Virtual School Meanderings

November 23, 2018

News – The Backlash Against Screen Time At School: Combining Education And Technology Is Great—Until It’s Not

This news item came across my electronic desk a week or so ago.

Children sit a table using tablet computers

Four years ago, Paul France left a teaching job in the Chicago suburbs to move to San Francisco and be part of the so-called personalized-learning revolution in education. He joined a high-profile start-up called AltSchool whose investors include Mark Zuckerberg and the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. France was passionate about both education and technology and welcomed the opportunity to combine the two. But they would not prove to be as complementary as he thought.

To continue reading, click here.

There were several things that jumped out to me in this article.

  • “AltSchool was flooded with applicants willing and able to pay tuition of $30,000 or more for their children to attend
  • “to date, it has raised more than $170 million in investment”
  • “venture-capital investors put $2.7 billion into ed-tech companies, up from $1.6 billion in 2016″

So there is a lot of individual and private money put into these personalized learning and blended learning schools – well beyond what a traditional public school gets.

  • “many of them urban charter schools serving low-income children”
  • “But in the midst of all the excitement, there’s little strong evidence that classroom technology, including personalized learning, is improving educational outcomes”

Even with this additional investment of money into the public education system, there is little evidence that things work.  And, unfortunately, that experimentation is often done on students that are already challenged in their educational opportunity (i.e., the most vulnerable learners are the ones that we don’t mind using untested – and often ineffective – education on).

  • “AltSchool’s founder, a former Google executive named Max Ventilla, envisioned it as a place where students, aided by technology and tech-savvy teachers, would learn at their own pace, based on their interests and aptitudes. Teachers, using proprietary software to track student performance and help guide their learning, would be freed from time-consuming tasks like scoring exams and could devote more attention to students.”
  • “students spend 30 to 60 minutes a day on laptops in their classroom and another 90 minutes in the Learning Lab—a large room where kids sit at long tables, wearing headphones and working on laptops, supervised by classroom aides”
  • “The kids looked zoned out, with blank expressions on their faces.”

While corporations and proponents make lost of promises about their model, the reality is that this is largely just putting kids in front of computers or devices that are little more than fancy thinking machines.

Let’s face it, the real purpose of these initiatives – and the reason why neo-liberals and other corporate-driven proponents are in favour of them – is twofold.

1. For the billions of dollars in profit that comes with selling ed tech products to schools, and even better directly managing schools to maximize those profits.

2. To achieve a situation where “many parents seemed to put more faith in software like Lexia, a reading program, and DreamBox, a math application, than in teachers” – which undermines one of the remaining vestiges of the labour movement (and one of the largest opponents that these corporate-backed “visionaries” actually have).

November 21, 2018

Giving Thanks

Another item from yesterday’s inbox…

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At Highlander Institute, we are incredibly grateful for the educators, partners, students, and families we are fortunate to work with on a daily basis. It is the passion, expertise, and dedication you bring that inspire us as we push forward toward a more just educational system that meets the needs of all learners. We hope you enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by delicious food and loved ones!

Get Your Free Tickets to the December EdTechRI Meetup

Please join us for our December EdTechRI Meetup on Monday, December 3 from 4:00-6:00pm. Each meetup features several new companies and entrepreneurs in the world of educational technology — specifically ones that want to connect with Rhode Island educators and community members to receive feedback and improve their products. We’re looking for innovative teachers, administrators, parents, and anyone else who is interested in learning more about the latest in edtech and is excited to pilot new products in their classrooms and homes.

As always, tickets are free and the event will include free food and beverages. We look forward to seeing you!


Register Today for Our Upcoming Webinar:
“Ed Current: Creating Pathways to Personalized Learning in Your District” 

Today, policymakers, district leaders, and teachers alike are leading the way toward personalizing learning for all students. But with advances in school technology, and the ever-changing definition of what it means to “personalize learning,” how are districts unpacking these concepts for their unique needs? How can blended and personalized learning models support students and incorporate local context?

Join Newsela and their very special guests from Highlander Institute, Shawn Rubin and Cathy Sanford, as they share principles of improvement science and change management and outline a 5-step framework to help school leaders, design teams, and educators streamline personalized learning. In this live webinar session, we’ll cover:

  • How to establish small pilot initiatives
  • Best practices for establishing success criteria and a framework for evaluation
  • Tips for creating pathways for replication and scale
Not sure if you’ll be able to watch the webinar live? Register anyway and we’ll send you a recording! Webinar appears Tuesday, November 27 at 5:30pm ET.
Register Here

Learn Next Micro-Grant Opportunity

Learn Next is announcing new micro-grants of up to $10,000 for districts and organizations who are ready to reimagine professional development. What would it look like if we transformed the traditional stand and deliver professional development model into something much more flexible, engaging, and effective? This effort invites you to use the Learn Next free and open resources to design and pilot an innovative professional learning model. Submit a brief, detailed plan with a line item budget by December 10, 2018 to be considered.
More Info

