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College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

- Authored by: Gary Kaplan

Cracks in the Bedrock, The destabilizing effects of inequality

by Gary Kaplan

History doesn’t repeat itself, Mark Twain observed, but it often rhymes.

Because of our peculiar history, the current calls for redirection of police funding to social programs fall with a familiar cadence at JFYNetWorks.

We are often asked what JFY stands for. It stands for Jobs For Youth, the original name of the nonprofit organization. Jobs For Youth was founded in 1976 with a Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention grant from the US Department of Justice. Our original mission was to help high school dropouts find jobs. Low-income youth were dropping out of high school at rates rising toward 20% nationally and 40% in the cities. In the early 1970s the Nixon Administration, predating Reagan, thought the best social program was a job. And so, our history began as a juvenile justice delinquency prevention program.

Those early years focused on “job readiness training,” which included time management, professional dress, manners and speech, and interviewing skills. The program also covered job applications and resume composition, which led to tutoring in reading and writing, which blossomed into a GED alternative diploma program and eventually into one of the first alternative high schools. In Massachusetts, economic enfranchisement through education was the antidote of choice to injustice.

Through the 1980s and 90s we kept pace with the labor market by creating high-skill training programs in biotechnology, financial services, health care and environmental technology in collaboration with universities that had expertise in the fields. These programs required higher levels of academic skills, so we developed prep courses using educational software. We found self-paced computerized instruction to be effective in raising reading and math skills. When standards-based education came to K-12 in the late 1990s we adapted our methodology to the state high school curriculum. Software-based instructional support to high schools and then middle schools soon became our largest program.

The link between education and earnings was clear then and is even clearer now. As we have noted many times, an associate degree is worth $275,000 more in lifetime earnings than a high school diploma, and a bachelor’s degree raises the ante by a million. As the 2000s progressed, it became clear that the most effective way to promote economic and social justice was to focus on high school graduation and post-secondary education or training, the widest and straightest path to economic stability and social mobility. In 2009 we formally adopted the rubric “College and Career Readiness.” This new policy language of government and philanthropy accurately described what we had been doing since 2000.

Have our efforts produced results? At the micro level, yes. We provide academic support to urban schools where the gaps are widest and the needs greatest. We have raised skills and scores for thousands of young people every year for two decades. We have saved students millions of dollars in remedial college tuition. We have helped schools raise graduation rates and college enrollment rates. Our track record looks very good.

But the macro level does not look as good. The Times ran a sobering piece last week on inequality (“Quantifying The Inequity Many Face In Finance,” NYT 6.10.20). In the echo chamber of articles and books and TV specials on this subject over the last few years, this broadside reverberated jarringly. To paraphrase the lede, “We cannot quantify injustice… but we can measure the economic inequity that serves as backdrop.”

The story catalogued Black-white inequity in household income, college graduation, student loan debt and default, wages, home ownership, retirement funds and inheritance. All these gaps have widened since the 1970s. The home ownership gap is the widest in 50 years. Many other indicators could be added to the list. The Boston Globe series on race in December 2017 unearthed the most shocking: median net household worth. The number for white households in Boston was $247,500. The median net worth of African American households was $8.00. The Globe had to run a follow-up to clarify that wasn’t a typo—it really was eight dollars.

Justice can be an elusive concept. But no one can call the gap between $8 and $247,500 an equitable distribution of wealth. No one can say that 40 years of widening inequality is good for the civic health of a society. All the vehicles of social funding in the US—youth programs, jobs programs, welfare, education, even food stamps—have been decimated since Nixon’s burst of pragmatic liberalism. Police department reform alone cannot correct systemic economic injustice.

The Times article offered a blunt summary: “An imbalance of societal power cannot be separated from cradle-to–grave economic inequality.”

JFYNetWorks was founded on the belief that all young people can find their own unique path to success in our dynamic economy– if they acquire the right skills. We have no magic trowel or miracle mortar to tuckpoint the fissures of inequity in the foundations of our society. What we do have is an education program that helps young people develop the skills that open the doors of opportunity.

