Students 'flip' out for higher achievement

New education models succeed through greater use of online education

By Geoffrey Lawrence
  • Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Efficiency."  "Innovation."  "Public-sector entrepreneurship."

They're buzzwords that emanate from free-market think tanks — reflecting these institutions' desire to improve the way public services are delivered. 

Behind such language are ideas about how market incentives can better allocate resources.

For most people, however, the ideas seem abstract.  They don't immediately see how such concepts can genuinely improve the lives of taxpayers, families and public-school students.

But one school outside of Detroit is beginning to demonstrate just that — showing what can happen when public-sector administrators are free to experiment and develop new techniques for accomplishing their tasks more effectively.

At Clintondale High School, nearly 75 percent of students come from low-income families and are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch programs. Nevertheless, student achievement is skyrocketing. 

In one year, failure rates in English have plummeted from 52 percent to 19 percent.  In math, failure rates fell from 44 percent to 13 percent. In science, 41 percent to 19 percent, and in social studies, 28 percent to 9 percent.  Attendance rates are also up while disciplinary infractions are down. 

In short, the entire culture of this school serving primarily at-risk students has transformed in a single year.

How did it happen?

Principal Greg Green, whose success is quickly gaining widespread acclaim, is an innovator.  Understanding that the traditional model of education was failing to meet the needs of his students, he began looking for ways to better serve his students by leveraging technology. 

And he found something.

It took the form of a pilot program — in his school's ninth-grade classrooms — that essentially, "flipped" students' daytime and nighttime tasks. 

Green asked his teachers to video their lectures and then post the digital versions of the lectures on a variety of outlets, including YouTube and the school's website. 

Now students were made responsible for watching the lectures on their own time, as homework. No longer were they sitting through classroom lectures in which other children became disruptive, harming everyone's ability to focus.

And when class-time arrived, that was different, too.

In class, now, students focus on applying the lessons learned through the lectures. They do assignments that, traditionally, might have been assigned as homework. 

Students work alone and in groups during classroom hours to apply their knowledge and solve problems. Teachers stand nearby to give individual guidance to students who may be struggling or had difficulty grasping the lecture material. 

When such tasks were assigned as homework, busy parents, or those with limited subject expertise, may have been unable to provide the needed guidance. But now the teachers are there.

Teachers at Clintondale quickly began to notice that fewer students were falling behind and getting discouraged.  Conduct improved, attendance increased and teachers saw fewer disciplinary problems. 

Now, overseeing hands-on learning exercises, they were able to retain the students' attention during classroom hours — making these hours more effective. 

They also saw that today's tech-savvy generation of children enjoyed the ability to watch the teachers' lectures at their own leisure, using their smart phones, laptops, tablets, or even the school's computer lab, which Green began to hold open for longer hours.

Teachers also realized that they could take advantage of the wealth of information already in existence on the internet, using resources such as the Khan Academy, an online repository of high-quality classroom lectures on thousands of topics. 

Indeed, teachers could easily expose their students to the best experts from around the world on a variety of topics.  Students at Clintondale learning about the Holocaust began watching videos prepared by a teacher in Israel who'd recently taken her class to Auschwitz. 

With resources like these and others, such as iTunes University, teachers learned that they didn't need to create their own digital lectures for every unit of material, but could incorporate the expertise provided by others.

Green and his teachers were so astounded at the success they experienced with their pilot program, that they decided to "flip" every classroom in the school for the 2011-2012 school year. 

The results speak for themselves.

By taking advantage of high-quality, digital learning resources, Clintondale has dramatically transformed its record of student achievement in just one year.  The Harvard Graduate School of Education hails the "flipped" school model for its tremendous success, and schools around the country are beginning to follow Green's lead.

Green's success at Clintondale should turn the heads of every policymaker, principle, teacher and parent in Nevada. 

While every school is unique, the "flipped" model provides another option for all of Nevada's failing schools.

But there's an additional lesson that policymakers need to also recognize.

Once goals and standards are firmly in place, the flexibility to innovate and the incentive structure to achieve can work wonders.

Geoffrey Lawrence is deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit

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