Jul 18 2018

Where Can Districts Turn for Personalized Learning Resources?

Organizations and government agencies are doing their best to help educators respond to the growing demand for individualized education.

A new push for personalized learning has put competency-based education back on the map, however, with this new model of teaching to the individual, cost is becoming a major issue for school districts.

Even while enthusiasm for personalized learning initiatives swells among teachers and administrators, and teachers are given a chance to restructure the classroom individually, they still feel they do not have the support they need to make lasting change in the classroom, according to a recent study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). 

For example, one of the most common technology proposals for personalized learning initiatives is one-to-one device programs. Giving students their own devices allows them to access accounts with individualized class materials, and teachers are more easily able to gather feedback on each student’s progress. Without the proper funding and management, however, implementing a one-to-one program is nearly impossible.

“This study is very clear that just asking our teachers to do this work is probably not going to work in the long run,” Betheny Gross, research director at CRPE and co-author of the study along with Michael DeArmond, a senior research analyst, tells The74. “We noted just tremendous misalignment between what the folks in the schools were trying to do and what their school systems were prepared to support them to do.”

The movement to support personalized learning initiatives is growing though, according to a study on state funding strategies for innovation in education from national education nonprofit iNACOL. As of 2018, all but two states have some kind of K–12 competency-based education policy, 18 of which are advanced, comprehensive policies that help districts get the resources they need.

Organizations like iNACOL are shedding light on where teachers can find resources as they search for ways to bring in funds and the necessary support to restructure classrooms for personalized learning

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How to Use ESSA for Personalized Learning Integration

Districts looking for financial support can find a number of opportunities in the Every Student Succeeds Act, specifically from Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (or Title IV), which received a $700 million increase from Congress this fiscal year, leaving $1.1 billion available to schools across the country.

Spending for Title IV is somewhat flexible, with a majority available for a mix of educational technology infrastructure and training, “which may include professional development for personalized learning, as well as for Open Educational Resources and data privacy professional development,” according to the iNACOL report.

For the Pembroke Central School District in New York, part of the $37,000 it received from Title IV will go toward training teachers how best to use newly integrated tools. 

“We have new interactive displays with extraordinarily more options than the old smartboards,” Christie Maisano, director of technology for the Pembroke district, tells WXXI News. “We’re excited about our new technology, but we need help and support to know how best to use it.”

According to the preliminary findings of a survey conducted by the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Federal Program Administrators, and Whiteboard Advisors, 55 percent of district leaders plan to use the Title IV funds to “implement system-wide approaches to support teacher professional development/collaboration,” which the CRPE report indicates is essential to the success of a personalized learning program. Additionally, 37 percent plan to use the money to develop personalized learning pathways for students.

Title II of ESSA is also available specifically to build a workforce of teachers and leaders to help schools transition to personalized learning environments and develop new learning assessments. 

In December, states submitted their plans for using Title II funding to develop personalized learning initiatives. Teachers and district leaders can see what states are planning thanks to KnowledgeWorks, which compiled all the proposals into a single document.

Philanthropic Organizations Look to Support Districts

Along with governmental efforts to help schools transition to personalized learning, many charitable organizations and initiatives are also ready to lend a hand.

New Profit, a nonprofit accelerator, recently received a $13 million donation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gates Foundation specifically for personalized learning initiatives, including integrating technology solutions, Inside Philanthropy reports.

Technology has brought innovation that really gives teachers tools that allow students at certain points in the day, certainly not all day long, to be working independently and individually using a technology tool that gives the teacher real-time data not only on how the student is doing, but also where learning gaps may exist,” Helayne Jones, a NewProfit consultant, tells Inside Philanthropy. “And having that information allows teachers to do what they’ve always wanted to do, which is meet students where they are and help them grow.”

Schools can also find other types of help besides just financial. The Learning Accelerator provides online resources to help instruct schools on how to create modern classrooms for personalized learning, from utilizing devices in one-to-one programs to incorporating Cisco software suite.

“Personalized learning for every student, every day is a really tough load for teachers,” Learning Accelerator CEO Beth Rabbitt tells Inside Philanthropy. “I think the places where technology has the most potential as it relates to personalized learning is helping teachers and students do what they’ve been trying to do, but haven’t been able to actually do without new resources and tools.”

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