Eight Ways Federal Policymakers Can Support Student-Centered Learning

This is the first of eight blog posts in a series on The iNACOL Federal Policy Frameworks 2015 to transform K-12 public education. Taken as a whole, they present a framework for sustainable, systemic change that will dramatically increase personalized learning opportunities for all students. This blog first appeared on iNACOL.org.

Susan Gentz 

Across the country, innovative educators and leaders are embracing a shift to student-centered learning and rejecting an outdated, one-size-fits-all K-12 education model. This shift holds the potential to close persistent learning gaps, improve equity and dramatically improve student achievement. Forty-two states have adopted policies to enable next generation learning models. These include:

  • Waiving seat time requirements,
  • Creating innovation zones and pilots;
  • Providing credit flexibility,
  • Rethinking state accountability and assessment systems, and
  • Developing proficiency-based diplomas.

Despite state progress, outdated federal K-12 education policies still present considerable barriers to widespread adoption of student-centered learning models. However, recent activity in Congress provides the potential for federal progress that mirrors the shift in state policy environments.

The US Congress has made significant progress towards reauthorizing the expired Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and is also beginning to examine priorities for a rewrite of the Higher Education Act (HEA). These efforts present an important opportunity to align federal K-12 education policy with local and state efforts to develop personalized, competency-based learning models. These efforts also have the potential to address persistent barriers, which include:

  • Single, summative year-end tests and punitive accountability frameworks that may act as a disincentive for serving struggling students;
  • Outdated human capital systems that do not adequately prepare teachers and leaders for personalized, competency-based learning environments;
  • Federal grant programs that do not prioritize innovative, personalized learning models, and concerns around the use and security of student data privacy;
  • Lack of federal investment in research on the prevalence and effectiveness of new learning models and on student learning progressions;
  • Lack of anytime, everywhere access to broadband connectivity by students in low-income and rural communities; and
  • Inadequate availability of free, high-quality, customizable open educational resources (OER).

These barriers show that despite incremental progress, work still remains. We’re driven by a mission to transform K-12 education policy and practice to design powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences through competency-based, blended and online learning. This is why we created a set of frameworks to move the needle in overcoming these barriers.

The iNACOL Federal Policy Frameworks 2015 provide recommendations for federal policymakers along eight key issues that will be explored in more detail in the blog series:

  1. Redesign assessment around student-centered learning.
  2. Rethink accountability for continuous improvement of next generation learning models.
  3. Modernize educator and leadership development.
  4. Make personalized learning a cross-cutting grant priority.
  5. Protect student data privacy and security.
  6. Invest in new learning models research and development.
  7. Build robust technology infrastructure and improve broadband.
  8. Support the development and use of open educational resources (OER).

What recommendations would you provide federal policymakers? Please comment or Tweet us at @nacol.

For more information, visit:

Susan Gentz is a State Policy Associate with iNACOL. Follow Susan on Twitter, @shoing.

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