9 new choices for school kids coming this year

Throughout his life, Emmitt Carney has seen a lot of young people lose their way.

As he was growing up, Carney had friends who died from overdoses, a friend who was shot and killed in a drug deal gone wrong and family members who were caught up in the criminal justice system.

And now the retired Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent is trying to help other young people avoid those pitfalls. He’s launching the Marion Academy, one of nine new Marion County charter schools that will be added to the 38 previously available to parents.

The end of the school year saw five charter schools close, whereas previous years saw one or two, said Kristin Hines, director of the city of Indianapolis’ Office of Education Innovation.

But with nine new options, families will have more specialized charter schools to choose from for their children’s education, whether fulfilling a desire for a music-oriented curriculum, working in an accelerated academic program or enrolling at a school that could simply help their child get a high school diploma.

Marion Academy serves as a supportive and structured environment for students who have been expelled or have been involved with the juvenile justice system and who have nowhere else to go for an education. It aims to give troubled kids a second chance at earning an Indiana Core 40 high school diploma and other industry-recognized certifications.

Carney, the retired ATF agent, recalled working undercover years ago in Kentucky. He had come across a 13-year-old boy exchanging money and drugs. The boy’s dad was in jail, and his mother was always working.

“It was his way of surviving. Kids need something that they can see and hold onto and believe in,” Carney said. “The fear is in the unknown. I’m working in association with a juvenile detention center as well. I want to give these kids a chance to get back into society.”

Carney was among the first generation in his family to graduate from college, and he wants to instill educational values in others. “I remember one of my friends questioning my goals, and then I went on to receive a baseball scholarship,” he said. “I later became the first black special agent from my home county.”

Through the academy, Carney hopes to provide kids with some structure and support, focusing on understanding what each has gone through and the challenges they continue to face and preparing them for life after high school.

One of the factors that led him to start the academy was his experience coaching youth baseball. He plans to weave sports throughout the curriculum to inspire and open their eyes to all the opportunities the city has to offer.

Here is a look at the other new charter schools opening this fall:

Tindley Genesis Academy

Tindley Genesis Academy is a new elementary school that will use an accelerated curriculum in which students generally work at an academic level one grade ahead. Its music and arts program will be a major focus, although Beverly Rella, external relations director for Tindley Schools, emphasized that it is not a performing arts school.

“Our students will receive some kind of performing arts training each day, which will help enhance their overall learning,” she said. “We will offer special programs to our scholars through our strong relationships with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, The Children’s Museum and the Repertory Theatre.”


Indiana College Preparatory

Indiana College Preparatory will be for Grades K-8, offering free after-school tutoring for students who seek assistance beyond school hours. There will be a two-teacher model for Grades K-2. Unlike many charter schools, this school’s athletics program will be part of CYO Sports. There will be a strong emphasis on maintaining a healthy work/life balance between studies and extracurricular activities such as physical education, debating, art and music. The school will provide free bus transportation.

Early Career Academy

Also new to Indianapolis is the STEM-focused Early Career Academy. The school allows students in Grades 11 and 12 to pursue a high school diploma and an associate degree in Network Systems Administration or Electrical Engineering Technology from the ITT Technical Institute after graduation. Its educational model centers on career pathways and equipping students with practical skills used in a variety of professional organizations.

Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School East

The arts-infused curriculum of Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School East places emphasis on social development and the integration of diverse cultural opportunities in learning. Its program runs on an extended school year, a longer workday and smaller class sizes.

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem’s ability-based program, which meets kids where they are in their learning rather than their age, will open the doors to Northwest and Shadelandcampuses in the fall. Carpe Diem Northwest will host a monthly speaker series in which professionals from various fields will encourage students to plan for their career goals. The first week of school will involve team-building exercises.

Excel Center University Heights

Erika Haskins, school director of Excel Center University Heights, said her team found that more than 10,000 adults within the 46227 Indianapolis ZIP code did not have a high school diploma or equivalent.

“Those figures are very high, and we found that there is such a strong need for a center like this in the area,” Haskins said.

“We know that some of our students will have children, so there will be a free day care center on site, and we will provide free transportation to those in need. Our goal is to prepare them for landing meaningful and sustainable jobs.”

The Excel Center provides a STEM pathway for employment in medical and manufacturing industries.

