Tools for State and District Leaders: Personalized Learning Case Studies

Two classes of students work on laptops throughout a large iPrep mathematics classroom. Two teachers  walk around the room engaging students as they work on their laptops.

Middle school students work at their own pace in iPrep mathematics classrooms in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Photo Credit: Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Promising practices and lessons learned from four Race to the Top – District grantees released.

The traditional model of education has been based on a teacher delivering a fixed curriculum at a fixed pace. Educators across the country have increasingly been adopting a personalized learning approach that will prepare students to succeed in a 21st century, globally competitive society. Through this approach, educators can customize lessons based on the pace and learning style of each student and can actively engage the student by centering learning on student interests, progress, and mastery.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) supports school districts’ efforts to personalize and enhance student learning through Race to the Top – District (RTT-D) grants. The RTT-D program supports bold, locally directed improvements in learning and teaching that will directly improve student achievement. RTT-D districts serve as innovation laboratories, advancing new ways to educate students. OII recently released a report that highlights some of these districts’ initial experiences, which is intended to serve as a resource for school leaders pursuing a path to personalizing student learning.

Personalized Learning in Progress: Case Studies of Four Race to the Top-District Grantees’ Early Implementation shares the experiences of four diverse school districts as they adopt personalized learning approaches. The four districts — Iredell-Statesville Schools (N.C.), Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Fla.), New Haven Unified School District (Calif.), and Metropolitan School District of Warren Township (Ind.) — represent a range of geographies, student populations, academic content areas, and approaches to personalized learning.

Each district developed its own strategy catered to its students’ unique needs. For example, Miami-Dade County Public Schools focused its personalized learning efforts on a single subject area with a demonstrated need for reform — middle school mathematics. The district expanded their iPrep Academy concept that had been in operation in one high school since 2010. With the RTT-D support, iPrep Math learning centers were created at each of the district’s 49 middle schools starting in the 2013-2014 school year. This involved transforming the physical classroom environments and changing teaching methods to better support personalized learning. The new centers and personalized learning approach, for instance, fostered settings in which three teachers could work collaboratively with a class of 60 students at the same time.

Read more about the case studies and the four school districts through this post on the OII home page. Or click here to read and download Personalized Learning in Progress: Case Studies of Four Race to the Top-District Grantees’ Early Implementation.

New York State Training Aspiring Teachers in the Classroom

Eric Reisweber, who studied to be an earth science teacher in SUNY Cortland’s Undergraduate Clinically Rich Teacher Preparation program, teaching a lesson during his internship at  Binghamton High School in Binghamton, New York during the spring semester of SY 2013-2014.

Eric Reisweber, who studied to be an earth science teacher in SUNY Cortland’s Undergraduate Clinically Rich Teacher Preparation program, teaching a lesson during his internship at Binghamton High School in Binghamton, New York during the spring semester of SY 2013-2014. Photo Credit: Michael Bersani.

New teachers in New York are becoming better prepared to help students meet college- and career- ready standards.

Nichole Mantas felt her first year as a high school biology teacher at Lansingburgh High School in Troy, New York was far smoother than she had anticipated. “It was like I was already a mile into this yearlong race, whereas other teachers I worked with were entering at the starting line,” she said of her experiences in school year (SY) 2013-1014.

Mantas said she knew just what to expect, and how to set herself up for success because she had already spent a full year as an intern co-teaching science with a seasoned educator. One month into that internship, she had begun leading an Advanced Placement biology course, designing lab experiments and creating lesson plans—all while benefiting from expert guidance and coaching.

The combination of the teaching experience and mentoring during the internship helped her hone her craft quickly, she said.  “My mentor gave me a lot of freedom to try new things, but she was always there to give me feedback and we were constantly bouncing ideas off of each other,” she said.

