Breakthrough School Models for College Readiness
With this wave of investment, NGLC proposes to advance an important need and growing opportunity in U.S. public education: how to personalize the learning experience for every student in order to reverse stagnant education progress and an unacceptable achievement gap among K–12 students.
Wave IIIa attempts to address both a design problem and a cost problem. First, the prevailing model of education in the United States largely reflects a century-old factory model that struggles to meet the needs of today’s diverse student population, particularly low-income, African-American, and Hispanic students. Its failure is rooted in a flawed assumption—that groups of similarly aged students start courses and grades having mastered the previous year’s standards and then acquire new knowledge and skills at the same pace over the course of a year. In reality, students start with different strengths and weaknesses and progress at different rates. Because of this disconnect between design and reality, teachers within this one-size-fits-all system often struggle to meet the diverse needs of their students.
While the best schools and teachers can overcome this flawed design and prepare all of their students for college, their solutions have been unable to achieve the type of massive scale required to address this problem nationwide. Although there are multiple reasons why they have not achieved scale, a primary reason is the second problem that Wave IIIa intends to address: cost structure. Many of the most successful school models are not sustainable on recurring public revenue. Instead, most rely heavily on nonrecurring public grants, private philanthropy, and other limited sources of capital to fund ongoing operations and growth. This approach works at a small scale, but eventually growth is hindered by the schools’ ability to raise funds, thus their impact is limited as well.
The emergence of several innovative new school models suggests that technology can facilitate a more student-centric approach to education within a constrained budgetary environment. When used primarily as an enabler of personalized learning for all students, technology has the potential – albeit unproven, with a still-emerging research base – to accelerate mastery of critical content and skills by all students, particularly those students who are behind. A number of new school models use technology as part of their core academic model in order to offer a more personalized learning experience. These models, while still in the early stages of development, show promise in meeting the needs of all students affordably and with the potential to scale for broader impact.
In these blended school models, the coherent interplay between technology and teacher-led instruction is crucial to their ability to personalize instruction for all students. The common theme among them is a focus on identifying individual student needs on a frequent basis and then delivering immediate feedback and targeted instruction that meets those needs. Teachers and technology are both critical in these models, though the role they play varies widely by model. Technology plays a crucial role in enabling learning (both within and outside of school walls) by supporting teachers and fostering a sustainable business model.
Drawing from lessons learned from these emerging models, existing research, and a review of other sectors that have embraced technology, the following hypotheses drive the RFP we developed for this Wave:
- Personalizing instruction that reflects student needs and interests helps students learn more rapidly and deeply.
- Combining technology-enabled, interactive, and face-to-face instruction makes personalized, mastery-based learning more effective and affordable than relying on either method alone.
- Relative to pure online models, blended models that operate primarily out of brick-and-mortar settings offer two distinct advantages: (a) having a physical location facilitates the delivery of key scaffolding to students who need additional support; and (b) a pure online model is not a feasible option for students who do not have access to a computer, Internet connectivity, and/or a conducive learning environment at home.
- Ensuring that all students are prepared for college will require an intense and relentless focus on identifying and meeting individual student needs. Only school models that produce exceptional results and are sustainable on recurring public revenue can (and should) achieve massive scale.
- Despite a number of promising personalized, mastery-based school models in operation today, the number and the variety are limited relative to what we believe is possible.
NGLC has aimed to find entrepreneurs and innovative organizations and state/district agencies that share this urgency and recognize the potential of technology-enabled breakthrough school models to catalyze transformative change in the K–12 sector. While we specified some design parameters in the RFP (now closed), we tried to keep them to a minimum in order to encourage the widest possible field of applicant models. The result – the creation of NGLC’s cohort of twenty breakthrough models – is described in the grantee pages assigned to each of these models, and will be further explored as we learn from and with these pioneers in the coming years.
Mastery-based learning is defined as learning where students advance and earn credits on demonstration of learning by applying specific skills and content. See Sturgis, C., Patrick, S., Pittenger, L. (2011). It’s Not a Matter of Time: Highlights from the Competency-Based Learning Summit (iNACOL).