Christel House DORS West

On the Westside, Christel House DORS West will provide remedial or English as a second language assistance to those who need it on a multitrack system, allowing them to transition into a diploma program or a Gateway to College program for adult students.

Carey Dahncke, chief academic officer for the Christel House Academy Network of Schools, said the school is a second chance for adults to better equip themselves for the workforce.

“Many adults hit a roadblock where they cannot enroll in college, join the military, earn many of the valuable workplace credentials, earn promotions or gain employment,” he said. “DORS is a second chance for these adults.”


$300,000 Charter School Facilities Financing Investment Purchases Land for New Shadeland School

INDIANAPOLIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Charter School Capital, the nation’s leading provider of growth capital and facilities financing to charter schools, announced today that its facilities arm, American Education Properties (AEP), has invested $300,000 to a 5.87-acre land purchase and initiated construction for Carpe Diem – Shadeland’s new home, a 25,000-square-foot charter school facility.Carpe Diem Learning Systems, LLC, currently operates two schools in Ohio and Indiana and plans to open four new schools, including Shadeland, in Fall 2015.

“We have big plans for this school”

Tweet this

This will be the first time AEP funds will be used for ground-up construction of new facilities. Development of the $3.8 million facility is already underway with a projected completion date of August 2015. Bouma USA is the project designer and builder. The firm possesses some of the nation’s most in-depth experience in charter school facility development, with their team having constructed more than 200 schools during the past 20 years.

“We have big plans for this school,” said Dr. Robert Sommers, CEO of Carpe Diem Learning Systems. “Starting this fall, we anticipate beginning with 220 students in grades 6-10, each with a personalized education plan with a focus on college and career opportunities, and eventually growing to serve 300 students in grades 6-12. We strive to educate with knowledge, empower with character and equip for life and that’s exactly what we will do for students at our Shadeland campus. It’s really incredible to see a vacant lot turn into a place where students can shine and make the most of each day’s educational opportunities.”

Charter schools nationwide have experienced increasing demand year after year. Today, more than 1 million students find themselves on waiting lists for their local charter schools. To meet this demand, charter schools require facilities that address the unique growth needs of each school and community. That’s why Charter School Capital provides customizable facilities financing options that offer real, concrete solutions for schools without cumbersome restrictions. Charter leaders retain control of their buildings and are afforded the flexibility to make the modifications necessary to expand their enrollment and academic programs.

“We are dedicated to providing long-term solutions to charter schools and the communities they serve, whatever their needs may be. This is our first investment into a new construction project, and we’re excited to see it succeed,” explained Stuart Ellis, CEO of Charter School Capital and AEP. “Beyond the initial $500 million AEP investment for charter facilities, Charter School Capital has committed more growth capital than any other organization in the country to support the charter school movement.”

About Charter School Capital:

Launched in 2006, Charter School Capital delivers access to growth capital and facilities financing to charter schools nationwide, opening the funding options charter schools historically have not had. Charter School Capital has provided in excess of $800 million in funding to 450- plus charter schools providing high-quality education to 450,000 students across the United States. For more information, visit http://charterschoolcapital.org or email GrowCharters@charterschoolcapital.org.


Carpe Diem charter school to add two new Indianapolis locations

A downtown charter school that uses “blended learning,” combining computer-based instruction and traditional classes says it’s ready to expand after two years.

The Indiana Charter School Board today approved the expansion of Arizona-based Carpe Diem to add schools on the city’s Northeast and Northwest sides to operate alongside its downtown campus on Meridian Street.

The charter board also withdrew an offer to BASIS, another Arizona-based for-profit, to open a charter school in Indianapolis after it learned no plans had yet been made to launch the school.

Carpe Diem was approved to open six charter schools back in 2011, but each still must be approved individually by the state board. At full capacity, the new schools would each serve 300 students in grades 6 through 12. The Northeast side location is slated to open first in 2015.

Emily Richardson, who serves as the director of legal affairs and policy for the Indiana Charter School Board, said she believed the organization was performing relatively well on Meridian Street — both academically and financially. Last year about 73 percent of the school’s students passed ISTEP, right on the state average. The school has yet to receive its first letter grade from the state.

The school serves about 175 students in grades 6-12, 60 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. It is still well short of its goal of 300 students, however.

“Overall, things are looking really good at Carpe Diem Meridian,” Richardson said.

