Current initiatives to personalize learning in schools, while seen as a contemporary reform, actually continue a 200+ year struggle to provide scalable, mass, public education that also addresses the variable needs of individual learners. Indeed, some of the rhetoric and approaches reformers are touting today sound very familiar in this historical context. What, if anything, is different this time? In this paper I provide a brief overview of historical efforts to create a scaled system of education for all children that also acknowledged individual learner variability. Through this overview I seek patterns and insights to inform and guide contemporary efforts in personalized learning.
There is compelling evidence that stressing goals leads to stress and negatively affects the very objectives that educators are trying to achieve. Reaching testing goals matter, but if we're not careful, the goal of educating children for the 21st century becomes subsumed by the narrow measures meant to track progress. Performance measures become the goals. Stress overtakes inspiration. If it's true that what gets measured, gets done, then it's important that we measure the right things. Outputs like standardized test scores and graduation rates matter, but how we achieve outputs matters too. Process really is as important as product.