Student-Centered Learning


Student-Centered Learning

In efforts to improve public education in the United States, much of the attention has been on helping teachers maximize their own abilities, and to make campuses effective – and efficient – at the business of schooling. But what if students themselves were the focus, and the primary goal was to structure their learning in the way that best met their individual needs? That’s the question put forth by advocates of student-centered learning, an educational approach that is gaining ground, bolstered by federal incentives to encourage innovation in the classroom and new research connecting students’ engagement to their academic success.  

In efforts to improve public education in the United States, much of the attention has been on helping teachers maximize their own abilities, and to make campuses effective – and efficient – at the business of schooling. But what if students themselves were the focus, and the primary goal was to structure their learning in the way that best met their individual needs? That’s the question put forth by advocates of student-centered learning, an educational approach that is gaining ground, bolstered by federal incentives to encourage innovation in the classroom and new research connecting students’ engagement to their academic success.  

To be sure, expectations are ever greater for both schools and students. Educators are continually seeking news ways of boosting students’ critical-thinking skills and spurring deeper learning, to better prepare students for both postsecondary and workforce success. Advocates of student-centered learning contend that the approach offers the best opportunity for students to meet the myriad challenges that await them.

What Is Student-Centered Learning?

In a student-centered learning environment, students are given choices of how and what they learn, based on the theory that students thrive when they can see a direct connection between the instructional material on the one hand and their own interests and real-world experiences on the other. There are frequent assessments – including self-assessments by the students – to ensure the requisite content is mastered.

The concept of allowing students’ own interests to drive their education isn’t entirely new. In fact, the roots of it can be found in the work of early 20th-century educator John Dewey, psychologist Carl Rogers, and Maria Montessori. Following publication of his popular book “Horace’s Compromise” in 1987, former Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Theodore Sizer created the Essential Schools Coalition, which prescribed collaborative learning environments with a “teacher as coach, student as worker” premise.

Yet the past decade has seen significant growth in the number of U.S. schools experimenting with approaches that incorporate some of these central elements. The language used to articulate the concept has also shifted over the years. And today, educators often use different terms to describe student-centered learning. Concepts fitting under that umbrella include personalized learning, student-teacher partnerships, adaptive learning, and collaborative learning. Two other important elements: Competency-based education, which is gaining popularity particularly in higher education as a means of recognizing the skills students bring with them to the classroom, and proficiency-based instruction, which allows students to move ahead at their own pace once they’ve demonstrated they’ve mastered the material.

Traditional “teacher-centered” classrooms are sometimes criticized as too rigid to meet the needs of a diverse population of students who inevitably are at varying levels of ability, learn best in different ways, and have different interests. By comparison, in student-centered learning environments, teachers focus more on coaching than lecturing. Classrooms’ physical environment is often more flexible as well, with open seating plans and no obvious “front” of the classroom.

The classroom is shaped as a collaborative environment, with the student as an active, rather than passive, participant. Students are given choices of how and what they learn, encouraging them to find a direct connection between the instructional material and their own interests and real-world experiences. When students demonstrate mastery, they can advance rather than wait for the rest of the class to reach a similar tipping point.

Student-centered learning does have its critics, both of the philosophical premise and the associated logistics. Experts warn that the approach requires special training to effectively manage an open-plan classroom environment. Not all districts or schools are prepared to provide the requisite professional development or day-to-day support teachers need to successfully implement the student-centered learning model. Such classrooms can be noisy and chaotic, and because the teacher isn’t delivering the same information to the entire group at the same time, it’s possible that some students will miss out on important content, skeptics say. The Education Trust, an advocacy organization focused on closing achievement and opportunity gaps for minority and low-income students, has also raised questions about whether competency-based instruction is equitable.

“There is appeal to moving students through the curriculum as they are ready,” Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy at Education Trust, told the Wall St. Journal. “But the risky downside is that it could translate into lower expectations in terms of how fast low-income and minority students are expected to progress.”

