Memphis schools are starting the "blend"

According to this piece from the Memphis Commercial Appeal (which wins the award for newspaper title, imho), the public schools in this Missisippi River town are mandating at least one online course from each student prior to graduation.

The reception is positive, and motivating for the kid who needs credit recovery, the one who wants to graduate early, or the admin who want to save money while bulking up on APs or other electives.

The hopes at Memphis’ Whitehaven High are that online learning will push graduation rates. Vincent Hunter, the principal, acknowledges his circumstances–he sees that No Child Left Behind requires 100 percent graduation rates by 2014, and reasons, “we are going to reach have toward the stars” given his drop-outs and laggards.
The foresightful Hunter explains the boldness of the move, which anticipates broader changes in the foreseeable future:  “It’s not enough to identify the trends that will be showing their faces in the next five years. We’ve got to start addressing them right now.”

To which, I say, bravo, Memphis public schools!

It occurs to me that Memphis may be a harbinger–a mid-sized public district beset by the usual problems of making AYP in NCLB America. How many others, hearing of its success, will see blended learning as a sensible way forward, especially in light of the the economics? The article quotes Betty Brown, head of online learning in Memphis: “You do not have brick and mortar expenses. Rather than serving 30 in one class, you can serve 150 in 12 schools.” That is exponential gain and, one would suppose, undeniable to bottom-line forced school districts.
Of course, there are critics. One educator in the comments section worries that the content of the e-courses will not be sufficiently rigorous, and that without close supervision, cheating will happen. Others point out the opportunities for “payola” with e-course suppliers and hardware purveyors, and others caution that the blend cannot be very rich (more than 50% online) with the (majority of?) students who cannot discipline themselves to sit down and independently do the work.
Will 2011 be the year “blended learning” tips?  From the way I’m noticing it in 2010, it very well could be.

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