This is the second in a series of interviews with thought leaders in education reform. Today we interview former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise about personalized learning, equity and policy changes that will enable a better system for our students.

What is the vision for personalized learning?

For personalized learning, it’s delivering high-quality content to children and students wherever they live. I mean, whatever their conditions, their life situations, their educaiton surroundings. It’s being able to customize education so that we engage each student where they want to be, and make it as relevant as possible to them.

Personalization to me is the sense of making sure there is a personal graduation plan for every student, making sure a direct relationship bteween at least one adult in the building and one student.

Even if you are using data…there is data that immediately is picking up whether they are increasing absences, etc…and someone is charged with intervening. How do we take what is a largely impersonal experience, to using technology that is actually helping education become a more personal experience.

I think it’s totally in line with the equity agenda, because we understand that students are coming to us in a variety of different ways…and with data and personalization, we respond appropriately, rather than saying, “I have a bunch of poor kids in this building, so this will be a standard one-size fits all curriculum for them.”

What are the challenges being addressed in this process of bringing personalized learning to students, teachers, and schools?

What is happening right now for many schools and school districts is what I would call the GM moment. You were, like GM, producing a lacklustre product before, and now you have a lot fewer resources to produce something better. You either change and adapt, or you fold up. In the case of education, I think there is this natural instinct to hang on a bit further…we can get back to doing what we have all ways been comfortable doing. And I don’t thinkt that is going to happen. I think the demand for greater student outcomes is growing so rapidly. And it’s really a demand for greater student outcomes with less revenue to do what you were doing before.

And the opportunities 
being leveraged?

It has been helpful that the federal government has been able to put some money on the table, to say, you should be doing these changes on your own anyhow, but we will provide some margin money to help you make the move you need to make.

I am seeing a number of states, from my former perspective as governor, trying to fit online learning into the current model and with that, there are all kinds of restrictions. You can’t deliver education across state lines, for example. I mean, imagine. Nobody tells Amazon that you can’t ship across state lines. And indeed there would be an outcry if you did.

What we have to do is get ourselves prepared in every school district. I think every school district needs to sit down and say we have opportunities, what do we want from our students and how to we take advantage of it?


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?

I understand that the state has a feeling of responsibliity to say we have to make sure the kids need to meet standards, and to get what they need and be able to meet standarsds there needs to be some more general filter at the beginning and maybe more of a restrictve one at the end.

As long as it has some recognizable appropriate certification or background to it, it’s permitted. What you are measuring at the end is whether the kids are taking the tests and meeting the standards you have in place. You have to give flexibility to what you are putting in there.

Can we develop a good housekeeping seal of approval for online curriculum delivery?

I look at a number of other states, but they are each trying to develop it in the parameters of each kind of other education undertaking. Is there a way for states moving towards a common core to come together in the same way around online content? There is no reason each of us has to reinvent the wheel.

You know the stick is getting cut off. You can bemoan it, or let’s figure out how we can actually develop in our school a quality educational experience. We will think outside the state framework.

So, that’s a good point about frameworks. What are the different types of policy barriers and policy changes needed?

You have to completely review the processes by which you decide how content gets into a classroom. Too often, the procedures are designed around the 19th century model. It’s content delivery, it’s procurement. I remember talking to this successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. I asked, “What you’re doing is great. How come you’re not involved with the school system?” And he said, “I’m not going to negotiate that incredibly difficult procurement process.”

You have to be willing to assist in the creation of quality professional development programs, too. You have to develop a comfort level among teachers already in the profession, or coming into it. What I have heard repeatedly is that simply because a teacher coming out of a teachers’ program came up with technology, it doesn’t mean they now how to teach with it. How do you get the teacher in the classroom interacting and making the most useful experience?

So it’s reviewing:

Procurement
Getting the content admitted to the classroom
Professional development

And this also — just confronting the innate resistance to change, and that’s happening in varying degrees. The explosion of different types of technology applications, whether gaming, laptop or netbook, or using smart phones. One problem we are going to have is that with very harried educators, is how they sort through all the the different types of technology mushrooming around them. How do we help identify and help folks work through what kind of tech is best for their system?

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