We still believe that economic empowerment through education is the path to social justice. We will continue to put that belief into practice as long as equality remains a bedrock American value. Forty-four years after our birth under the sign of Justice, we still hold this truth to be self-evident. It’s in our DNA.

Gary Kaplan is the executive director of JFYNetWorks


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Remote doesn’t have to mean impersonal

by Gary Kaplan

Online communication has been with us since May 24, 1844, when Samuel F.B. Morse tapped out his first dots and dashes. Thirty-two years later, in Boston, Alexander Graham Bell summoned Mr. Watson with the first voice message carried over an electrical wire. Western Union transmitted a halftone photograph in 1921, and in 1927 Philo Farnsworth beamed the first live TV image. The cornerstones of online communication were in place. These founding fathers would be astonished at the ceaseless cacophony of voice, image and text that blankets the globe today in an impenetrable electronic cocoon.

Our adaptations to the mutations of online communication have been seamless. A couple of generations ago the telephone morphed from a medium of formality into one of intimacy. The teenage phone marathon was a generation-defining ritual. Things could be said in the Bell confessional that would be too embarrassing in person. The boundaries of disclosure were pushed out. Relationships blossomed and wilted over the wires. No one would have called those telephonic catharses impersonal.

McLuhan correctly understood media as extensions of human sensibility. What happens online does not stay online: it penetrates into the mind and heart. Communication is a two-stroke cycle of sending and receiving. Whether the engine is analog or digital, physical or virtual, the message is the message—the medium is only the box it came in. By now, we probably spend more time online than in face to face interaction.

Education is being forced to catch up with the evolution of the species. It isn’t a question of remote versus live: it’s an opportunity and an imperative to fuse remote and live into a new medium, a new form of pedagogy, a new extension of our sensibility.

JFYNet remote learning is an extension of JFYNet blended learning. Blended learning takes place in the classroom. It integrates online instructional content with teacher-delivered content. Our staff work hand in hand with teachers to analyze student performance data and shape curriculum and pedagogy to what the data tell us. Remote learning takes place entirely online. It also integrates online and teacher-delivered content and uses student data to shape instruction. The difference is that the teacher-delivered content is now online too, not face to face, and the interaction of students, teachers and JFY staff is also online.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impersonal. Our staff, our Remote Learning Specialists, are supporting teachers in the classroom now just as they did before March 17. The relocation of the classroom online means that teachers can reach out for help more easily and more frequently, and we can respond more immediately. Here’s one response to an emailed JFYNet student performance report:

    Hi Cathie,
    Thank you so much for your email. I trust that you and your loved ones are remaining healthy and safe?

    I appreciate your feedback and the report regarding student performance. I know that many students have participated in the JFYNet readings and activities and have commented on how comfortable they are with the program, and I know that the teachers have been relieved to provide students with something that is easily accessible and helpful. 🙂

Messages like this go back and forth every day. We are communicating more frequently with our teachers than before the shutdown because they no longer wait for our scheduled school visit. Online, every day is a school visit. And our remote interactions are far from impersonal.

We will eventually return to the classroom. When we do, the educational practices we have developed during this period and the spontaneous communication patterns that have evolved will be the new normal. The classroom won’t look or sound radically different, but the content, the delivery, the interaction and the outcomes will all have been subtly transformed. Our experimental extensions will coalesce into new media. We may be surprised at the resulting new messages.

Afterthought: An Antidote to Alienation

Even as we focus on pedagogy and skill development, we should keep in mind that education serves more than a utilitarian function. Education is a culture-defining and socially unifying process. It establishes norms and values as well as teaching practical skills. Aristotle considered education the most important function of the state because it forms the character of the citizen. A few centuries later, Jefferson advocated publicly funded education because he knew that an educated populace is the foundation of democracy. In this time of social fragmentation, now aggravated by enforced social distancing, online communication performs a convening and bonding function. The interpersonal dimension of remote learning may offer a benefit even more crucial for our post-virus recovery than academic proficiency. It may offer an antidote to alienation.

Gary Kaplan is the executive director of JFYNetWorks


HOW ARE WE DOING? In our pursuit to serve up content that matters to you, we ask that you take a couple of minutes to let us know how we’re doing? Please click here to be navigated to our JFYNet Satisfaction Survey. Thank you!

