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New Harvard Report Trumpets the Value of Personalized Education

Michael Nutter

April 24, 2019

The Harvard Graduate School of Education has published a report that outlines the benefits of personalized education and offers a blueprint for districts to implement reform.

According to research published by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2016, approximately 2.3 million 16- to 24-year-olds in the United States were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma (or equivalent credential). Perhaps even more alarmingly, over 1.2 million American students drop out of high school every year. To put that into perspective, that amounts to one dropout every 26 seconds, or 7,000 students each day.

These harrowing figures are often the result of systemic obstacles that disproportionately affect children of color and families living in poverty. Although a variety of stakeholders have attempted to right the educational ship, traditional reform has largely failed to help students from poorer families find educational success.

Previous attempts at reform have offered a one-size-fits-all model for change, failing to meet the varied needs of the nation’s diverse student body. However, a report published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education earlier this month has proposed an exciting new approach to educational reform, one grounded in providing personalized support to each and every student.

The Report’s Recommendations

Based on the results of a survey of successful initiatives from around the country, Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab (ERL) recommends school districts tailor their delivery of educational resources to each student’s unique strengths, needs, skills, and interests to facilitate more personalized learning. The report refers to this form of customizable education as individualized “Success Plans.”

By pinpointing where and in what ways students need support — whether more in-depth academic instruction in the classroom or more social, emotional, and physical health services outside of school — Success Plans outline practical steps for increasing students’ success. These plans combine the power of personalized education with highly accessible social services, a synergy of support that goes a long way toward levelling the playing field for students of all backgrounds.

These personalized education plans have been proven to work in the communities in which they have already been implemented. For instance, the City Connects initiative that was implemented in Boston schools over two decades ago guarantees that students receive comprehensive social services as part of their education. The students who receive these additional supports in elementary school are more than twice as likely to graduate as those who don’t.

The Toolkit for Implementation

The ERL outlines five primary recommendations for stakeholders aiming to implement this kind of reform in their districts. The first recommendation is to reinforce bridges between educators and social service workers. Student issues can be identified and addressed more efficiently when these cross-sector stakeholders have a clear understanding of both their individual and collective responsibilities.

Along similar lines, the ERL encourages the establishment of formal relationships between adults who want to get involved in education in their community — not only teachers and administrators, but parents and business leaders as well. Once these formal relationships are established, the ERL recommends assigning specific coordinators to facilitate the development of collaborative education-oriented initiatives.

As initiatives sprout up, it’s important to have reliable digital tools with which to record and organize a variety of student data. In addition to deciding which metrics are most important to track based on their students’ particular struggles, stakeholders must ensure their tracking is done securely to protect sensitive student data.

But perhaps the most important recommendation is for school districts to put equity above all else. In other words, they need to ensure that their educational reforms are meeting the needs of students from various racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Districts should provide ongoing professional support for adults helping to execute student Success Plans and strive to have educators and administrators who are as diverse as the students they serve.

Actualizing Personalized Education in Your District

By following the ERL’s recommendations, school districts in Ohio can achieve results similar to those achieved by the districts highlighted in the report. Ohio stakeholders simply need to refine their organizational structures, adopt innovative digital tools, and allocate their resources strategically as they implement changes.

Of course, crafting any sort of innovative support plan is a difficult endeavor, and District Treasurers and Superintendents will need all the help they can get as they attempt to secure the requisite funding for these endeavors. This is where Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform comes into play.

CheckPoint levels-up a district’s ability to collect, organize, and validate student enrollment data, enabling it to secure more funding from local, state, and national sources. With CheckPoint, administrators can save time while gaining better access to the funding they need, so when it comes time to implement a new strategy for educational reform, school districts need look no further that CheckPoint.

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