When 11-year-old Rachelle Rosado opens up her laptop and puts on her headphones in her sixth-grade classroom, she hears an electronic voice: The prefix “sub” goes with “mit” and that makes the word “submit.”
Rachelle attends an unusual charter school in an office building across the street from Newark City Hall. The school, Merit Prep, opened up at the beginning of the 2012-13 academic year with the noble mission of raising the academic performance of low-income minority students. But it is also embroiled in a controversy over how much children should be taught by computers. New Jersey’s biggest teachers union is suing to shut the school down and is hoping a state appellate court will do so in early 2013.
Students at Merit Prep are part of an educational experiment known as blended learning that combines computer software, individual instruction and small-group learning. They spend a lot of the day in a cafeteria-sized room where there’s enough space for the entire school of 80 sixth-grade students— mostly black, poor and below grade level—to sit at shared lime green tables with their assigned laptops. The plan is to add one grade a year.