Deeper Learning Networks: Taking Student-Centered Learning and Equity to Scale

Can teaching and learning practices that foster “deeper learning” among all students—not just the most advantaged—be successfully replicated across large numbers of schools? The answer is an unqualified “yes,” according to a new study released today by the Learning Policy Institute. The study examines how Internationals Network and two other school networks representing mostly students of color from low-income families have successfully taken student-centered learning and equity to scale.

Deeper learning approaches, including project-based learning, experiential work-based learning, and performance assessments, allow students to explore their interests in personalized and inquiry-based ways, learn core academic content, and develop key skills such as collaboration, communication, and critical problem solving that enable them to apply their knowledge in ways that prepare them for college, career, and citizenship. The new study, Deeper Learning Networks: Taking Student-Centered Learning and Equity to Scale, features three case studies and a cross-case report and brief that take an in-depth look at how three networks of schools successfully overcame major barriers to instituting complex teaching and learning practices in a variety of settings and enabled positive outcomes for their students. The networks—with a combined 271 schools and 90,000 students in the United States and abroad—are Big Picture Learning, the Internationals Network for Public Schools, and New Tech Network. 

“Internationals Network’s approach is grounded in the premise that deeper learning is for all students, especially recent immigrant and refugee multilingual learners” said Joe Luft, Executive Director of Internationals Network. “Providing multilingual learners access to meaningful learning, and supporting teachers and leaders to implement deeper learning structures and practices has always been Internationals recipe for success. We are proud to be among three networks studied in the Learning Policy Institute reports, highlighting how we “re-create, sustain and spread” our innovative and equity-oriented approach in partnership with districts across the country.”  

While each has its own distinct approach, the three networks – which work in partnership with districts, rather than as networks of charter schools — have taken common steps to re-create their deeper learning models in new settings while adapting to the challenges and opportunities in local communities. These steps include:

  • Designing whole schools with structures to personalize learning and to support equitable outcomes, including supports that address students’ academic and social-emotional needs;
  • Collaborating with  district, and community partners to implement network models in ways that develop a shared commitment to deeper learning and equity;
  • Providing ongoing, multifaceted, and experiential professional learning that enables teachers and leaders to develop and improve their practice;
  • Developing leaders who deeply understand and are committed to implementing network practices in new and existing sites; and
  • Maintaining a learning orientation that allows the network and its affiliated schools to continually improve their designs to ensure quality and equity.

“There is no question that deeper learning approaches are fundamental to modern education,” said Learning Policy Institute President and Stanford Professor Emeritus Linda Darling-Hammond. “And yet, far too often these approaches are only available to affluent,  students attending well-resourced schools. What we have learned from studying these three exemplary school networks is that systems can be put in place in sustainable, scalable ways that ensure all students—and especially traditionally underserved students—can experience high-quality learning that prepares them to succeed in the 21st century.”