Afton Partners recently collaborated with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) and EDUCAUSE to study the business models and start-up plans of successful NGLC Wave IIIa applicants. The objective of Afton’s study was to identify and analyze significant preliminary trends indicated by the applicants’ proposed breakthrough, blended learning school models, based on detailed projections of when each school reaches full enrollment and is sustainable on public revenue.

Our research was conducted in part to give potential new applicants access to this analysis as they consider building their own school models, as NGLC continues its support of breakthrough school models through its Wave IV grants.

The results of our study highlight some significant differences between blended learning and traditional schools, particularly in the proposed use of human capital and of space. Some of these outcomes could contribute to improved sustainability and scalability of high-performing school models. Highlights include:

  • Staffing. Student-to-teacher ratios at the proposed new blended learning schools are approximately 30% higher than state averages for traditional school models, but the ratio of students to instructional staff is closer to state averages. Considerations include: How will these proposed new blended learning schools use certified teachers and other instructional staff differently? How will these changes impact student outcomes?
  • Space. The average square footage required for each student at the proposed new blended learning schools is planned to be between 40% and 70% lower than national averages. Considerations include:  When launched, will these schools actually utilize less space, or will they leverage strategic partnerships to add space as needed, or both?   How will their lower square footage requirements affect total facility costs, and will the potential for long-term savings offset the initial cost to retrofit new or existing space? What does this mean for legacy school districts, at which the vast majority of facilities in their portfolios were constructed long ago and require significant capital investments?
  • Technology. The 19 grantees analyzed included over 80 different software options in their applications (including options for curricula, learning management systems, and other content). Considerations include: How does the breadth of options impact school information technology planning? How might consolidation in the marketplace impact student performance? What are the financial and operational implications (and risks) of integrating multiple platforms, applications and other software to maximize student achievement? Are schools planning for enough bandwidth for their long-term “capacity goals”, and will the E-rate program have the resources to assist schools in meeting these goals?

Other pivotal questions resulting from our research include:

How closely will these new schools adhere to their current operational plans? Will they be able to deliver high quality academic performance (and growth) with these breakthrough models? Will the most promising models be successfully replicated, as contemplated by the NGLC grant?

These questions will be answered as the new schools are launched and we have a chance to review their progress. There’s an exciting road ahead of us, and we will continue to analyze and highlight best practices, and how they may influence K-12 education. Stay tuned!

Scott Milam is the co-founder and managing director of Afton Partners. Rosalyn Savarimuthu is a senior associate at the firm. Both are based in Washington, DC.