Innovation Fund Highlight: Blended Learning
February 26, 2015
by Ashley Hilmer
In April 2012, Governor Deal created the Digital Learning Task Force, composed of education stakeholders throughout the state, to develop recommendations for digital learning in Georgia’s schools. In its December 2013 final report, the task force made 12 recommendations across three categories of digital learning: (a) infrastructure, (b) digital content and courses, and (c) blended and competency-based learning.  In particular, the Task Force recommended using the Innovation Fund – a competitive grant program that provides funding for innovative education programs to school districts, schools, postsecondary institutions, and nonprofit organizations – to support and identify scalable blended learning school models.
To implement these recommendations, Governor Deal appropriated $5 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 funds for the Innovation Fund to support eligible organizations in planning, implementing, and scaling innovative education programs aligned with the following priority areas:
- Applied Learning and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Education,
- Development and Replication of Blended Learning Models,
- Teacher and Leader Induction and Development, and
- Development and Replication of Innovative Resource Management Models.
On December 15, 2014, Governor Deal awarded eighteen grants aligning with the above priority areas.
This education update explains blended learning and highlights the plans of two school districts – Fulton County Schools, an urban district, and Thomas County Schools, a rural district – that received FY15 grants to implement blended learning programs. 
What is Blended Learning?
Blended Learning combines online and in-school learning, through three key components:
- Online learning, in which students have control over “time, place, path, and/or pace,”
- On-site learning at a supervised brick-and-mortar location, and
- Subject-area content connected between online and in-school learning .
Blended learning is not simply placing technology in the classroom or providing students access to online courses. Rather, blended learning utilizes technology to restructure traditional school models by promoting data-driven and individualized instruction and leveraging the strengths of effective educators, with the ultimate goal of advancing student achievement.
Blended Learning Models
The Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonprofit research organization specializing in education and business innovation, identified four main blended learning implementation models: (a) the Rotation Model, (b) the Flex Model, (c) the A La Carte Model, and (d) the Enriched Virtual Model, described below:
Fulton County Schools
Fulton County Schools (FCS), in partnership with New Classrooms and Kennesaw State University’s (KSU) iTeach Center, received a $1.25 million Innovation Fund grant to implement an Individual Rotation Blended Learning Model at Bear Creek Middle School. This grant will utilize Teach to One (TTO), a program developed by New Classrooms, to generate personalized learning plans based on student data. New Classrooms is a nonprofit organization that creates individualized educational instruction programs.
Bear Creek Middle School, located in Fairburn, serves 966 students – 92% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. In 2014, STAR math assessment results indicated that 52% of Bear Creek students required focused math intervention. Further, Bear Creek students scored in the 36th percentile nationally for math on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, a nationally normed, computer-based assessment that adapts to each student’s academic level to assess student growth. 
This grant has two main goals: (a) to increase math student mastery and math growth relative to the national average, and (b) to train teachers, both in Fulton County and throughout the state, to effectively implement technology to guide and differentiate student instruction.
During the program’s first year, January to December 2015, Bear Creek Middle School will renovate its traditional classrooms into math labs, equipped with laptops, furniture, and other technology conducive to blended learning. In addition, New Classrooms will provide professional development and on-site support to Bear Creek Middle School teachers as they transition from traditional math instruction to the TTO model, which follows the Individual Rotation Model of blended learning. Students transition to different learning modalities during a 90-minute classroom period based on a predetermined and individualized schedule. This daily schedule, or “playlist,” uses student data to place students on a schedule that best fits their learning needs.
During the second year, Bear Creek will serve as an observation site for up to 16 FCS middle schools and 38 middle school teams from throughout the state. Following these observations, KSU’s iTeach Center will train these teachers to integrate TTO modalities into a more traditional classroom setting.
Throughout the grant, FCS will evaluate student growth with daily exit slips generated by TTO technology, and the MAP Assessment, which students will take three times a year.  Principals will assess teachers’ progress through the Technology Integration Matrix Observation (TIM-O), which measures the level of technology integration in a classroom, and the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System’s (TKES) Teacher Assessment on Performance Standards (TAPS).  
Thomas County School System
Thomas County School System, in partnership with Southwest Georgia Technical College (SWGTC), received a $960,000 Innovation Fund grant to implement both the Flex and Enriched Virtual blended learning models at Bishop Hall Charter School. To implement these models, it will utilize the Desire2Learn Integrated Learning Platform – a technology system that provides academic content and allows teachers to collect data and communicate with students.  Throughout the grant, Bishop Hall will also provide students with wraparound social and academic supports.
Located in Thomasville, Bishop Hall is a high school serving at-risk, non-typical students who face barriers including homelessness, behavioral issues, developmental delays, and other challenges. In 2013-2014, 88% of students were below grade level. Further, 60% of students scored between grades two and six in math, and 40% of students scored between grades two and six in reading. Bishop Hall’s graduation rate was 53%. 
By December 2016, the program aims to: (a) increase the graduation rate to 70%, (b) improve performance on English and science state assessments, (c) increase the number of students dually enrolled in SWGTC by ten, (d) increase student satisfaction with curriculum and instruction, and (e) improve teaching and instruction through the use of blended learning. 
Use of the Desire2Learn Integrated Learning platform begins with a test-and-learn phase for teachers and students. During this phase, Bishop Hall will use the new technology to collect data and place students in either the Flex or Enriched Virtual Model of blended learning instruction. Bishop Hall will assess student performance every three weeks to customize instruction and ensure each model is appropriate for each student. Further, Bishop Hall will work with the Clayton Christenson Institute to conduct teacher professional development and incorporate feedback from students, parents, and faculty for full implementation of the platform.
Bishop Hall will also leverage the flexibility of blended learning to offer students college and career experiences and social and academic support. SWGTC will offer campus tours, lunch and learns, and counseling for dual-enrolled students. Students will also participate in virtual and one-on-one tutoring, as well as field trips to local businesses.
The school will assess student progress through the graduation and dual enrollment rates, scores on state assessments, and surveys that measure student satisfaction with curriculum and instruction and student attitudes towards STEM. It will measure teachers’ progress through surveys assessing their blended learning knowledge and satisfaction with the program. Bishop Hall will also collect qualitative data through student focus groups, interviews, classroom observations, and individual student case studies.
FCS and Thomas County School System will pilot programs that utilize several blended learning models in both rural and urban settings. Both districts will also partner with technology integration and blended learning experts – KSU’s iTeach Center and the Clayton Christensen Institute – to train teachers to implement blended learning effectively. Throughout the grant period, GOSA will monitor and evaluate each grant’s progress, and use lessons learned to determine blended learning best practices that can advance student achievement throughout Georgia.
 Fulton County Schools Innovation Fund Grant Application (December 2014).
 Thomas County School System Innovation Fund Grant Application (December 2014).