With more schools adopting personalized learning approaches, a new study from the RAND Corporation provides lessons from a high school model and finds that teacher vacancies and access to instructional materials has made implementation challenging.
The study focuses on the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Opportunity by Design (ObD) initiative, a network of small, mastery-based high schools in several urban districts. Researchers examined the 10 schools operating during the 2015-16 school year, analyzing the key features of the model as well as barriers to implementation. Nonprofit Springpoint worked with school leaders to design and launch the schools, provide training, and develop resources for the schools.
In survey responses, students said that they received help planning their high school experiences, but about one-fourth said they were not sure whether they were on track for graduation, and teachers and students reported positive school cultures but also said this was an area that needed improvement.
Research on early challenges allows schools that are beginning to implement personalized approaches to examine their models and potentially avoid some of the problems other schools have had. The researchers found, for example, that teachers like having the flexibility to create their own curriculum materials but that this is also a time-consuming aspect of the model. Schools could allow teachers to collaborate in creating materials or draw from high-quality open educational resources to meet students’ needs.
The researchers recommend that school leaders make sure teachers have strong data, which are necessary in a personalized, mastery-based model to monitor students' progress. The ObD schools are also working with community-based organizations to supplement students’ learning, but the surveys and interviews showed that schools could use some support with developing partnerships.
Communicating to students, and parents, how a mastery model is different from what they have experienced in the past is another lesson from the study. Students sometimes misunderstand the purpose of multiple revisions to their work or did not wisely use the extra time they were given to complete assignments. Finally, the researchers also recommend networking opportunities for school leaders who are at various stages of implementation so they can learn from each other.