Student Engagement

A Case for Student-Centered Learning

February 13, 2014
Photo credit: US Department of Education via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Good news for students and schools: A new study, released last week by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), looks closely at four schools that are achieving positive outcomes for low-income students of color. The Stanford findings provide independent evidence that deeper learning strategies and student-centered practices increase academic achievement.

The schools in the study use either the model from Linked Learning Alliance or Envision Schools -- both of which show clear evidence of engaging and developing high levels of proficiency for students of color, English learners, and low-income students -- at levels that far exceed traditional schools serving similar students.

How are they doing it? How are these schools helping students develop the grit and determination to keep working, even as they face enormous obstacles and challenges? The strategies we use at Envision Schools, and similar ones used by the Linked Learning schools, are:

  • Committed to personalized learning: Teachers are highly attuned and dedicated to meeting the unique needs of each student.
  • Built on positive teacher-student relationships: Teachers build strong connections with their students and walk with them through four years of progress toward college readiness.
  • Grounded in reflection and revision: Performance assessment is designed to give students opportunities to practice, improve, and demonstrate their skills and knowledge, not just tests to conquer and move past.

The Stanford Study demonstrates the impact of these and other strategies on the achievement levels of students:

Results at Envision Schools

One-hundred percent of African-American and Latino 2012 graduates completed the courses required for UC/CSU eligibility at Impact Academy, an Envision school. Statewide, the rates are 34 percent and 39 percent respectively.

While only 8.3 percent of all low-income students nationwide earn a bachelor's degree by their mid-20s, at City Arts and Tech High School (CAT), 72 percent of 2008 graduates and 85 percent of 2009 graduates are persisting in college into their fourth and fifth years. The national college persistence rate for all incomes is 65 percent.

Results at Linked Learning Schools

For the graduating class of 2012, 95 percent of Dozier-Libby Medical High School's economically disadvantaged students completed the courses required for UC/CSU eligibility, compared to 30 percent for the entire state. Also in the study, Life Academy, which had a 2012 graduation rate of 71 percent, compared to only 59 percent for that school district.

Each of the four case studies is full of statistics like these, demonstrating the power and efficacy of deeper learning strategies. Voices of students and graduates tell the story further, that these schools are teaching the right skills for success in college, from public speaking and revision, to persistence and assertiveness.

"CAT is really big on reflecting on your work and on yourself and thinking critically. With all the community-based exhibitions, you're speaking out a lot, and then you're working on communication skills."-- CAT student

"The way classes were structured [at Impact]-applied learning versus just tests-is more like what we do in college. We have lots of applied learning and projects, and I know how to do more than just throw up what we learned from the teacher. I know how to internalize."-- Impact Academy graduate

[Our teachers] want us to go above and beyond what we think we can do. They do push us to [even if] we don't think we'll go that far. Sometimes you feel irritated because you think that they're telling you what to do, but it's just to help you and make you do your best. -- Dozier-Libbey student

These studies make worthwhile reading for any teacher or school leader interested in shrinking the opportunity gap in our country while also meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While many of the strategies examined in the SCOPE study are more often found in schools that serve affluent and middle-class students than those located in low-income communities, this doesn't have to be the case.

Schools can implement ideas that work for low-income students. Visit the SCOPE project page for case studies on each school and a forthcoming cross-case analysis, a policy brief, as well as practitioner's tools.

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  • Student Engagement
  • Education Equity

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