Tag Archives: personalized learning

5 Recommendations to Make “Learning Pods” More Equitable

Born out of desperation, families across the country are looking outside the school system for safe educational options for their children this fall, often partnering with other families to privately finance small-group learning. These “learning pods,” also referred to as “pandemic pods,” have fomented concerns about equity, since only a fraction of Americans can afford to pay a teacher out-of-pocket. 

But “learning pods” need not be inequitable. With the right blend of volunteerism, leadership, and innovation, learning pods can be a tool for increasing equity while traditional school campuses remain closed to students.

Here’s how:

Ask community spaces to donate meeting facilities

The requirements of social distancing demand more space if all students are to get a full education. Meanwhile, there are churches, temples, community centers, office buildings, and storefronts across the country currently sitting empty, as large gatherings are discouraged, adults work from home, and retailers close up shop. Many of those entities would probably be willing to donate their space to small learning communities at no cost, or in exchange for financial relief on their rent or mortgage payments. 

Expand the pool of potential teachers to enable lower student-teacher ratios

Student-to-teacher ratios are lower today than they were 30 or 40 years ago, but still higher than the number of students we might want to share a learning pod in order to minimize public health risks. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average number of students per teacher in 2017 was 16. Including the total number of instructional staff brings that ratio down significantly to 11.7. Add in teachers who have retired or left the profession, substitute teachers, students studying to become teachers, Americorps volunteers, and others and there may just be enough to create learning pods of 10 students or fewer. This could create the conditions for personalized instruction on a scale that’s often been dreamed of but never fully realized.

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Stop Pitting Personalized Learning Against Academic Rigor: We Need Both

TNTP recently found that in 40% of classrooms serving a majority of students of color, students never received a single grade-level assignment. How can education accelerate learning if grade-appropriate assignments aren’t even being made available?

For several years, education innovators have debated which approach to take in response to this problem: technology-driven learning designed to meet students where they are — or whole-course curriculum that assumes students are already performing at grade-level. To put it more simply: personalized learning versus academic rigor. 

But instead of debating these innovations and their efficacy, the educational equity movement should advance a collective effort to meaningfully lead to equitable outcomes for Black, Latino, and Native students, and students affected by poverty. The reality is that any solution to address learning gaps will require a concerted combination of efforts, not siloed approaches.

Last spring, a team at Bellwether Education Partners deeply researched the shifts that need to occur in the field so that students with significant learning gaps access educational systems, schools, and classrooms that enable rigorous, differentiated learning. 

And in a new resource I co-authored with Lauren Schwartze and Amy Chen Kulesa, we show that there is no silver bullet. It will take time, energy, focus, innovation, and collaborative efforts across the sector that involve: Continue reading

Education Technology Could Change the Game for Incarcerated Youth, But Students in Custody Don’t Have Access

This week, the education technology community is gathering in San Diego, CA for the 2016 ASU GSV Summit, a conference that the New York Times calls a “must-attend event.” There’s one group of students who will get very little airtime during these three days — and who generally get little airtime at all: young people attending school in locked correctional facilities.

EdTechEducators, innovators, and investors tout the power of technology to personalize learning, provide access to real-world experience, engage students, and accelerate skill development — four things that incarcerated students need most and get least. Most schools in secure facilities have no internet access of any kind, and some of them do not allow students to use computers at all.* For anyone who’s seen the power of good technology used well, the contrast in these settings is heartbreaking.

There are good reasons to be cautious about deploying technology resources in secure facilities. The concerns holding up technology integration are real and serious, but they’re not trump cards.

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What Does the NCLB Rewrite Mean for Personalized Learning?

On Monday federal lawmakers released the final text of the bill to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which expired in 2007. While this week’s buzz on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has revolved around state accountability (or lack thereof), it’s also worth looking at how the billNCLB—over 1,000 pages long—affects other aspects of schooling. Education technology, in particular, has undergone dramatic changes since the last reauthorization, but federal and state education policies haven’t kept up and have even created barriers to tech-based innovations.

Will the long-awaited rewrite of NCLB create an opportunity for personalized learning? Yes, but only for states willing to take charge. Here are four takeaways:

  1. A proposed edtech program that was hailed by personalized learning champions didn’t make the cut.

Previously, the Senate version of the bill established the I-TECH program (in the House bill, it was called the Schools of the Future Act) to create dedicated federal funding for edtech, with an emphasis on professional development for educators. In October nearly 20 senators and representatives voiced strong support for keeping this standalone edtech program in the final bill.

Personalized learning advocates will be disappointed that I-TECH didn’t make it into the final bill. Continue reading

Edu-Date Lab: Standards-Based Accountability and Personalized Learning

One of my guilty pleasures is Washington Post Magazine‘s Date Lab, which pares potential matches from a pool of applicants and sends them on dinner dates around Washington, D.C. I thought it might be fun to try something similar for education–not matching up actual people, mind you (sorry single AOTH readers!). Instead, we’re matching up education policies that have the potential for a high level of compatibility, but need to overcome underlying tensions and values differences in order to achieve that potential. (Sounds a lot like dating, right?)  Also, no one gets a free dinner. So let’s meet today’s lucky couple.

Standards-based accountability was born in the wake of 1983’s Nation at Risk report, and has been the dominant framework for U.S. education policy for the past quarter-century. It’s helped drive improvement in student learning outcomes, but one if its key features–testing–has taken some hits in public opinion and political support over the last few years, and is at the core of the current debate over ESEA reauthorization. Standards-based accountability enjoys common grade-level standards, assessments, using assessments to rate school performance, and intervening in low-performing schools.

Personalized learning is newer to education reform, but has received increasing attention in recent years. A growing number of schools and districts use technology in new ways to provide more customized student learning experiences, but many personalized learning models are still nascent, and the approach has yet to reach widespread national scale. Personalized learning enjoys individual learner profiles, customized personal learning paths, progression based on mastery of competencies rather than seat-time, and flexible learning environments.

Do these two crazy kids have a chance together? On the plus side, they share a common goal: Enabling all kids to reach college and career readiness. On the downside, they have slightly different underlying values and assumptions about how best to improve public education.

If these two can get over their differences, they could be a match made in heaven: Standards-based accountability systems can produce evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of personalized learning , and stimulate school and district demand for the best personalized learning approaches. Personalized learning, in turn, can help accelerate student learning to enable all children to reach college and career ready standards.

But if they can’t successfully negotiate the underlying tensions, standards-based accountability and personalized learning could be in for some serious conflict.

Want to know how it all ends up? Too bad! That’s going to depend on the choices that policymakers, state and district leaders, and personalized learning innovators make over the next few years. A new Bellwether report, however, offers them guidance to ensure that this relationship thrives, rather than falters. Check it out here.