ESEA Reauthorization and Personalized Learning: New Bellwether Report

In a new Bellwether report released today, Anne Hyslop and I look at emerging tensions between personalized learning and accountability–and how those issues impact the current debate over ESEA reauthorization. Issues of standards, testing, and accountability are at the core of the ESEA law and the current reauthorization debate. But as lawmakers, advocates, and analysts dust off old arguments about the nation’s most significant K-12 education law, they run the risk of ignoring the future. Where NCLB was bold in its vision—all students proficient by 2014—the current proposals are remarkably lacking in ambition and new ideas. Innovation has been relegated to the fringes of the debate.

One of these innovations is personalized learning, which involves transforming students’ daily experiences so that they are customized to their individual needs and strengths. Through new kinds of learning environments, new technologies, and new ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge, personalized learning aims to meet students where they are and allow them to advance to more challenging material whenever they are ready.

Personalized learning has tremendous potential to help all children achieve new college and career-ready standards–but there are also places where the values, philosophy, and assumptions of personalized learning models come into conflict with current standards-based accountability systems. Whereas accountability systems assume that students should learn grade-level content, and evaluates schools based on the percentage of students mastering grade-level skills on annual tests, personalized learning models seek to accelerate learning by providing instruction customized to students’ current knowledge and skill level–whether students are behind or far ahead. This creates conflict with today’s accountability systems.

But such conflicts are not inevitable. Through smart thinking and looking ahead–focusing attention on the education challenges of the coming decade, not just those of the past and present–policymakers and personalized learning innovators can design smart policy solutions that provide space to support the development of innovative approaches while maintaining accountability and transparency around how those models are impacting student learning.  This paper offers ideas to help them do so. Read more here.