Enabling the Future of Learning

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

I can’t predict the future, but as I wrote back in July, I can say that learning in the future ought to be more personalized. Teachers should have up-to-the minute information that will help them tailor instruction for each student. They should be able to connect and collaborate with other teachers to tackle common challenges and develop solutions. No matter where they are located, students should have access to world-class resources and experts that can enrich a learning experience that is largely designed just for them. And parents should be able to follow their child’s activities and progress almost in real-time, helping them stay more engaged in their child’s education.

This is an exciting future, and for some districts and schools across the country, that future is now.

Today the Department of Education announced the second round of grantees in the Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition. (Five winners, representing 25 districts, won a total of $120 million in grant funds.) These grants will support locally developed plans to personalize and improve student learning, directly increase student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student for success in college and careers. Through these grants, innovative school districts will be able to better support teachers and students by increasing educational opportunities through more personalized learning.

President Obama described the promise of personalized learning when he launched the ConnectED initiative last June. Technology is a powerful tool that helps create robust personalized learning environments, but unfortunately, too many of our schools cannot support such environments. ConnectED is about establishing the building blocks for nearly every school to achieve this vision—by boosting broadband speeds through a modernized E-rate program, working to make learning devices and quality content available to all students, and ensuring that teachers have the support and professional development resources they need as they transition to a digital world.

This year’s RTT-D grantees exemplify the types of opportunities created by personalizing learning environments supported by technology. Indeed, most of the districts that won funding represent rural, remote, or small town communities, and their plans show that technology can be a powerful equalizer for schools in such communities. For example:

  • Technology as a tool for teachers and students. Clarendon County School District Two in South Carolina (leading a consortium of four districts) will make personal learning devices like laptops and tablets available to all students in the Carolina Consortium for Enterprise Learning. Teachers will have digital tools to help them differentiate instruction and share standards-aligned materials and assessments.
  • Professional learning communities. Clarksdale Municipal School District in Mississippi will train teachers to become facilitators of instruction and to learn from and support one another through professional learning communities.
  • Continuous improvement. Houston Independent School District in Texas will implement a continuous improvement cycle to measure and support teacher effectiveness and will partner with an external evaluator to provide ongoing feedback to the district on program implementation.
  • Accessible data systems that support instruction. The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (a consortium of eighteen rural districts) will create and implement data systems that measure student growth and success and that help teachers improve instruction.
  • Helping close the digital divide through community access to technology. Springdale School District in Arkansas will expand parent access to technology through school-based and community “hot spots” along with community liaisons with computer access.

It’s clear that much of the innovative work by the districts in this year’s and last year’s RTT-D grantees requires a robust technology infrastructure. And in order for more districts to embrace a future of personalized learning, we must work urgently to meet our ConnectED goals. That future is waiting, but it’s up to us to make it a reality.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Announcing the Race to the Top District Competition

Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education announced a new Race to the Top District competition today, one that is aimed squarely at the classroom level with a focus on the relationship between teachers and students.

The proposed competition offers nearly $400 million in grants and invites school districts to create plans for individualized classroom instruction aimed at closing achievement gaps and preparing each student for college and career.

“Race to the Top supports states that raise standards, build better data systems, evaluate and support principals and teachers, and dramatically transform their lowest-performing schools,” Duncan said during today’s announcement.  “It also supports the development of new and better assessments aligned with high standards.”

The new competition asks districts “to show us how they can personalize and individualize education for a set of students in their schools,” Duncan noted. “We need to take classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all model and bring it into the 21st century.”

The proposal offers competitive preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to sustain their work and offer services that help meet students academic, social, and emotional needs, and enhance their ability to succeed.

The 2012 competition proposal will be available for public comment until June 8, and the Department plans to release the application in July with an October submission deadline. Awards will be announced by the end of the year.

More info: