About ten days ago we and the Clayton Christensen Institute released the next three profiles in our Proof Points series. Unlike the first set of six profiles, the three newest profiles are of districts (Horry County, SC; Mooresville, NC; and Washington DC) that have received quite a bit of media attention. In the first release we aimed to highlight districts that have not received much coverage. With these three our goal was to dig into student outcomes in districts that are farther along in their blended learning development.
Perhaps the most important theme across these districts is that getting to success has taken time—and measuring it remains difficult. Mooresville told us that it was in the third year that the district started seeing measurable outcomes. Then in 2012, a change to new curriculum associated with the Common Core resulted in a drop in student test scores across all of North Carolina, including in Mooresville. This made a simple comparison across all years of implementation impossible, and created a new baseline. The district appears to have sustained its success, and MGSD became the highest ranked school district based on North Carolina’s Annual Measurable Objectives. But even in a district that has received accolades in many national publications (for example Education Week and the New York Times), building success took years—and measuring and explaining success continues to have some challenges.
Horry County began its blended learning implementation more recently, but similar to Mooresville the district has received considerable attention. We found leaders at Horry to be remarkably forthcoming about their attempts to measure outcomes using NWEA MAP, and the profile documents improvements that appear likely to continue. But Horry is a good reminder of the truth of the quote from Arizona State University’s Executive Vice Provost, who said, “It’s not like we’re going to use this technology, and now all of the grades are going to go up by 15 percent.”
We live in a time in which people and organizations often expect rapid change, and a fast return on investment. The Proof Points research is showing that blended learning can improve outcomes, but the studies are also showing that results take time and high levels of effort. For a skeptical superintendent, school board, or community, it can be a hard sell to explain that the blended learning program will take time and effort, and results will start to show in several years. But that type of timing and impact is not unusual, and advocates for change will be well served by being straightforward about the challenges involved.
What happened when these districts implemented blended learning? They worked hard, for years, overcoming all sorts of issues that usually had more to do with organizational, cultural, and behavioral constraints than anything directly related to technology. Eventually, they found success. But people looking for results that make for good clickbait are often going to be disappointed.