\ New Study Suggests Personalized Learning Can Be a Financially Sustainable School Model that Prioritizes Teachers
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New Study Suggests Personalized Learning Can Be a Financially Sustainable School Model that Prioritizes Teachers

Analysis of Chicago schools shows personalized learning models require some up-front investment, but can be sustainable on traditional budgets; critical to success is a school's financial flexibil...

February 13, 2018 --

CHICAGO, Feb. 13, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- A new analysis released today by LEAP Innovations, a national organization that works with educators to develop, pilot, and scale personalized learning practices, finds that after small upfront costs, personalized learning whole-school models can be financially sustainable innovations that enable learning experiences tailored to a students' specific needs and strengths.

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The study, conducted by education finance consulting firm Afton Partners, examined six district and charter Chicago Public Schools implementing personalized learning models over the last two years. The study found that upfront investments in personalized learning, in these cases, cost no more than 7 percent of total per-pupil funding. While technology accounted for about 40 percent of start-up costs, total recurring IT spending did not increase substantially, and accounted for about two percent of schools' total budgets by year five.



"At a time when schools across the country are still grappling with limited budgets, this analysis shines light on a big question: how can we scale personalized models of instruction? In Chicago, we're finding that these innovations in teaching and learning can be self-sustaining and scalable," said Phyllis Lockett, Founder and CEO of LEAP Innovations. "This study also confirms that personalized learning isn't about spending big on technology. It's about rethinking how we approach teaching and learning, and develop models that encourage collaboration between all the adults and students in the building."

In particular, innovations around staffing structures both drove personalization in schools and contributed to the models' financial sustainability. In the study, teachers and non-teacher instructional support were consistently considered the most important resource by principals in implementing personalized learning. A consistently used strategy is a teacher-leader model, in which teachers are elevated to leadership positions, compensated with additional stipends, and lead team-taught, multi-age classrooms. Additionally, principals are dedicating existing professional development time to plan for and implement personalized learning, and teams have made it a focus in their existing professional development days.

"Our move to personalized learning is quickly proving to be a sustainable approach with incredible impact," said LeViis Haney, principal at Joseph Lovett Elementary School. "Personalized learning is about supporting great teaching, and meeting students where they are. We were able to make the shift even in an era of shrinking budgets, because it isn't about new bells and whistles— it's about personalized teaching and learning strategies, along with innovative approaches to time use, teacher collaboration, and other school structures. We have quickly found that our initial investment in time and resources to redesign the school have resulted in students who are more engaged and excited about learning, and teachers and staff who are reinvigorated."           

Afton also assessed long-term sustainability in the face of budget cuts.  According to interviews and financial scenario analyses, principals may be able to sustain severe budget cuts in a way that is comparable to or exceeds the capacity of traditional Chicago Public Schools while personalizing the learning experience of students.

"While this study is a small sample, it is instructive. Given the early promise of personalized learning and the budget realities across the country, we must understand how to make this kind of innovation not only effective for students, but also sustainable," said Katie Morrison-Reed of Afton Partners. "These relatively small investments can have big returns on learning."

Based on the findings, the report offers several recommendations for districts—and funders—looking to implement or scale personalized learning, including:

  • Ensure principals understand the flexibilities— financial and otherwise— at their disposal.
  • Consider a pilot of a compensation structure supportive of teacher leadership models.
  • Ensure cost- and time-effective procurement.
  • Support efficient evaluation, selection, and payment of effective software programs. 
  • Pool resources across a district for common unmet needs.
  • Be strategic in providing grant funds or additional funding.

The schools studied by Afton Partners are all participants in LEAP Innovations' Breakthrough Schools initiative, part of the national Next Generation Learning Challenges program which supports the launch of innovative new school models.  Schools participating in the program are already showing promising academic gains when implementing personalized learning. For example, one school reported a surge in the percentage of students performing at grade level between the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years as reported by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) attainment percentiles – moving from the 46th percentile to 59th percentile in reading and from the 31st percentile to 50th percentile in math. Another school reported that 39 percent more students in the fourth-grade pilot classrooms met their annual NWEA growth goals in reading in 2015-2016 than they did as third graders in 2014-2015.

To read the whole report, visit http://www.leapinnovations.org/news/139-leap-afton-report

About LEAP Innovations
LEAP Innovations is a national organization headquartered in Chicago that connects innovation and education to transform how students learn. LEAP works directly with educators and innovators to discover, pilot and scale personalized learning technologies and innovative practices. In just three years, LEAP has worked directly with more than 90 schools across Chicago to implement personalized learning, from classroom-level innovation in the Pilot Network to whole-school transformation in Breakthrough Schools. LEAP's work is anchored by the LEAP Learning Framework, a suite of resources that educators across the country are using to define, design, and implement personalized learning models.

About Afton Partners
Afton's vision is that all of America's public education organizations are using financial strategies, policies, and practices that sustain effective academic initiatives—allowing more students to succeed. Our services enhance financial acumen within public school districts and charter schools and create an alignment between academic priorities and finance that is otherwise missing in public education. Afton provides consulting services in the areas of sustainability planning, operational efficiency and effectiveness, and funding equity and fiscal transparency. Visit www.aftonpartners.com for more information.

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