Located about forty-five miles north of Philadelphia, PA, Quakertown Community School District (QCSD) has seen tremendous improvement in student achievement and engagement from implementation of a blended learning approach that combines online learning with traditional classroom instruction, finds a new interactive video profile conducted by the Alliance for Excellent Education and Public Impact. “Quakertown Community School District: A Systematic Approach to Blended Learning That Focuses on District Leadership, Staffing, and Cost-effectiveness,” is the first in a series of interactive video profiles highlighting innovative school districts that utilize digital learning to improve teaching and learning. (Click on the image above to watch an introductory video on how QCSD worked with important partners, including its local teachers’ union, to improve student outcomes using effective applications of technology and blended learning strategies.)
“Quakertown is a role model and leader among school districts for its innovative use of digital learning to improve student engagement and achievement. They have blazed a trail for other school districts to transform learning with the smart use of technology,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.
QCSD, a small, rural, K–12 school district, has seen gains in student improvement since its blended learning program’s implementation in 2008. From 2011–12 alone, the graduation rate in the district increased from 88 percent to 95 percent. The interactive video profile, which includes interviews with district teachers and administrators, notes that at the core of the program’s success is flexible, personalized learning that fits every student’s needs. Quakertown’s success is documented as part of the Alliance’s “Project 24” to show the importance of districts preparing a comprehensive plan detailing how to incorporate technology to boost learning outcomes.
In QCSD’s blended learning approach, students can take classes online, in a more traditional classroom setting, or choose a mixture of both, the profile explains. The emphasis on online learning and integrated technology into every student’s education aligns with QCSD’s mission: “to create and support the conditions necessary to effectively leverage technology for learning.” Currently, the district offers eighty unique combined classes at the middle school and high school levels.
To advance their mission, the QCSD took several major steps. First, the district created the K–12 Cyber School, in which students can opt to take online classes. Next, the district employed a ninth-grade one-to-one laptop initiative that seeks to equip every student with the technology necessary to learn anytime, anywhere. Next, the district implemented a “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy that encourages students to bring iPads, iPhones, and other forms of technology into their classrooms to enhance and further personalize the learning experience. Finally, schools in the district have integrated digital learning into traditional classrooms.
“As a superintendent I think one of my goals might be to never have to call a snow day because learning needs to take place at all times,” QCSD Superintendent Lisa Andrejko says in the video to the right, which is embedded in the case study. “So some of our efforts have been looking at technology to be always available for students whether they’re sitting in a classroom, or whether they’re on their iPhone, or whether they’re at Grandma’s house, or if they’re at home on a snow day.”
QCSD values its teachers and, as the interactive video profile notes, places them at the core of the district’s success. Teachers experience individualized and flexible professional development days, during which they can choose areas of focus. Teachers also experience flexible scheduling that complements teaching online courses. Additional support staff members dedicated to technology and monitoring students’ progress in online courses eases demands on teachers, as well.
“We are excited to highlight Quakertown’s innovative use of blended learning to increase student achievement,” said Bryan C. Hassel, codirector of Public Impact. “We hope the case study’s detailed focus on QCSD’s approach to staffing and budget will help other districts think creatively about redesigning school models and integrating digital learning to reach more students with excellent teaching.”
QCSD’s blended learning program works in large part because of the district’s emphasis on partnering with the local teachers union and businesses. For example, the district works with Comcast to provide discounted internet connectivity to students’ families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
“We’re in our fourth year now, but four years ago we decided, ‘Let’s give cyber learning a shot.’ And I hate to use the analogy because it’s overused, but we really did build the plane while flying it. And we jumped in with two feet first and said, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s learn as we go. We can’t do it wrong. We can always do it and then change it as we do it, but we can’t really make a huge mistake,” Andrejko said.
In the coming weeks, the Alliance will release additional interactive case studies on other leading school districts in digital learning implementation, including Cajon Valley Union School District in California, Dysart Unified School District in Arizona, and Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina.
The complete case study is available here.