In surveys, teachers themselves have expressed skepticism about being able to effectively cover an entire year’s syllabus using student-centered learning, particularly given the increased expectations of the new Common Core State Standards. Others mistrust the model as fad pedagogy and are reluctant to have their classrooms used as incubators. In some instances teachers report that students themselves are resistant to the new learning style, particularly the expectation for group work. In fact, in its guidance to members, the National Education Association writes that the first step in adopting a student-centered learning environment is explaining it to the students, and helping them understand that it will “better allow them to meet their learning and life goals.”

What States Are Doing

Student-centered learning received a sizeable boost from the federal government in 2009 with the announcement of the Investing In Innovation (i3) grant program, which encouraged schools to form public-private partnerships:

  • In 2010, the Forsyth County (Ga.) Public Schools, in partnership with the University of Georgia, received a three-year, $4.7 million grant to develop district-wide personalized learning environment that would better monitor individual students’ progress and be more responsive to their needs. The grant also allowed the district to combine instruction, grading, and offline assessments into one platform for teachers.
  • In 2012, The New England Network for Personalization and Performance, created by the Plymouth (Mass.) Public School District and the Center for Secondary School Redesign, was awarded a $5 million i3 grant to implement a new educational approach at 13 high schools. The network is a coalition of four states – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire – working with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the Rural Schools and Community Trust. The other project partners are the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which includes 33 high schools, and the University of California Los Angeles School of Management, which will serve as the evaluator.
  • In 2013, ConnectEd – The California Center for College and Career – was awarded $3 million in i3 funds to explore the effectiveness of “linked learning” (focusing on real-world experiences and hands-on instruction) as a means of improving outcomes for high school students. The partners for the project include the James Irvine Foundation, which will provide support to the four school districts in the pilot program.

Additionally, the 16 recipients of the district-level Race to the Top grants have each incorporated an element of personalized learning in their proposals. (See the American Institutes of Research report for more on this issue.)

What the Research Shows

The Center on Reinventing Public Education examined student-centered learning programs nationwide in 2012, and determined that implementing them could be done successfully by reallocating existing school resources. At the same time, CRPE researchers concluded that by building public-private partnerships for student-centered learning, districts could attract substantial new resources and support.

In a 2012 literature review, the Center on Education Policy concluded that tapping into student motivation was an important element in school improvement efforts. Not surprisingly, students’ motivation – often along with their academic achievement – increased when they saw a direct connection between what they were learning and their own interests and goals.

Programs that were found to be successful at boosting student motivation include some alternative education programs that incorporate community service into the curriculum, as well as those that encourage students to be more independent thinkers – all approaches that fit under the student-centered learning umbrella. The studies have also found that when students are motivated, they demonstrate a better grasp of the subject matter, have higher self-esteem, and are more likely to graduate.

In a recent report, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education found that at four California high schools using a student-centered learning approach, minority students were out-performing their peers – at traditional campuses – in some cases by a significant margin. The case-study high schools offer open enrollment and serve populations of predominantly minority students from low-income families. As the report’s authors noted, “Student-centered practices are more often found in schools that serve affluent and middle-class students than those located in low-income communities. Creating student-centered learning environments is one way the country can effectively address the opportunity gap for these students.”

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D.C.’s ‘Opportunity Academies’ Aim to Get Students Back on Track

The rapid improvement over the past decade in Washington, D.C.’s district-run schools — as measured by rising test scores and graduation rates — has drawn national notice.

But officials with the District of Columbia Public Schools remain concerned that too many students still slip through the cracks, with 31 percent failing to graduate high school on time, based on the most recent DCPS data.

Latest News

Pacesetter In Personalized Learning: Summit Charter Network Shares Its Model Nationwide

How does a thermometer work? A group of 7th graders discuss their ideas.

