turned banker turned philanthropist.  Using available state tax credits, the gentleman was interested in funding an after school program.  Understanding that he was limited in his ability to create such, I became the point man given great responsibility to create and supervise a successful program although I had no background relative to afterschool programs beyond knowledge of their existence.  The gentleman was willing to put forth $50,000.00 US dollars for the first year with an option for a three year commitment if the program exhibited results.  At the time, he was only concerned with the academic achievement aspect of the program and gave little consideration to the external influences and possible affects.  We didn’t know the externalities would eventually take center stage as influential components towards success.

First round draft picks

Although I would not consider myself scholarly at the time, I was able to work within budgets and create successful programs using researched theory.  I wanted to work with a state testing grade level that was mature enough to be actively engaged, but still required guidance and support. With this, I chose the fifth grade class of one elementary school.  I created an application that included general program information and several parental consent forms.  I received fifty-four completed applications from which twelve students would be randomly selected to participate.  As a marketing major in undergraduate school, I fully understood the importance of marketing hype; especially with a voluntary educational program. I held a thirty minute ooh and ahh session in the atrium of the school where a locally well known pastor reached into a container and randomly extracted twelve names.  Students were overwhelmingly excited when their names were announced.  Funny enough, to this day, I don’t believe all twelve elementary students even knew what they were excited about but what they did know, however, is they were finally chosen to be a part of something. Still, I was unsure whether the $50,000.00 US would be adequate to run a three hour per day, four days per week, thirty week program. Working within these limited parameters forced me to be creative in terms of curriculum and personnel choices.

Each one, teach one

I did not have enough funding available to hire teachers for part time work.  Therefore, I was inspired to look elsewhere for staff/personnel.I’ve always been a proponent of the ‘Each One, Teach One’ mantra and felt elementary students could benefit from a positive experience with high school students.  Growing up, we always looked up to and wanted to emulate the older kids.  This did not always transfer into appropriate decisions, but in a controlled environment, it had the potential to work.  I pitched the idea of having six of our most ambitious high school students become paid tutors (under adult supervision) to the elementary population randomly chosen to participate in the program.  Once I sold the idea to the philanthropist and senior administration, I immediately created an application to be distributed to the junior class at the local high school.   To my dismay, I received a paltry number of applications by the deadline, but the quality, not quantity, was of the utmost importance at this point.

I was able to reduce the number of high school applicants to a manageable number and began a vigorous interview period with the high school applicants. Fortunately, the six high school students were secured within several days and I was able to schedule an introductory training session by week’s end.

We were excited to see if the 2:1 mentee to mentor ratio would work. All fingers were crossed in hopes of success. 

Curriculum

I did not want to use the same texts and resources the students had access to everyday.  If I were to utilize the same ole, same ole, the program would surely be doomed to failure.  Additionally, I did not have the funding to purchase anything with a hard cover. Thus, I needed something fresh and affordable within the remaining $25,000.00 US dollars.  I began to search online and through every school merchandise mailer for a computer based math and reading curriculum that could be used through a twelve month licensing agreement.  With the help of a friend in the Information Technology Department, we were able to find, test, and purchase an affordable computer based math and reading curriculum. 

180 minutes

The three hour after school program incorporated an hour for homework, an hour for math, and an hour for reading.  This provided time for students to work within a hybrid context ensuring that traditional studies existed alongside the technologically progressive aspect of the program.  Further, opportunities for interaction and purposeful dialogue between the high school mentors and elementary mentees occurred.  After some time, I began to observe a type of older sibling-younger sibling relationship develop between the students.  We had, in essence, set the tone for a mentoring program within the existing tutoring component.

Final obstacle

Anyone who has had the opportunity to piece together field trips or programs for students knows transportation costs are often the make or break factor in the sustainability of a program. After some thought,  I decided the high school mentors/tutors would be transported to the elementary school across town by simply riding the high school bus that drops off in that section of town.  They were able to access the six o’clock athletic bus to get home at the end of the day.  Problem solved.

All in all, the success of the program was not limited to the academic success of the fifth grade mentees.  The aggressive application of a technology and computer based curriculum enhanced my perception of technology integration in the classroom. Although a hybrid model in the very least, a heightened sense of accomplishment was evidenced during site observations and informal dialogue. The young students were hooked on the technology.  Further, peer to peer student mentoring developed organically as positive relationships were formed and socially responsible practices emanated from the high school mentors.

