In an economy driven by technological innovation and a complex social landscape, schools must invest in instructional approaches that allow students to express more agency over their learning and create space to apply what they learn to solve real-world problems. Based on a two-year study of personalized learning in 39 schools across the country and a deep look at schools in Colorado and Connecticut, a new paper from CRPE offers a first view of how academically disadvantaged students experience these 21st century learning environments and what factors are likely to produce better opportunities for their success with these approaches.
CRPE researchers found that in these schools, teachers often lacked the tools and skills necessary to effectively teach students with weaker academic and social-emotional skills. They also found that preexisting capacity challenges in high-needs schools were stressed, and states and districts had not established systems to monitor or mitigate inequities. The researchers conclude that without greater attention to supports and a focus on addressing barriers that limit teacher and school capacity building, 21st century learning will not enable underserved students to succeed.
Challenges for Schools with Underserved Students
Trends suggest that students who enter schools with weaker academic preparation and social-emotional skills are less likely to be successful in 21st century learning environments than more privileged students because:
- Teachers often lack the tools and skills to provide rigorous and engaging instruction to students who possess weaker academic and social-emotional skills.
- Shifting to 21st century learning environments can stress preexisting capacity challenges in high-needs schools.
- States and districts have not established systems to monitor or mitigate the inequities that exist within schools and classrooms.
Recommendations for Funders, Policymakers, and Practitioners to Reduce Inequities
- Align efforts at all levels of the system to prevent inequities.
- Build the evidence base around the impact of weak 21st century instruction on different types of schools and student groups.
- Use strategies at the state, district, and school level to enable all students to succeed with 21st century learning.
- Invest in research and development to build new, high-quality models.
- Build a talent pipeline for teachers and leaders to develop their capacity.
- Align assessment and accountability systems to 21st century goals.
- Leverage “outside” opportunities, such as electives, extracurriculars, and summer learning.