Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What A Surprise That A "Blended Learning" Course Is A Disaster

Mayor Bloomberg loved all things techie - especially when it came to replacing humans with computers or computerized programs.

So of course we got all kinds of computerized nonsense in the NYDOE during his 12 years in power and one of the more infamous was the iZone, which was a highly-touted education program that was supposed to combine online learning with classroom learning into an highly effective amalgamation of "real" and "virtual" educational opportunities for students.

They called this amalgam "blended learning" and it was supposed to revolutionize education, especially for students who had fallen behind in "traditional" classroom settings, giving them a chance to catch up on credits and learn material they had failed to grasp earlier.

But many teachers who have worked these "blended learning" programs have told me that taking students who have failed classes before - many of them having behavioral issues, attention span problems, and other obstacles that have kept them from succeeding in school before - and putting them before a computer for a couple of hours a day to read and answer text-based questions is a disaster.

What these students actually need is a small class with at least one teacher (in some cases two if many are support service students) "personalizing" the learning through face-to-face interactions, not to be put into a class with rows of computers and told to sit in front of a computer and complete some work from an iZone learning program.

The program also leads to all kinds of fraud opportunities because there is a component that has students working on their own on the computer to complete work - either at computers at school during a free period or at home.

Of course anybody can sign in and do the work at that point, but that rarely gets touted in the "Wonders of Blended Learning" stories you read in the media.

There's lots and lots of money to be made by the edu-entrepreneurs in "blended learning," so you rarely hear about the problems in this kind of education, especially from education journals like Education Week, which makes money off advertising for that kind of stuff.

The same might be said for the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation, which is trying to sell tablets to school districts for blended learning programs.

But the Murdoch-owned Post never misses an opportunity to publish a school-based scandal, so today they tell us about a "blended learning" course at Murry Bergtraum that isn't really much of a course.

Here is the story in full:

On paper, he’s a super-teacher. To critics, he’s the poster child for academic fraud in New York City.
Alexis Pajares “teaches” 475 students at Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum HS for Business Careers in all grades and all disciplines — including algebra, biology, chemistry, Chinese, earth science, economics, English, government, health, history, law and Spanish.

Students failing any of those subjects get dumped on Pajares, who signs them up for an online course they can do in a computer lab or at home. Students can snag full credit without attending class.
“There’s little to no traditional instruction going on, which makes the whole thing a farce,” said history teacher and union chapter leader John Elfrank-Dana. “It’s a credit-recovery trick, in most cases, to move kids along and get them out.”

Principal Lottie Almonte started the program last year, appointing Pajares the “blended learning” teacher. But staffers charge that it violates state rules that online programs must include “substantive interaction” with a teacher certified in the subject. Pajares is certified only in social studies.
Elfrank-Dana, citing complaints from teachers and students, said he has repeatedly asked Almonte to explain the program but got no response.

Two blocks from City Hall, “F”-rated Murry Bergtraum has struggled in recent years as a “dumping ground” for overage or held-back students who lack credits. The school had only a 51.2 percent graduation rate last year.

Almonte referred questions to the Department of Education. A spokesman admitted Pajares doesn’t teach all 475 kids, but “is running the blended learning program,” that other certified teachers “support students” and students are required to be in classes with traditional instruction.
Teachers and guidance counselors dispute those claims. Schedules show students in blended learning without an equivalent class.

“You don’t learn a lot,” said a 21-year-old senior — a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic — who takes an online chemistry course.

“We just sit down, sign on to the program and that’s it,” he said.

He watches a video of a teacher giving a lesson, then has to answer questions in a quiz. If he doesn’t know the answer, he watches the video again — or uses Google. He takes notes, but “nobody checks our notes.”

Another senior took blended learning English after failing the class in her junior year.

“There’s no attendance. You just log on when you feel like it,” she said.

The online course, which she did at home, took three weeks — while a classroom semester lasts 4¹/₂ months. She said she got no feedback on the one essay she was required to write and doesn’t know who grades it.

Other kids take the online classes purely as a convenience — instead of a regular class that starts early and requires a lot more work.

