Michael Vaughn

Coffee Break: Phyllis Lockett on What's Going to Change the Game for Every Student Across America

When school reform first came to Chicago in the mid-1990s, with Mayor Richard M. Daley taking control of the city’s public schools, it hinged on an ambitious plan to open dozens of new schools throughout the city. One of the key forces behind the successful push to do that was Phyllis Lockett. After running New Schools for Chicago for a decade, she is now the  CEO of LEAP Innovations, a technology hub working to bring the power of personalized learning to classrooms across the country. Are you a coffee drinker? Tea? What is your favorite coffee/tea shop in Chicago? I like coffee, but I am a rabid tea drinker. My favorite is Starbucks—I love their soy chai tea lattes! Talk about your education in the Chicago Public Schools and how you came to be a leader in the city’s charter schools movement in the 1990s. Growing up on the South Side, I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to attend good schools. Since both of my parents were teachers, I was raised to believe that all kids deserve a high-quality education, no matter what neighborhood they live in. That’s why I helped start New Schools for Chicago. During my time there, I’m proud to say that we opened more than 80 schools to provide high-quality educational options to kids in high-need communities. Is personalized learning the next game-changing innovation in public education? Absolutely. Each learner is unique with his or her own strengths, needs, interests and skills. By creating a new learning experience—that is focused on, demonstrated by, and led with each learner—we have the opportunity to transform education. Personalized learning fueled with technology will extend learning pathways and transcend the four walls of the traditional classroom experience. I believe personalized learning can democratize education and enable all students to reach their full potential. The question is, how do we get there? By supporting educators as they develop and adopt personalized teaching and learning practices, and by identifying the most promising innovations in the ed tech space, we can give teachers and school leaders the tools to tailor learning for each and every child, each and every day. Here in Chicago, LEAP’s Pilot Network program works with school teams to implement personalized learning supported by some of the best education technology available. In our very first cohort, we saw academic results equivalent to closing the achievement growth gap by 45 percent for low-income students. It's still early, but if we can figure this out, the impact could be huge. What was the most surprising feedback you heard from the parents in the personalized learning  survey that LEAP Innovations worked on? The results were more promising than surprising. I don’t think it’s surprising that 93 percent of parents said they want their child’s education to be tailored in a way that meets their individual strengths and weaknesses. Nor is it shocking that the same percentage said they believe technology is a valuable tool to tailor learning. Where I see a gap is that only 1 in 3 parents said their child’s school was doing an “excellent” job using technology to tailor the learning experience. Just because a classroom has technology does not mean personalized learning is taking place and parents recognize that. We conducted this survey with our partners in the Learning Assembly—a national network of organizations that are piloting and evaluating ed tech innovations in classrooms across the country. What schools/districts are doing the most exciting things with personalized learning? Nationally, there are many schools working to make personalized learning a reality for students and our colleagues in the Learning Assembly are working alongside many of them. Last school year, Learning Assembly member organizations partnered with 101 schools serving 13,400 students in cities across the country including Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Here in Chicago, there are pioneers who are showing what’s possible with personalized learning. CICS West Belden, a K-8 charter school, has emerged as a national exemplar. Each student has their own learner profile and personalized learning plan, which is adjusted regularly as students’ needs change. They also employ multi-age classrooms, grouping students by skill rather than age to allow teachers to more effectively address individual needs. Another great example is Joseph Lovett Elementary, a traditional public school also on Chicago’s West Side. They’re doing incredible work fostering student agency by allowing students to set and monitor their own learning goals based on their needs, strengths, and interests. Students conference regularly with their teachers to discuss their data and develop plans to address their individual needs. To make this possible, they are using software that allows students and teachers alike to track their progress. Are you caught up in Cub-mania? Will the North Side ever be turned right-side-up again? Chicago will never be the same! I’m a South Sider and naturally a White Sox fan, but I have to give it up to the North Siders...GO Cubs!
Michael Vaughn
Michael Vaughn was the founding Communications Director of Education Post. Prior to that, Mike worked for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He served in a variety of communications roles for the Chicago Public Schools starting in 1996, shortly after Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS, and eventually served as the district's Communications Director until ...

Join the Movement