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New Era School Initiative (NESI) Interview with Dr. W.E. Doynit, Superintendent

This fictitious interview by The Tablet PC Education Blog with Dr. W.E. Doynit, Superintendent of Normsville Unified Public School District addresses real common questions raised by educators and others about accelerating learning through efforts like the New Era School Initiative(NESI). |}

Accelerated Learning Interview
This Accelerated Learning Interview continues the series of observations about learning efficiency. This interview by The Tablet PC Education Blog reviews accelerated learning with Dr. W.E. Doynit, Superintendent of the Normsville, California, Unified School District (NUSD). He has emerged on the stage recently as a bold education leader who gives priority to learning in schools over other common topics and conventional wisdom.

Many behavioral scientists conduct imaginary studies in order to assess merits of hypotheses they consider testing. These assessments help to shape the fidelity of hypotheses, methods, and reporting.

The following interview illustrates one aspect of such a test of impacts that Tablet and other mobile PCs as well as dense learning packages have on K12 learning. As in any experimental study, the design tests the null hypothesis that no differences will exist between results from experimental and control conditions.

Dr. Doynit received approval last night from the school board to proceed with plans to open New Era (charter) School Initiative (NESI). This initiative offers students a complete program of study from kindergarten through 12th grade that meets all state academic standards in six academic years. Students and faculty use Tablet and other mobile PCs with available commercial learning packages to earn a high school diploma. We met at Landgrant University on the Normsville, California (LUNC) campus.

Please share your thinking as comments about the possible study of this accelerated learning initiative.

Tablet PC Education: Thank you for agreeing to this interview about the Normsville New Era charter School Initiative (NESI). I understand that this is the first interview you have granted.

This initiative seems destined to challenge conventional stereotypes of education and schooling. Do you intend to shock, amuse, or do something else with this school? What does this approval mean for other students not in your school?

Doynit: This initiative gives priority to student learning efficiency. We intend this priority to reduce the risk of students failing to learn intended skills and content for each grade. The initiative has no direct affect on students not in the charter school. However, we expect that people interested in schooling in Normsville and elsewhere will critique our progress. A few may adapt some of our initiative to their schools and homeschooling.

Several learning program prototypes developed over the past 40 plus years have similar priorities to those we adopted for this initiative. While using or examining these prototypes, we discovered that a student can in fact meet state requirements for a high school diploma in the equivalent of six academic years.

To arrive at that conclusion, we counted the number of seconds of academic instruction with each prototype in each grade and added them up.

Tablet PC Education: Seconds? Did I understand you correctly? Why seconds? Schools operate in blocks of about an hour. Seconds seem to overdo monitoring of school time.

Doynit: Yes, seconds, the smallest conventional measurement of time easily monitored manually or electronically by school personnel.

Tablet PC Education: Please continue. You were talking about how you arrived at the conclusion that students can complete high school in six years.

Doynit: We found that actual instruction in classrooms on average consumes about one third to one half of a class time. That sum equaled the equivalent of six academic years of 180 minimum school days for each year.

The arithmetic is simple:

A minimum school day consists of 10,800 seconds per minimum day x 180 days in a school year = 1,944,000 seconds minimum per academic year.

We found that on average teacher directed instruction consists of between 3500 and 5400 seconds per day.

That means that a student looses between an hour and one and a half hours of efficient learning each minimum day.

Our accountants have extrapolated that across our regular school year with regular and minimum days.

This means to me as a school superintendent that too much learning loss occurs for us to let it persist without taking bold steps. We proposed the New Era School Initiative as one bold step we can take almost immediately.

Tablet PC Education: What did you do next after realizing how much so called learning loss occurs?

Doynit: We then assembled a dense, intense, what some call immersive teacher and personal computer software directed academic program to meet each state academic standard for each grade. We found out rapidly that we could combine two of these learning programs into one school year with similar tested academic results. From these prototypes, we developed the New Era School Initiative that the board authorized last night.

