Liked but little used: Ohio’s rural districts and blended learning

Blended learning: It’s the talk of the town and perceived favorably, but it hasn’t found widespread use…yet. Fordham’s May 2013 publication Half Empty Half Full: Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reform surveyed 344 of Ohio’s 614 district superintendents: 59 percent of superintendents thought that blended learning would lead to “fundamental improvement.” However, despite the vocal support for blended learning, few superintendents (a mere 5 percent) report that it has achieved “widespread” use in their school district. In fact, 31 percent of superintendents reported that blended learning was of “limited or no use” in their district.

Blended learning refers to an instructional model that mixes virtual education with traditional face-to-face instruction. The model can vary depending on what instructional model the teacher chooses to implement. (Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, identify four blended learning models.)  

Who are the most laggardly of the laggards in terms of using blended learning? It seems, as might be expected, that superintendents of rural districts are the most likely to report little to no use of blended learning. And, importantly, it’s not on account of attitudinal resistance to blended learning from these rural school leaders.

Chart 1 shows that rural superintendents view blended learning favorably—as favorably as their peers in larger, more urban districts. Sixty-one percent of rural superintendents view blended learning favorably, a percentage that mirrors that of urban (61 percent) and suburban superintendents (66 percent), and is considerably higher than small town superintendents (45 percent). 

Chart 1: Rural superintendents view blended learning favorably

Percentage of superintendents who consider blended learning as a “fundamental improvement” (rating it a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale), by district typology

Source: Thomas B. Fordham Institute and FDR Group, Half Empty of Half Full? Note: Superintendent responses are sorted by the Ohio Department of Education’s district typologies (2007). Number of responses by typology: Urban = 64; Suburban = 84; Small Town = 47; Rural = 147. Total number of responses = 342. (Source and n-counts same for chart 2.)

When it comes to the actual use of blended learning, the story changes, as one begins to see differentiation in responses by district typology. More rural (and small town) superintendents report that blended learning is scarcely used in their district, compared to their peers in urban and suburban districts. Nearly two in five rural superintendents (37 percent) say that blended learning has limited or no use in their districts; meanwhile, 23 and 24 percent of urban and suburban superintendents, respectively, say that blended learning is rarely or never used. Chart 2 displays the use of blended learning by district typology.

Chart 2: Rural superintendents more likely to report no or little use of blended learning

Percentage of superintendents who report “limited or no use” of blended learning, by district typology

If Ohio’s superintendents are a bellwether for the state—perhaps even the nation—blended learning has a promising future. School leaders view blended learning favorably. However, they also report that it hasn’t taken hold in too many classrooms. This is especially the case for rural districts—and perhaps justifiably so. They may have neither the technological capacity nor know-how to implement blended learning. Nevertheless, rural districts ignore technological change at their own peril, and in fact many would seem to have the much to gain.

All this suggests that Ohio’s technological laggards can and must learn how to harness technology through blended learning. And, they could learn from blended learning’s “early adopters”—schools, like Reynoldsburg City Schools, who are leading the charge into blended learning. According to Reynoldsburg’s superintendent Steve Dackin, teachers at his district report that:

“Blended learning has transformed their approach to the classroom. It allows them to maximize their time and they can spend more time teaching. Teachers have said it’s a huge amount of work, but is our chance to customize the learning experience for every child.”

To read more about how a few schools are implementing blended learning see the following articles: “Mentor Public Schools Experiment with Blended Learning Classroom,” Mentor Patch; “Blended learning: Online and Face-to-Face,The Canton Repository; “Purcell’s New Method of Teaching Math,” Cincinnati Enquirer. Online resources about blended learning include Public Impact’s recent publication A Better Blend: Digital Instruction + Great Teaching and the Clayton Christensen Institute website.

More By Author

Related Articles