by Greg Green, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Greg Green is the principal at Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Michigan.
I’m a principal at Clintondale High, a financially challenged school near Detroit. I’m in charge of doing my best to make sure that Clintondale students get the best education possible when they walk through our doors.
There are constant hurdles to making this happen. We are a school of choice, so not all students come in with the same skill levels in reading, math, science or other subjects. Almost 75% of our students receive free or reduced-price lunch because of today’s economic climate, and a large part of our student population commutes from Detroit, which often times takes an hour or longer, especially if the bus is late.
Every year, our failure rates have been through the roof. The students weren’t paying attention, they weren’t doing their homework, they were being disruptive, or they weren’t coming to school at all. Sadly, these issues are not that uncommon, particularly in this economic climate, where the percentage of students who fall into the poverty category is increasing by the day.
It’s no surprise that these issues are happening in our schools. Everyone from politicians to parents admit that our educational system isn’t working, and we’re all screaming for change. But no one gives advice on what changes are needed to improve education. The time has come to realize that the problem isn’t simply lack of effort or money, but the misalignment of our school structure.
To watch this happen every day, where it is your responsibility to try to provide the very best you can for the students, is beyond frustrating. It’s heartbreaking.
Our staff agreed that our failure rates were not good. But how do you go about addressing these issues with no money, no additional resources and no clear solution from the experts who already know the system is broken?
How do you get your staff on board with change you want to implement, but no one else has ever tried it on a mass scale? How do you get your students excited about learning when they’ve never shown much interest before?
You flip it. Here’s how it works:
At Clintondale High School, our education model wasn’t working, and the people suffering most were students. We recognized that a change was needed and applied for a grant from TechSmith, a local company that makes screen and lecture recording software. They provided us with some technology licenses and helped us create a flipped class structure, which we first implemented in the ninth grade and eventually put into action for the entire school.
Our flipped school model is quite simple. Teachers record their lectures using screen-capture software (we use Camtasia) and post these lecture videos to a variety of outlets, including our school website, and YouTube. Students watch these videos outside of class on their smartphone, in the school computer lab (which now has extended hours), at home or even in my office if they need to. Now, when students come to class, they’ve already learned about the material and can spend class time working on math problems, writing about the Civil War or working on a science project, with the help of their teacher whenever they need it. This model allows students to seek one-on-one help from their teacher when they have a question, and learn material in an environment that is conducive to their education. To change the learning environment even further, we’ve used Google Groups to enable students to easily communicate outside of class, participate in large discussions related to their schoolwork and learn from each other.
In addition to flipping the classroom, we wanted to give our students the opportunity to learn about each subject or topic from someone who is a recognized expert in each area. So we decided to team with other schools across the country and world. Now, some of our calculus students are able to watch video lectures from a math teacher in a private school in Virginia, and our students learning about the Holocaust can watch videos made by a teacher in Israel who just brought her class to Auschwitz. This type of learning network will enable us to close the gap of inequality that schools are subjected to because of their financial standing, and provide all students, no matter what district they’re from, with information from the best teacher or expert in any field.
At Clintondale High School, we have been using this education model for the past 18 months. During this time, our attendance rate has increased, our discipline rate decreased, and, most importantly, our failure rate - the number of students failing each class - has gone down significantly. When we first implemented this model in the ninth grade, our student failure rate dropped by 33% in one year.
In English, the failure rate went from 52% to 19%; in math, 44% to 13%; in science, 41% to 19%; and in social studies, 28% to 9%. In September of 2011, the entire school began using the flipped instruction model, and already the impact is significant. During the first semester of the year, the overall failure rate at the school dropped to 10%. We’ve also seen notable improvement on statewide test scores, proving that students’ understanding of the material is better under this model.
Our schools have long been structured so that students attend class to receive information, and then go home to practice and process this information. When many students go home after school, they don’t have the resources necessary to understand, and sometimes don’t complete their homework. Many families are not able to provide the expertise and technology needed to help with their children’s homework, so when we send kids home at the end of each day, we’re putting them into environments that are not capable of supporting their learning needs.
By reversing our instructional procedures so that students do their homework at school, we can appropriately align our learning support and resources for all of our students, and eliminate the inequality that currently plagues our schools. When students do homework at school, they can receive a meal and access to technology (during a declining economy), and an overwhelming amount of support and expertise. When students do their homework at school, we can ensure that they will be able to learn in a supportive environment that’s conducive to their education and well-being. For the first time in history, we can provide a level playing field for students in all neighborhoods, no matter what their financial situation is.
As we continue to expand and improve the flipped school model, it’s important for educators to come together and work with each other toward a common goal of fixing our education system through teamwork and collaboration, so all students can have access to the best information and materials. Instead of placing blame on each other, we need to recognize the solution, which has been right in front of us the whole time.
It’s time to change education forever.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Greg Green.