Personalized Learning

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Gives $14M for Personalized Learning in Chicago

By Benjamin Herold — May 04, 2018 3 min read
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The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative this week gave $14 million over two years to support personalized learning in more than 100 Chicago-area schools.

The money will be split between Chicago Public Schools (which is receiving $4 million of the total, to help bring personalized learning to more than three dozen of its schools) and the nonprofit group LEAP Innovations (which is receiving $10 million, to support dozens of other district, charter, and parochial schools in the city and its suburbs.)

For both recipients, the aim is to help schools better tailor education to the needs and preferences of each individual students. The focus will be on training teachers and principals, purchasing technology, and creating more flexible classrooms.

“Successful personalized learning starts with engaged and passionate teachers looking to support each student with an individualized path that helps them reach their goals,” said Janice K. Jackson, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, in a statement.

The 371,000-student district already has its own Department of Personalized Learning. About 120 schools participate in some form.

LEAP Innovations works with about 80 of those schools, providing professional development and other supports. The group also promotes personalized learning and related research and works directly with ed-tech companies to develop and pilot products in the classroom.

LEAP Innovations recently published a study showing mixed academic results at 14 of its Chicago schools testing new personalized-learning technology products. Students in grades 3-8 who were part of the pilot showed significant gains in literacy relative to peers in non-personalized-learning schools, but there were no significant differences in math.

In addition, a recent analysis of six “breakthrough” schools in Chicago that are working with LEAP to integrate personalized learning throughout their buildings found that the cost typically involves a six-figure upfront investment.

Those results are broadly consistent with national research into whole-school personalized-learning approaches, which have generally found modest learning gains and significant implementation challenges.

Big-picture, “personalized learning” remains a nebulous concept that means many different things to many different groups. Still, the idea has proved enticing to school leaders, more than half of whom described personalized learning as either a “promising idea” or “transformational way to improve public education” in a recent survey conducted by the Education Week Research Center.

In recent years, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, have emerged as prime backers of the trend. Through their venture-philanthropy organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the couple has committed to investing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in the movement.

Last year, CZI president of education Jim Shelton laid out his vision of “whole-child personalized learning,” which includes a focus not just on technology-enabled customization, but also a holistic approach to nurturing students’ social, emotional, and physical development.

The group’s new grants to the Chicago schools mark its largest single gift made directly to a school district to support personalized learning to date. CZI has also provided money for personalized learning (and other purposes) to the California-based Summit Public Schools charter network and to Bay Area school districts, such as Ravenswood and Redwood City.

“We’re partnering with Chicago Public Schools and LEAP Innovations to redesign learning environments and put far better tools in the hands of teachers,” Shelton said in a statement.

Photo: Janice Jackson, chief executive officer for Chicago Public Schools, appears at a news conference in 2015.--Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

This post has been updated to reflect the current number of Chicago public schools which which LEAP Innovations works. The current number is about 80.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.