among schoolchildren

Where digital natives roam, paper and pencil have a place, too

Back in September, when Nancy Amling first opened the doors to her new technology-themed high school in Chelsea, parents asked her what supplies they should buy. “I told them, ‘You don’t need supplies! We have laptops,'” Amling said.

Over the next few weeks, she and her staff learned that paper and pens have their place. But aside from the notebooks students carry around, almost nothing is traditional about Amling’s school.

Located in the basement of the Bayard Rustin Education Complex, the Hudson High School of Learning Technologies is part of the city’s massive investment in technology and online learning, known as the iZone pilot. The pilot is funded with a combination of Race to the Top money, private donations, and city tax dollars.

Hudson High School is a “blended” school, which means its teachers combine face-to-face instruction with online courses and homework assignments. Each student has a laptop and every teacher has a webpage where they can upload assignments for students to access later.

When I visited last week, students in a math class were progressing through a series of online word problems and drawing out graphs of the problems by hand. In a science class, groups of students were creating PowerPoint presentations about famous bacteria, such as the ones responsible for the bubonic plague, while the teacher floated from group-to-group.

Amling said one of the most surprising discoveries was finding how widely students’ Internet-savviness ranged. Of the 109 students in her freshman class, some showed up knowing how to design a web page, use Google Documents, and send emails with attachments. Others weren’t sure how to save a file to their laptop’s desktop.

“There is that expression: digital natives. But just because somebody knows how to send a text and get an email, doesn’t mean they know how to be digital learners,” Amling said.

Hudson High School is also textbook-less, a fact that has earned it considerable media attention. Instead of textbooks, students taking an Algebra class are enrolled in an online Algebra course. Through programs offered by Aventa and Compass, two companies that provide much of the city’s current online courseware, students can progress through a series of lessons at their own pace. The programs aren’t perfect, Amling said, and she hopes to eventually have her own teachers write online courses.

“What we find is the digital content is in its early stages right now,” Amling said. “Somebody once gave me the example of when they took radio shows and read them aloud on TV — in some way that’s what digital content looks like right now.”

Students mainly progress through the online courses at home, where the majority of them have Internet access. For the ones that have Internet but no laptops, the school has been able to give them take-home laptops that were donated. Amling said that some students’ parents had cable TV, but no Internet, and she’d been able to convince them to drop HBO in favor of getting their children online.

For all her enthusiasm about her school’s blended learning model, Amling said that if she had more money, she’d hire more teachers.

“Education is a combination of using the technology to support instruction, but it’s in the collaborative relationships where students are learning,” she said. “Because if that’s not where the important piece is, then why even have a school?”

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.