Nearby, a student named Ferdinand is modifying a swallow so the bird can survive in the video-game fantasy world he’s designed on the computer. “I’m giving it spiked feathers,” he says with a grin. “My world has insane predators.”

Some students are working in pairs. Others are on their Chromebooks. The classroom is abuzz with activity.

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Girls Get Fresh Start at All-Female Charter School

Ask the principal of any U.S. high school and they’ll likely tell you their goal is to graduate all of their students “college- or career-ready.” That is, students should be prepared to begin postsecondary education or enter the workforce and be successful.

Andrea Purcell, the principal of an all-girls charter school, is no different, despite the fact that her group of 120 or so high school-aged students are among the most at-risk for dropping out.

Latest News

A Statewide School Reform Gains Fans and Concerns While Letting Students Learn At Their Own Pace

Troy Paradee loves going to school. He loves “the excitement about all the things I’m getting to learn.” Jocelyn Foran can’t wait to get to her classroom either: “We are learning so much more and it’s so much more fun and creative.”

Paradee and Foran are among the surprise beneficiaries of a statewide effort in Vermont to “personalize” learning: They are teachers who say that their jobs have become far more rewarding by giving students greater freedom to choose what to learn both in and out of school.

Latest News

Rhode Island Pilots Personalized-Learning Initiative

Over the last few years, Rhode Island has emerged as a national leader in the drive to put personalized-learning programs into actual classroom practice. Now education leaders in Providence, the state’s capital and most populous city, are looking to scale their early efforts statewide, pushing district leaders to think bigger about pilot programs and technological infrastructure, while also commissioning new research on how an understudied learning model could drive student performance.

EWA Radio

Why (and How) Vermont Schools Are Getting Personal
EWA Radio: Episode 116

Some school districts are experimenting with ways to get students more engaged in their own learning, and to connect their individual interests to long-term goals. John Tulenko, a contributor to The Hechinger Report, visited Vermont, where a statewide investment in personalized learning is starting to gain traction. What kinds of learning opportunities are students creating for themselves? How are teachers responding to the instructional shift?

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USC Charter School Sets Students’ Sights on College

The waiting list to get into USC Hybrid High College Prep in downtown Los Angeles is long – about two students for every one admitted – and so is the commute for many of the students who go there. An hour-and-a-half each way by bus or car isn’t uncommon.

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What Does Charter School Innovation Look Like?

At Summit Public Schools campuses, you won’t see PowerPoint lectures on “Antigone” in English class or witness lofty explanations of the Pythagorean theorem in geometry. Instead, you’ll hear a discussion about the morals and ethics in the ancient Greek tragedy tied to students’ own teenage identity formation and observe discussions on how real-life problem-solving skills can be applied to math.

EWA Radio

Beyond Buzzwords: What Does “Student-Centered Learning” Look Like?
EWA Radio: Episode 100

Katrina Schwartz of KQED Public Radio in San Francisco joins the 100th episode of EWA Radio to discuss the growing interest in student-centered learning and  personalized instruction. What are promising examples of these approaches in action? Can personalization and efficiency co-exist? How is data — big and small — informing teachers and shaping individual student learning? And what are some big stories to watch for in the coming months?


Measuring the Soft Skills: What Reporters Need to Know

Measuring the Soft Skills: What Reporters Need to Know

Should schools measure skills like cooperation, communication, self-confidence and the ability to organize? Efforts to gauge these so-called “soft skills” are gaining traction in the classroom, especially with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The new federal law calls on states and school districts to incorporate at least one measure beyond test scores and graduation rates in their accountability systems.


Dr. Frances Jensen Discusses the Development of the Teenage Brain
Author Discusses Book, "The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults​"


Join Education Writers Association for a brown bag lunch with noted neuroscientist Frances Jensen, author of “The Teenage Brain.”

Teens may look like amateur adults, equipped with the kind of know-how parents and teachers take for granted. But behind those side-eyes and earbuds is a brain fast at work learning to cope with an onslaught of hormones, sensory experiences and the last gasps of adolescence.