Carpe Diem’s Robert Sommers, the network’s chief strategy officer, said the charter network hopes to exceed that performance at the two new Carpe Diem locations.

“We’re in the business of trying to run great schools, so creating more great schools is what we want to accomplish,” Sommers said.

Online-only schools are no longer a novelty, but blended schools say they are a hybrid that can be a better fit for some kids. Carpe Diem allows students to work at their own pace. They meet with teachers and peers for group work and other activities or when they need assistance.

Supporters of the approach say it’s more tailored to student needs than most online programs. But opponents say it suffers from the same down sides as other online programs because students may miss out on engagement and learning they can only get from a teacher.

The school struggled financially during its first year because it fell short of its enrollment expectations, but school officials said it got back on track over this past this school year. The network doesn’t anticipate enrollment to be a problem at the next two sites.

“The low enrollment was the result of an aggressive opening strategy,” according to the charter expansion request. “The proposal before the board for expansion corrects this aggressive opening strategy so a repeat of these problems is not likely.”

Carpe Diem’s expansion will take place within the Indianapolis Public Schools district, but exact locations are unknown. Sommers said a report identified the Northeast and Northwest sides as areas where educational improvement is needed.

“We’re closing in on options,” Sommers said. “We’re reaching out to the farther stretches of the city, (focusing) our schools on serving students of poverty and students with challenging academics.”


Breathing Life into Urban Ed with Blended Learning

As a big believer in the potential of blended learning to personalize instruction, I’m always excited to hear about schools shifting to blended learning. As a big believer in education as the most important social justice issue of our time, I get even more excited when these schools bring personalized, blended learning to traditionally-underserved student populations. Getting an opportunity to visit such a school, with a strong record of success, and in my own community? Well that kicks “excited” up a notch to “totally giddy.”

Carpe Diem, Yuma.

Maybe you’ve heard of Carpe Diem in Yuma, Arizona. If you’ve been around the blended learning space for awhile, perhaps you were around when Carpe Diem was one of tiny handful of blended learning schools in action. My introduction to Carpe Diem happened when a colleague shared a YouTube video about the model. If you’ve seen it, I’m willing to bet you were asking yourself the same question I was, “Why doesn’t learning look like this for students everywhere?”

Carpe Diem founder Rick Ogston, who began developing the model in 2003, is on a mission to address that question. Thoughtfully, Ogston opened the original Carpe Diem campus but wouldn’t expand until there was proof that the original model could deliver on the promise of personalized, blended learning. It didn’t take long to get those results. The school continues to outpace the average math and reading scores for the state. In 2010, Yuma’s Carpe Diem scored the highest in math, with 100 percent of their sixth graders passing Arizona’s standardized test. The high school graduation rate continues to exceed the state average by double digits. The proof was in the blended pudding, and it was time to expand.

Carpe Diem, Indianapolis.

Three new Carpe Diem schools have since opened, with plans underway for more. The first year results at the Carpe Diem Meridian campus in Indianapolis–Yuma’s first sibling and one of two in Indianapolis–quickly confirmed beliefs that the scalable model had legs! Serving a diverse student population with 63% eligible for free or reduced lunch, Meridian’s results on the stateside ISTEP standardized test revealed an overall passage rate of 80% across all content, with English scores surpassing the previous year’s pre-blended learning scores by 16% in 6th grade, 28% in 7th grade and 42% in 8th grade. The results, coupled with fulfilment of Ogston’s real goal to provide more personalized learning and better educational opportunities, confirmed the power of the model.

Carpe Diem, Cincinnati.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the latest addition to the Carpe Diem family – Cincinnati’s Carpe Diem at Aiken. The newly-born school, still in its earliest weeks of life having just opened in the fall, is already showing signs of improving opportunities for students who stand the most to gain from an educational model that is organized around their individual needs. Nestled inside a large, traditional public urban high school in Cincinnati, Ogston explains that two-thirds of the students who enrolled this year began between five and nine grade levels behind the grade level in which they enrolled. These are students who have been failed by their past educational experiences. As Ogston tells it, these are families who cry angry tears when their perception of reality is shattered, when their children who have been told for years that they are successfully passing each course, who have earned As and Bs and passed on to the next grade level, are suddenly presented with data that shows they are years beyond where they should be.

