There is no clear path to designing a ground breaking personalized learning school. Some leaders begin with a school model tour across America, trying to boil down—in a few short hours wandering school halls—what works and how to replicate it. They wade through case studies, countless white papers, consultants for hire and networks of other school leaders. At the end of the day, most are on their own on the long road to implementation.
But over the past year, a new approach to redesigning school models is emerging, driven not by outside organizations or expensive consultants, but the school leaders themselves. Instead of simply opening up the schoolhouse doors and sharing through school tours, these leaders—from Summit to AltSchool—are influencing their peers through a more intimate and direct rout. They are articulating their paths, building resources and formally inviting other educators to follow them, so that others can replicate their models.
Until now, this crew has consisted of mostly charter and independent schools leaders. But now, there’s a new kid on the block—specifically, a rural, public school district that’s hoping to share its competency based approach and change management practices.
Lindsay Unified Public Schools, a 4,200 student district in the outskirts of California’s Central Valley, is making plans to bring together a cohort of schools interested in emulating their process. With a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, announced May 15, the district will spend the next six to twelve months creating a program enabling the district to coach and offer direct support to other districts and charters to systematically shift toward competency based models.
Here’s the brass tacks on Lindsay’s model: students progress at their own pace, based on the skills they master and demonstrate instead of the amount of time the spend in class. Over the years, Lindsay’s model received financial backing ($12 million in Race to the Top funds in 2013) for this district-wide competency-based model.
However, competency-based learning is not the only thing Lindsay has been lauded for. Lindsay has systematically shifted the culture of its entire district through a razor sharp change management strategy. “The foundation of how you move toward transformation, particularly around culture, is where we bring rich experience and lessons learned,” says Barry Sommer, Director of School and Community Services.
As such, Lindsay plans to start sharing in the coming year. In order to share the district’s lessons with a cohort of other education leaders, Lindsay Unified will begin by forming a team of 50 students and 50 staff members from Lindsay to coach others to implement the model and change management strategies. Lindsay educators will also curate and compile a set of resources, such as assessments, guidebooks, videos and content, that support its competency based model.
Lindsay’s administrators will identify four to five districts or charters whom they will train to scale a personalized learning model. But the team isn’t necessarily looking to create mini Lindsay Unifieds: “We don’t want to create five more Lindsay’s. We want to create five more transformed systems that move away from time-based models [and towards a competency based one] ,” says Sommer.
Interested districts will be asked to take a “Readiness Assessment” created by the Lindsay Unified team. The four to five districts chosen to become full partners will spend the summer of 2017 training with Lindsay students and staff members. These school leaders will receive coaching and support as they begin to create their own models.
Lindsay Unified isn’t the only leader in the personalized learning world attempting to bring other districts down its path. Charter management organization Summit Public Schools currently operates eight schools in the Bay Area and two in Washington, but also has spread its influence and its resources to 19 other schools through its “Basecamp” program. This program provides participating schools with access to the school’s home-grown platform, the Personal Learning Plan, as well as coaching on implementing its model. Basecamp recently caught the eye of Mark Zuckerberg, who brought Summit into a partnership with Facebook to provide engineering support so that Summit could open up the tool to a larger audience.
Other charter management groups such as Matchbook Learning have developed similar programs that give schools access to its platform, Spark, and intensive coaching to implement a specific model. Even AltSchool, a private system that’s received over $130 million in venture backing, launched own program, “AltSchool Open,” back in March 2016. Max Ventilla, AltSchool’s CEO, shared with EdSurge that he plans to share AltSchool’s technology with six different schools or groups of educators, who will also receive “engineering support” along the way.
As more and more schools and districts begin leading each other down the path to personalized learning, the question remain—will we see innovative practices flourish, or will personalized learning models normalize around a few exemplars?