Summer Teaching Fellowship 
If you are interested, or think you may be interested, in a career in education, the Generation Teach (GT) Providence Teaching Fellowship is for you! GT partners with local schools to provide high school and college students with high-quality, summer teaching experiences. The fellowship includes two weeks of intensive training and five weeks of teaching small groups of middle-school students. Teaching Fellows receive daily coaching and support, as well as a $2,752 taxable scholarship. Please visit our website or email Cynthia Ramirez, Director of Providence Programs, at to learn more about the fellowship. The upcoming application deadline is December 5 so apply today!
Coaching and Leadership Roles
Generation Teach partners with local schools to provide high school and undergraduate students with high-quality summer teaching experiences to inspire them to pursue careers in urban teaching. GT also works with PPSD professional teachers who are interested in coaching, leading, and developing pre-service teachers. If you love collaborating, learning, and helping others grow, consider coaching or leading this summer. Learn more about paid opportunities at and contact Cynthia Ramirez, Director of Providence Programs, at cramirez@genteach.orgFull and part-time opportunities are available; apply now! The next application deadline is December 5.
Please feel free to contact us directly, visit our website, or connect with us on social media!
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November 19, 2018

TLA Fall Update: What Are We Thankful For?

Note this newsletter.

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Logo JPG
Dear Friends,
At The Learning Accelerator (TLA), we’re deeply passionate about ensuring that every child has a highly engaging, effective, and equitable education that prepares them to reach their full potential. Our efforts, which focus on connecting practitioners and leaders with the knowledge, tools, and networks they need to transform learning, are simply impossible without those of the amazing educators all across the country working to make student experiences more personalized, mastery-based, and data-informed on a day-to-day basis.
So, as we head into this week of Thanksgiving, the TLA team is especially grateful for all the teachers and leaders who have opened their doors – classroom, office, or otherwise – to show what can be possible for kids and families. Thank you.
Beth Rabbitt, CEO
Recent Highlights
Innovation Directors Network
TLA launched the Innovation Directors Network (IDN) this June in Denver, CO, bringing together system leaders from around the country who are charged with scaling innovation initiatives across their districts and school management organizations.
With participants serving a highly diverse group of over 800,000 students nationwide, the IDN’s goal is to accelerate collective learning through knowledge development, sharing, and evidence-building. Through ongoing virtual and in-person meetings, this network is collaboratively identifying and testing approaches for solving commonly-held problems and sharing that knowledge broadly with the field.
Follow us on Twitter @LearningAccel with the hashtag #TLAInnovationDirectors to receive updates on the work. On Giving Tuesday, you can help TLA further the work of our IDN cohort. Visit our fundraiser on Mightycause to donate and support innovation.
Innovation Directors Network group smiling at camera at first convening
TLA 2019 Measurement Fellows
TLA launched our annual measurement fellowship in 2017 to build the pipeline of relevant and actionable research for blended and personalized learning. We’re excited to announce the Independent Study cohort of our 2019 Measurement Fellowship:
  • Dr. Edward Cremata of Aspire Public Schools, CA will be investigating how blended learning approaches are currently used across Aspire, and how data and systems can be used to capture, share knowledge, and provide appropriate support across the organization.
  • Cecil Short of Brigham Young University, UT will be determining what performance-based tasks and artifacts would present a valid, adequate means of scaffolding and measuring teachers’ blended teaching competence.
  • Dr. Joshua Tabor of Denton Independent School District, TX will be exploring what drove Denton ISD’s version of blended learning, and whether the chosen method of blended learning delivers content to students in an effective manner.
This year, TLA is also offering a Partner Studies fellowship, which will be research on blended learning driven by the needs of a specific school system that has partnered with TLA to collaborate on testing and adaptation of blended practices. We will be accepting applications for Partner Studies until November 30, 2018. Apply here.
Learning Commons Playlists
Screenshot of a playlist on the Learning Commons
The ability to create, save, and share playlists of professional learning content from multiple expert resource providers has proven to be a favorite feature of the Learning Commons. For example, our content partners (and TLA) have been creating playlists based on content shared during sessions at important conferences and convenings. And school districts have been using playlists to model personalized learning and differentiate professional development, creating multiple pathways to allow adult learners to build their skill based on their specific needs and interests.
Check out these examples of popular playlists and explore more at the Learning Commons.
Coming Soon
Register for the 2019 Blended & Personalized Learning Conference!
On April 4-6, the Highlander Institute and The Learning Accelerator will showcase the best classroom, school, and district implementers from across the nation at our 2019 Blended & Personalized Learning Conference in Providence, RI. This event is a chance for educators and leaders to discuss blended learning as it exists today on the ground – both in terms of day-to-day implementation in blended classrooms, and the strategies and systems that have effectively supported replication and scale across schools and districts.
Graphic advertisement for the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference
TLA will be hosting an invite-only, full-day workshop on Friday, April 5, designed to bring advanced practitioners and leaders together to share learnings and tackle collective impact challenges. Registration for this day (which includes a few application questions) and the full conference is now open. Join us!
Open Educational Resources
High-quality open educational resources (OER) hold incredible promise as a tool for equitably improving classroom instruction while freeing up critical financial resources. TLA is in the middle of a six-month project to investigate the current state of OER practice in non-traditional school models. Early next year, we will share strategies emerging from the field for how to implement OER with fidelity at the classroom and system levels, including a series of case studies of real-world strategies and guidance for OER leaders on how to modify current options and/or future products. If you would like to share your insights and strategies with us, we would love to hear from you and welcome you to contact Jennifer Wolfe.
Connect with us!
The Learning Accelerator | 167 Hamilton AvenuePrinceton, NJ 08540


