Using Policy to Expand Personalized Learning: Part 3 - Accountability

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Lots of folks are talking excitedly about the potential opportunities opened up to educators and students through increased flexibility and a transition to competency-based progression, and with good reason.

There is also considerable concern, however, with the role of profit and how it interacts with personalized learning. By decentralizing the way content is provided in the personalized learning world, there is broader access to the significant public resources being invested in education. That’s terrific if it leads to better outcomes for students. Greater selection sometimes means less control, however, and the chance for quality to be diluted. If we are not careful, a few bad models could ruin it for students who could greatly benefit.

Evaluation and Program Accountability Policy #3: Use outcomes-based student performance data to evaluate the quality of virtual schools, full-time online providers, and individual online courses.

In order to protect and maximize the great potential of personalized learning, states must adopt robust policies that hold personalized learning players accountable for how well they educate kids. This means giving personalized learning providers the autonomy to innovate and serve the needs of their students in the best way they can while holding them accountable for student learning. Providers and programs that are performing poorly should have their approvals revoked and be prohibited from serving students.

It’s important that states do not confuse high standards for outcomes with burdensome requirements related to inputs. Not only do input-based requirements often miss the intended mark in terms of educational benefits (think of unnecessary teacher certification rules and categorical funding restrictions), but they also stifle innovation and can reduce quality.

The bottom line indicator should always be student achievement. The performance-based relationship that exists between charter schools and authorizers may provide a good model. Similarly, personalized learning could be an integrated part of the state’s existing accountability system for all public schools, as long as it allows for increased levels of autonomy and flexibility.

If we truly want to harness the power of personalized learning to revitalize our public education model, let’s get it right from the start. As states enter this new territory, it’s critical that they focus on accountability on the front end.

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