The internship was a key component of Mantas’ ‘Clinically Rich’ Master’s program at Union Graduate College, one of 12 institutions across New York State awarded pilot grants from the New York State Education Department. Supported through the State’s Race to the Top grant, the program aims to strengthen teacher preparation programs and This chart lists the twelve institutions offering Clinically Rich programs and the degrees offered by those institutions. American Museum of Natural History offers a Master’s Degree in Teaching with a specialization in Earth Science for Grades 7–12. Adelphi University offers a Master’s Degree in Science Education with a Bilingual Extension for Grades 7–12. Fordham University offers a Master’s Degree in Adolescent Education in Mathematics, Science, TESOL and SWD for Grades 7–12. Lehman College (CUNY) offers a Master’s Degree in Childhood Education with a specialization in Mathematics, English Learner/Bilingual and Special Education. SUNY Oswego offers  Bachelor’s Degree in TESOL, Master’s Degree in Childhood Education, and Master of Arts in Teaching in Secondary Special Education and Mathematics/Science or TESOL. Mercy College offers a Master of Science in Mathematics Education and a certificate in Special Education. New York University offers a Master’s Degree in Secondary Science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics). Queens College (CUNY) offers a Master of Arts in Teaching in Adolescent Science Education. SUNY Albany offers a Master’s Degree in Special Education, with residence in Adolescent Education and a concentration in Literacy. SUNY Cortland offers Adolescent Math and Science 7–12 Certification. Syracuse University offers a Master’s Degree in Special Education. Union Graduate College offers a Master’s Degree in Life Sciences, Physical Sciences or Mathematics/Computer Technology.establish partnerships with high- needs schools to help them address perennial shortages of candidates in areas such as mathematics, science, and special education.

The internships offered by the Clinically Rich programs last for an average of 10 months, during which the teacher candidates spend five days a week in classrooms. Research shows that this approach familiarizes novices with the realities of classrooms and makes it less likely that they will leave teaching after only a few years. Research by Richard Ingersoll, Professor of Sociology and Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that an estimated 50 percent of new teachers in high needs schools leave within the first five years.

Class assignments in the pilot programs are grounded in the internship experiences, strengthening the connection between theory and practice. As a result, it is hoped, new teachers in high-need schools will be more effective and more likely to stay on the job.

Read More

Kit Carson: Getting Serious about Literacy

Photo Credit: Kit Carson Academy, Clark County Schools.

Photo Credit: Kit Carson Academy, Clark County Schools.

When Kit Carson International Academy (Kit Carson), an elementary school serving grades PK-5, in Las Vegas, Nevada was identified as one of the lowest-performing schools in the state in 2009, only 30-34% of the students were proficient in English language arts and 40-44% of students were proficient in math. Kit Carson and Clark County School District staff knew that they had to make dramatic changes.  To improve instruction and raise student achievement, they needed a place to start, so although math scores at Kit Carson weren’t particularly high, the leadership team decided to focus their efforts on building students’ reading skills.   The good news: Those efforts are paying off.   Kit Carson increased reading proficiency by over 30 percentage points in just the first three years.

In 2010, with assistance from a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grants (SIG) program, Kit Carson began making some of the changes that would be necessary to improve student achievement.   Students needed more time to focus on reading, and teachers needed support for efforts to make reading instruction consistent across the school as well as to meet students’ needs. That led to the school’s decision to overhaul its program by investing in additional learning time focused on reading and providing a common schoolwide approach to target reading instruction and support for teachers.

Time was added to the school day to offer additional literacy support, instruction was refocused, and teachers received coaching and collaborated to help students get the results they knew they could produce. Building teachers’ literacy instruction skills, providing support for lesson planning, and implementing a new walk-through monitoring process to ensure effective use of literacy strategies in the classroom became the focus of their teachers’ training and expectations.  According to Kit Carson’s principal, “reflecting on the alignment between expectations, monitoring and feedback for teachers is ongoing and critical to minimizing variation in the quality of reading instruction.”

