Issue Paper: The Shared Approaches of 16 Race to the Top-District Grant Winners

Washington, D.C. – As the U.S. Department of Education invites school districts to apply for nearly $120 million in new Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) grants, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has released an issue paper that examines the approaches taken by 16 districts awarded early grants and identifies their common ideas for developing personalized learning environments.

Are Personalized Learning Environments the Next Wave of K-12 Education Reform? is the first in a series of issue papers exploring key areas of education innovation. Its authors examine the first round of RTT-D applications to assess and learn from the initial group’s efforts to implement and scale teaching and learning innovations.

AIR Race to the Top-District report coverAIR’s analysis of opportunities, promises, and potential pitfalls in the design and development of personalized learning environments is structured around four main activities that emerged as central components of the grant applications:

  • Creating and implementing blended learning environments that combine face-to-face, online, and digital instruction. The goal is to have the teacher engage each student in personalized instruction that aligns with the student’s skill level, stimulates personal interest, and encourages each to advance to the next level.
  • Developing and using individualized college and career readiness learning plans that create a personalized learning pathway for each student. The plans are developed collaboratively by teachers, parents, school counselors, and the individual student. Most plans are developed when students are in middle and secondary school.
  • Implementing competency-based models to support and accelerate students’ progress through their learning plans. All 16 districts included plans for new methods of assessment and systems for determining personal “mastery.”
  • Engaging and empowering key stakeholder groups, including teachers and parents, and developing community partnerships and networks to ensure students are supported inside and outside of the school walls.

The U.S. Department of Education announced in July that nearly $120 million in RTT-D grants will be available for local education agencies, which have until October 3 to apply. Those selected will be announced in December.

The full Issue Paper is available at

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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