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  • Parents Having More Choices About Their Child's Learning

    by LearnEd

    Photo of a girl

    Pearson Spark-4

    What I Learned About Choice Through Spark Schools

    This essay comes to LearnED from freelance writer and video producer Jana Sweeney. She has been sharing impactful stories about humanitarian projects for over 20 years. Jana is based in Nigeria.


    This week I have been thinking a lot about the importance of choice. As Westerners we often take choice for granted and forget that in many places choice is a luxury—especially in the developing world.

    quality of school

    I recently had the good fortune to visit SPARK Bramley. SPARK is an affordable education model in Johannesburg, South Africa. They are a network of primary schools focusing on achieving high academic standards but with low costs.

    As an American, I didn’t realize that all South African public/government schools are fee based. The quality of school your child attends depends on how much you can pay.

    At many of the schools the outcomes are dismal with children often falling way behind academically. Even for the most devoted of teachers, classroom size and limited resources make proper education nearly impossible.

    The founders and supporters of SPARK decided that something needed to be done and have opened eight schools since 2013.

    A Day in the Life of Expanded Learning Opportunities

    What is remarkable about these schools is that the focus on improving education has been so significant that these are not just schools for low income families. Middle and upper income families are applying for enrollment as well, even though the school is just a couple miles from Alexandra Township, one of the poorest communities in South Africa.

    I understand why after just a day at the school.

    The school is disciplined and academically demanding, but joyful and caring at the same time. As students wait for school to start, they gather in school yard for SPARKs Fly, a morning assembly—but unlike anything I've ever seen.

    The staff plays music to keep the kids entertained (and probably to help burn off a little energy before the day starts). As the music played not only did kids dance, but teachers, administrators and staff came dancing out of their office.

    Teachers then lead brain warm ups and a recitation of the school creed.

    As the kids moved into the classroom the difference continues with teachers facilitating student led activities. The teachers are in constant motion, encouraging activities, praising, helping and engaging on every level.

    There is also daily time at the Learning Lab with a heavy focus on the use of technology ensuring that children who graduate from SPARK will be ready for challenges of the 21st century.

    Parents Making Choices for Children

    When I spoke with parents, they kept emphasizing how grateful they were for this choice—that they were able to make decisions for their children and not just have to accept the only school they can afford.

    The children at SPARK come from a wide range of backgrounds, but I wasn’t able to tell the children of CEOs from the children of domestic workers. The families at SPARK are encouraged to be a support network for each other and they are.

    A Model for Africa and Beyond

    I have lived and traveled extensively in the developing world and seen the struggles of the education system. In fact, I currently live in Nigeria which faces the same educational struggles as much of Africa.

    engaged

    Schools with no air conditioning in unbearable heat, crumbling buildings, one teacher to 40 kids—sometimes of different age groups in the same class, children who come to school too hungry or too ill to concentrate.

    SPARK has changed all that. The teachers are so actively engaged they know if a child is struggling, or hungry or having other problems and they work with the family to come up with a solution. They are passionate and committed to the betterment of their students, but also to the betterment of the educational system in South Africa.

    When I asked one teacher what she wanted for her students future she said “I want them to put South Africa on the map.”

    If what I saw is any indication, SPARK is already doing that and the children attending the schools are going to be part of the change South Africa and other African countries desperately need.

    A Parent and a Teacher, In Their Own Words

    Olga Masingi is a parent of a student at SPARK. Here, she explains how learning at the school is so special:

    Banele Nghlengetwa is a teacher at SPARK Schools. Here, she's asked about why she teaches. Her answer: "What isn't there to love about teaching?"


     

    Jana-headshot 1

    Essay author Jana Sweeney.

    --

    The Pearson Affordable Learning Fund is proud to be an investor in Spark Schools.

    --

    Cover photograph: Copyright 2016 Charles Meadows.

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  • 5 Things You May Not Know About the Every Student Succeeds Act

    by LearnEd

    Crowd clapping for a black man sat at a desk

    See Below

    President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon.)
    President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law in December. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon.)