November 10, 2018

Our Book Release Party Recap

And another item from yesterday’s inbox…

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Celebrating Pathways to Personalization


Last night, we celebrated the release of our new book, Pathways to Personalization: A Framework for School Changesurrounded by friends, family, colleagues, and community partners. Over 120 guests were in attendance at Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village to honor the vision and hard work of authors Shawn Rubin and Cathy Sanford, and to get their brand new copies signed in person. In addition to the main event, we debuted a book-themed photo booth, hosted a scavenger hunt, and mapped influential educators across our small but mighty state.

In her remarks, Cathy recognized and thanked the individuals who feature prominently in the book as stories and case studies for the power of educators as change agents. Shawn shared: “There are so many people in this room that feel like family. This book was inspired by every single one of you that’s standing here…This book is you. It’s not us. I hope you feel that, because it’s through the people that we admire so much in this state that this book came to be.”

Thank you to all who joined us for this special night!


Click Here for More Photos from the Event

If you weren’t able to attend the party, never fear!

You can purchase your copy of the book in person at upcoming Highlander Institute events or online at

Pathways to Personalization offers a five-step framework to help school leaders and teacher teams design and implement blended and personalized learning initiatives based on local needs and interests. The book draws on principles of improvement science and change management, as well as work in nearly five hundred classrooms, to help educators define their own rationale for personalized learning, establish small pilot initiatives, determine criteria for success, evaluate their efforts, and create a path for replication and scale. Filled with activities and templates for organizing information and student feedback, the book also includes many examples of how district leaders, school principals, and teachers have successfully navigated the change process to create more student-centered classrooms.

Please feel free to contact us directly, visit our website, or connect with us on social media!
Visit Our Website
Copyright © 2018 Highlander Institute, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you registered to receive newsletters.

Our mailing address is:

Highlander Institute

166 Valley Street
Building 3L, Suite 101

ProvidenceRI 02909

November 3, 2018

Last Chance To Get Your Book Release Party Tickets!

From yesterday’s inbox…

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Last Call for Tickets


PBL RI November Meetup

Join us on Wednesday, November 14 from 5:00-7:00pm for Project Based Learning Rhode Island’s November meetup. This month we will be exploring how to launch a project in your classroom. Teachers from elementary through high school will discuss how to move from project design through implementation and everything in between. Teachers will share tools, strategies, and lesson plans from their classroom. We will also be facilitating a roundtable discussion about how to avoid common pitfalls in PBL.

As always, tickets are free and include free food and beverages.


Spotlight: Providence’s Culturally
Responsive Teaching Working Group

Today marks the official kick-off of the Providence Public School District’s Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) Working Group. Gigi DiBello, PPSD’s Supervisor of Personalized Learning, joined Melinda Lopez and Malika Ali from our Educational Strategies Specialist team to facilitate a daylong workshop with 30 teachers from 7 schools. The group’s goal is to create a community of learners who are eager to pilot CRT practices in their own classrooms to better engage their students and meet their diverse needs. Today’s workshop was the beginning of a K-12 conversation about connecting with students and reflecting on our own selves as people. Facilitators focused on ways in which teaching can connect to students’ cultures and encourage them to take intellectual risks, while recognizing the tension between theory and practice. This is a yearlong working group, with 5 full-day sessions coupled with coaching at the school sites.

Apply Now: Second Cohort of Distinguished Fellows

Jobs for the Future (JFF)’s Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative will select six leaders who are currently serving as classroom educators or school administrators in New England for its next cohort of Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows. Selected Fellows will receive a $10,000 stipend over the course of their tenure, as well as access to an “impact fund” of up to $5,000 per year to support school-related efforts to apply student-centered learning research in practice. Applications are due November 26.

New Episodes Available

This week, Nick and Christina, the trusty hosts of the Be Education Podcast, continue their spotlight on Highlander Institute’s new book Pathways to Personalization: A Framework for School Change. Hear from authors Shawn Rubin and Cathy Sanford as they discuss the Pilot phase, including stakeholder expectations, responsibilities, and timeline. If you’re looking for guidance, fresh ideas to bring to your school, or a friendly conversation to keep you company on your commute, check out Be Education on iTunes today.

Please feel free to contact us directly, visit our website, or connect with us on social media!
Visit Our Website
Copyright © 2018 Highlander Institute, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you registered to receive newsletters.

Our mailing address is:

Highlander Institute

166 Valley Street
Building 3L, Suite 101

ProvidenceRI 02909

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