The outcomes are noteworthy and exciting.  By the end of the first year alone, student proficiency in reading skyrocketed by more than 10 percentage points, and the focus on reading influenced student performance in math as well, with math proficiency increasing by more than 15 percentage points.  Kit Carson’s thoughtful planning, targeted interventions, continuous adaptation, and relentless focus on improving reading instruction offer a useful example and promising practice for schools and districts across the country.  To learn more about Kit Carson’s strategies for increasing learning time for literacy instruction, read the Kit Carson International Academy practice profile.

The Office of State Support is highlighting promising practices from the implementation of the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program in schools, districts, and states across the country.  For more profiles, visit: http://www.ed.gov/programs/sif/sigprofiles/index.html

Florida County Uses Technology to Engage Students and Innovate in the Classroom

Three students sit at a table together during a class lesson. One of the students holds an IPad, and all three students are looking at the device to engage in the lesson.

Citrus Spring Middle School students work with their devices as part of Citrus County School District’s technology initiative. Photo Credit: Dan Koch.

States and districts are investing in technology to support students’ progress towards college and career readiness.

Citrus County School District in rural central Florida is among a growing number of school districts across the country giving students opportunities to take control of their own learning, collaborate with others, and explore entire digital libraries of content by providing them with iPads or laptops. These “one-to-one” initiatives allow teachers to customize students’ lessons to their needs, blend outside of school and in-class learning, and monitor students’ progress in real time.

Citrus County is earning high marks from State officials, students, and teachers for ensuring that technology is actually transforming teaching and learning. In school year (SY) 2011-2012 the district used a Race to the Top grant to put high-speed wireless Internet in all of its schools.  The iPads came a year later, but only for students in grade seven in one school.  The following year the pilot was expanded to various grades and schools. Through the pilot, school leaders and educators gained insight on how to use the technology to improve instruction, ways in which teachers can benefit from related professional development, and ways to encourage responsible use of the iPads, such as with a terms-of-use agreement.

After the initial investment, Citrus County has used local funds to provide iPads for about 30 percent of its students; the district plans to expand the program to all 15,000 students by 2018 using local funds. As the program grew, administrators heard from teachers about the kind of professional development they wanted, and tried to meet those needs with targeted training and time.

“We didn’t want these to simply be used for things like note taking or as a place to go for electronic worksheets,” said Kathy Androski, a media specialist at Citrus Springs Middle School who coaches her fellow teachers on how to use the technology. “We wanted the students using technology to really ratchet up their learning experience.”  Citrus County educators say that might mean students going outdoors for a science lesson and using the iPad’s camera, video camera, or audio recorder to document their observations.  Then, they might come inside and use the same iPad to create a PowerPoint or a spreadsheet, or make a movie about what they learned and observed.

Read More

Georgia Innovation Fund Projects Open Students’ Minds to What is Possible

Sixth grade students conduct a water testing experiment in a Soil, Water Quality, and Weather course. This class serves as an introduction to environmental studies through STEM. While this class is designed to allow exploration in STEM, the primary focus of student learning coincides with sixth grade curriculum in Earth Science with an emphasis on weather, soil/water quality. Photo Credit: Rockdale STEM Academy

Sixth grade students conduct a water testing experiment in a Soil, Water Quality, and Weather course. This class serves as an introduction to environmental studies through STEM. While this class is designed to allow exploration in STEM, the primary focus of student learning coincides with sixth grade curriculum in Earth Science with an emphasis on weather, soil/water quality. Photo Credit: Rockdale STEM Academy

Many of the projects focus on boosting students’ interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Last year at Rockdale 21st Century Academy of Environmental Studies, eighth grader Yasin learned about magnetism, electricity and circuits in his Energy and Sustainable Technology course. His classmates, Imani and Max, figured out how to create solar power through wind turbines and solar panels. These hands-on learning experiences are part of a rigorous sequence of courses (others include biomedical engineering, meteorology and forensics) at Rockdale, one of only two STEM-focused middle school programs in Georgia.