A math teacher said the program is flawed because kids take tests at home — not under school supervision — raising the possibility of cheating.

Staffers have heard that some students pay friends $80 to $100 to take the online exams for them.
Another math teacher had a student who “sat there doing nothing all semester,” the teacher said. “He told me, ‘I don’t have to do any work in your class. I can take blended learning.’ ”

After flunking out, the kid scored 82 online.

But students who pass the online courses stumble in subsequent classes. “I have not seen any kid who can handle material at the next level after blended learning,” the teacher said.

The Post does mention that Bergtraum had been made into a "dumping ground" by the DOE, so at least we get a bit of context for why Bergtraum has so many "failing students" who need to take the blended learning course to make up credit.

But what they fail to tell us is that "blended learning" programs always lend themselves to these kinds of problems by their nature.

The point of "blended learning" is to use fewer teachers to teach more students.

Yes, I know they sell it as a 21st century learning program to instill technological expertise and skills for a student populace that needs to compete in an increasingly global and ruthless marketplace
But all of that is not really the point of blended learning.

The point is always to decrease the number of teachers you need to teach students and to increase the dollars that go to the edu-entrepreneurs.

That's been the selling the point certainly for schools like Bergtraum that use the blended learning programs to try and catch students up in credits - fewer teachers to teach more students, in this case one teacher for 475 students.

It's not a surprise to me that the program lends itself to fraud, giving schools opportunities to pass students along for doing a little bit of work (and maybe not even that - you never really know who is doing the work on the computer off-site.)

Teachers I have spoken to who have taught this stuff tell me that even in schools where the blended learning program is small and well-organized, it's mostly a disaster when its used for credit recovery for students missing credits.

Again, you're taking students who have already struggled with the material, then sticking them in front of computers for a few hours to work on their own to pore through reading, writing and multiple choice tasks.

The very population that needs the most support, the best "personalized" learning opportunities in a face-to-face interaction with a teacher instead gets the "personalized" learning of a computer program and computer screen.

Even in the best schools, that's a recipe for disaster.


  1. Mayor Bloomberg would be proud that this "blended learning program" had one teacher and 475 students.

    Another black mark on the Mayor's education legacy.

    1. That's right. That was always the point of blended learning. Quite frankly, it worked exactly the way Klein designed it - 475 students in front of computers, one teacher "teaching" them, nobody leaning anything, edu-entrepreneurs cashing in.

  2. TeachmyclassMrMayor(andyoutooMrMulgrew)February 9, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    It's called APEX where I work, and you would be amazed (or not) at the number students in my building that have it two or three times on their programs, although I believe there are certified subject teachers in those "classes". However if you know teachers in other buildings where they do this, go an ask the non-academic subject teachers, how many times in December and January, the students asked them if they could "miss" their class to go and "make up" APEX/Blended Learning time they missed during the rest of the semester, so they can "log" the required number of hours. And heaven forbid they are not allowed to, because you might fail them in a class where the main part of the grade is actual class participation.

  3. On another topic, has Gov. Christie coverage been turned way down by the media complex? Haven't seen or heard much lately.....?

    1. No news coming from the Legislature on it. Don't worry, CC isn't skating. The subpoenaed documents are still coming in, some officials got delays on when they have to get the material in (understandably - it's a lot of material they have to give in), those documents have to be gone through. Then we still have the Wildstein story - is he talking to the US attorney looking for immunity? Is anybody else doing the same now that Wildstein pretty much asked publicly for immunity in return for him telling his story? It's going to be a long scandal, so grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy - it will get hot again. Plus you have the feds looking into the Hoboken/Sandy slush fund.

  4. This farce has been going on for years. They cover it now? Why? This should have been covered 8 years ago.

    1. Another good point - it's de Blasio's fault, of course.

  5. Don't forget that Bergtraum is reserved for Eva Moskowitz - the bogus Oct PEP meeting gave her space in the building so Lottie Almante is a "closer" - the DOE did everything it could to keep kids out of the school this year. The idea is to get rid of as many as possible to Make Room for Eva, which could be the name of a TV show.