Remote Learning with JFYNetWorks

Education is a culture-defining and socially unifying process.

First and foremost, we hope all our friends and colleagues are managing to weather these extraordinary circumstances with patience, fortitude and a dash of humor.

Here at JFY, we are working hard during this period of shutdown and social distancing to guide and support our partner schools and their students in making the transition to remote learning.

JFYNetWorks has been providing online academic support to schools since 2000, but we can’t think of a time when our online curricula and teacher support were more vital. It’s almost as if the past twenty years were preparation for this rocket launch from classroom to cloud.

COVID-19 Response-JFYNetWorks Mobilizes Resources

COVID-19. We Are Here to Help During This Time of Uncertainty

Dear partners and friends:

We at JFYNetWorks want you to know that we are ready, willing and able to help you and your students keep education on track during this unprecedented and prolonged period of uncertainty and disruption.

E-learning can help mitigate the disruptions. Our ELA and math curricula are aligned to the state standards and flexible enough to support regular classes as well as all benchmark assessments. We are working with our school partners to maximize deployment of our online resources to help students keep current with their classes and prepare for MCAS and Accuplacer. As always, we are providing online coaching and professional development to our teachers. In addition, we have on-demand videos available on our website to assist with MCAS prep.

Origins of JFYNetWorks (Podcast)

With Gary Kaplan, Executive Director
Narrated by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

JANUARY 2020 PODCAST – For nearly 40 years, JFYNetWorks, a Boston-based nonprofit organization, has served high-need populations in Massachusetts by developing and delivering education and job training programs that equip young people with the skills needed to succeed in our changing economy. Gary Kaplan, Executive Director of JFYNet, describes the origins of the non-profit, and how it has adapted to best serve a changing student population over the years.

Education and Workforce: What’s New?

Old Year, New Year, New Decade. Same Story.

by Gary Kaplan

For readers of education and workforce journalism, the turn of the decade was neatly bracketed by two articles that summed up the year’s main themes: low student performance and labor shortage. First was a New York Times piece on December 28 headed “Year in Education: Stalled Test Scores…” Under the sub-head “Stagnant Student Performance and Widening Achievement Gaps” it reminded us that the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our “gold standard” nationwide assessment, had found only one-third of fourth and eighth-graders proficient readers, while student achievement in both reading and math was flat over the past 10 years. That wasn’t all: the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an 80-country international test under the auspices of OECD, found that American 15-year-olds have been stagnant in reading and math for two decades. Both tests noted widening achievement gaps between low-performing and high-performing students. The article did not delve into the demographics of the gaps, but we know all too well how that maps.

A Jeffersonian Solution for a Jeffersonian Problem: Inequality

All people may be created equal, but all schools are not.

by Gary Kaplan

Inequality will be a pervasive topic in the new decade. It won’t be a new topic. It’s been a front page story ever since Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century came out in English in 2014. But it seems to be coming up more frequently, and in more contexts, from the World Economic Forum in Davos to the sports page of the Boston Globe. Yet for the millions who live it every day, it’s hardly breaking news.

Madison Park Holds the Line on MCAS Math

Madison Park is on an upward trajectory.

by Gary Kaplan

The scores are in, and they’re down. It was expected that scores on the new 10th grade MCAS 2.0 would be lower than on the old “Legacy” MCAS. The new test was designed to be more difficult, with higher-level questions. In addition, it was online, not on paper like the old test, and it contained new question formats—technology-assisted questions and multi-text comparisons, for starters—that students had never seen before. Lower scores were fully expected.

Labors Twilight-The Changing American Workforce

The Changing American Workforce

by Gary Kaplan
photos by Matthew Kaplan

Labor Day 2019

In the 1800s the Calumet region of northwest Indiana was Chicago’s Cape Cod. The baltic blue crescent of Lake Michigan swung serenely eastward from the state line. Tawny beaches and rolling sand dunes offered refuge from the raucous, brawling city of the big shoulders. Windwarped swale and reedy marshland attracted hunters and fishermen, birdwatchers and botanists. The lowslung lakefront lured industrial land scouts.