Opinion | It's time to move to personalized learning for all students

Michigan public school enrollment is down more than 50,000 students, according to pupil count, and it is time to expand educational options and choices that are designed to match students’ wants and needs. To accomplish this, we need to move to personalizing learning for ALL students in Michigan.

Eve Kaltz

Eve Kaltz is a retired superintendent from Center Line Public Schools. In addition to spending time being a grandma, she advocates for personalizing education to make learning more equitable. 

Forcing students into the virtual environment or in and out of online learning has had a catastrophic impact on students, especially in high-poverty areas where they depend on so much more from the school than just learning. Enrollment in public schools has plummeted and many parents are unhappy about the amount of time and energy they are expected to put into teaching their own children. Parents have also seen how difficult or easy the work is for their children and expressed frustration in both instances.

Personalized learning for all students is imperative and this is the time to make that happen. Educators from all over struggle with students' lack of motivation and engagement. Identifying, promoting, and building on each students' strengths and aligning their learning to these will promote students participation in their own learning. For example, we should be harnessing the expertise of educators with the power of technology to create resources for teachers and students to access. There are master teachers who not only know their content area but understand how to present the information in a way that challenges and intrigues students. Other teachers are experts in assessment design. Bringing them together from around the state to create video lessons and design performance assessments that cover all power standards would result in a powerful and critical library of learning continuums. Students would not only receive direct instruction from their teacher but also have additional instructional resources to use, if necessary.

It is time to allow each student to move at their own pace, show mastery through performance, and take classes that follow a pathway that aligns with their strengths and talents. Making changes in public education so that all students have a chance to maximize their potential will require a mind shift in how we teach, staff, and account for students. These changes are necessary for our high-risk students to have an equitable opportunity to understand their gifts and talents and know which careers depend on those characteristics.

Educators are not in this alone. It will take legislators, the Michigan Department of Education, community members, businesses, and more to implement educational change.  As has been shown through the pandemic, access to technology is imperative for learning and working.  High-risk populations need additional physical, social, and emotional support that community organizations can provide in partnership with schools. Laws and regulations need to allow schools the flexibility to provide personalized curriculums and resources for all students.

The pandemic has had a negative effect on many things. One positive and necessary change that can come from what has been learned is a statewide move to personalized learning.

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William .J. Laf...
Sat, 01/09/2021 - 11:48am

I totally agree. As a former school psychologist, I have noted how so many children have either been left back at the starting gate, because they could not master the material quickly enough, or bored to tears because they were ready to move forward quickly. We now understand so much more about children's developing cognitive abilities, and our Educational system needs to match.

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 11:53am

The first and easiest way to personalize or individualize education in our schools is to break the age-to-grade lockstep, and to assign all students to classes where they are working at or near their challenge level. Instead of an elementary school with 3 or 4 reading groups in each K-3 classroom, we should be having daily reading classes where the students are all reading at approximately the same level. Same with math, and science, and starting at third grade, social studies. The classes with students most behind expectation for their age should be smaller than average, without having to go through the rigamarole of "response to intervention" to document a disability, down to individual tutoring when warranted. To minimize long-term tracking, students should be assessed and potentially reassigned in each of their academic classes at each quarter or trimester break, not just at the start of each year.

This system is relatively easy to schedule for elementary schools, and for middle schools that share 4 or 5 classrooms full of students between a team of 2 to 4 teachers. High schools already have AP, Career Tech, college prep, special ed, and general education classes and tracks that they manage to schedule.

Nancy Flanagan
Sat, 01/09/2021 - 12:44pm

I met Ms. Paltz several years ago, when she was still working at Center Line. The gathering, in Grayling, was a group of school administrators from the region, and representatives from the Governor's office (Gov. Snyder). The purpose was to find ways to 'unbundle' the services public schools provide: instruction, assessment, curriculum, professional development. And to denigrate in-person schooling as mere 'seat time.'

The sponsoring group was affiliated with the Skunk Works, an undercover group of the Governor's advisors, that was trying promote 'value schools' where kids could be educated for under $5K apiece. There was a lot of happy talk about how great online learning could be. We saw a rosy presentation on how cheap it was to educate teenagers who were adjudicated and temporarily incarcerated.

Now that we've had a chance to try this great online technology out on a universal, mandated basis (in order to save lives)--prepare to see lots more articles like this. But before you buy the idea that 'personalization' (which means computer-delivered content, based on computer-delivered assessment of skills) is the answer, ask yourself: Do you want your children in school face to face, once the threat of getting the coronavirus has passed? Do you perceive the advantages and strengths of human relationships in student learning? I certainly do.

The window for promoting for-profit 'personalized' learning is now, as people are exhausted. The window for promoting broadband profiteers is now. Be very wary of anyone who is painting a rosy picture of at-risk learners being well-served by a mostly online model of schooling.

Tim Hall
Sat, 01/09/2021 - 2:29pm

The article on personalized learning gives no idea how that can be done. How, with one teacher per 30 or so students, can this be accomplished? And can it be done remotely? I don't see it. Some teachers manage to personalize their work in the classroom to a considerable extent. That won't work if the teacher is dead, after having reopened the classroom in March, when the pandemic is still raging, as I imagine it will be, given the snail's pace of vaccinations. The article does not seem to deal with any of these issues.

Marlene Lott
Mon, 01/11/2021 - 7:02am

Why would the teachers be dead? READ the science. Teachers at risk of dying would be those 71 or older or those who are chronically unhealthy with either Obesity, hypertension or diabetes. Most of which are self inflicted due to smoking, drinking, poor diet and lack of exercise per the CDC. So those teachers should retire or go on disability if they can't go to class.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 01/10/2021 - 9:59am

Sounds like a great idea. The problem is in the implementation. Students should absolutely be allowed to move ahead in subjects they excell in. Smaller classes would be great. Sitting in front of a computer all day, not so much.

Marlene Lott
Mon, 01/11/2021 - 6:59am

The enrollment is down because of the social agenda public schools are pushing. Not because kids need individual plans. Not to mention schools are completely feminized and boys don't relate well once they hit Jr High. I hold 2 degrees and wanted a change so I substituted for 2 years. The entire public school systems needs to be rebuilt.