It’s no wonder that the school’s motto goes beyond academics to include the powerful charge to “Educate, Empower, Equip Learners for Life.” It’s also no surprise that meeting this set of audacious goals does not happen easily. Rick Ogston shared his thoughts on making blended learning work for the students who need it most based on his experiences in the schools he’s opened. It wasn’t until I reviewed our notes that I realized Ogston has found the formula for breathing life back into urban education with his own special form of CPR.

C = Culture. Thoughtful attention must be given to the overall culture and climate of the school since the new blended environment, organized around student needs, is largely unrecognizable for the majority of students and their families. Everything from the school facilities and organization of physical space to the school schedule and nature of personal interactions affects the school culture, and therefore must be intentionally developed and continuously cultivated. There’s a fair amount of acculturation that has to occur during the nascent stages of blended school development and as new students arrive to already-established blended schools. Students have to ignore the “muscle memory” from years in a vastly-different system and “unlearn” what they think learning looks like. The same is true for the other adults in the system – parents, teachers, leaders – who often experience a bit of “culture shock” when they are given unfamiliar freedoms.

P = Personalization. To build a setting with personalized learning as its primary goal, everything must be oriented around learners. Ogston urges Carpe Diem teachers and leaders to always stay focused on “the kid that’s before us.” At Carpe Diem, the data is the connection between the time students spend online and the time they spend with teachers. Ubiquitous, granular data about each student’s learning trajectory creates a “hyper-awareness” of student achievement in real-time that can’t be ignored by teachers, students, or the system. Individual student data is a key ingredient in powering personalization and dictates goal-setting as well as the elements that daily learning experiences will include. However, Ogston cautions that “data isn’t everything” and asserts that “data is there to help us ask more questions; data itself is not the answer.”

R = Relationships. The only way to customize learning is to get to know each student on an individual level. At Carpe Diem, adults start by asking students who and what they want to become in order to find that “hook” that will allow teachers to create meaningful learning experiences tied to their personal life goals. Finding the right teachers and the right leaders is essential to making these relationships work. At Carpe Diem, that means teachers must be truly passionate content-experts with a strong work ethic and a “whatever it takes” attitude who believe in the power of personalized learning to help students soar. Ogston feels strongly that you just can’t underscore the importance of strong leadership enough. Pointing to the impact on the school culture and climate after the tragic loss of Carpe Diem Yuma’s first principal, Ogston explains, “All of this really comes down to good leadership.”

Ogston is right. It’s his own leadership that has set Carpe Diem on a trajectory of success, and Carpe Diem has earned the attention it deserves. With four schools now serving students and plans for more, it’s a model with potential to give students a chance at a better life and what better achievement can there be than that?

Special thanks to Rick Ogston and the staff of Carpe Diem – Aiken for opening up their school to this visitor in such early stages of its life. The work you are all doing together has already created a culture that is making a difference for students in our community!

By Carri Schneider

Posted November 20, 2013 on Edweek.org

CD Meridian Wins Regional “Students in Action” Competition

Indianapolis, IN (March 15, 2013) – On Tuesday, March 12, Carpe Diem-Meridian, a tuition-free public charter school for grades 6 – 12, which opened in August 2012, won the regional “Students in Action” award, created by the prestigious Jefferson Awards to promote volunteerism in the nation’s schools. Carpe Diem-Meridian was deemed a Gold Medal School by the judges and was selected as the winner of the Regional Competition. The students will receive a check for $1,500 to support their “Students in Action” projects and represent the state of Indiana and their region at the 2013 Awards Banquet in Washington, D.C. in June.

“It is unusual for a school in its first year of existence to medal at the competition,” comments Regional “Students in Action” Director Amanda Johnson. “The fact that Carpe Diem Meridian’s students won the competition in their first year of operation is nothing short of extraordinary.”

“We are thrilled and so proud of our students,” comments Principal Mark Forner. “Alyssa Starinsky, our Social Studies teacher and “Students in Action” director, has done a marvelous job throughout the school year engaging and encouraging our students to serve others. Our kids took the competition and their preparation seriously – and they delivered. Congratulations to our kids and to ‘Miss Star’!”

Carpe Diem-Meridian “Students In Action” (SIS) “aims to make a positive, and sustainable impact in the Indianapolis community through community service opportunities and projects that are open to all area students. We want our legacy to be the importance and power of service.” The students, supported by their media sponsor WRTV Channel 6 and donations solicited through their website, originated a number of public service projects throughout the school year that made a significant impact on their community.