The goal of the middle school, located east of Atlanta in Rockdale County, is to encourage students to enter a rigorous STEM-focused high school and ultimately go into science-based careers. That is just what Max, Yasin and Imani want to do: Max, a medical professional; Yasin, an engineer; and Imani, a pediatric neurosurgeon.

The students spoke about their school and their plans in a video that describes the academy’s program and its founding.

The academy is one of 23 projects launched or expanded since 2011 with financial support from Georgia’s Innovation Fund, which was in turn underwritten by the State’s Federal Race to the Top grant. Projects include the opening of four new public charter schools with a STEM focus, the development of new STEM curricula, the recruitment of STEM educators to teach in rural areas and new approaches to teacher and principal preparation and support. While not all of the projects were STEM-focused, all of them were designed to increase college and career readiness.

It is still too early to fully assess the impact of the programs, but initial indicators are positive. A survey of 928 students who participated in innovation fund projects found significant increases in self-management skills and motivation to pursue STEM-related careers. Some of the programs are reporting notable gains in on-time graduation rates and the number of college credits earned by participants.

Read More

High-Quality and Easy-to-Use Resources Draw Educators from Around the Nation to EngageNY

Through technology, more teachers have the tools and resources they need to help them prepare more students to succeed in college and careers.

Mathematics coach Lori MacDonald has spent a lot of time getting to know the material available on EngageNY, a comprehensive website for New York State’s educators, parents, and other interested stakeholders run by the New York State Education Department. The thing is, MacDonald lives and works in Berkeley, California, 2,922 miles away from Albany, New York’s capital.

“In our district, we are using exactly what schools are using in New York, and we’re using it for free,” MacDonald said. “A lot of what we need is on EngageNY.”

MacDonald is not alone in looking to the New York website for resources she can use to support the kindergarten through fifth grade teachers in her district. Across the country, educators and school leaders are turning to EngageNY as a source for comprehensive classroom materials aligned to new college- and career-ready standards adopted by most States. The website also is home to both free high-quality professional development resources, such as a library of instructional videos for teachers, and practical tools for parents including suggestions for educational activities they can do with their children.

This graphic information related to visits to the EngageNY website. The text of the graphic includes the following.  From launching in August 2011 through October 12, 2014, EngageNY.org had: Total visits: 15,722,855 Total unique visits: 6,692,597 Total page views: 89,794,493 Average weekly visits: 26,000 Average weekly unique visitors: 22,000 Average weekly page views: 142,000

New York State launched the site in 2011 with funding from Race to the Top, as well as other sources. Since then, the site has become a national resource and has attracted more than 6 million unique visitors from every State in the nation, averaging 22,000 each week. Not surprisingly, after New York, the State that had generated the most visitors as of August 2014 was California. Louisiana, which ranks 25th in population, generated the third highest number of visits, followed by Illinois, Washington and Arizona.

Read More

Illinois Surveys Teachers, Students and Parents on the Essentials of School Success

More schools are using survey data to identify barriers to school improvement and increased student learning.

When Kenneth Scott became principal of Mae Jemison Elementary School in Hazel Crest four years ago, there was little parent involvement and few after school activities for children. To change that, he started a basketball team and cheerleading squad. But, because the school only had 15 uniforms for each, not many students could participate.

Scott knew he needed to do more. That recognition was strengthened by data from a first-ever survey about the school’s culture and learning environment, administered in spring 2013 to the school’s students, teachers and parents. “The parents wanted their children to be part of the school culture and community even if they didn’t have a great jump shot,” he said. He started clubs for art, chess and computers as well as groups to mentor girls and boys. The response was gratifying. Thirty-one of the school’s 400 students signed up for the chess club alone, and whereas he had previously set up 250 chairs for parents and students attending the school’s Christmas or Black History presentations, he now needed more than 600. The growth in parent involvement was “exponential,” he said.

“The survey results made me really put my foot on the gas and get things going,” Scott said.

