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Ohio teachers
Math teacher Michelle Person tries to calm Levell Crawford, left, before he goes to his next class in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Shari Lewis

It’s no secret that charter schools in Ohio are not highly regarded.

The state’s charter schools, mired in controversy regarding conflicts of interest and shady business practices, are almost universally known for dysfunction. Even education reform advocates – the people who tend to champion the cause of charter schools — are calling for the state to clean up the mess.

Charter schools were originally founded with the idea that they would be laboratory schools. They are public schools, but parents must opt in, meaning they willingly choose to take part (or not) in the schools’ experiments. Free from some of the processes and regulations that govern traditional public schools, charters are supposed to innovate with new methods of teaching and learning, and then share what they learn with other public schools. This set-up is supposed to benefit the entire public school system. However, it hasn’t always happened that way.

And that’s what brings us to Ohio. A new survey about blended learning in this state reveals that charter schools are less likely to report using blended learning than traditional public schools. Also, the educators polled said they need training to make the most of technology. Let’s connect those thoughts. Here’s a state where, if the survey is correct, most charters are failing to adopt a particular innovation (in this case, blended learning), while a whole bunch of traditional schools are eager to innovate, but struggling for lack of opportunities to test-drive new technology.

I wrote about a charter school in Ohio that was trying something new: a robot teacher. I don’t know many districts racing to replicate that. In the meantime, teachers throughout the state were flocking to visit traditional schools in Mentor, Ohio, to see a laboratory classroom that is used to try out education technology and teach the teachers how to use it.

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Worth noting: the purpose of the report on blended learning in Ohio was not done to compare charter schools and traditional public schools in the state. It was commissioned to figure out which schools are using blended learning and what they need to support that work.

The Ohio poll was produced by The Learning Accelerator and the Clayton Christensen Institute, which are both nonprofit organizations that advocate for blended learning. The initial survey was sent to 994 public schools in the state, and 211 responded. Of the schools that took part in the survey, 122 said they were using blended learning. A follow-up survey was sent to those 122 schools, and 67 responded. The responses are detailed in the report, “State of opportunity: The status and direction of blended learning in Ohio,” which is available online.

The report makes four recommendations: “Create or identify an entity or network(s) to help coordinate blended-learning efforts; train school leaders on iterative innovation processes; make high-quality professional development more available and easy to find; provide more resource support for blended-learning efforts.”

The authors also cautioned against any idea that blended learning should be forced on schools that are not using it yet. Do: Nurture those who are trying blended learning, and see what develops. Don’t: Don’t try to force-feed those who are unwilling or unable.

“Leaders should focus on supporting innovations that move the state toward increasing student achievement, improving the metrics used to evaluate blended learning, improving the quality of the current blended-learning programs, and expanding collaboration among innovators,” Lisa Duty, a partner at The Learning Accelerator who focuses on Ohio, said in a statement.

And, in the case of Ohio, the coalition of the willing seems to be the rank-and-file traditional public schools. Imagine that.

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