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Grants & Funding | Analysis

Race to the Top - District Grants Favor Blended Learning Environments

School districts may be more likely to receive Race to the Top - District (RTT-D) grants if their plans include implementing blended learning environments, individualized learning plans, competency-based models, and community involvement, according to an issue paper released by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

The paper, "Are Personalized Learning Environments the Next Wave of K-12 Education Reform?" examines the RTT-D applications of 16 districts that were awarded early grants and identifies common characteristics included in the districts' plans.

According to AIR, the four key components of the successful districts' grant applications are:

  • Blended learning environments;
  • Individualized college and career readiness learning plans;
  • Competency-based assessment models; and
  • Community partnerships and networks.

The creation and implementation of blended learning environments is a major piece of the RTT-D grant recipients' plans. The blended learning environments combine traditional face-to-face classroom instruction with personalized online and digital learning. According to AIR, the goal of blended learning environments is "to have the teacher engage each student in personalized instruction that aligns with the students' skill level, stimulates personal interest, and encourages each to advance to the next level."

The successful grantees' plans also include the development and use of individualized college and career readiness learning plans to create personalized learning paths for each student. According to AIR, most plants are developed for middle and secondary school students in collaboration with the teachers, parents, school counsellors, and students themselves.

Another common component of grant recipients' plans is the inclusion of new competency-based models of assessment that determine students' personal mastery of material and use that information to support students and accelerate their progress through their learning plans.

The fourth and final common characteristics of the grantees' plans is the development of partnerships and networks between teachers, parents, and the community to support students inside and outside the classroom.

AIR's issue paper examines each of these four key components in depth, including opportunities for innovation and potential challenges associated with the implementation of each one.

The Race to the Top - District grants will award a total of nearly $120 million to local education agencies based on their documented plans to implement changes to teaching and learning that will directly improve student achievement and teacher effectiveness. The application deadline is Oct. 3, 2013. Grant recipients will be announced in December. Further information can be found on the United States Department of Education's site.

The American Institutes for Research's issue paper, "Are Personalized Learning Environments the Next Wave of K-12 Education Reform?" is available as a free PDF download from AIR's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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