President of CityBridge Foundation talks 'disruptive innovation' in education


D.C. Public Schools are pioneering new blended learning models in classrooms — but they have a long way to go if they want to emulate California or Washington state schools, said Katherine Bradley, president of the nonprofit CityBridge Foundation.

“We are not yet California, so we don’t have quite the same breadth of schools, but we’re working on it,” said Bradley, who advocates for “disruptive” education — i.e., technology used in classrooms to enhance lessons.

California, with resources from startups and Silicon Valley, has some of the nation’s top innovative charter schools and programs to retrain teachers. Summit Public Schools, based in California and Washington, are using a partnership with Facebook to create personalized learning plans to track students’ achievement through online lessons and assessments.

CityBridge Foundation has programs for teachers that try to model other innovative schools, like its Education Innovation Fellows, which selects about two dozen teachers who want to revamp their instruction to include more technology and online blended models of learning, and sends them to observe innovative schools in other states. The teachers then come back to their own schools and start implementing new models of instruction.

The fellowship is backed by a $1 million grant from Microsoft.

“The simplest way to think about technology in schools is when a school says, ‘Let’s go one-to-one,’ meaning they’re going to have a device for every student,” said Bradley, who spoke at the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday night with Visiting Fellow James Glassman. “They can access all course content, homework and textbooks off of that tablet.”

She said more D.C. schools are using station rotation models, which breaks up students’ lessons into three chunks. A third of the time they’re working in small groups with a teacher, then they rotate to project-based work and online personalized learning. Examples like Ingenuity Prep, which is located in high-poverty southeast D.C., have kids as young as 3 years old using adaptive technology.

The charter school “totally changed what a classroom looks like and what teacher hierarchy looks like,” said Bradley, noting that there are four teachers to a class, including a master teacher and teacher-in-training, and they stay with the children as they are promoted to higher grade levels.

But, Bradley added, transforming a classroom comes with its challenges.

“There is no question that getting to lead a classroom like this requires a lot of retraining,” she said. “I think one of the biggest frustrations for teachers is they work unbelievably hard and still don’t feel successful with their kids. And one thing you can do with adaptive technology is reach all kids.”

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