Starinsky has a firm vision for her students, “I want them to be articulate, to be confident, and to be part of life-long service.” Since August when the school opened its doors, 90% of the students attending Carpe Diem-Meridian are participating in SIA. They have worked nearly 10,000 service hours and 100% of the money they raise is invested in their projects.

Key accomplishments include establishing a partnership with The Julian Center’s “Circles of Support” children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This project was recognized by theAssociation of American Educators who presented them with a check for $500, which was used to purchase toys. The students are responsible for fundraising, which includes writing grants, as well as promoting their projects, and recruiting volunteer participation from the community. Details of all the Carpe Diem-Meridian “SIA” projects, photos and videos can be found on their website.

To find out more about the school, and how to become involved as a volunteer or donate to Carpe Diem-Meridian “Students in Action,” visit their websiteand follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

About Carpe Diem Indiana

Carpe Diem Indiana leverages technology, information, and human resources to ensure a superior learning experience at its schools that assures all its students will be career ready and college prepared. Carpe Diem Indiana Schools are tuition free public charter schools using a personalized blended-learning model to educate 6-12th grade students. By August 2013, Carpe Diem Schools will be located in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, Indiana; Cincinnati, Ohio and Yuma Arizona.

The Jefferson Awards

The Jefferson Awards are a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public service in America. Established in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy, the Awards were created to serve as a Nobel Prize for public service. Today, their primary purpose is to serve as a “Call to Action for Volunteers” in local communities. As a grassroots program, the Jefferson Awards created “Students In Action” (SIA) in order to promote volunteerism in the nation’s schools. Each spring, competitions are held in thirteen regions across the country among participating schools. SIA students are required to prepare and deliver a presentation highlighting their group’s volunteer activities and accomplishments from the previous school year. A panel of judges, including representatives from local media, business and service groups, then determines whether each group has met the qualifications to be either a Bronze, Silver or Gold medal school. One school is selected at each competition as the Regional Winner among the competing schools.


Carpe Diem Charter School Seizes Tomorrow’s Innovations Today

Explaining the success of Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School requires more than simple answers, but the school’s innovations hold great promise for expanding educational excellence and opportunity.

With dozens of cubicles filling a large, open room, Carpe Diem resembles a corporate office more than a traditional school. Students in grades 6 through 12 sit at their individual stations as software loaded on their laptop computers guides them through core instructional material.

School leaders insist there is no magic in the circuitry or fiber optics. “It’s not about technology,” says Carpe Diem founder and executive director Rick Ogston. “It’s about how students learn nowadays.” He believes engaging students in their education requires a proper understanding of the art of instruction, and technology provides the critical leverage.

When it opened in 2002, the Yuma, Arizona K-12 charter school used a traditional program and format. Three years later Carpe Diem converted its middle and high school to a unique blended learning model. A January 2011 report by the California-based Innosight Institute defines blended learning as a system “in which students learn online in an adult-supervised environment at least part of the time.”

“[Carpe Diem] is one of the best-executed in terms of everything, to have rethought curriculum, instructional delivery, teacher role, and student supports,” says Michael Horn, Innosight’s executive director of education.

In addition to a physical education instructor and a special education teacher, Carpe Diem employs one instructor in each of five core subject areas to serve nearly 240 students enrolled in 2010-11.

With students spending half to two-thirds of the school day working at their individual stations, teachers trade lectures for coaching students who need help. These “guides on the side” have the flexibility to call out groups of 10 to 25 students to smaller rooms along the building’s periphery to provide face-to-face instruction.

“They are constantly grouping and regrouping students based on what they need, not based on some arbitrary decision,” Horn says.

After his visit to the school, Arizona superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal recalled how he was impressed by the use of glass on the breakout classrooms, which enables easy observation.

“Now every teacher [and] every classroom is always open for review by the principal or visitors,” said Huppenthal. “We think that this is a unique motivating factor for improving teacher performance.”?? Ogston said he believes the teacher-student relationships are “absolutely essential” to Carpe Diem’s success. The school converted to the blended learning model in 2005 without having to import new faculty members.

Working year-round rather than in traditional nine-month terms, teachers grow personally familiar with students’ needs not only through years of consistent interactions but also regular feedback from the data-rich curricula. A full-time “course manager” provides weekly reports of individual learning, and staff, parents, and even students can monitor progress on a daily basis.