Outcomes

High school student mentors

  • Employment/work experience
  • Teaching
  • Mentoring
  • Responsibility
  • Letters of recommendation
  • One hundred percent graduated to a four year college/university
  • Several entered college as elementary education majors

Elementary school student mentees

  • Averaged 178 points and 185 points above the districts fifth grade average on PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) math and reading examinations
  • Most entered the districts advanced placement high school of science and technology
  • Purposeful use of technology
  • Reduction in disciplinary action
  • Increased daily attendance
  • Increased parent participation

And the rest, my friends, is history.

Disruptive Innovation Theory and Public School Education: A Futurist Perspective

April 9, 2010

Disruptive innovation is a theory founded by Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen.  Disruptive innovation challenges the framework associated with sustainable innovations.  Sustainable innovations are internal improvements to an already existing system. Sustainable innovations can be referred to as periodic upgrades to systems.  Although considered innovative, change is slow and results reap only marginal improvements. A disruptive innovation, on the other hand, is an advancement that significantly alters the sustained delivery method or product.  This disruption eventually results into what can be interpreted as a natural evolution of a delivery method or product that ultimately displaces the formerly sustained method.

An early objective of asynchronous curriculum delivery models was to enhance the learning of advanced placement students through an independent study component.  This independent study component is asynchronous because the assignments and assessments are not bound by time and space as occurs with synchronous models within traditional brick and mortar institutions. As technological advancements emerged, asynchronous models became primarily associated with computer based media or online applications and software.  This independent approach to learning has become increasingly viable and accessible for all students through distance learning initiatives such as video conferencing, Blackboard ™, web casts, pod casts, blogs, Wikis™, Twitter™ and privatized online learning programs such as NovaNet™ and Plato™. These innovations allow students the freedom to access and respond to the information within a flexible timeframe and without the necessity for face-to-face synchronous experiences. Petroski (2008) states that there are existing colleges whose students never attend a course on a physical campus.

An interview transcription (Burkhardt & Duncan, 2008) notes Clayton Christensen as stating,

“Online learning, a disruptive innovation, is starting to take root in many areas in the United States—both in and outside of the public schools.
Home schooling is a big area where online learning is taking off, but so too are areas of non-consumption within public schools like AP courses, credit recovery, and alternative education. As they take root in these places, they will begin to improve, and as budget cuts eat at the existing offerings in public schools, online courses will take on more and more of the load as more affordable options for districts that offer an escape from the barriers of time of the school day and more one-on-one and customized learning. “(para. 39)

In the feature article How Do We Transform Our Schools?, Christensen and Horn (2008) support the customization of learning for the individual student by using computers to deliver a self- paced instructional model that offers alternatives to the expanding non-traditional population. The number of student enrollments in online programs has grown significantly over a period of seven years.  In 2000, there were approximately forty five thousand students participating in some form of online curriculum delivery model.  As of 2007, the numbers had grown by more than twenty times (Lagace, 2008). 

Credit recovery programs were established within urban public schools to support at-risk students in the accumulation of credits that were forfeit because of academic failure or during unstable periods resulting in lengthy absences from school. Further, these programs provided an avenue for the non-consumer, or in this case, the non-traditional student.  If administered ethically, a credit recovery program can provide an alternative to the traditional school setting while simultaneously reducing drop-out numbers [of the non-traditional student consumer] and increasing legitimate whole graduation numbers for the home school district.                     

On one hand, school district officials have supported credit recovery programs as a means to assist an at-risk student population in the academic reestablishment of themselves through online credit accumulation. On the other hand, potentially limitless implementation of such initiatives can be obstructed because “established organizations are trapped in the industry’s architecture” (Trotter, May 5, 2008) and use technology as a tool of efficiency rather than as a transformative tool. Program detractors question the validity of such online programs because, until recently, there were no evaluations on the quality and rigor of online credit recovery programs (Trotter, July 2, 2008).

A disruptive innovation initially offers an alternative option to a previously established method of delivery.  These innovations were not initially embraced by the masses due to a small population being recognized as a consumer.  In the larger, established delivery system, the population being served by the disruptive innovation is considered non-consumers.  This non-consumer is labeled as at-risk or non-traditional when compared to the traditional high school student.  As the disruptive innovation becomes increasingly efficient and the number of non-consumers grows, potential exists for the disruptive innovation to transform the organization (Christensen & Horn, 2008).  Initially, these online programs were structured to provide a substitution for advanced placement courses when a course or series of courses were unavailable in the traditional high school setting.  However, to the credit of the disruptive innovation theory, Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning (2006) states that more students are accessing the credit recovery program than the number of students enrolled in advanced placement courses.  This is, in part, due to the increased enrollment opportunities through “for-profit online schools, state-run virtual schools, non-profit groups, and homegrown district efforts.” (Davis, March 26, 2009, pg. 8)

