Over the last few years, Rhode Island has emerged as a national leader in the drive to put personalized-learning programs into actual classroom practice. Now education leaders in Providence, the state’s capital and most populous city, are looking to scale their early efforts statewide, pushing district leaders to think bigger about pilot programs and technological infrastructure, while also commissioning new research on how an understudied learning model could drive student performance.
The state’s six-month-old, $2 million public-private personalized-learning initiative is capitalizing on the freedom afforded by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the nation’s federal education law, which returns significant power to the states—to chart and test how personalized instructional techniques can be delivered to its 140,000 K-12 students. Broadly speaking, personalized learning tailors the instruction, content, pace, and testing to the individual student’s strengths and interests, using technology, data, and continuous feedback to make that customization possible.
The ability for states to more fully explore innovation through technology and curriculum paths separate from traditional reading, writing, and math—rather than following the federal government’s lead—was a key aspect of ESSA’s original intent. In shifting authority and autonomy back to local leaders, the education law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, earned widespread support from a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers; former President Barack Obama even dubbed its passage in 2015 a “Christmas miracle.”