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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Personalized, Equity-Minded Schools

The movement for creating competency-based, personalized schools is picking up steam. The nation’s public school student enrollment is increasingly diverse, requiring greater attention to diverse learning styles and pathways. There is widespread recognition of the need for a shift to a greater focus on higher order thinking skills in today’s technological and global world. We now realize that teaching dispositions such as persistence, communication, collaboration, and self-direction play a significant role in the learning process. And, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is at least implicit acknowledgment that standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind Act have failed at closing stubbornly wide equity gaps by race, income, language, and special education status.

It is time for change in how we think about learning, assessment, and the place called school.

What should our public schools of the future look like? I received a glimpse when I recently facilitated a group of 40 educators from the Minneapolis Public Schools in visiting a set of the 50 Pilot schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Pilot schools are in-district schools with flexibility over budget, staffing, curriculum, assessment, professional development, time, and governance. The three schools I had the honor of visiting – Los Angeles High School of the Arts (LAHSA), Social Justice Humanitas Academy (SJHA), and UCLA Community School (UCLACS) - embodied much of the six personalized learning principles that we at the Center for Collaborative Education espouse for our Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network:

Personalized Learning Pathways: At SJHA, advisory teachers work with each student to develop an individual education plan based on a range of indicators, including students’ primary multiple intelligences and “love languages,” as well as the more traditional engagement and achievement markers including progress toward completing the state’s college-ready course sequence. The plans guide the crafting of the students’ learning experiences, and get reviewed and updated every five weeks.

Competency-Based Progression: Each LAHSA integrated curriculum unit is driven by a set of competencies or benchmarks within six broad pathway outcomes – arts, citizenship, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and forward thinking. Students need to demonstrate proficiency in these pathways through a series of applied projects.

Flexible Learning Environments: UCLACS’ sixth grade students spend an entire week at the Hammer Museum, facilitated by UCLA faculty and students. They learn about the daily operations of a museum, the integration of arts into academics, and the “variety of curatorial and other museum professions that create, preserve, and present the exhibits at one of Los Angeles’ premier art institutions.”

Engaged Learning: Each semester at LAHSA, students participate in and complete an integrated, interdisciplinary action project that combines academic disciplines with performing and technical theatre arts in which students take on varied leadership roles.

Next Generation Curriculum & Assessments: Every SJHA student, with teacher support, leads two student-parent conferences per year, guiding parents/guardians through their portfolio of work and progress made toward graduation. 96% of parents/guardians participate in this assessment opportunity.

Graduating students at LAHSA are required to develop and “defend” graduation portfolios before a panel of administrators, teachers, current and former students, and/or business, community, and higher education representatives. They explain and apply what they have learned using multiple mediums.

Social-Emotional Learning and Academic Mindsets: At UCLACS, in addition to a competency on academics, the school focuses on three other competencies - self-directed and passionate learner, active and critical participant in society, and bilingual, bi-literate, and multi-cultural.

A poster at SJHA quotes the noted Holocaust survivor, Haim Ginott, in which he reflects that the concentration camps’ gas chambers were “built by learned engineers”….and children were “poisoned by educated physicians.” It is for this reason, principal Jose Navarro noted, that in addition to a focus on the 21st Century skills and habits of mind, the school emphasizes the social-emotional qualities of compassion, empathy, reverence, honor, and fairness.

The theme of social justice is common to the three schools and embedded in every facet of each one – curriculum, culture, and assessments, reflecting the intent of increasing students’ social capital and the understanding that personalization and equity must go hand in hand. All three schools have high attendance, low suspensions, exceed the district four-year graduation rate, and send high percentages of their graduates on to four-year colleges.

These three schools are beacons of what we should aspire to create – a new generation of personalized, equity-minded schools that do justice by each and every student that walks through the proverbial school doors.