Hager Sharp offices
1030 15th Street, NW, Suite 600E
Washington, DC 20005
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Building a ‘Super School,’ for $10 Million

Students at the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School this week during a visit by U.S. Department of Education officials. The school is one of 10 winning applications in a competition to reinvent the high school model. (Photo credit: Ethan Covey)

In Louisiana, a high school focused around the theme of coastal restoration will be built on a barge — yes, a barge. Two Los Angeles educators have dreamed up plans for a high school designed to serve foster and homeless children. And the Somerville, Mass., district is planning a year-round high school that “feels more like a research and design studio,” reports the Boston Globe.

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Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

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Why Student Voices Matter

Claire Faulkner will be a junior this fall at the Journalism and Media Academy Magnet School (JMA) in Hartford, Connecticut. She was selected to represent her program as a student journalist at this year's EWA National Seminar in Boston. (Photo courtesy of Claire Faulkner)

Here’s why I attended this year’s Education Writers Association National Seminar: As a high school student, I wanted to gain a new perspective on public schools and what is being done to improve them. And as an aspiring journalist, I was hoping to learn more about news coverage of education and why it is so important.

I attended many sessions over the course of the three-day event, but the session that stood out to me and that I continue to think about months later is Students At Center Stage. 


Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education
American Institutes for Research, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Competency-based education (CBE), an instructional approach that emphasizes what students learn and master rather than how much time they spend in school, is gaining popularity nationwide. CBE environments provide students with personalized learning, autonomy, flexibility, and responsibility for their own learning, which is theorized to improved learning behaviors.

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‘Student-Centered’ Approach Transforms High School

EWA journalist members talk with students in a Mandarin Chinese language class at Revere High School near Boston, Mass. in May, 2016. (Emily Richmond/EWA)

For Nancy Barile, who teaches English at Revere High School, turning around a reluctant reader meant turning on her own TV.

The student wouldn’t read or do homework, Barile said, but he was “obsessed” with The Walking Dead and urged his teacher to watch the program. So Bartile, who has taught at Revere for 21 years, made a deal: She would watch the TV show if he would read.

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Putting Students in Charge of Their Own Learning

Students from El Centro de Estudiantes learn from their mentors at Philadelphia's Wooden Boat Factory. Providing more personalized learning experiences has been found to improve students' motivation and academic outcomes. (Photo credit: Big Picture Learning)

Imagine you’re a student: You walk into school and check an electronic board for your name and where you go for the day. At the assigned station, you and a small group of fellow students work with a teacher on algebra, which builds on the lesson you mastered the day before. Then, you take a short quiz that helps to create your class schedule for the next day.


Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance

Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners summarizes the research on five categories of noncognitive factors that are related to academic performance: academic behaviors, academic perseverance, academic mindsets, learning strategies and social skills, and proposes a framework for thinking about how these factors interact to affect academic performance, and what the relationship is between noncognitive factors and classroom/school context, as well as the larger socio-cultural context.

Key Coverage

How to Teach Students Grit

All of which brings me back to the question of how to help children develop those mysterious noncognitive capacities. If we want students to act in ways that will maximize their future opportunities—to persevere through challenges, to delay gratification, to control their impulses—we need to consider what might motivate them to take those difficult steps.


Students at Center Stage
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar

Students at Center Stage

Many conversations about school improvement skip an essential element: student voices. This session stars students who are learning to advocate for themselves — both inside and outside the classroom. What’s firing them up, particularly in “student-centered learning” environments? What do they want reporters to know about the real world of schools?

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Wellness, Creativity, and Exemplary Teaching: The Codman Academy Formula

Physics teacher Maggie Mahmood works with sophomore students at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, Mass. (Liana Heitin for EWA)

At Codman Academy Charter Public School, the walls in the lower school hallways aren’t covered in the bright reds, yellows, and oranges visitors might expect in an elementary setting. Instead, they’re subdued neutrals, mostly creams and browns. Rather than large chart paper displays and murals, there are natural wood panels, internal and external windows, and glass panels decorated with branches and leaves.