     

    A Legacy of Improving Education

    The first line of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reaches back to its origins:

    "An Act to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to ensure that every child achieves."

    That 1965 bill was passed during President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" to:

    "Strengthen and improve educational quality and educational opportunities in the Nation's elementary and secondary schools."

    Over the ensuing five decades, Congress has tweaked and reauthorized the law.

    This latest update of the 1965 law replaces the previous update known as No Child Left Behind, or NCLB.

    The new law was the result of extensive collaboration between the leaders of the Senate and House education committees from both parties, including Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA).

    In December, Congress passed the new law by overwhelming bipartisan margins—the Senate passed it 85 to 12, the House passed it 359 to 64.

    A Shift to the States

    "Previously, the federal government had an oversized role in educational reform," says Claire Voorhees, Director of K-12 Reform at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. "And it was not as effective as all of us would have liked."

    "Assessments are still required and schools are still held accountable," Claire says, "but states have more flexibility in testing and the targeting of funding."

    flexibility

    "This new law means more flexibility for states to innovate around school improvements for learners,"says Jessica Cardichon, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy for Comprehensive High School Reform at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

    "We're most pleased with how this new law identifies high schools where one-third or more of the students aren't graduating," Jessica says. "They're targeted for intervention and support instead of being 'shamed and blamed.'"

    "This is one of the biggest wins we see in this bill for kids," she says.

    States Rising to the Challenge

    "We hope to see all states rise to the challenge," says Jessica about progress to improving learner outcomes.

    Claire Voorhees adds: "But we want to make sure that every state has the leadership and capacity to do everything we want to see for kids."


     

    ESSA's sponsor, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee, on C-SPAN in December.
    ESSA sponsor, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee, on C-SPAN in December.

    Bipartisan Support

    In December, Senator Lamar Alexander explained on C-SPAN why the law had such bipartisan support:

    "We kept the tests so we'll know how people are doing, those are state-designed tests. But what to do about the tests now moves to the governors, the chief state school officers, the classroom teachers. That's why it had such support."


    ESSA Listicle
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  • Pearson Helping Teachers Around the World

    by LearnEd

    Teacher talking to a class
    Fallon Topper-01

    A Humanitarian Crisis and Pearson's Role in Helping Teachers Help Students

    Pearson CEO John Fallon says the many millions of children around the world who are not receiving a quality education is "a humanitarian crisis on a scale as big as anything else."

    He adds:

    "I believe absolutely in universal, basic education of a good quality ... that's available to everybody. But we're some way from that. And in the meantime, what do you do?"

    In this video, he explains how Pearson can be involved—with its expertise and its massive scale—to help teachers and improve learning at all corners of the world.

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  • The Really Smart People Who Are Designing Tomorrow's Learning Experiences

    by LearnEd

    Design illustration

    The Goal of Good Design

    "It's really about creating effective learning experiences," says David Porcaro, Director of Learning Capabilities Design for Pearson. David and his colleagues are baking in learning sciences research into the next generation of education tools for learners—of all ages.

    "We're collaborating with other Pearson researchers, designers, developers, and subject matter experts on digital learning experiences," he says, "and when we're able to achieve a good design it means learners see better outcomes."

    Agile, Integrated Teams

    "Designing for learning means understanding and applying numerous kinds of research -- from the learning sciences through to user behaviors with mobile technology," says Jeff Bergin, who is Vice President of Learning & Experience Design at Pearson, "and by partnering these research methodologies together, we can innovate more rapidly."

    "A lot of tech companies invest heavily in user experience design," says David Porcaro, "but fail to invest in academic research that guides the design process."

    "A lot of academic labs invest a great deal in research," he says, "but they don’t focus enough on user experience design."

    David says there are several PhD's in the group, with a wide breadth of knowledge. "We're not just building theory," he says. "Our main goal is to apply our research to make better learning tools."

    It's a continuous, collaborative process to try to get things right.

    And says Jeff Bergin: "we're always looking at the research to see what's best for learning.”

    A Great Tool Made Better

    Pearson Writer

    One of Pearson's most popular learning tools is the Pearson Writer. It's a support tool for students as they write.

