Kramer Middle School Poised for 'Blended Learning'

Dorothy Rowley | 7/3/2012, 1:58 p.m.

Kramer Middle School in Ward 8, one of the District's 20 lowest-performing schools in 2010, is poised to take the District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) system to new heights. Beginning with school year 2012-13, about 300 students at Kramer will join their peers in schools across the country in setting the pace for a new way of learning.

To that end, while one-half of the courses at Kramer next year will consist of face-to-face instruction, the other half will be delivered online.

"By embracing technology through blended online learning, Kramer Middle School has taken an aggressive, innovative approach to improving student achievement and increasing teacher effectiveness," said DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson. "We are excited to see this approach in action and look forward to seeing proficiency improve at Kramer Middle School."

The new method of instruction - to be supported with $500,000 in state and federal funding - and which will allow students to spend half of each class on their computers, and the other half with their teachers, has been referred to by educators as "blended learning."

According to a statement issued by Henderson's office, the online approach aims to improve college readiness through 21st Century Skills; provide greater focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math [STEM] classes; and keep students engaged through technology and a robust curriculum.

In transitioning to the new learning format, Kramer will use online courses that promise to be heavy in multi-media content and based on the most recent classroom curriculums. The format will be in accordance with the Common Core State Standards, which in addition to providing students with after-school support, provides instruction in math and science; language arts, social studies and a host of electives.

"This is not just technology for technology's sake," said Kramer Principal Kwame Simmons. "We have been very intentional about what research says drives learning. We chose strategies to improve learning not just by one or two grade levels but by multiple grade levels."

Simmons added that the investment in technology and engaging online instruction aligns with the school system's bold goals identified in DCPS' new five-year strategic plan, titled "A Capital Commitment."

Meanwhile, Kramer has made steady improvements in student achievement since 2010, when Simmons took over as principal, and the school underwent reconstitution, a federally mandated process in which teachers reapply for their positions and the principal has the discretion to choose teachers who are best suited to dramatically improve student performance.

Since Simmons has been at the helm, proficiency at Kramer has increased from 17 percent in reading and 18 percent in math to 19 percent in reading and 29 percent in math in 2011.

Simmons now projects proficiency to increase to 10 to 15 percentage points this year, and the goal for Kramer is to reach 64 percent proficiency in reading and 70 percent in math by 2014, according to a DCPS report.

Simmons noted however, that his school already uses online instruction provided through Johns Hopkins University that has helped students improve a grade level in two-and-a-half months. He said new online courses target several different types of learning and engage many more students, making it possible to increase proficiency by 13-15 percent a year.

Youn Chung, who teaches eighth-grade math at Kramer, said the Johns Hopkins online courses assist with the basics of learning, "which frees me up to talk about softer, more tangible stuff or things that [students are] struggling with. That way we can be more effective," Chung said.

Simmons, who recently unveiled the new technology, said this was an exciting time for the school. "Parents want a quality education for their children," he said. "When they walk in the building and see what's taking place, I think they'll be proud."