Policy in Practice: Personalized Learning & Students With Disabilities



Yesterday in a press room on the ninth floor of the Alliance for Excellent Education office in downtown Washington DC, National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) Executive Director James Wendorf was excited to announce the release of a new report entitled Personalized Learning: Policy and Practice Recommendations for Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities. The report is the result of a year’s worth of research supported by the Alliance, NCLD, and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) with funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The work engaged thousands of educators and field practitioners, policy makers, and parents from around the country. The event was held in front of a live audience and was also broadcasted live online to an estimated 1,400 participants.

In his opening remarks, Wendorf acknowledged that for decades, educators, parents, and others have struggled to find the best ways to teach and support students with disabilities. With the rise of personalized learning systems in schools and school districts around the country, now more than ever our nation needed guidance for policies that would support both students with disabilities and English learners in these personalized learning environments. As the report suggests, “Students with disabilities can achieve at high levels if they receive specialized instruction tailored to their unique needs, supports that build on their strengths and mitigate their challenges, and an environment that is engaging and sparks their desire to learn. Personalized learning systems can help educators provide these things when implemented appropriately. As personalized learning efforts expand across the nation, now is the time for educators, parents, and others to understand what personalized learning is, how it works, and how it can help students with disabilities succeed.”

Wendorf was followed by the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Chief of Staff and Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Elizabeth Schneider who gave a broad overview of how her office defines personalized learning and what it looks like today in schools. She then highlighted two different case studies, one of which was this video on how the Henry County School District in Georgia has transformed its fifty schools with a personalized learning approach.

From there, NCLD’s Vice President and Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer Lindsay Jones and NCLR Senior Director of Teaching and Learning Maria Moser walked the audience through the highlights of the new report, including the four policy roadmaps that were prepared for parents and families, educators, school and district leaders, and system changers. Each roadmap provides the appropriate audience with an easy-to-follow overview of the policy recommendations and key findings.

Lastly, Jones conducted a panel discussion with voices from the field. Panelists included Maria Moser, Southern Methodist University Annette Caldwell Simmonds School of Education and
Human Development Dean and newly appointed President of Wheelock College David Chard, and myself, Principal of a personalized learning school, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. During the panel discussion, Moser, Chard, and I fielded questions ranging from how personalized learning can benefit both students with disabilities and English learners, how technology is used to support personalized learning, the role of teacher preparation programs and professional development to support personalized learning, and how parents can engage in this work and support their children in personalized learning classrooms and schools.

Moving forward, NCLD will continue to update their Personalized Learning Blog and their Policy and Advocacy Blog. For the next phase of the grant, NCLD will be focusing their efforts on the personalized learning work happening in three states: North Carolina, Colorado, and New Hampshire. 

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.

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