San Francisco Flex Academy Posted on May 19th, 2011 by Blended-learning profiles

Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated.

School/organization overview
Name San Francisco Flex Academy (in partnership with K12, Inc.)
Type Charter school
Locale Urban
Headquarters San Francisco, California
First year of operation SY2010-11
Grades served 9-12
Enrollment
% FRL 60%
% Black or Hispanic 75%
Per-pupil funding $7,250
Website http://www.k12.com/sfflex/
Blended-learning program (1 of 2)
Name Core subjects
Focus General
Year launched SY2010-11
Outside investments/grants
Enrollment
Blended grades
9-12
Blended subjects
Math, English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science
Content K12 Inc.
SIS K12 Inc.
Independent LMS None
Independent gradebook None
Independent assessment None
Professional development
Program model (1 of 2)
Program model: Flex

Model description
K12, Inc. delivers curriculum and instruction, but face-to-face teachers use a data dashboard to plan targeted interventions and supplementation throughout the day.

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Blended-learning program (2 of 2)
Name Electives
Focus General
Year launched SY2010-11
Outside investments/grants
Enrollment
Blended grades
9-12
Blended subjects
Electives
Content K12 Inc.
SIS K12 Inc.
Independent LMS None
Independent gradebook None
Independent assessment None
Professional development
Program model
Program model: Self-Blend

Model description
Students take elective courses entirely online with an online teacher.

Program background
History and context
Opened in September 2010, San Francisco Flex Academy (SF Flex) is a charter high school currently serving grades 9–12 in the Bay Area. It will eventually serve grades 6–12. According to Mark Kushner, executive director of Flex Public Schools and a vice president at K12, Inc., it is the first in a series of Flex Academy schools that Flex Public Schools plans to launch in California. If K12, Inc. decides to partner with Flex Public Schools and other nonprofits to open Flex Academies across the country, the partnership will represent the first large-scale attempt to blend K12, Inc.’s turnkey online-delivery system, used in K12, Inc. virtual schools with over 70,000 full-time students and 50,000 part-time students worldwide, into a full-time brick-and-mortar setting.

Blended model
SF Flex requires students to be present from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at its brick-and-mortar facility in downtown San Francisco. The building was previously the San Francisco Press Club, and includes ballroom spaces that SF Flex has converted into large study rooms with library carrels, flat tables, and small-group collaboration spaces. It also has an Internet cafe and social areas with couches, as well as a science lab and other study areas in the basement. The school issues each student a laptop computer.

Students meet with an academic adviser at the start of each semester to choose core and elective courses from K12, Inc.’s catalog of over 130 online courses. The K12, Inc. online platform is the starting point for delivering all curricula and assessments. Students primarily progress through their courses online, with the learning management system occasionally directing them to engage in offline enrichments, such as working with tangible manipulatives, reading physical books, or participating in a wet lab. A robust K12, Inc. database integrates information about student course progress, assessment results, attendance records, parent communications, and all other student information into one portal, called Total View, that teachers, advisors, administrators, and parents can access. Teacher-graded and computer-graded assessments determine mastery of objectives at the lesson, unit, and subject level.

Despite this online delivery platform, SF Flex regards face-to-face teachers as a critical component of its model for core academic courses. Indeed, a central objective of the Flex model is to re-imagine the traditional teacher role. SF Flex will have at least two face-to-face English teachers, two math, two science, and two history, plus online teachers for electives to serve a student body of 500, once the school reaches full enrollment. The role of these teachers is to monitor student performance by using the integrated Total View dashboard and then call students into a physical classroom for specific tutoring—or for when the teacher wants the students to have a certain experience, such as a live debate about the Civil War. The student’s schedule changes every week, based on the blend of face-to-face and online that the teacher designates for the week. Physical teachers and students communicate both face-to-face and through email and threaded discussions.

Elective courses are delivered by online teachers (who are the teachers of record for each elective course).

The model at full size includes eight academic coaches, who assist the teachers as paraprofessionals, supervise students in the large study areas, and are responsible for helping students progress through the system. From 3 to 5 p.m., the school remains open for students to participate in clubs, office hours, and sports teams.

Notable results
It is too early to indicate results because of the school’s recent opening.

On the horizon
Flex Public Schools has four charters approved in California, and it has additional applications pending. The Flex model, in partnership with K12, Inc. enables operators like Flex Public Schools to use an integrated provider for each step of the delivery chain, including student recruitment, teacher recruitment, curriculum development, education delivery, professional development, assessment, the learning management system, and the student information system.

In California, the Flex model is a “classroom-based” school model. The students and core teachers are both on-site. Accordingly, Kushner says that California’s SB 740 legislation, which prohibits a charter school from receiving any funding for nonclassroom-based instruction unless the State Board of Education determines its eligibility for funding, is not applicable to Flex schools. Nonetheless, Kushner believes that SB 740 regulations, which he helped write as chair of the California Advisory Commission on Charter Schools nine years ago, are outdated, as they are based on traditional independent study rules and were written before the explosion in online courses and other innovations. Kushner suggests that California revise these regulations to better anticipate a productive set of parameters for online learning and to allow more flexibility in blended schools for the good of students.

In terms of technology, Kushner looks forward to the advent of improved adaptive learning technologies. He said that K12, Inc. is working on providing such technologies across its curriculum. Such a sophisticated technology platform is expensive to develop, however, because it requires multiple learning modalities for each instructional concept paired with complex assessment techniques.

Furthermore, Kushner hopes that online content will increasingly improve in quality, as there are too many online programs that are simply “credit factories,” and this gives the entire field—virtual and blended schools—a bad name. Kushner believes efforts are needed to educate the public, districts, and states on what distinguishes the best online providers from low-cost and low-quality providers. “Not all online curriculum and service providers are made the same,” he said.


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