The Essentials of School Success

The survey Scott is referring to is the Illinois 5Essentials Survey that asks teachers and sixth- through twelfth-grade students about their perceptions of school leadership, safety, teacher collaboration, family involvement and instruction. Although not required, some districts, such as Prairie Hills School District 144, where Scott is principal, chose to survey parents as well.

Versions of the survey of learning conditions have been used for 20 years in Chicago. An in-depth analysis conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium for School This graphic provides information about the five essentials for school success. The graphic includes the following text. An analysis of 15 years of survey and achievement data by researchers at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research revealed that schools strong on at least three of the Five Essentials are 10 times more likely to improve in mathematics and reading. They are: 1. Effective Leaders: The principal works with teachers to implement a clear and strategic vision for school success. 2. Collaborative Teachers: The staff is committed to the school, receives strong professional development and works together to improve the school. 3. Involved Families: The entire school staff builds strong relationships with families and communities to support learning. 4. Supportive Environment: The school is safe and orderly. Teachers have high expectations for students. Students are supported by their teachers and peers. 5. Ambitious instruction: Classes are academically demanding and engage students by emphasizing the application of knowledge.Research found that schools with strong showings in just three of those five areas are 10 times more likely to see growth in student achievement than similar schools with weaker results; such schools also are 30 times less likely to see student achievement stay the same or decline.

Recent Illinois legislation required all public schools in the State to survey teachers and students every other year beginning in 2013 to provide teachers and leaders with data to help them create a school environment conducive to teaching and learning. The State is covering the survey’s cost for three years with funds from its Race to the Top grant and requiring the 32 Race to the Top partner districts to conduct the survey annually.

Read More

New Jersey Teachers Lead the Way in Expecting More from Students

Teacher Laura Sandy is at the front of her room learning over a table of three male students who are working on a hands-on geometry project. Two other students work in the background, and a Smart Board at the front of the room presents the problem for the students to solve.

Teacher Laura Sandy working with her sixth grade students at West Deptford Middle School. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Laura Sandy.

Teachers helped develop model curriculum aligned to college- and career-ready standards.

When beginning a lesson on area and perimeter earlier this year with her students, third-grade teacher Michele Elliott turned to New Jersey’s model curriculum for guidance on how to teach what students should know and be able to do under new, more-rigorous college- and career-ready standards. Then she set about having some fun.

Elliott, who teaches at Green-Fields Elementary School in West Deptford, New Jersey, and her students, applied masking tape to the tiled floor of their classroom to make rectangles of various sizes. The children then used the rectangles as the starting point for discussions about perimeter and its relationship to area.

This is just one example of how New Jersey teachers are using the State’s model curriculum, which the State’s teachers helped develop.

“The model curriculum guides you by expanding on the standards, but you have a lot of freedom with it in how you teach,” Elliott said. “It gives you a goal, but how you get there is based on whatever you think will work best for your students.”

The State’s Race to the Top grant helped support the development of the model curriculum, which covers English language arts and mathematics. The image is a quote box with text, it quotes teacher Michele Elliott and reads: "The model curriculum guides you by expanding on the standards, but you have a lot of freedom with it in how you teach. It gives you a goal, but how you get there is based on whatever you think will work best or your students." An estimated 300 teachers volunteered to work with the State to create the model curriculum in 2012.

“They were very excited about putting something together that was coherent and made sense, that reflected what they wanted good instruction to look like,” said Meghan Snow, who helped lead the effort in mathematics for the New Jersey Department of Education.

Elliott’s district, which is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, opted to use the mathematics model curriculum in all five of its schools because of its high quality.

New Jersey’s 75 Priority Schools, which have student outcomes that put them in the bottom five percent of the schools in the State, are required by the State to use the curricula unless they can show they have other alternatives that are also aligned to the new standards.

The State’s Regional Achievement Centers provide teachers at Priority Schools with coaching and professional development opportunities. The Priority Schools also benefit from a technology system provided to them by the State that allows teachers to view and analyze student performance data in real time throughout the school year using formative assessments embedded in the model curriculum.

