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Denver Schools To Accelerate Blended Learning with $2.3 Million Corporate Grant

The foundation for an investment firm based in Denver that manages about $152 billion in assets worldwide is nearly doubling down on a multi-million-dollar investment it made in the local public school system. The Janus Foundation, which manages charitable contributions for Janus Capital Group, will be committing $2.1 million over three years to the Denver Public Schools. This follows on a $3 million contribution made in 2008 to the same district to support projects related to teacher effectiveness.

The new investment will focus on accelerating use of blended learning models. Blended or hybrid learning combines traditional forms of instruction with digital and online activities. The grant will cover expenses related to software, hardware, professional development, and hiring a director of the "blended learning labs" program and other staff.

The first lab has been set up in a new school, West Generation Academy, which is situated at an existing high school campus. The Academy currently has 359 students in grades 6, 8, and 9. Eventually, the district will have six schools piloting variations of the hybrid model.

The school is the second one opened under the guidance of Generation Schools Network, a national not-for-profit organization with a mission of innovating urban education. The first school launched by the Network was Brooklyn Generation School, which opened in 2007. The school model advocated by the Network promises to:

  • Expand learning time by up to 30 percent "for all students without increasing the teacher work year";
  • Reduce class size in core foundation courses;
  • Reduce the teacher load by two-thirds;
  • Increase professional development and provide common planning time daily for all teachers;
  • Enhance the capacity of teachers to collect, analyze and respond continuously to data; and
  • Leverage current and emerging instructional technologies in the classroom.

In Denver's blended classroom, students will spend some of their time learning independently with adaptive software, some time working in small collaborative groups, and some time working directly with teachers one-on-one or in small‐group instruction. The amount of time spent in type of learning will vary from student to student, as determined by the teacher and based on individual student need. The use of data will also be an important element of the new program, to help teachers monitor and guide student progress.

The goals set for the newest grant are threefold:

  • To improve academic performance for all students; for example, the district expects to increase state assessment results and other academic performance assessment scores in its blended learning lab sites over previous year baseline scores;
  • To improve the quality of all educators; and
  • To fortify the professional development systems to ensure that instruction is aligned with district instructional best practices.

The previous Janus grant founded the "Denver Teacher Residency," a program for recruiting and training new teachers, and helped transform how the district recruited, developed, and retained teachers in Denver. As a result of those initiatives, first-year teacher retention, for example, increased by 12 percent. During the same period, the number of graduates increased by 16.5 percent and the drop-out rate fell by half. Denver's teacher development efforts are being continued through federal funding.

"Our first investment in Denver Public Schools was in programs to advance the acquisition and retention of quality teachers because they are the heartbeat of student achievement," said Janus CEO Richard Weil. "Now that the teacher program is self-sustaining, we are turning our attention from teacher to technology. It's tools like blended learning in the hands of quality teachers that will continue to advance learning innovations and cost efficiencies that can truly accelerate closing the achievement gap in America."

"This is philanthropy at its best," added Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg. "Janus' 2008 investment allowed Denver Public Schools to identify the most successful strategies for hiring, developing, and keeping exceptional teachers. Because Janus was willing [to] step forward and make the investment, we've been able to leverage early success to bring these strategies to scale. Janus' renewed commitment to DPS around blended learning holds the same promise. The belief and support of our community partners is essential to give us the latitude to explore these innovations."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.