Education / 2013
Alliance CollegeReady Public Schools BLAST
When Alliance College-Ready Public Schools (Alliance) was founded, we set out to prove that it is possible to run a system of high-performing public schools that consistently prepares all students for success in college. Our intention is to serve as a model for other public schools and districts and to significantly increase access to a high-quality education that prepares all students for success in college and life regardless of their background or where they live. Today Alliance operates 21 high-performing public charter middle and high schools, educating 9,500 low-income from Los Angeles’ most underserved neighborhoods. Since our founding, 95% of Alliance graduates have gone to college. Despite our success, Alliance recognizes that we are making the best of an antiquated model. While technology has changed our world profoundly, K-12 public schools remain largely untouched by the technological revolution outside the classroom. Classes are still structured largely on the late 19th century industrial model where students learn to read, write, calculate, and memorize in preparation for a factory-like environment. Learning is largely passive, with one curriculum directed at all students regardless of individual student comprehension and achievement levels. When students reach college, most of their education is facilitated by technology. They are expected to work with technology in a self-directed manner and solve complex problems using a variety of sources and strategies. When they reach the workforce, those expectations only increase. By integrating technology into the Alliance's already successful curriculum, Alliance developed the Blended Learning for Alliance School Transformation (BLAST) model to increase student academic achievement, increase personalization and relevancy in student learning, and provide students with 21st century learning tools. In BLAST classrooms, students receive a laptop and rotate through learning stations in small groups during two-hour blocks for core academic subjects. Learning stations include 1) teacher lead instruction with no more than 16 students at one time 2) individualized, interactive online instruction with content that adapts to and accelerates based on each student’s level of proficiency, and 3) structured, collaborative projects in which students use technology to solve real-world problems. This unique rotational model provides a highly personalized environment that maximizes student time with teachers; empowers students to master content at their own pace; provides real-time data that gives teachers and students immediate feedback and allows students to monitor their own progress; and enables students to delve into projects that stimulate critical thinking. In addition, through distance learning classes, students are able to benefit from lessons with the best teachers within and outside of Alliance’s network, and take online, interactive electives not offered at their home school. BLAST schools use supplemental digital content aligned to state and common core standards, which allows students to fill gaps in past learning, or accelerate ahead of their peers if they are ready. The highly individualized nature of the model assures that no student is left behind and no student is held back. Originally piloted in fall 2010 at two Alliance high schools in South LA and Watts, the BLAST model has grown to serve 3,750 students at four Alliance high schools and three middle schools. Alliance plans to grow and strengthen this program over the next five years, opening all new Alliance schools with the BLAST model. Alliance has created a professional development program to provide teachers and principals the support they need to become highly effective educators in BLAST schools. A Summer Institute provides in-depth training for new BLAST principals and teachers and includes subjects such as the use of instructional technology, lesson planning in the rotational model, and how to use real-time data to strengthen instruction and classroom management. In addition, teachers attend quarterly day-long BLAST teacher trainings and weekly planning meetings where they share best practices and solve problems. Built on the solid foundation of Alliance’s rigorous college-preparatory curriculum, BLAST schools significantly increase student ownership of their education and make learning far more personal, motivating, and relevant to the world in which they live, which will ultimately improve student academic performance, high school graduation rates, and college attendance and completion for thousands of students in Los Angeles.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Alliance College-Ready Public Schools has grown to become the largest charter management organization operating in LAUSD, educating 9,500 low-income students at 21 high-performing public middle and high schools. If Alliance were a stand-alone district, we would be larger than 75% of the school districts in California. Alliance has a consistent and exemplary track record of educating students at high levels. More than 92% of incoming Alliance 9th graders graduate in four years (vs. 65% for LAUSD and 78% for the state). One hundred percent of Alliance graduates pass the A-G college prep courses required by California four-year public universities and more than 95% of our graduates have gone to college. Average daily attendance at Alliance schools is 95%. Alliance schools consistently outperform neighboring schools on California achievement tests and four schools have been named California Distinguished Schools. In the past six years, Alliance-wide California Academic Performance Index (API) scores surpass those of neighborhood schools by nearly 100 points, LASUD by 62 points and the state by 18 points. In 2012, six Alliance high schools were ranked in the top 3% of all high schools nationwide by U.S. News & World Report, and Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School was the only school in LAUSD to be named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. By consistently achieving academic success across a network of 21 schools, Alliance proves that quality education does not have to be the exception; it can be the rule.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Alliance works with Education Elements, a key business partner in the development and refinement of BLAST and the professional development program for BLAST teachers and school leaders. Alliance also works with online learning vendors to recommend improvement to learning software. Other key partners include the Innosight Institute, NewSchools Venture Fund’s College Achievement Network, the Broad Foundation, Computers for Youth, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation who will release an in-depth evaluation on one of the early BLAST high schools in fall 2013. Alliance also participates in a Professional Learning Community with blended learning school leaders from other charters and traditional public schools.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Alliance will evaluate BLAST using a number of measures and methodology. We measure student academic performance based on the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced on California State Standards Tests (and will continue to do so using the Common Core standards when California transitions to those standards in 2015). We also look at the number of students graduating high school in four years, and attending and graduating from college. Measures of college preparedness include number of students taking and passing AP classes, number of students passing the Cal State University Early Assessment Program, and performance on SAT and ACT college entrance exams. To discern teacher, principal, and student satisfaction and identify areas for needed improvement in BLAST schools, we conduct regular surveys with faculty, students, and families. We also partner with outside evaluators to provide objective third-party feedback on what is working and what needs to improve the BLAST model. Specific key measures of success for each BLAST school are:
• After three years, students in BLAST schools will match or
surpass Alliance-wide averages on state standardized tests.