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Angela Duckworth: Raising Test Scores Is Not a Sign of Grit

In the dozen years that Angela Duckworth has researched the concept of grit, she’s found new ways to test its validity, identified examples of it in popular culture, and worked to bust myths about its application in schools. But she hasn’t developed a just-add-water curriculum package that interested schools can use to develop the character trait in their students.

Key Coverage

The Promise of Social and Emotional Learning in U.S. Schools

For the eighth grader Kimberly Wilborn, a lesson about Nelson Mandela made it all click.

“Ms. Plante was talking about Nelson Mandela and how he forgave his jailers,” remembers Wilborn, who is being raised by her aunt on Chicago’s South Side. “And I thought if he can forgive them, I can forgive my birth mom and my dad for not being there for me. I actually cried. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

Key Coverage

Growth Mindset Means More Than Just Praising Kids for Trying

The approach has been misinterpreted by some to mean simply praising effort.

But that’s misunderstanding the thinking behind a growth mindset, Dweck said. Telling students, “Keep trying; you can do it,” doesn’t work, she said. Teachers instead should ask students these questions: “What strategies have you tried? What will you try next?” “It’s not just effort,” Dweck said. “You need strategies.”

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Deeper Learning, Smarter Testing

Linda Darling-Hammond speaks to reporters at a seminar on motivation at Stanford in November. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

Since 2003, more information is produced every two days than the total sum of information produced between that year and the dawn of time, the CEO of Google said in 2010.  Easily web-accessible facts, names and articles have grown exponentially, so much so that some say students can’t be taught like they were in the past, when rote memorization was the gold standard for learning and information wasn’t at almost everyone’s fingertips.

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Growing Minds, Changing Math Classes

Jo Boaler speakers to reporters during EWA's seminar on motivation held at Stanford University in November (Credit: Stanford University/Marc Franklin)

As the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” plays out over the music video, the lyrics are a bit different:

“We will make mistakes…our method’s gonna break…not a piece of cake…we’re gonna shake it off, shake it off…”

It was in this video Stanford University Professor and author Jo Boaler says she was compelled to do something she didn’t want to do. “They made me rap,” she said. When her undergraduate students challenged whether she had a growth mindset about her rhyme skills, Boaler said to herself, “Oh my gosh. I’m gonna have to rap.”

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Carol Dweck Explains ‘Growth Mindsets’

Carol Dweck addresses reporters at EWA's seminar on Motivation on the Stanford University campus, Nov. 11, 2015 (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

One of the most popular ideas in education today is also one that is often misunderstood. While Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” has a emerged as a meme for motivation less than a decade after the publication of her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” the Stanford psychology professor is worried about its misapplication.

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To Improve Learning, More Researchers Say Students Should Feel Like They Belong in the Classroom

Camille Farrington speaks to reporters at EWA's seminar on motivation at Stanford, Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

About a third of the students who started college in 2009 have since dropped out, joining the millions of young adults who never entered college in the first place.

Several years into a massive push by both the federal government and states to increase postsecondary graduation rates, education policymakers across the country are asking what else they can do to get more students to and through college.


69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
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Back-to-School: Story Ideas That Shine


While it may seem that every back-to-school story has been written, the well is far from dry. Are you following the blogs teachers in your district write? Have you amassed the data sets you’ll need to write that deep dive explaining why so many local high school graduates land in remedial classes when they first enter college?

No? It’s OK. You’re not alone.

EWA Radio

Rethinking Classroom Discipline
EWA Radio: Episode 32

Conversations about classroom discipline typically focus on ways to teach kids there are consequences to their actions as a means of controlling future behavior. But a new approach gaining ground removes the sliding scale of punishment from the equation.

