You’ll often read that charter schools are all about competition. And yet in New Orleans, where nearly 95% of public school students attend a charter school, educators from across the city regularly come together—voluntarily—to improve their practice and support their peers from other schools.

And often as a result we’ve seen good ideas scale much more rapidly than might be expected in such a decentralized system.

As an example, take personalized learning. Over the last 18 months, teachers and leaders representing over 60% of the public school students in the city have been gathering together on an ongoing basis to learn from national (and now local) experts on personalized learning.

The sustained collaboration around personalized learning offers a few key insights into how New Orleans teachers and leaders are continuously seeking to improve education for our city’s students:

From a few personalized classrooms to a citywide movement

In early 2014, NSNO surveyed educators to understand the use of personalized learning strategies in New Orleans schools. We found a handful of schools—really a handful of classrooms within a handful schools—exploring different ways to personalize each student’s academic experience. While few educators had fully embraced these innovations, we saw significant interest and a widespread belief that to fully deliver an excellent education to students performing at different levels—new approaches would be needed.

To build on this excitement, NSNO, with support from national and local partners, began convening schools and networks interested in pursuing personalized learning strategies. From a classroom teacher at a single site operator like Sophie B Wright, to the director of personalized learning at Morris Jeff, to the CEO of ARISE Schools—educators of all types and experiences have been coming together to learn from each other, to help each other solve problems, and to hear from personalized learning experts from around the country.

We’ve seen a citywide movement emerge—and it began with educators using their autonomy to try new strategies and help their peers to do the same—all in the service of New Orleans students.

Building New Orleans’ expertise

NSNO and our partners recruited a faculty from across the country to share their successes and challenges and to provide ongoing coaching and support as schools and CMOs began implementing personalized learning strategies.

As implementation began to scale citywide, local expertise developed rapidly. Empowered by the autonomy and experience implementing personalized learning within one CMO, a local personalized learning expert from KIPP New Orleans Schools has begun leading a New Orleans community of practice and, at a recent workshop, joined the national faculty to coach other New Orleans educators.

In 18 months, New Orleans has gone from a few classrooms experimenting with blended learning, to schools and networks across the city implementing lessons from national leaders, to developing New Orleans-based personalized learning expertise.

This is how New Orleans comes together to get results for students

Education researcher Doug Harris and his team at the Education Research Alliance stated that they’ve never seen a school district make the improvements that New Orleans has over the last decade.

Though this progress is remarkable, no educator in our city is waving a victory flag. Teachers and leaders across the city urgently seek out and implement programming that can improve academic outcomes for their students.

NSNO’s mission is to deliver on the promise of excellent public schools for every child in New Orleans. The spirit and energy with which educators regularly demonstrate their commitment to students in our city gives us great confidence that we are headed on a path toward achieving this ambitious goal.

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