• After three years, BLAST schools will achieve a school ranking of
8 on the state Academic Performance Index (API) and surpass
Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) targets as mandated by the U.S.
Department of Education.
• Ninety-five percent of incoming 9th graders will graduate in four years. • Ninety percent of graduates will go to college. • Ninety percent of alumni will graduate from college in 6 years. • After four years, Alliance BLAST schools will be self-sustaining on public funding.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
With just the current BLAST schools, Alliance will provide a high-quality, 21st century college-preparatory education for more than 3,750 low-income students annually in Los Angeles’ most underserved communities. Additionally, Alliance plans to grow the number of new BLAST schools by 10 over the next five years, ultimately educating 9,000 low-income students in Los Angeles annually.
District-wide, LAUSD high schools graduate only 65% of their students and only 22% of those graduate with the required “A-G” college preparatory classes needed to attend a four-year public university in California. In contrast, Alliance schools graduate 92% of their students in four years and send 95% of graduates to college. It is estimated that a high school graduate will earn nearly $400,000 more over his or her lifetime than a high school dropout, and a college graduate will earn nearly $1.6M more. In addition, high school dropouts are eight times more likely to be incarcerated, 50% less likely to vote, and are under-qualified for 90% of jobs. Two-thirds of dropouts will use public welfare benefits at some point in their lives. The benefit to Los Angeles is the increased earnings and increased tax revenue generated for each Alliance high school and college graduate, and the savings from public assistance and incarceration costs. Alliance BLAST graduates also increase the pool of potential employees, entrepreneurs, and business leaders in the digital economy that makes up an increasingly large piece of Los Angeles’ economic growth. As importantly, Alliance high school and college graduates provide community stability and civic involvement in their neighborhoods, city, and state.
Beyond Alliance BLAST schools, our goal is to serve as a model for other schools and districts and to share our lessons and best practices, therefore helping improve academic performance, high school graduation, and college completion rates for thousands more Los Angeles public school students outside the Alliance. Alliance’s early success with BLAST has drawn a significant level of interest from many in the broader public education community. Alliance hosts regular observation visits at BLAST schools for school leaders, district officials, researchers, and policy makers, and Alliance staff are called on regularly to speak at education and policy conferences. Alliance has also held preliminary discussions with two local university schools of education to discuss potential joint residency and teaching programs to prepare new teachers for the effective use of educational technology.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
In 2050, 100% of students in Los Angeles would graduate from high school ready for college or meaningful employment. All students, regardless of their parents’ income or where they live, would have access to high-quality, public neighborhood schools that motivate students to be active learners and engaged participants in their own education. All students would be college eligible, taking and passing necessary classes to attend a four-year public university so that every student had the opportunity to attend college if they wanted to do so (and not have that choice decided for them through low expectations of their schools). Seventy-five percent of students would go to college, and 100% of those would graduate. Teachers in our public schools would be treated as highly esteemed, professional knowledge-workers. They would be recruited from the ranks of our highest-performing college students, provided consistent and relevant training and ongoing professional development, and compensated based on performance and at significantly higher levels. Our public universities would again be the envy of the world and would be growing to meet the demands of the highly-educated students graduating from Los Angeles and California high schools. As a result, Los Angeles would be a national and international hub of economic growth and trade, entrepreneurship, and innovation.