This report looks at the early promise and challenges in personalized learning in K-12 public education. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Systems Initiative and Next Generation Learning Challenge Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools initiative, six school districts in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Texas and six regional partners were tasked with designing, launching, and replicating new personalized learning models. During the initiatives’ first two years, CRPE researchers observed classrooms in 39 schools, surveyed 908 teachers from the initiatives about their instruction (as well as a nationally representative sample of 3,600 teachers), and conducted over 450 interviews with 300 teachers, principals, superintendents, and central office staff in 17 towns and cities.
Our study revolved around two central questions: How do teachers and principals go about designing and implementing personalized learning approaches? How do the capacities, policies, and structures in schools and districts support or impede school-level innovation and its spread?
Main findings on personalized learning’s promise and challenges
Personalized learning had strong supporters in schools, and teachers were enthusiastic and put significant effort into changing their practices.
Principals let teachers define personalization for themselves, which impacted academic rigor, created inconsistencies, and caused some student frustration.
Though teachers were asked to innovate, they were not given needed strategies and supports from principals and central offices.
Recommendations for district leaders and regional partners to create a path forward for innovation
System leaders can more strategically support innovation to create more student-centered learning environments in four distinct ways:
- Help schools identify the problems that must be solved so they can find and adapt solutions.
- Create flexibility at the school and classroom levels.
- Build supports and knowledge management strategies for innovation.
- Identify which schools should innovate and which schools should adopt and adapt.