I’m the Principal at Clintondale High School – a financially disadvantaged high school located outside of Detroit. Our school has been in debt for the past decade, and during the recession our area suffered immensely. 74 percent of our 570 students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, 38 percent receive special education services and 70 percent are a racial minority. Like many schools around the country, our students were not doing well in class, and many were failing – two years ago our failure rate was 61 percent. We decided that a change had to be made in order to put our students in a position to succeed in high school and beyond.
How We Started
The first thing we did was examine our teaching model. Even though there are new technologies and advances that the business world has been utilizing for decades, schools have continued to use the same teaching model for the past hundred years: teachers lecture during class, and students are tasked with homework each evening. In a world where so many people have smartphones, and Internet access is almost everywhere, we identified our teaching model as the thing that needed to be changes.
To begin this process, we examined forty of our teachers for one full year. We found that during a one hour class, a teacher spends 39 minutes reviewing information, answering questions and dealing with interruptions and distractions. Opening and closing activities at the beginning and end of class accounted for an additional five minutes, and students were engaged and supported in their learning for only sixteen minutes of each class. Considering our average class size is 30 students, our key finding was that students were given just 32 seconds of one-on-one support and instruction each class, per day.
As seen in this research, our current education model leaves students to review and practice the information independently, without the help and support they need. Furthermore, many students at Clintondale High School live in homes that create even more obstacles in their education, such as insufficient resources, lack of technology and lack of support from their parent(s). In our current declining economic state, it is unrealistic for us to expect one of our students to effectively complete their homework when food is scarce, they don’t have a computer or Internet connection, and they don’t have a parent that can answer questions for them or help with their homework.
Flipping Classrooms: On A School-wide Scale
There is a new movement in education called the flipped classroom, which reversed the education model. Instead of lecturing during class, teachers record their lectures on videos, and students watch these outside of class. Students are able to rewind and pause the videos so they can learn the material at their own pace. Furthermore, schools can assign certain videos to specific teachers, so that students are learning from the most knowledgeable teacher on every subject. Then during class, students spend time working on materials, and have 1-on-1 access to their teachers when they have questions or need help.
We decided this model was perfect for Clintondale High School and applied for a grant from TechSmith, a local company that makes lecture-capture software. Not only did they provide us with free licenses to Camtasia, they also helped us implement this technology using best practices from long-time practitioners of flipped classroom teaching. We decided to first begin testing the flipped class with one teacher in one class so we could work through any issues we may encounter easily and quickly. The trial period lasted 20 weeks. By the end of the class all 23 students had completed all of their assignments and passed the course – a 10 percent reduction in failure rate.
Next we decided to implement the flipped class model in six 9th grade classrooms for an entire school year, which allowed us to work through many of the unknown systemic issues that we could encounter. At the end of the year, we saw a reduction in our overall ninth grade student failure rate in English Language Arts (from 52 percent to 19 percent), math (44 percent to 13 percent), science (41 percent to 19 percent), and social studies (percent 28 percent to 9 percent). Overall, our ninth grade failure rate was reduced by 30 percent in just one year as a result of this new model.
Our next step was to evaluate the flipped model against Michigan’s standardized test. Our eleventh grade students were going to be taking the Michigan Merit Exam / ACT, so we decided to use the flipped model to prepare them for the math portion of the exam while using the traditional model for the other subjects. When we received the scores back for the 114 students, there was an 8 percent increase in student proficiency in mathematics, while student proficiency flat-lined or declined in the other subjects.
Following this success, we decided to implement the flipped model in the entire school. As I mentioned, two years ago our failure rate was 61 percent. After implementing the flipped class for just one Semester (which ended December 2011), the school-wide failure rate dropped to 10 percent – meaning that more than half of our student body went from failing classes to passing them.
Two years ago, the failure rate in our school was 61.2%. Using a flipped instructional model, with no other operational, funding or structural changes to our teaching methods, facilities or staff, it is currently 10.8%. A reduction of 50.4%!
By using a flipped blended school model we have eliminated many of the support and educational quality issues that plague us and many other schools around the country. Reversing our school’s instructional model has shown that we can provide equality in schools, no matter the school’s financial standing. By blending simple technologies into the lives of our educators and students, we can put the best instruction in front of all students in a way that matches their learning style and life circumstances, and give them the 1-on-1 in-class support they need to be successful. This seismic, yet inexpensive shift in our education model has the potential to eliminate educational disparity in other economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. With a few small changes we can make some incredibly positive changes. If our experience at Clintondale holds true, change can be made rapidly with little or no expense. What remains then is the will to do so.