Why the blended school model won’t work

Public education in British Columbia is an incredibly resilient system, in large part because of the professionalism at the heart of the system. B.C. teachers exercise considerable autonomy and professional judgment, which allows for responsive approaches based on meeting the needs of every individual student.

The brilliance of this system is that it allows for one system to work, for the most part, across a huge range of contexts and to meet the individual needs of every student in the system. While we can all agree that we must do a better job in meeting all students’ needs, the design of the system itself is, given its size and scope, surprisingly responsive to the individual needs of each individual student, especially if we don’t undermine this part of the system.

Classroom teachers are responsible for applying the curriculum, performance standards, and reporting systems (such as report cards) on an individual basis to every student in their classroom. Other teachers support this process by working as part of a team in support of each student. For public education to continue during COVID-19, this part of the system should remain.

While the density, group size, time in school, and other parts of the daily routine may need to change, given public health directives, what should remain the same is the paramount relationship between student and teacher. Teachers should continue to be responsible for ensuring that every student has access to quality teaching and learning.

Rather than adopt a “blended model” (which is better called a “dual-track model”), the school system should adopt a single model, one based adaptions with accommodations. This model starts with the public-school system in its current form (pre-COVID-19). For the vast majority of students this system works like this:

  • Students are in a class with a teacher.
  • The classroom teacher is responsible for teaching the provincial curriculum to the students in that class.
  • Teachers assess and evaluate learning, work with education assistants and teacher specialists to support students, and report progress according to performance standards.

None of this should fundamentally change, but some adaptions may be required given COVID-19. These adaptions will mostly have to do with ratios, density, and routines. Students may only attend in-class every other day, may have new start and end times, and school routines may change.

For the vast majority of students an adapted (to COVID-19) program will work. But some will require accommodations. Rather than try to run two programs at once, the system should support individual accommodations for the students who need them. Again, teachers already do this and know how to apply this model. It already works and is already part of the education system.

There is no need to try to blend two streams or to try to run two programs. Avoiding this saves teachers the time and effort to do this. This is important, because the limit on teacher workload is real. Teachers can only overload to a certain limit and if the plan depends on going to (or past) this limit, it simply won’t happen. (No matter how motivated teachers may be to do it.) Any approach that adds an additional model or program, one that is different from what teachers already know how to do, will likely not work.

We see evidence of this with the current effort to use the “blended” approach. Even if, in theory, all teachers loved this model and wanted to make it work, it simply can’t work because we don’t have the time to run two systems (especially if one of the systems is new and unlike anything that students or teachers have done in the past already).

COVID-19 is a time to prioritize safety (through adaptions) and then to apply what we know works to make the adapted model work. We can always provide individual accommodations, which with adequate resources can work.

That is why I recommend that the profession push back on the blended approach and advocate instead for a single model for most students (the current pre-COVID-19 model), adapting it to COVID-19 health directives, and providing individual student accommodations based on individual need.