Archive for the ‘Eric L. Waters’ 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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Literacy, ADHD, -isms, and the intersectionality that is Marvel Comics: 1973 – 1980

April 25, 2010

From the time I was five until twelve years old, I would spend every Thursday night from six o’clock until eight o’clock at the grocery store with my mother as we set forth on our weekly food shopping expedition.  This grocery store was the finest in the area in terms of product quantity and customer service. Of course, to anyone born after 1983, the thought of anything but expansively marketed products and consumer driven technological advancements seems Paleolithic in terms of efficiency and availability.  Nonetheless, this grocery store was not only the kingdom of all things Stauffer’s and Kellogg’s, but  housed a serious comic book section that only a visual learner, like myself, could truly appreciate to a point of adolescent homage. Remember folks, this is several years before Atari released PONG in home version and cable was limited to thirteen channels.  

As we entered the grocery store, my mother would reach into her purse for a single one dollar bill. This dollar was presented as payment for completed domestic chores. Each week, I would use this dollar bill to purchase four comic books.  Multiply that by four [weeks], by twelve [months], and by eight [years] and the final product exceeds one thousand.

Research has stated that boys are two to four times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD (Dulcan, 1997; Singh, 2008). As a precocious but restless young boy, comic books were the perfect cost-effective medium to provide an educational experience that did not require hours of direction, direct instruction, or numbing concentration.  Boys, as we know, have the attention span of…boys.  With this, Marvel Comics™ were the ideal remedy for a learned child [and parents] dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder before current medicinal interventions were prescribed to a vast population of children. 

Marvel Comics™ were my comic of choice. Since I lived in one of the Mid-Atlantic States, I had an affinity for the northeastern quadrant of the United States and Marvel Comics™ stories was realistically set in none other than Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs of New York City.  The impact of these comics was more salient than DC Comics™ because artists at Marvel Comics™ used existing buildings, museums, and parks as the backdrop to the serial dilemmas and periods of identity flux and transformation. For example, the renowned Frick Museum located at Fifth Avenue and East 70th Street was used as the template for Avengers Mansion.

Beyond serving as an instrument to quell my gregariously unfocused behavior, my vocabulary increased significantly during this period.  By third grade I was able to pronounce as well as understand and use such words as nefarious and loquacious in well constructed sentences.  I even expanded my knowledge of Greek mythology in 1977 while reading a comic book series of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: The Avengers.  It was through this two comic story that I was introduced to the Oedipus Complex through the villainous exploits of the cyborg, Ultron as he set forth on a quest to claim his creator’s wife as his own.  People may argue that Greek mythology and Freudian references may not be the best discussion topics for a nine year old, but learning was occurring. My mother could never argue that.

Marvel Comics™, to a kid in the 1970’s, was akin to reading Time Magazine as an adult.  The social issues and very real politics of the time were explicitly weaved within every story.  It was during this time that a rise in sub-group representation occurred. African American, Hispanic (East Coast), and Native American characters began to appear more frequently.  Also, there was the emergence of socially conscious story arcs that referenced government manipulation of populations and resources while expanding capitalism and monopolies behind a veil of chaotic episodes and conspiracies. In essence, reading a comic book during this period was like taking a class on current issues, topics, and terrorism.

Beyond the aforementioned, I was introduced to other social and governmental –isms such as sexism (Wolverine), feminism (Phoenix and Storm), racism (Luke Cage/Power Man and Falcon), idealistic patriotism (Captain America), and political theories such as communism, socialism, fascism, and liberalism.

Finally, I learned about the value of investments.  Several years later, I was able to sell these very comics for thirty times what I paid.

The owners of Comix Connection have donated over one hundred comic books to my wife for distribution to her second grade classroom. 

Dulcan, M. (October 1997). Practice parameters for the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 36 (10) 85S–121S. Retrieved from http://meta.wkhealth.com/pt/pt-core/template-journal/lwwgateway/media/landingpage.htm?issn=0890-8567&volume=36&issue=10&spage=85S.

Singh, I. (December 2008). Beyond polemics: science and ethics of ADHD. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience 9 (12): 957–64.

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.