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Personalized blended learning offers best hope for city schools


Published: Sun, September 14, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

I have been reading The Vindicator’s coverage of the unfortunate situation at the Youngstown City Schools.

One story was about school board members angry with the superintendent. Another one dealt with community members upset with the state. Some common themes emerged from the stories: a lot of blaming and not a lot of solutions.

It’s true that the students of the Youngstown City School District are still not performing as well as anyone had hoped and certainly not up to their potential. But there seems to be a void of fresh ideas.

Just last week, Richard Ross, the state superintendent for public instruction, told The Vindicator, “We have to make dramatic change, whether that’s open enrollment or community schools, we have to make dramatic improvement,’” he said. “My call to action to the broad community is we need your help. We’re asking them to step forward.”

Superintendent Ross, Youngstown schools Superintendent Connie Hathorn, students, teachers, parents, I am here with an idea that I’d like you to consider.

TECHNOLOGY

We live in a time when technology, if placed in the hands of caring and skilled teachers, can help Youngstown students become every bit as successful, or more, as their counterparts from Poland or Canfield or Upper Arlington.

The technology is personalized blended learning. It’s a system of education that’s being adopted by some of the most progressive and forward-thinking districts in our country, and I believe that we could change history if we could bring it to Youngstown. Students in classrooms equipped with this technology consistently outperform those where everyone is being taught the same material in a static way.

This technology allows students to learn at their own pace. It also frees teachers to work with students in small-group settings. The technology also encourages collaboration.

We have an opportunity to fix our attainment issue right here and right now. This is not a just special opportunity or a great opportunity.

It is a unique opportunity not available to other parts of the country. This is the case because our region has already spent about $100 million laying high-speed fiber, a critical piece of the infrastructure needed to deliver this technology.

When we seize this opportunity, we can turn the Youngstown City Schools into the state’s highest achieving schools, and our city can become ground zero for great workers, the place to start a business, relocate a business or expand a business. Simply put, there is a straight line connection between educational attainment and economic development. I divide my time these days among Akron, Youngstown and Cleveland. I love all three cities. I see hope, promise and opportunity throughout our great region.

COMMITMENT

And, I am committed to working to help make Youngstown schools experience a rebirth, the same way sectors of the Cleveland schools have already found success that rivals some of the state’s top private schools.

I believe that I can enlist the help of some great partners in this endeavor. We will need many. The National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union, has already endorsed the idea and understands that teachers are critical to the process.

Perhaps Superintendent Ross and Superintendent Hathorn, the Youngstown Education Association, Youngstown State University, the Youngstown Board of Education, and the Academic Distress Commission may be the first partners? I will invite all of them and welcome anyone else who wants to help.

Please feel free to contact me at rbriggs@noche.org

Or on my cell phone at 330-233-0956.

And read my other blog entries: http://noche1.wordpress.com/

Robert Briggs is president of the Northeast Council on Higher Education. He wrote this for The Vindicator.


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