Students in two Florida school districts and one university-based lab school could advance through coursework at their own pace, based on “mastery of concepts and skills” rather than time spent in class, under legislation introduced today in both chambers of the state Legislature.
The bills, filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would create pilot programs at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School at the University of Florida, and in Lake and Pinellas County school districts.
Schools participating in the programs would have more flexibility to let students progress between units, courses, and grades based on whether they meet academic standards — a key principle of customized learning.
The two districts have both launched personalized-learning programs with backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which offered funding to half a dozen school systems around the country.
Lake County Schools won a $3.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to implement the program, which the district launched this academic year in some grades within two elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools. Administrators hope to implement the program in all grades in those schools in four years.
Most of the grant dollars are funding professional development for teachers, said Kathy Halbig, the district’s coordinator for personalized learning.
“The big thing that we need help from the Legislature on is pacing,” Halbig said. “What that means is, if a student is really gifted in math, there should be opportunities for that student to deepen or enrich or move forward in that content area. Our goal isn’t to have second graders graduate, but if students really are gifted, we want them to be able to move as deeply into the material as they are able. We don’t want them to be held back by ‘teacher pace.’
The Tampa Bay Times reported on the Pinellas County project in October:
Students have a “voice and choice” in how they demonstrate mastery of a subject, be it through a pen-and-paper test, an online exercise or a group project.
Mentors work with students to develop individual learning plans for academic and personal growth goals.
Projects that apply to the real world are emphasized over testing.
Many classes are “blended,” part online and part lecture.
Some classes combine subjects, which better reflects what students might experience in their careers.
The district wants every student in the pilots to have an electronic device, so cellphones and computers are encouraged in class for research.
Class times within the school day are flexible. Think more student freedom, like a college setting.
The pilot program envisioned in the legislation (HB 1365 and SB 1714) would run through 2021. Pinellas schools chief Mike Grego told the Times he expects personalized learning will be implemented throughout his district by 2030.