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Aspire Charter Schools Expands Blended Learning into Elementary

Non-profit school operator Aspire Public Schools is expanding in several new directions. This organization, which runs 34 schools chartered in California and Tennessee, will be increasing the use of blended learning in its instructional mix, introducing computer programming into middle school grades, and opening new schools in Memphis. Aspire takes over troubled K-12 schools and focuses on turning them around with a vision of preparing every student for a college education. Currently, it serves 12,500 students.

Aspire has tested out the blended learning approach in ERES Academy, one of its Oakland, CA schools. There students go through a "rotational model" that combines small group teacher instruction with computer-based learning. Students aren't outfitted with their own computers in a 1-to-1 program; they're moved between computers and classroom areas where the teacher does instructing or facilitates small group activities.

Now the organization will introduce a similar model to additional elementary schools in Oakland and Los Angeles and add them to the mix for two new schools being opened this fall in Memphis. The hope is that the switch will give teachers more time in their day to work one-on-one with students. In addition, each of those schools will gain a blended learning teaching assistant to troubleshoot technical issues and help teachers in making the transition.

"Blended learning has changed the way I differentiate my instruction," said ERES Teacher Amy Youngman. "It blew the normal learning model out of the water. My lessons are able to be much more targeted and address students' needs."

"Blended learning supports Aspire's successful model of small-group and personalized instruction by enabling teachers to spend more one-on-one time with students to master specific concepts," said Aspire CEO James Willcox. "We have already seen great success integrating technology in instruction and know that Aspire students and teachers will continue to benefit from our blended learning model."

Implementation will occur in phases. Los Angeles's Aspire Titan Academy, for example, introduced the new model in January 2013 with grades K-3. It will be expanded to the other grades for the fall. Oakland's Aspire Millsmont Academy will introduce blended instruction in grades 3-5.

In Memphis, the organization is launching two co-located schools in fall 2013 as part of the Achievement School District to serve elementary and middle school students up to grade 8. There, middle school students will be introduced to computer science instruction with the launch of "Code Aspire." The goal: to help students develop problem-solving and technology skills. Eventually, the new program will be added to all 10 Memphis-based Aspire schools set to open over the next five years. The Achievement district was created to encompass the bottom five percent of schools in Tennessee with the goal of putting them into the top 25 percent in five years. The district assigns each school to a charter operator, such as Aspire.

About the Author

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