Read More

Boston Public Schools Engage Families to Help Turn Schools Around

Strengthening the bond between parents and schools increases learning.

Three students are seated on the floor of their classroom. Two of the students work together on a project, and the third is looking up towards the not pictured teacher.

Photo Credit: US Department of Education

When family and community outreach coordinator Ana Contreras walked into John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Boston’s Jamaica Plains neighborhood in fall 2010, she knew she had her work cut out for her. The school was low-performing, and Massachusetts had provided it with a Federal School Improvement Grant to raise student achievement.

One of the main strategies for improving performance at John F. Kennedy and other low-performing schools in Boston, such as William Blackstone Elementary in the South End and Orchard Gardens K–8 Pilot School in Roxbury, was to involve parents and the community in students’ learning and the daily life of the school.

“We view parents as partners and a necessary piece of the puzzle for improving student achievement,” said Meghan Welch, director of operations at Orchard Gardens. “We want parents to be involved, so our school is open to families. Parents see teachers and know them. They see staff in action. It helps avoid misunderstandings. And if something is not going well, parents know it is okay to come in and talk because they have been here before for positive events.”

It is widely recognized by educators that parents who support their children’s learning both in school and at home, communicate regularly with teachers, and have high expectations make a big contribution to student learning. In Massachusetts, policymakers believe the potential of parent and community engagement is so great that the State insists that engagement is included as an indicator in evaluating the performance of teachers and principals.

In Boston Public Schools, educators are betting that parent and community engagement can help put entire schools that have had a history of low student achievement on the road to improvement. The district’s Office of Family and Student Engagement launched a Parent University in 2009 to support parents’ involvement in their children’s education. The district also has placed an outreach coordinator at each school to help faculty and staff build productive relationships with families and community members. Five years later, this investment is paying dividends, with schools across Boston seeing increases in proficiency rates for English language arts and mathematics.

Read More

Bracken Academy Runs on STEAM Power

A Bracken STEAM Academy teacher, Michelle Wheatfill, stands at the front of her class. presenting a lesson to students seated at tables around the room.

Teacher Michelle Wheatfill introduces a lesson to her 5th grade class. (Photo Credit: Clark County School District)

The Bracken STEAM Academy of Las Vegas is helping students reach higher standards. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — an extension of what is commonly known as STEM.  Through the integration of new STEAM technology and opportunities for hands-on learning, the school is enhancing instruction to place a renewed focus on holding all students to rigorous, college and career ready standards.

With the help of an Any Given Child grant from the US Department of Education and federal Title I money, students are being exposed to a wide variety of STEAM opportunities. They had the opportunity to attend out of school events like the Las Vegas Philharmonic and The Science Guy performances, and are now able to access computer labs before and after school. Experiences like these are helping teachers provide students with hands-on learning experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to provide.

“We are re-engineering the way that we teach,” said Principal Kathleen Decker, who has been in her position for 13 years. “I do see the teachers using a lot more hands-on, a lot more project based learning, and a lot more differentiated and individualized instruction than in the past.”

The expanded opportunities and the move to higher standards has led to a change in culture in her school. “Our expectations are much, much higher than they were before [the current standards],” Decker observed. “And the children are accomplishing way more than what we had expected of them five or six years ago.”

Teachers are seeing firsthand the difference teaching with heightened standards makes.

“The students are learning exponentially,” said fifth-grade teacher Michelle Wheatfill, who has been at Bracken for nine years. She notes that with changes happening in her school, her role as a teacher is changing. “Because of the technology we have, [the students] take charge of a lot of their learning. We’re there just to help guide them, instead of teaching every lesson with direct instruction.”

With teachers and leaders raising the bar, students are feeling more engaged and challenged by the new standards. Wynn, a third grade student, said that “Bracken is so good because the teachers don’t stop you at certain levels. They keep pushing you so you can keep going higher and get better.”

To read more about how Bracken STEAM is transitioning to more rigorous, college and career ready standards see the full post on our Homeroom Blog.