    "We integrated the Writer into a sidebar for Microsoft Word," says John Sadauskas, a senior learning designer at Pearson. "Before, you had to use a separate browser window to refer to your essay outline, manually paste your bibliography into your paper, and refer to the writing tips in the guide."

    "Now, because the tool is integrated with the writing experience, learners are much more likely to refer to their outline. They can also add bibliographies to their papers with a single click, and ask the Writer for feedback when they need it without leaving Word," he says.

    "We want to see evidence that our designs are supporting learning," says Dan Shapera, Manager of Design-Based Research for Pearson's Learning Experience Design team. To test this experience early with users, the Learning Design team conducted participatory research with students.

    "Not just, 'How do we enhance each learning tools?' but also, 'Can we demonstrate with student data that the tool is having a positive effect?’”

    The sidebar is slated to be rolled-out in April.

    solve problem

    The Social Science of Design

    "I studied birding in school," says Brendan Reeves, a senior user experience researcher at Pearson. "I couldn't write a line of code to save my life."

    Still, the researcher who's trained in neuroscience has an important role in Pearson's design process.

    "We have to understand our users at a behavioral level," he says. "We have to identify a problem that actually needs to be solved, then provide a solution that's useful."

    "That's why social science and pedagogy is so important."

    Unexpected Results

    During some recent work, Brendan and his colleagues discovered something they didn't expect.

    "So many learners today are returning students, whether older students or parents or former military," he says. "And you might assume that they'd be far behind millenials in their use of technology in learning."

    "The research flipped that assumption on its head," Brendan says. "Younger students 18 to 22 who grew up on Facebook used technology in learning in a minimal way. They're using a ton of technology, just not for learning."

    "The older and returning students—people who are pressed for time or who are single parents—they're looking for optimized learning anywhere they can find it," he says. "They're using tons of technology to help them get their work done."

    Brendan says: "So much of our work is just solving the right problem."

    "That way, we can build products that help students of any kind learn."

    help learn
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  • A Boston High School Opens Its Doors to New Immigrant Students and Delivers Remarkable Results

    by LearnEd

    Students and teachers

    John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, talks to Arianna Melo during her ESL 1 class at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Melo has been at Boston Internaitonal High School for five months. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)
    John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, talks to Arianna Melo during her ESL 1 class at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Melo has been at Boston International High School for five months. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)

    Sheltered Curriculum

    An Immigrant Home Away from Home

    When Sherlandy Pardieu arrived in Boston from Haiti three years ago, he was placed into the district's only high school designed to serve immigrant students.

    Sherlandy knew almost right away that it was a special place. The school's nearly 400 students come from 40 countries and speak 25 languages.

    "This school is amazing," he says. "It's nice to be around people who are so open to you."

    "There's something beautiful about this school," says student Ronald Francois, who is also from Haiti. "All the different communities know how to fit in, and know how to talk to one another without hurting anyone."

    Classroom Learning and Language Acquisition

    Boston International High School and Newcomers Academy, known as BINcA, provides a college-preparatory curriculum for its students—all of them English language learners (ELLs).

    Newcomers Academy is a special program run alongside the high school that provides support to students with interrupted formal education, known as SIFE students, and those who are newly arrived to America.

    SIFE programming is available in Spanish, Haitian, and Cape Verdean.

    Newcomers Academy students are exposed to a Sheltered English Immersion curriculum focused on accelerating their language acquisition. Students are in the program for one year (two for SIFE students), and then can choose to attend any Boston high school.

    Many students choose to remain at BINcA.

    John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, left, walks with Tony King, Headmaster of Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Under a grant provided by Pearson and America's Promise Alliance the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working with ten school districts including Boston to improve graduation rates and outcomes for students whose first language is not English. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)
    John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, left, walks with Tony King, Headmaster of Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Under a grant provided by Pearson and America's Promise Alliance the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working with ten school districts including Boston to improve graduation rates and outcomes for students whose first language is not English. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)

    From Peace Corps to Headmaster

    The school's headmaster, Tony King, marvels at the resilience and spirit of his students. He says students find tremendous value in being part of such a diverse learning community.

