Giving Compass' Take:

• Tara García Mathewson discusses how different schools are approaching personalized learning and drawing mixed reviews from students. 

• How can funders help to build student buy-in in education reform? Which schools are conducting personalized learning most effectively? 

• Read about effectively delivering personalized learning

Before Michael Mota goes to sleep each school night, the 17-year-old lies in bed thinking through his plan for the next day.

Michael is a senior at Vertus High School, an all-boys charter school in the Rochester City School District whose hallmark is a program that blends online classes with more traditional classroom teaching. Students spend about half their time in computer labs doing online coursework, and it’s this part of the day that Michael plans in advance.

Many of the boys enter Vertus several years behind grade level, particularly in reading and math, and the lab time gives them a chance to fill gaps in their achievement. It seems to work: Vertus says that 71 percent of its students pass their Regents exams, required by the state of New York for graduation, compared to 38 percent in the Rochester City School District.

For his part, though, Michael appreciates the opportunity to work faster than traditional classrooms allow. He says he used to get in trouble in middle school because he’d finish his work more quickly than his peers and have nothing else to do but goof around. Now, if he finishes a history lesson first, for example, he goes on to the next one – or switches to another subject.

Michael likes being able to move at his own pace. “It helps me stay on track and focused,” he said.

But Roshawn Murraine, a 16-year-old in his third year at Vertus, said the freedom to move at his own pace is “fake freedom,” because he still has to complete all of his classes within a set time frame. And he says Vertus’s brand of personalized learning isn’t all that personalized.

“It’s not like you’re learning different stuff,” Roshawn said. “It’s just a different pace.” Each student still takes life sciences, global history, algebra and the other courses New York State requires for graduation. And, unlike some schools that personalize learning by giving students a say over what they learn in each class and how they prove they have learned it, Vertus requires students to complete the exact same assignments and tests.

It turns out that’s common.

Personalized learning is among the most popular solutions in U.S. schools today. It is seen as a way to close achievement gaps, increase student engagement and offer a better education to today’s students. Yet it doesn’t have a consistent script and every school does it differently. Giving students more control in the classroom is a common feature of personalized-learning programs, in theory, but in practice, how teachers do that and how much control they offer varies widely.

Read the full article about personalized learning by Tara García Mathewson at The Hechinger Report.