Policy in practice: Personalized learning and students with disabilities
Thursday, May 05, 2016
On Wednesday in a media room on the ninth floor of the Alliance for Excellent Education office in Washington, D.C., National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) Executive Director James Wendorf was excited to announce the release of a new report entitled "Personalized Learning: Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities." I was fortunate enough to be part of this event, which was held in front of a live audience and was also broadcast online to an estimated 1,400 participants.
The report is the result of a year's worth of research supported by the Alliance, NCLD and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) with funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The work engaged thousands of educators, field practitioners, policymakers and parents from around the country.
In his opening remarks, Wendorf acknowledged that for decades, educators, parents and others have struggled to find the best ways to teach and support students with disabilities. With the rise of personalized learning systems in schools and school districts around the country, now more than ever our nation needed guidance for policies that would support both students with disabilities and English learners in these personalized learning environments.
As the report suggests: "Students with disabilities can achieve at high levels if they receive specialized instruction tailored to their unique needs, supports that build on their strengths and mitigate their challenges, and an environment that is engaging and sparks their desire to learn. Personalized learning systems can help educators provide these things when implemented appropriately. As personalized learning efforts expand across the nation, now is the time for educators, parents and others to understand what personalized learning is, how it works and how it can help students with disabilities succeed."
Wendorf was followed by Alliance for Excellent Education Chief of Staff and Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Elizabeth Schneider, who gave a broad overview of how her office defines personalized learning and what it looks like today in schools. She then highlighted two different case studies, one of which was the video below on how the Henry County School District in Georgia has transformed its 50 schools with a personalized learning approach.
From there, NCLD Vice President and Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer Lindsay Jones and NCLR Senior Director of Teaching and Learning Maria Moser walked the audience through the highlights of the new report, including the four policy roadmaps that were prepared for parents and families, educators, school and district leaders and system changers. Each roadmap provides the appropriate audience with an easy-to-follow overview of the policy recommendations and key findings.
Lastly, Jones conducted a panel discussion with voices from the field. Panelists included Moser, Southern Methodist University Annette Caldwell Simmonds School of Education and Human Development Dean and newly appointed President of Wheelock College David Chard, and myself, the principal of a personalized learning school, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, New Hampshire.
During the panel discussion, Moser, Chard and I fielded questions ranging from how personalized learning can benefit both students with disabilities and English learners, how technology is used to support personalized learning, the role of teacher preparation programs and professional development to support personalized learning, and how parents can engage in this work and support their children in personalized learning classrooms and schools.
Moving forward, NCLD will continue to update their Personalized Learning Blog and their Policy and Advocacy Blog. For the next phase of the grant, NCLD will be focusing their efforts on the personalized learning work happening in three states: North Carolina, Colorado and New Hampshire.
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