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The Evidence Is In

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This post is by Bob Lenz, founder and chief of innovation of Envision Education.

High school diploma in hand, the graduate is all smiles; her family bursts with pride. She has cleared one of the first and biggest hurdles on the road to success in college, career, and life! 

Or has she? How do we know what that diploma means? How does she know she is truly ready for the challenges of 21st Century colleges, jobs, and civic demands? 

What we want, as a nation, is for all of our students to attend schools that prepare them well and give them the full range of knowledge, skills, and experiences that will help them succeed later on in life. We want to know that a diploma means something different in the modern world than it did a generation ago.

But how? One way is to examine and learn from schools that are helping students develop critical 21st century competencies like problem-solving, communication, and collaboration, schools that are successfully helping students graduate on time, and attend and thrive at four-year colleges.

A new study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) provides a comprehensive look at schools utilizing Deeper Learning strategies and structures to educate their students. In this Proof of Concept study, AIR investigated whether schools in the Deeper Learning Network achieve better student outcomes than local comparison schools, and found that the answer is yes. Here are the highlights:

 

  • Higher Graduation Rates: Students who attended the network schools graduated on time at statistically significantly higher rates;
  • More Your-Year College Going: After graduation, students who attended network schools were more likely to attend a four-year college and enroll in more selective institutions.
  • Better Test Scores: Students who attended network schools achieved higher standardized test scores, including state assessments and an OECD PISA-based test. These assessments measure core content knowledge and complex problem solving skills;
  • Stronger Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Skills: Students who attended network schools reported higher levels of academic engagement, collaboration skills, motivation to learn, and self-efficacy;
  • Greater Opportunities to Learn: While in school, students who attended network schools benefited from greater opportunities for deeper learning through such practices as project-based learning, internship opportunities, and longer-term cumulative assessments; and
  • Equitable Opportunities and Outcomes: Attending a network school benefited diverse groups of students. Regardless of background or incoming achievement levels, students who attended network schools achieved the same positive deeper learning outcomes.

Perhaps two of the most significant findings from the list above are that students are developing higher levels of academic engagement, collaboration, motivation and self-efficacy and that Deeper Learning is working with students regardless of their income levels or prior school achievement. This means that AIR's research can help dismantle the myth that Deeper Learning will only work for already advantaged and achieving kids. On the contrary, Deeper Learning strategies are giving all kids the opportunities, experiences, and skills each of us want for our own children. This is why AIR's findings are so exciting to those of us in the Deeper Learning world: they point the nation in a direction we can go to help all students, regardless of background, graduate from high school confident that they are ready for the world beyond.

The AIR study results indicate that our public schools can invest in and support systemic approaches to deeper learning in order to realize greater student success. They also point to steps multiple stakeholders can take:

  • Practitioners can identify and share resources to help them implement deeper learning approaches in their own classrooms.
  • Policymakers can visit deeper learning schools, see the results first-hand and issue a call for policy changes that will make deeper learning available to more students, with particular attention to students of color and students from low-income communities.
  • Researchers can continue conducting studies on deeper learning schools and sharing the many positive outcomes DL produces for students, and they can undertake longitudinal studies to document evidence of long-term effects.

As Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning says: "There's a model here that's working and it's one we can rally around." Teachers around the country already know that Deeper Learning practices are how real, transformative learning happens. Now, it's time for education leaders and decision-makers to pay attention to the power and promise of Deeper Learning.

For more information on the report, visit http://bit.ly/1rtIJhI.

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