Catching Up with the Latest Push for Personalized Learning in Chicago Schools

If you’ve been following our education coverage at IP for any amount of time, chances are you’re already familiar with personalized learning. This is an especially attractive topic for funders in Chicago, where the public education system has been failing the city’s kids for many years now.

Over a year ago, we covered one particularly interesting funder collaborative centered around a nonprofit organization called LEAP Innovations. In "A Funder's Big Bet That Personalized Learning Tools Can Improve Chicago Public Schools," we looked into why the Chicago Public Education Fund, which heavily focuses its efforts on leadership training, was getting involved.

Now, well into the programs’ second year, we figured the Breakthrough Schools Chicago effort was worth another look.

To quickly recap, Breakthrough Schools Chicago is a regional initiative and grant competition that lasts for 10 months and supports teachers developing personalized learning programs. This is a $4 million effort designed to support local educators. LEAP Innovations, a Chicago nonprofit, and Next Generation Learning Challenges, an initiative of Educause, partnered up to make this happen.

In 2015, 15 Chicago schools got $30,000 planning grants and started participating in monthly workshops, visits to other schools, and consultations with experts in the field of personalized learning. Upon that announcement, the group said that it would offer up to six $280,000 launch grants to those participants to implement in the 2016-2017 school year.

Seven schools stood out and ended up receiving those launch grants: CICS Irving Park, Disney II High School, Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Joseph Lovett Elementary School, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Patrick Henry Elementary School, and University of Chicago Charter School-Donoghue. Three of these are high schools and four are elementary schools.

Funding for all of this is coming from Educause, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Chicago Public Education Fund, The Joyce Foundation, and Northern Trust. These funders are entrusting the seven winning schools to implement the ideas that they developed in the planning stage. The funders seemed to be encouraged by the first year’s results and poured more money into this year’s round of grants.

This Chicago initiative is just one of seven regional funds of Next Generation Learning Challenges. Others are in Colorado, Oakland, California, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and New England. Many of these personalized learning efforts are centered on technology as a means to train teachers to reach students. LEAP’s big goal is to intertwine technology throughout everyday education practices to tailor lessons to individual student needs and engage students in exciting ways. Education tech has been a big cause for local funders lately, so it'll be interesting to see if any other local foundations jump onboard for next year.