“They become managers of their learning instead of just receivers of information,” Ogston explained. Carpe Diem’s success is borne out in state testing results. Students have demonstrated stellar academic growth on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) tests. The school rates first in the state for recorded learning gains in mathematics.

“We believe that Carpe Diem is a model for the future of education,” Huppenthal says. “Blended, or hybrid, learning offers exciting opportunities for schools and districts faced with shrinking resources to look for and find new ways to get a bigger bang for their educational buck.”

Ogston says he is concerned about funding inequities that shortchange Arizona charter schools, as it requires a reasonable amount of dollars to maintain necessary personnel. The school compensates teachers the same as or more than school district counterparts while spending at a more efficient per-pupil rate.

“When it comes down to the business side, maximizing resources for results, that’s really what this model does,” Ogston says. The Arizona superintendent argues a key factor in expanding the reach of innovative models like the one pioneered by Carpe Diem is in technology itself. “We need to be looking for those breakthrough software programs that are showing that they can produce significant student academic performance,” Huppenthal said.

Carpe Diem changes the software it provides to ensure the use of effective and rigorous curricula in the computer-assisted instruction. The school’s current e2020 system provides for a customized learning experience and allows students to engage the material through various interfaces.

Horn says budget belt-tightening has led most American school districts to experiment with some form of blended learning. But doing it right on a broad scale will require significant reforms, such as attaching funding to students down to the course level, Horn said.

“Rick Ogston is willing to ignore what the incentives in the system actually encourage him to do,” says Horn. “Instead of overcoming perverse incentives, we need to get the incentives right to really reward teachers for learning outcomes rather than for seat time and for categories.”

Carpe Diem’s founder remains focused on improving the model he and his colleagues have worked to pioneer.

“We don’t consider ourselves as having arrived,” says Ogston. “We are still tweaking ourselves and bettering ourselves every year.”

Ben DeGrow (ben@i2i.org) is senior education policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.

The Daily Nightly (NBC’s Janelle Richards):

Sevanna Power sits at her workstation, completing her daily assignments. She’s logged into a computer, which is where she does most of her lessons and coursework. Power is a seventh-grader at Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma, Arizona. This is her second year attending the charter school where there are no traditional classrooms.

“I do miss [classrooms],” Power said. “Because I had a lot of fun with reading and we still do that here, but I like to hold books too, so it’s just interesting to not have that now.”

At Carpe Diem, students use computers to work at their own pace. The middle and high schoolers kick off the day in the learning center, then rotate between completing online assignments and going into classes — where they receive direct instruction from teachers in what they call workshops.

“There are lectures on the computer but it’s very one dimensional. There’s one way to explain things and some children don’t get that … that’s why we have the workshops,” said Chet Crain, dean of students at Carpe Diem. “So a student who doesn’t understand, say, dividing fractions, they’ve listened to the lecture on their computer but they still don’t get it, then they can come to the workshop and ask our math teacher to please explain this another way. And by using projects, by using manipulatives and by using whatever it takes, we will make that student successful.”

Organizers say this blended learning model allows students to pursue their individual education plans. Floor staff is always on hand in case students need help. Some say the mix of technology and teacher interaction at Carpe Diem is what’s necessary to educate kids in the 21st century.

Dan Harvey, who has three children enrolled in the school, called it the best of both worlds, describing the setup as unique because of the “traditional aspects with the workshops and the classrooms, but then the individual nature of it. We’ve got five kids and they’re all very different … this kind of enables them to kind of do their own pace and go their own speed.”

Larry Cuban, education professor emeritus at Stanford University, said that while this type of model may work for some, it’s not one-size fits all — and more research needs to be done because “very few studies are done independent of the schools of themselves. And so the evidence isn’t there. But that doesn’t mean that people are not going to try it. There are a lot of things tried in American schools that have very little evidence or research to support them.” Cuban said he understands why blended learning is attractive to educators and families.

Carpe Diem administrators and teachers explain the importance of the blended learning model and why moving away from a traditional classroom prepares students for the future. “Parents want their kids to be treated as individuals” and “[blended learning] programs promise that there will be more individualized teaching and learning by the students,” he said.

He also pointed to cost, explaining, “You don’t need as many teachers. And that is attractive … when a lot of districts are letting teachers go, when there is a smaller teacher force now.”

