Breakout session recap from the 2016 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy.
Through the use of adjectives such as optimized, student-centered, innovative, and mastery-based, both donors and practitioners use many different words and phrases to describe personalized learning.
At the 2016 K-12 National Forum, donor attendees got to hear what exactly defines personalized learning, what personalized learning school models currently exist, and the role of donors in fostering new ways of delivering learning content to kids.
For the sake of simplification, Beth Rabbitt, CEO of the Learning Accelerator, defined personalized learning like this: “What we really mean is innovating within traditional brick-and-mortar schools, and trying to identify more student-centered and mastery-based authentic learning models on the ground where kids are moving with mastery, where the experiences are much more personalized than in the traditional school setting, often through the use of technology and other innovations in terms of staffing models and [learning] space.”
Along with Rabbitt, Andy Calkins of Next Generation Learning Challenges, and Joe Albers of Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School participated in a lively discussion moderated by Greg Klein of the Oakland-based Rogers Family Foundation. Rabbitt works with school districts, Albers is a school operator, and Calkins partners with both charter and district schools.
Klein started out by alluding to the school site visits to Summit Public Schools, Design Tech High School, and Khan Lab School where donor attendees saw personalized learning in action the day before.
“You saw good examples at both Summit and Design Tech, schools that don’t say we are a personalized learning school or if they do, they say that and a sentence that has seven other descriptors, but that personalized learning is part of their overall strategy,” he said.
According to Calkins, as recently as four years ago, personalized learning models were few and far between but since then, the space has grown rapidly.
“When you looked four years ago across the landscape and tried to find these kinds of models there was Rocketship [charter-school network] and Carpe Diem and School of One and not a whole much more than that,” he said. “If you open the door and send out an invitation, there are people out there who are ready to rush into this space.”
Albers said when he first became principal, visiting blended and personalized learning schools nationwide was incredibly helpful in shaping the blended and personalized model of Cristo Rey. To stay true to Cristo Rey’s Jesuit roots, Albers has been able to integrate technology and personalization for subjects such as math, English and foreign languages, while empowering educators to teach subjects such as social studies, religion, and character-building.
On the role of philanthropy, Albers pointed to donors such as John Sobrato, B.J. Cassin, and the Silicon Schools Fund who had the vision to push personalized learning but entrusted educators with implementation.
The panel agreed that donors have excelled at collaboration, and then trusting their grantees to come up with sustainable school models and effective teaching techniques to execute personalization.
“I think that philanthropists are in a great position to encourage sharing as openly as possible both in terms of grant agreements that are made…and expect collaboration as a function of how your grantees work,” said Rabbitt.