    "They like going through the common experience of becoming an American," he says.

    A native Iowan, Tony has his own interesting path to BINcA. After graduating from the University of Iowa, he joined the Peace Corps to teach in the Cape Verde Islands. While there, he learned about Boston's large Cape Verdean population, and decided to come to study education as a graduate student in the city.

    Tony then taught in the Boston Public Schools, including bilingual classes, and worked in the district's central office. It led to an opportunity to work with others on proposals that created Boston International High School and then Newcomers Academy.

    More Teaching, More Learning

    "The road to doing well is up to us," Tony says.

    He says the school having autonomy over its own curriculum is critical.

    When asked why the school has such high outcomes for English language learners, he points to three key elements.

    A student in 12th grade English class works with her teacher Farah Assiraj at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Under a grant provided by Pearson and America's Promise Alliance the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working with ten school districts including Boston to improve graduation rates and outcomes for students whose first language is not English. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)
    A student in 12th grade English class works with her teacher Farah Assiraj at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Under a grant provided by Pearson and America's Promise Alliance the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working with ten school districts including Boston to improve graduation rates and outcomes for students whose first language is not English. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)

    First, the school can pick its own teachers. "The most important thing about our teachers is that they want to work at this school," Tony says. About 30-percent of the teachers are immigrants themselves. "I get to hire a more diverse staff that meets the needs of our specific students."

    Second, Tony says the school gets to think a lot about targeted support for individual students. This is especially relevant in a school environment where so many students face daily challenges related to poverty, homelessness, and other barriers to overcome.

    Third, King credits more teaching and learning time with the higher results. The school offers after school programming, Saturday school, and February and April vacation school.

    All these opportunities add up. Tony says a BINcA student taking the statewide Grade 10 MCAS tests this month would have received 100 hours of additional instructional time this year.

    New Expectations, 'Incredible' Success

    Not all of the school's students are ready to graduate in four years.

    Nyal Fuentes, a college and career learning specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, says the school has embraced the prospect that it might take some students five years to graduate.

    "They are graduating kids at incredible rates in five years," Nyal says. "BINcA has an asset-based model around language and student development that you don't see everywhere."

    A Focused Effort to Raise Graduation Rates

    Massachusetts education department officials have long been aware of BINcA's success and the strength of its approach to increasing outcomes for English language learners.

    Recently, the department was one of three recipients of a $200,000 grant from Pearson and America's Promise Alliance as part of the GradNation State Activation initiative. It's an effort is a collaborative one to increase high school graduation rates to 90 percent.

    Massachusetts is using its grant money to support a multi-year effort to raise the statewide graduation rates and improve outcomes for students whose first language is not English, known as FLNE student.

    The Department is working closely with ten school districts, including Boston, to support their local efforts and network them to information, resources, and technical assistance.

    Ronald

    'In Awe of the Students'

    Pearson CEO John Fallon visited BINcA during a recent trip to Boston.

    John was impressed by the school's leadership, its excellent teachers, and the collaborative learning community he observed.

    Mostly, he left in awe of the students. "You could teach us about intrapersonal skills," John told them. "Your resilience, your grit and ability to overcome, I am so impressed."

    Helping Other Schools to Transform Students and Improve Outcomes

    Others are taking notice as well.

    In December, Stanford University published a report on six high schools across the country delivering higher than average outcomes for English language learners. BINcA was one of the six schools highlighted in the report.

    Headmaster Tony King is quick to note, though, that the school is still working hard to improve.

    Still, students who will graduate this year are well on their way to success.

    Ronald, one of the students from Haiti, says he loves engineering and math—and will enroll at a local college in the fall.

    "I came here because in my country, what I want is not there," Ronald says. "I came here because if I work hard and go to college, I can be the person I want to be."

    John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, meets senior Sherlandy Pardieu at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Ronald hopes to pursue a career in engineering. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)
    John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, meets senior Sherlandy Pardieu at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Ronald hopes to pursue a career in engineering. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)

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