Clinical psychologist Ross Greene — whose books are well known to parents of so-called “problem kids,” is rewriting the rules for how some schools respond to challenging students.

EWA Radio

What Grit and Perseverance Could Look Like in the Classroom
EWA Radio: Episode 31

(Flickr/Steven Depolo)

Nestled within the new-agey sounding concept of “noncognitive factors” are fairly concrete examples of what parents and educators should and shouldn’t do to prepare students for the rigors of college and careers. Gleaned from research into brain development and human behavior, a toolkit is emerging on how to make the best of the scholarship focused on qualities like grit, persistence and learning from mistakes.

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When Wrong Answers Lead to the Right Outcomes

Moderator Ki Sung (L) listens as Camille Farrington (R) explains the role non-cognitive research plays in schools. (Credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EWA)

In a second-grade classroom outside of Palo Alto, Calif., students were sharing their answers to a math quiz. A young boy named Michael held up his answer, and, as was customary, his classmates showed their verdict on the answer – thumbs up or thumbs down.

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Beyond the Buzzwords: Understanding ‘Deeper Learning’

Students work on robotics projects as part of the LEGO Education program, one approach to a "deeper learning" mindset in classroom instruction. (Flickr/Jeff Peterson)

Focusing on student learning, and structuring the school to fit students’ varied learning paces, is proving to be a game changer, said panelists at EWA’s recent National Seminar in Chicago, moderated by journalist Katrina Schwartz of Mindshift at KQED Public Radio.

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Student and Teacher Voices on Student-Centered Learning

From left: Stephanie Hernandez, Lesley Perez, Joshua Botterman and Jennifer Hayes at EWA's National Seminar in Chicago, April 21, 2015. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

If teachers and principals want students on center stage in their classrooms, they’ll first have to do a lot of work backstage. However, as a panel of teachers and students told attendees at EWA’s recent National Seminar in Chicago, the return on investment can be substantial.

When Revere High School, outside Boston, began moving to a more student-centered approach, the educators didn’t expect an overnight miracle.

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Students, Teachers Don’t Study The Way Science Says They Should

Henry Roediger listens as Bror Saxberg answers a reporter's question at EWA's 68th National Seminar in Chicago. (Photo credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EWA)

Most students don’t study using methods backed by scientific research, panelists at the Education Writers Association’s deep dive on the science of learning told reporters in Chicago at the association’s 68th National Seminar.

“Why do people find learning so hard?” asked Henry Roediger, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who participated in the April event.

EWA Radio

Mindful Learning: Reporting on Classroom Innovations
EWA Radio: Episode 23

How do teachers and parents determine whether school reform is effective? Hint: it’s not all about test scores.

Reporter Katrina Schwartz focuses on classroom innovations for KQED San Francisco’s Mindshift education blog, which is produced in partnership with NPR.

She spoke to EWA’s Emily Richmond and Mikhail Zinshteyn about sifting through the buzzwords, what attracts her to a potential education story, and why anecdotal evidence is worth considering when evaluating school and student performance.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How One Charter Group Took a Start-Up Approach to Teaching

Classroom with Chromebooks Flickr/kjarrett (CC BY 2.0)

At Summit Public School: Denali, young learners do it differently. Most of the students at this Bay Area-area school complete their coursework on school-issued Chromebooks, where they access a portal to online videos, assigned readings and interim assessments they take at their own pace. It’s a competency-based approach to proving they have mastered the subject at hand. 


The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape – Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The study finds that the Carnegie Unit remains the central organizing feature of the vast American education system, from elementary school to graduate school, and provides students with an important opportunity-to-learn standard. But at best, the Carnegie Unit is a crude proxy for student learning. The U.S. education system needs more informative measures of student performance. 

