Personalizing 21st Century Education

In the early 70s, when I was a young administrator on New York’s Long Island, I was exposed to a program called Individually Guided Education out of the Kettering Foundation. The program focused on individualizing education for students by reorganizing schools and the classroom. During my 27 years as a superintendent I made numerous attempts to personalize learning. I established non-graded, multi aged grouped environments, year-round schools, competency based assessments, open classrooms (you old enough to remember those?), schools without walls, and just about anything that might break us out of the traditional, assembly line, graded school.

Nothing worked. The decks were stacked against us. Parents of the non-graded students insisted in knowing what grade the student was in, as did the state department of education. In the multi aged classrooms the parent of the 2nd grader wanted to know why there was a kindergarten student in the class and vice versa. Teachers complained about the noise level in open classrooms and put up bookshelves to divide their space. With the competency based assessments the parents still wanted a grade, never mind that the students had met the standard and could move on.

Today the technology revolution has presented us with an opportunity that we have not had. A proliferation of hardware and software programs provides teachers with the opportunity to actually individualize education. Blended learning programs exist in many of our schools and, hallelujah, there are a significant number of school districts that have actually move on to personalize learning. The concept is no longer a dream, it is a reality in many classrooms throughout America. Visit with Ken Grover, principal of Innovations Early College High School in Salt Lake City, and you will see it.Go to Mooresville, North Carolina, and talk to superintendent Mark Edwards and ask him to give you a tour. Talk to Valerie Truesdale, chief academic officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and she will tell you about personalized assessments.

The personalizing education movement is growing and we at AASA are looking to facilitate and support the process by bringing educators together that are already deep into the process or looking to get started. Our first meeting took place in Salt Lake City last Fall and we are planning our next meeting for May 10-11, again in Salt Lake City. Mort Sherman, John Brown and I have written a book, Personalizing 21st Century Education, that we hope will provide some guidance to those interested in truly transforming our educational system. In our dedication we say: “It may seem odd that three individuals who have spent their careers as part of the establishment would offer as radical a departure from it as we present in the following pages. The fact is that educators have long wanted to be liberated from the regulatory chains that bind us and the twenty-first century has introduced the enabling technology to make personalized learning a reality. We dedicate this book to the future of public education in the United States and to those champions for children who will lead the transformation.”

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