Carpe Diem’s four academic teachers agreed that the program is not for everyone, but the test results are promising: 90 percent of Carpe Diem students are proficient in core subjects, compared to about 70 percent statewide, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

Many Carpe Diem students used to attend more traditional schools and said there are pros and cons to both.  “I like the fact of how flexible [Carpe Diem] is,” said seventh-grader Timothy Harvey. “I can’t take tests at home, so if I wanna do work from home I can, on the weekends or after school if I feel that I want to, or if my parents want me to do some work, or I need to if I’m behind.”

For Kristina Felix, a senior, the undivided attention she receives from the same teacher every year and the ability to work at her own pace are a plus.

“It’s really great, like I get to communicate more with them,” Felix said. “There’s less people here so I feel less pressured; I don’t have to compare myself to other people … I wanna be a nurse and with this I think it’s really helping me a lot.”

Education, Ability, and the American Dream


When I asked my 11 year old son what The American Dream was, he replied, “A catchphrase about what people want.”  When I probed what they would want, he said “I don’t know, something patriotic.” Was it realistic to expect that he’d heard the phrase in its usual context by grade 5?  Maybe not.  What would I have answered at his age in 1987?

I can’t be sure, but The Secret of My Success, released that year, has always been one of my favorite movies and Michael J. Fox as Brantley Foster/Carlton Whitfield definitely epitomized the realization of The American Dream. Certainly, messages like that fostered my visceral understanding of the phrase:

  • Anyone can become anything they want to be.
  • No goal is outside your reach if you try hard enough or fall into the right kind of luck.
  • Social class is not a birthright.

The small part of me that is a cynic views my son’s answers, so different than what I envision mine would have been, as a confirmation of the dour outlook in Robert D. Putnam’s book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis – the dream of upward mobility, rags-to-riches, financial success for all has become a fantasy, not a realistic goal for kids growing up today.

I agree with the conclusions of the book (and greatly appreciate that Mr. Putnam puts neither the blame for nor solution for the growing opportunity gap at the feet of teachers and schools). But I think the origin of the phrase “American dream” can offer a different insight. James Adams is credited with coining the phrase in his book, The Epic of America, in 1931.  Here are two quotes explaining his vision of this ideal:

“the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

“a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of fortuitous circumstance of birth or position” 

Did you catch the missing element from my original understanding?  Ability, innate capability, matters. Our brains are not all created equal, and yet we too often equate intellectual capacity and capability with human worth, the value of a person as an individual, their ability to contribute meaningfully to society.  For a long time in the United States, that value has been tied to a college degree.

By Tracy Hood Ballinger on Apr 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm


As a member of the inaugural cohort of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for MBA in Educational Leadership at the University of Indianapolis, I had the opportunity to visit Switzerland to learn more about how and why their education system is successful.  We were looking for interplays between government and business, policy and practice.  But what was most striking was the cultural pride in their approach to educational conclusions. Education is compulsory and uniform for the primary and lower secondary levels (up to about age 15). The upper secondary programs are split into academic and vocational paths and in the eyes of the Swiss, leaving school with a diploma or a certification are equally valued and valuable conclusions. The paths to either outcome are fluid and overlapping – students are not locked into one particular exit based on their entrance. Ability, interests, personal priorities, and a wide host of other factors, allow students and families to determine what is the best end-result of time in school.

What would that look like in America if the Dream of success were actually tied to helping every student “attain the fullest stature of which they innately capable”? And what if we let every student develop into that fullest stature at their own pace until their brains had started maturing?  What could happen if we truly mean college and career ready (as in college or career as well as college then career) and then actually esteemed all career paths equally, even if not all of them required a college degree?

Right now, my son wants to be a doctor and so far he is showing potential and passion for that future.  But he also is pretty passionate about videogames and talks about wanting to have a job designing them. One of those paths would not require college, the other would; one could let his earning potential start immediately, the other only after an extended time and financial investment. Factors like job availability, work environment, opportunities for travel, mental stimulation, sense of fulfillment, available time with friends and family aren’t directly tied to college degrees. My pride will follow the outcome that lets him attain the future he wants, not in the path he took to get there.

Fox News: “Fixing our schools — here are solutions that work”

“Waiting for Superman,” “The Cartel,” and “The Lottery” are among the best known of documentaries, books and news stories sounding the alarm about the failures of America’s public schools.

