At last month’s Hartford Board of Education meeting, a $120,000 contract to sustain student-centered learning almost got voted down.  What was going on?


Student-centered learning obviously is a misunderstood phenomenon.  Some see the expected learning via the chromebook at home as government over-reach – a sort of loco … in loco parentis!  Others worry about whether teaching is becoming too electronic – or that there won’t be sufficient resources to provide the one-on-one tutoring student-centered learning calls for.  The digital divide, in which some students do not have Wi-Fi at home, certainly is another issue.  All of these concerns are real.


Yet students never before seen participating in class now seem to find a voice with the personalized, internship-backed, and mastery-based activities where they own their learning, the District’s Executive Director of Planning and Partnerships, Michelle Puhlick, said in an interview this week.


At Bulkeley High School, partnering with the Journalism and Media Academy; Pathways to Technology High School, partnering with the Engineering and Green Technology Academy and High School, Inc.; and the Law and Government Academy, Nellie Mae Foundation grants have started and expanded student-centered learning programs here in Hartford and taken education innovation to real heights, of which we all can be proud.


Indeed, on Thursday, November 17, 2016 at Goodwin College, Pathways will celebrate its summer interns and their employers with a student showcase featuring intern presentations, Principal David Goldblum said yesterday.  Here’s the link to that program information.


Students in these Nellie Mae-supported high school programs report experiencing less absenteeism – and having more interest in personally driving their learning, Executive Director Puhlick said.


There is a misperception that student-centered learning merely plugs students into computers – and unplugs teachers from being educators.  That is not true.  Rather, the approach shifts ownership over learning to the students – and establishes a dramatically different, challenging, and perhaps game-changing coaching role for teachers.  It is, of course, new to some educators, parents, and students – but many have been on this road for a long time, seeing that young people must be equipped to cope with the global information economy.


Students who want to be car mechanics today have to develop the requisite computer skills.  By taking control of how they learn, they also can prepare themselves for the unforeseen jobs of the future – money in the bank, so to speak.



So Why Do Board of Education Members Sometimes Not Seem to Get It?


The Board of Education approved the Education Elements contract for student centered learning last month by a narrow 4-3 vote (with discussion within this video at the 1:11:45 mark).  The opponents thought the $120,000 could be better spent elsewhere, but they apparently didn’t realize that the grant funding was not transferable – or understand how this paradigm shift holds great promise to elevate individual and societal economic health in the years ahead.


This isn’t the first time that members of the Board have opposed contracts that push student-centered learning forward, which raises a question about how many Board members have even witnessed this new learning paradigm in action.


While impact reports expected in the next few weeks will provide an external evaluator’s assessment of student outcomes, we encourage Board members to visit the participating schools and see for themselves the difference a student-centered approach to learning makes.


A District program last spring, to provide a hands-on experience with students drew only a couple of Board members, and that’s a shame.  The November 17 event at Goodwin College – or site visits to participating high schools – would help spread the word that student-centered learning is an important modernization – energizing kids and teachers alike.


We will be looking into the state of support for SCL in Hartford, as it is critical to moving the work forward.