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Stand and Deliver: A School Where Students Defend Their Work

On Day 2 of "Bursting the Bubbles: Reassessing Assessments," journalists took a field trip to Impact Academy. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

Education journalists took a field trip to Impact Academy of Arts and Technology this week to see project-based learning in action, including observing classrooms and watching a student defend her project on World War II and the Holocaust. Check out some Tweets from the visiting reporters, as well as more highlights from the first day at the EWA seminar at Stanford University. (Also, check out this earlier blog post about our testing seminar.)


The Past and the Promise: Today’s Competency Education Movement

Competency education is attracting significant interest as a promising way to help meet our national priority of ensuring that all young people are ready for college and careers. In competency-based schools, students advance at different rates, based on their ability to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives. Teachers provide customized supports to help propel everyone to proficiency. 


A New Era for Educational Assessment

Among education researchers, there is a growing consensus that college and career readiness depends on not just academic knowledge and skills but on a wide range of social and developmental competencies, as well—such as the ability to monitor one’s own learning, persist at challenging tasks, solve complex problems, set realistic goals, and communicate effectively in many kinds of settings. Yet, most U.S. schools continue to use standardized achievement tests, focusing exclusively on reading and math, as their primary means of gauging student progress.


Are Personalized Learning Environments the Next Wave of K-12 Education Reform?
American Institutes for Research

Are Personalized Learning Environments the Next Wave of K-12 Education Reform?, the first issue paper in a new series from AIR, examines 16 successful applications from the first round of Race to the Top District (RTT-D) awards. It identifies trends and lessons learned from these pioneering grantees’ efforts to implement and scale teaching and learning innovations.

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How Are Competency-Based Education and Student-Centered Learning Changing Schools?

Elena Silva of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Photo credit: Melissa Bailey

More students are earning high school diplomas – but the diplomas don’t mean those students are ready to succeed in college.

Nicholas Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made that observation as he began to argue for a dramatic rethinking of the way schools measure learning, promote students and award diplomas. He made the argument during a “Deep Dive on Competency-Based Education and Student-Centered Learning” at EWA’s National Seminar in Nashville in May.

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EWA Webinar: Reporting On Summer Learning

While students might be basking in a long summer break, that leisure time carries a heavy price tag: on average, students will return to school in the fall a month behind where they performed in the spring. And the learning loss is typically even greater for low-income students who were already behind their more affluent peers. 


Students at the Center

A project of the nonprofit Jobs For the Future, Students at the Center “synthesizes and adapts for practice current research on key components of student-centered approaches to learning and deeper learning outcomes.” The organization’s mission is to “strengthen the ability of practitioners and policymakers to engage each student in acquiring the skills, knowledge, and expertise needed for success in college, career, and civic life.”


James Irvine Foundation

Founded in 1937 to benefit the people of California, the James Irvine Foundation’s mission is expanding opportunity. The foundation has awarded more than $1.3 billion in grants to over 3,500 nonprofit organizations across the state.


Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Based in Quincy, Mass., the nonprofit Nellie Mae Education Foundation focuses on improving the equity and quality of public schools in New England, with a special emphasis on student-centered learning, district and state-level change, research and analysis, and increasing the public’s understanding.


Coalition of Essential Schools

This organization grew out of the work of Theodore Sizer, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who advocated an aggressive overhaul of how the nation’s high schools are structured, with a goal of improving student interest and engagement. 

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Word on the Beat No. 3: Differentiated Instruction

Each week, The Educated Reporter will feature a buzzword or phrase that You Need To Know (yes, this designation is highly subjective but we’re giving it a shot). Send your Word on the Beat suggestions to

Word on the Beat: Differentiated instruction.

Key Coverage

N.H. Schools Embrace Competency-Based Learning

Brittany Rollins is hanging out a lot at the local animal shelter this year. Delving into the issue of pet euthanasia and writing about it will help her earn English/language arts credits toward graduation. The 17-year-old senior at Newfound Regional High School, in the rural central New Hampshire town of Bristol, is part of one of the most aggressive statewide efforts in the country to embrace competency-based learning.