But where are the stories, the documentaries about the solutions?

As a new school year begins, this documentary features happy students and inspired teachers. The students are learning, getting good test scores and look ready to take the next step forward in their lives. The teachers are excited by their success with students.

The show is called “Fox News Reporting: Fixing Our Schools.”

The documentary reveals how the answer to troubled schools is allowing teachers to teach to one child, catering to the student’s strengths and weakness with the help of computers.

The results are evident in dramatic improvements in student performance in several schools nationwide. From the “Carpe Diem” school in Yuma, Arizona to the “School of One” in New York City and the Mooresville school district in North Carolina, pilot programs using “Digital Learning” have reported a marked increase in student performance and sharp decline in drop-outs.

The key is making learning materials from texts, tests and even assignments available electronically. That allows the students, their parents and teachers to track a student’s performance in real time.

It enables teachers and parents to identify a student who is falling behind and give that young person extra help, specifically tailored to get them back on track and moving up.

It also allows teachers to reward the best students. Top students no longer have to wait for students who are struggling before the class can move ahead. Instead with customized or “Digital Learning” teachers can challenge the best students to achieve their full potential with advanced coursework.

But more importantly, in each of the schools we visited, I noticed high student morale. I saw happy children with a positive attitude towards learning who seemed genuinely glad to be at their schools. In some cases the infamous ‘Achievement Gap,’ between minority students and white students was eliminated with the help of “Digital Learning.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been one of the leading intellectual architects of education reform. He made digital learning a cornerstone of the “Florida Formula,” his educational policy during his time as governor.

“There are new technologies to make it easier, perhaps, to have an accurate assessment. There’s movement to make it so one test won’t be the end-all and be-all. There’s a way to test now that if you’ve mastered the information, you can move on to the next information, so we’re not holding kids back” he said.

“Given the technological advancements, [opposition to] testing, I think, will be less of a political tool by those that resist change” he added.

In an interview for “Fixing Our Schools,” Michael Horn, co-author of the book “Disrupting Class,” points to the large number of remedial classes in even the best colleges for students that have graduated high school but failed to learn the basics of writing and math.

The answer, Horn argues, is the combination of good teachers and technology – “Digital Learning.”

“It’s the Swiss Cheese problem – that’s what we call it in education,” said Horn. “They [students] move on even though they have big holes in their understanding. If you customize [curriculums for each student by using computers] and allow them only to move on once they’ve actually mastered something…whether it is through projects, lectures [computer programs] you give them a chance to actually succeed…this is what every child needs so they can succeed in the 21st century economy.”

Out of 65 countries around the world measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), students in the United States ranked 30th in Math, 23rd in Science, and 17th in Literacy.

Civic and political leaders — most recently former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein — are pointing to the decline of public education as a threat to America’s national security – with so many students failing to qualify for the military or diplomatic corps. And schools that fail to prepare students to be capable works as well as innovative thinkers are also challenge to America’s global economic competitiveness.

Talk of the need for overhauling our school—“No Child Left Behind” to “Race to the Top,” — has gone on for too long with too little result.  Generations of American children have grown up and lost their way while unions, politicians and foundations have talked, thrown around money and failed to make any big change.

One million students drop out of American public schools every year. Thirty percent of all American high school students drop out and never graduate. For black and Hispanic students, the number is above fifty percent.

When the tragic scale of damage to minority communities is considered, the education crisis has rightly been called the “greatest civil rights challenge of the 21st century.”

My main take-away from reporting for this documentary is that “Digital Learning” shows tremendous promise as an immediate solution for helping American students to succeed immediately.

And it helps America’s teachers, parents, students, employers and political leaders regain their trust and enthusiasm for our public schools.

As Joel Klein, the former Chancellor of New York City Public Schools who now works for News Corp. [the parent company of Fox News Channel] told me the computer revolution has touched every part of our lives but our schools.

“I think about how different the world is today in terms of the media, in terms of medicine, in terms of the way people really experience their lives,” Klein said. “But education is stuck in a 19th-century model. So I’m convinced that we can change the way we educate our kids.  “Use technology not [just] by giving a kid a computer but by really improving instruction, by helping teachers do their work in a much more effective way” he added.

Juan Williams is a Fox News political analyst. He is the author of several books including “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America–and What We Can Do About It” and “Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate.”