Our mission at Knewton is to democratize and personalize education for all students. We feel this mission especially keenly when it comes to those students traditionally least likely to receive a high-quality education, whether here in the U.S. or the developing world. Our new partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is very much in service of this goal.
What’s the partnership?
Knewton is working with HMH to provide an adaptive learning solution — SkillsTutor Powered by Knewton — for students in youth correctional facilities. The partnership supports a larger initiative by the U.S. Department of Education to improve education in correctional facilities around the country.
We’ll also receive guidance from the Consortium for Educational Excellence in Secure Settings on how best to implement SkillsTutor Powered by Knewton. The Consortium, a multi-state coalition dedicated to delivering high-quality educational programming in youth correctional settings, is a project of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings.
A high-stakes opportunity
Currently, less than 15% of students in juvenile secure settings go on to complete high school or earn a GED.
Schools inside correctional facilities face countless challenges. Often, students’ academic skills are significantly below grade level; many schools have large numbers of special needs students. A single classroom can contain students of hugely varying skills levels, making it nearly impossible for a single teacher to meet everyone’s needs. Because students come and go throughout the school year, it can be difficult for teachers to maintain a sense of continuity.
How can adaptive learning help?
In many ways, adaptive learning solutions are particularly well-suited to address these challenges, as they provide each individual student with instruction targeted to his or her precise skills.
David Domenici, a noted reformer in the space and the Director of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings, explains: “At schools in juvenile justice facilities, you have a small staff serving kids with a really broad spectrum of needs. Blended learning enables greater differentiation and gives you the opportunity to supplement the teaching staff’s curricula with other high-quality content. Blended learning is also portable — if students enroll at another school or an adult education center after release, they can log right back in. They know where they are; their teachers know where they are; their credits transfer; their diagnostics transfer.”
Domenici has plenty of first-hand experience working in the space between education and juvenile justice reform. As the founding principal of the Maya Angelou Academy inside New Beginnings Youth Development Center (formerly known as Oak Hill Correctional Facility) from 2007-2011, Domenici led a team that, according to the Washington Post, transformed the school “from one of the nation’s worst programs to one of its finest.” Starting Maya Angelou Academy, Domenici says, was a “chance to go inside and try to create a top-notch school for kids while they were locked up.”
How did they do it? Domenici and his team hired extraordinarily motivated teachers, as well as dedicated transition specialists (“Advocates”) responsible for helping prepare students for the outside world. They instituted award ceremonies to incentivize students for hard work, began to repair tense relationships between academic and correctional staff, began calling students “scholars”, raised academic and behavioral standards, spruced up the physical facilities…. and on and on and on.
As is clear from this example, reform of each individual school — and of the system as a whole — will entail myriad changes, big and small. Adaptive learning alone won’t transform educational opportunities in correctional settings. Success requires a holistic approach from the government, academia, and the private sector.