I found a statement on a blog recently that sounded so ridiculously overblown that I set about looking into it. If it could be proved true, I'd be all over it. If it was just a bit of overstated hubris, then I'm back where I started, ready to find someone else making a similar statement, or think up the solution myself. Here was the statement, in my own words:
"If project-based learning is done school-wide, then it costs less than traditional education."
I asked for clarification of the blogger, but didn't really receive any details. My own view has always been that if you teach kids what they want to know, it's more efficiently done. Project-based learning originally appealed to me, as described by observers of the Reggio Emilia model, to be a kind of group way of Unschooling. Give kids an environment rich in ideas, follow where their interest takes them, and skillfully hone projects, as it were, organically.
How could this be cheaper? Well, I don't know yet. But we're always seeing the word "efficiency" bandied about; if something could be done more efficiently, maybe it'd take fewer staff to do it. Something like that. At any rate, I got rather excited by the statement above, but it still stands as something that is unjustified.
The line of inquiry, however, led me to something else. "Hybrid" education; the amalgam of classroom activity and online learning. An organization called Rocketship Education has produced a elementary charter school model that claims to have saved a ton of money by making on 100-minute block each day a "Learning Lab" where kids use all manner of online or software interaction to personalize learning.
I like the idea of saving money, obviously, and I like the idea of personalizing learning, but the online model has heretofore escaped my understanding. Since then I've discussed it a lot with a friend who has been teaching online courses in a number of different models for years and is quite devoted to it. I hate the idea of losing the classroom as a civilization governed and dominated by children, but I have committed myself to learning more about it, even just because those organizations who I look to for leadership in PBL and the new classroom model have also championed online learning.
The thing that saves money in the Rocketship model is that the "Learning Lab" is not overseen by a certified teacher. There are two Literacy/Social Studies blocks, and one Science/Math block, which I imagine would accommodate PBL as well as individualized learning. But each child has an opportunity to address his or her particular challenges and goals in the Learning Lab.
I'm not sure how this can affect my school district, but I think it's worth looking into. What if we take one of the schools we need to close this year and turn it into a Rocketship model school? Could it be done? Would it really save money? Would it show, as it has in the two original charter schools in California, a marked increase in achievement by its students?