Tablet PC Education: Do you really expect that students will enroll in NESI and earn a high school diploma in six years? And, if so, will they be well rounded people, or academic nerds and SPITRs? If it’s possible, why hasn’t anyone done this before?

Doynit: I read in this morning’s paper that you called this initiative NESI. I hope that doesn’t mean that our initiative is destined to live in the hidden depths of an education lake with the mythical prehistoric water creature given the same name.

I’ll let you ask educators who do not address learning as we do answer your question about why they don’t. They can speak for themselves.

Yes, I with our team and with our board of education expect that students will enroll and successfully earn their high school diploma in six academic years.

We also expect that they will emerge as well rounded, informed diploma earners and candidates for prompt entrance into higher education. We base these expectations on our local experience as well as familiarity with empirical experimental research literature about accelerated and other learning in and out of schools.

Tablet PC Education: Let me see if I understand you so far. You have assembled a new curriculum, learning materials, and electronic technology into a new, untried program that the board approved. Am I with you so far?

Doynit: The only thing new about our initiative is that we assemble into one program efforts that certified teachers and their preparers, human behavior specialists, some parents, and many in education policy circles have known for decades.

Through our program we support learners to use these methods, materials, and advancing communication technologies such as Tablet and other mobile PCs to increase learning promptly and measurably.

Tablet PC Education: Teachers tell me that your program does not respect accepted ideas about child development, cognitive theory, and human needs. How do you respond to these critiques?

Doynit: I’m agnostic on those points. Maybe we should consider them. Show me data as persuasive as what we’re using, and our team will consider it.

However, our data indicate that student learning can accelerate beyond expectations derived from those theories. For purposes of planning schooling, I give priority to empirical evidence over non-databased theories.

Tablet PC Education: What kind of data would you find persuasive. I’m guessing your team knows the existing research literature.

Doynit: Results from experimental empirical research studies, say comparing our initiative with a program based on Bloom’s or other conventionally accepted theories of development. I would expect our student learning rates to exceed theirs at the mean and with a higher bottom and top range.

Tablet PC Education: How many students do you expect to enroll when you open NESI? Do you expect them all to complete the program and what happens to those who don’t maintain the expected learning rate?

Doynit: Before I forget it again, I’m glad to hear you use the term learning rate earlier. That’s a key index that we use to assess the appropriateness of instruction for each student. We have procedures to adjust instruction in order to increase a student’s learning rate.

Let me back up for a moment. We assume that all students can learn school academic content to meet all minimum state standards required to earn a high school diploma.

Tablet PC Education: I want to interrupt you here, again. You assume all students can earn a regular high school diploma? Even my daughter who has sub-average IQ and achievement scores?

Doynit: Yes, all students. That assumption then leads to the question of how will we as educators make sure that all students do earn a diploma.

At the present, we know how to instruct so that about 95 percent of students can earn a diploma in a regular school year. Based on the assumption of all, behavioral and other scientists continue trying to discover ways to increase that number to closer to 100 percent of students.

That’s hard work, especially when the five percent includes the boy in a coma who attends public high school classes on a gurney. We don’t know how to assess what he knows. Yet, we assume that he and all others can, if we figure out how to instruct and assess their learning also.

Tablet PC Education: Please continue with your comments about how many students you expect to enroll and graduate in six years.

Doynit: I was about to say that we expect all students who enroll in this initiative as kindergartners and stay in the program to earn and graduate with a high school diploma in six academic years.

Tablet PC Education: I’ve used my scheduled time, but still have more questions about teachers, teaching, and what happens to students who do not start in kindergarten. Are you open to meeting again in order to continue this interview? In the meantime, I’ll post this first part of our Q & A.

Doynit: As it happens, my next appointment cancelled, so let’s take a brief break before we resume.

Sources:

Learning Efficiency

Accelerated K12 Mobile Learning: Press Release

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Robert Heiny
Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in The Encyclopedia of Education (1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for TuxReports.com.