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Morgan Joseph February 21, 2018

Two Big Takeaways from AASA’s 2018 National Conference on Education

Morgan Joseph

Each year, AASA bring thousands of district leaders together for its National Conference on Education. The event is an opportunity for superintendents to network and learn from other district leaders – an opportunity rarely afforded to them outside of this event.

NCE is the place to understand how districts will approach initiatives they plan to adopt in the next few years. Here are two recurring themes we heard throughout the conference:

Technology is the Easy Part of Personalized Learning

In the past few years, district leaders have normed around the importance of personalized learning. For many, implementing personalizing learning began with a roll-out of enough new devices to allow students to engage with the curriculum and content at their own pace. But procuring new technology is often the easiest part of these initiatives.

Once devices are available, determining how to deploy them becomes the big challenge. If teachers are to use tech to augment learning opportunities, what supports are in place to help them change their instructional practice? If all students are simultaneously using devices, what investments must be made to build and sustain a district-wide network? If student data will be collected virtually, how will it be protected and what is the plan in the event of a data breach? If students are to use devices at home, how will each child access to the internet?

The list of considerations is massive and often requires investments even larger than the spend on initial procurement of devices. Failing to plan for these additional expenses could mean students don’t reap the full benefits personalized learning.

Equity Requires an Individualized Approach

Many districts experience an internal achievement gap. Some see disparities in student performance related to race, while others see a gap manifest across students of different socioeconomic levels. Many schools see personalized learning as a way to close these gaps, but without a targeted plan for implementation, such initiatives may only further exacerbate the existing divides.

Equality and equity are distinct from one another. With equality, everyone gets the same services, and with equity, resources are allocated in proportion to need. Educational equity requires students to receive interventions specific to their circumstances. This means shifting from an approach where everyone gets everything to one where some students get some things based on need. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, Dr. Wendy Y. Robinson eliminated the use of universal initiatives across the district. Each school in the district has resources selected to address the unique needs of their student populations.

Such a paradigm shift is challenging. Parents and stakeholders may see an individualized approach as depriving higher performing students of certain opportunities. In reality, equity means closing gaps and pushing everyone to do more. Using a fixed threshold of measured achievement instead of comparative indexes will help ground decisions in data instead of allowing biases and perceived superiority to dictate policy.

Were you at AASA NCE? What trends did you see? Share them with [email protected] and we’ll include them in our upcoming AASA blog series!