This is part of our effort to highlight the upcoming Software and Information Industry Association Symposium on Education System [Re]Design for Personalized Learning August 4-6, 2010 at the Harvard Club in Boston, Massachusetts. We are running a series of brief interviews with leaders in personalized learning strategies.

Wendy Battino, Executive Director, RISC
Wendy Battino is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, which grew out of reforms in the Chugach School District in Alaska. We spoke with her about vision, personalized learning components and policy-making strategy and how her implementation at RISC helps her students achieve.

What is the vision for personalized learning as your organization pursues it?
One thing we have known for quite a while is that students learn in different ways. We have worked to create a system that meets the needs of every student.

The vision is allowing students to engage and have responsibility for their own learning. The way we use personalized learning plans, students get a choice of what kind of topic they want to master. They get to start driving some of their learning and the teacher facilitates that.


What are the challenges being addressed by practitioners in this system?

Our biggest mission is tackling the creation of systems so that individualized learning can happen. It’s systematic reform. The challenge is that reform itself is challenging, because of all those moving parts, it means change, and change is all a process for people to go through. To go through a change from a hundreds of years old model, to delivering personalized learning to each student, is not a minor challenge.

What is the transformation path for an education system (i.e.,
state, district or school) to transition from the existing model to one 
based on personalization for each and every student?

Wendy recommends that viewers watch videos of the RISC system to get a sense of the whole scope of the program.

Here is the overview video:

The first component is purpose and bringing leaders to the classroom. We call the second component shared visioning. We get all the people together to share and they really have to believe that we can bring education to everyone. Our third component is called standards-based design, and that’s really the nuts and bolts of how it looks in the classroom. The last component is continuous improvement. You keep at it and keep improving it.

Here is the leadership component video:

Where is the intersection of personalization and equity?

One of our core values is equity and justice in personalization. You allow all different walks of life to drive their learning and have their say. We found that it can be a real balancer across the board.

What kind of evidence and statistics exist that prove that personalization is beneficial to each child?

What we have that is kind of exciting is that in some of our first districts in Alaska we have over four years of positive trend lines. Now moving from 20% into 70% and 80%. We keep seeing continuous growth. The other indicator is non test score based. When you talk to our kids, they say here is what I do, here is how our systems work and this is how I engage. We have an implementation monitoring survey. We do it every year. It is taken from students and staff, and it measures how much they impelment the system. We send it to the University of Maine. They correlate with standardized test scores. They found a strong correlation between implementing the RISC model (The Reinventing Schools model) and standardized test scores. One of the key things we do is create a system that is individualized for kids; kids move at their own pace. We have kids graduating early and that drives them to new heights. They can do it on their own time in the class.

We use a PDSA plan. Students know it, eveyone in the system uses it at different levels. It has a refinement section whereby students get continually better. Students track their personal plans online and they can show it to anyone. These tracking devices in real time are very helpful. It’s authentic. It allows students to track their own progress over the years. It helps them to create a huge resume, and they can have that and show these are the things they know how to do.

What do practitioners need to support and scale personalized 
learning and overcome barriers?

We need to realize that our students can do so much more than we give them credit for, and they can achieve amazing things, and we have to let go, as teachers, of that control. It’s what I call tight-loose systems. So many of our system is tight-tight where teachers have so much ontrol. You have to be loose about letting students get the knowledge.

What are the policy barriers and policy changes needed?

I think more support for the schools like what we are seeing with this administration is happening. It comes down to time for teachers to plan so that they can be the sytem that works for kids. It turned out in Alaska we didn’t even have to get a waiver to let kids move at their own pace.

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