Reports on public school systems state that the nation’s public schools are “trapped within existing architecture” (Wilson, 2008, para. 2) as they are experiencing a period of turbulence due to increasing demands for course availability and customized education plans against constrained budgets.  Advocates of online learning feel the current economic trend and the effect on school district budgets makes online learning an appealing consideration (Ash, March 18, 2009). Specifically, a quarter of America’s public schools cannot satisfy demands for advanced placement courses due to the deficient pool of certified instructors and the inability for school districts to offer these courses to the smaller population of non-consumers because of  budgetary constraints.  Additionally, the roughly fifty percent of students who have fallen behind in course credits are limited in their opportunities to reclaim credits due to course failure or time away from school (Horn, 2008).  The current economic trends should cause America’s public schools to reconsider the application of such technological innovations to a rapidly increasing service population at an affordable cost.

As the demand grows for alternatives to the traditional classroom setting, companies like Apex Learning, Pearson, and Plato Learning, Inc. have advanced the implementation of technology based course work for the advanced learner as well as the student in need of remediation and instructional interventions. The flexibility of such programming is embraced by an ever growing population that is within an ever changing social and domestic dynamic.  These programs hold particular value to school districts by retaining students on enrollment rosters as well as increasing graduating rates and reducing overall dropout numbers.

Disruptive innovation, through the application of an asynchronous curriculum delivery model, provides a considerable argument for the establishment of such curricula in the nation’s public schools.  Disruptive innovation may cause initial turbulence to an established organization. However, studies advocate for further investigation of such computer based programming as an enhancement to the educational process of the non-consumer. 

A technology based asynchronous education model does not threaten the traditional schooling program within a traditional brick and mortar model. Nonetheless, the effects of such programming are undeniably beneficial to a segment of the population that has been confounded with dilemmas directly related to the school environment or external dynamics and complexities unrelated to the school environment.  Subject response to inquiry discloses aspects, affects, and characteristics of the credit recovery program that are associated with time schedules, commitment, independence, and isolation from influence that is antithetical to a traditional school model.   Further consideration on the applicability of credit recovery programs on non-traditional student populations beyond those that are credit deficient is necessary to ascertain the various affects and positive behavioral influences such programming has on a non-traditional student population.  It is possible that a wider audience can be served through participation in an on site technology based alternative non-traditional schooling environment.

Ash, K. (March 18, 2009). Experts Debate Cost Savings of Virtual Ed. Education Week. 28(25), 9.            

Burkardt, V. & Duncan, G. (Interviewer) & Christensen, C. (Interviewee). (November 3, 2008).   Embracing Disruptive Change [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from http://www.ideaconnection.com/articles/00061-Embracing-Disruptive-Change.html.

Christensen, C. & Horn, M. (summer, 2008). How do We Transform Our Schools? Education Next, volume 8. Retrieved from  http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/18575969.html.

Davis, M. (March 26, 2009). Breaking Away From Tradition. Education Week, 28(26), 8.

Horn, M. (2008) Career College Association Competitive Workforce Report. Retrieved from www.career.org/iMISPublic/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&TEMPLATE=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=17292.   

Lagace, M. (Interviewer) & Christensen, C. (Interviewee). (August 18, 2008). How Disruptive Innovation Changes Education: Q & A with Clayton Christensen [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from www.hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5978.html.

Petroski, A. (December 7, 2008) ‘6 T’s’ Driving Fast-Paced Learning Evolution. Patriot News. Retrieved from  www.pennlive.com.

Trotter, A. (May 5, 2008). Online Education as Disruptive Innovation. Education Week.  Retrieved from  www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/05/07/36disrupt_ep.h27.html?r=1720235360.

Trotter, A. (July 2, 2008) Ed Dept Releases Guide for Evaluating Online Learning. Education Week. Retrieved from  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/07/16/43edonline_web.h27.html.

Watson, J. & Ryan, J. et al. (2006).  Keeping Pace with K – 12 Online Learning: A Review of State Level Policy and Practice.  Retrieved from http://www.evergreenassoc.com/documents/KeepingPace2006.pdf.atson.

Wilson, L. (2008). Disruption as Innovation. Message posted to www.guide2digitallearning.com/blog_leslie_wilson/disruption_innovation.