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New Tech Network: Driving Systems Change and Equity Through Project-Based Learning

By Julie Adams DeAnna Duncan Grand

Despite the body of research indicating how best to support meaningful learning, far too few students—especially students of color, English learners, students living in poverty, and students with disabilities—attend a school that supports such learning. The New Tech Network is working to change that. This network of more than 200 elementary, middle, and high schools in 25 states focuses on systemic change and has instantiated deeper learning practices in a range of diverse school settings. It is one of three deeper learning networks researchers studied to learn how such networks can expand their models into schools across the country.

Voices from the Field: Scaling Up Deeper Learning and Equity

Representatives of the New Tech Network discuss deeper learning and equity. View additional videos on strategies and practices to advance deeper learning.

What does deeper learning look like in New Tech Network schools? Reflections by: Jim May, Chief Schools Officer, New Tech Network; Anthony G. Smith, Superintendent, Winton Woods City Schools; Juan Cabrera, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District; Rhitt Growl, Digital Media Facilitator, Satellite Center, St. Charles Parish Public Schools

How do New Tech Network schools center equity? Reflections by: Lydia Dobyns, President and CEO, New Tech Network; Juan Cabrera, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District

In examining how New Tech Network has successfully spread its practices to many traditionally structured public school districts across the country, the research team found that:

  1. New Tech Network helps partner schools incorporate its core values for student learning into their structures and practices to ensure a shared vision of deeper learning.

    All New Tech Network schools use project-based learning, which engages students in learning through multifaceted projects. Each school also seeks to develop a school culture and a set of structures that foster strong pupil-teacher relationships. The network helps each school adapt the model to fit its unique needs and incorporate the network's core values into the mission and vision of that school.

  2. When a school joins the network, New Tech Network uses a systemic planning and design process that seeks to involve all key stakeholders in the development and implementation of its deeper learning model.

    To create a plan for redesigning or opening a school, New Tech Network and the prospective school team engage in activities focused on mutual understanding. New Tech Network learns about the needs of the school and its district and seeks to engage as many stakeholders as possible in the early conversations, so it can better identify what supports the school will need. If New Tech Network and a school decide to move forward with a partnership, they engage in professional development activities and events focused on visioning and capacity building at the school and district levels.

  3. New Tech Network facilitates professional learning for adults that is experiential and project-based, mirroring the student learning in New Tech Network schools.

    As affiliated schools implement the New Tech Network model, network staff work to build the capacity of the schools' educators through experiential, professional, project-based learning. The educators then create learning environments for their students that mirror the environments they experienced with New Tech Network. The experiential and project-based professional learning opportunities allow New Tech Network educators to understand the technical dimensions of the New Tech learning model while shifting their mindsets about what is possible in classrooms.

  4. New Tech Network provides ongoing supports for educators and school leaders through coaching and professional learning that reinforce key tenets of New Tech Network and build local capacity.

    As new schools experience challenges, New Tech Network coaches serve as resources for project-based learning knowledge and help schools identify their needs and the barriers to having the New Tech Network design pillars in place. In addition to coaches, all school have ongoing access to professional development opportunities and other network resources.

  5. New Tech Network continuously improves its practices to better meet the needs of educators and school systems in geographically, economically, politically diverse settings.

    As New Tech Network has expanded over the last two decades it has learned from its experiences about the range of political and logistical needs of schools in different communities. That understanding has resulted in the network's current differentiated support strategy. Adjustments and improvements are ongoing.

As affiliated schools implement the New Tech Network model, network staff work to build the capacity of the schools' educators through experiential, professional, project-based learning.

These findings have the following implications for schools and districts interested in implementing deeper learning:

  1. School and district leaders seeking to spread deeper learning can consider how their school structures and practices will need to change as they adopt a vision and a set of values that support and enable deeper learning environments.
  2. Schools and districts implementing new deeper learning initiatives should make time to deeply understand the model, engage in professional development, and work with stakeholders before they launch the initiative.
  3. School and district leaders seeking to create sustainable change should engage educators in professional learning experiences that mirror the intended instructional shifts, so they are deeply understood.
  4. Schools implementing deeper learning through project-based learning benefit from both high-quality curriculum materials and coaching. These methods can help make shifts in instructional practice sustainable.
  5. Schools and districts interested in transforming their systems to better support equity-oriented deeper learning practices will need to adapt their strategies to different contexts and create systems for continuous improvement.
Deeper Learning Networks

Deeper Learning Networks: Taking Student-Centered Learning and Equity to Scale is a cross-case analysis of three individual case studies of networks of schools. In a series of interviews, network representatives and educators in partner schools and districts discuss their strategies and practices for advancing deeper learning. Case studies and supporting content, including additional videos, are available below.

Deeper Learning Networks: Taking Student-Centered Learning and Equity to Scale
Laura E. Hernández, Linda Darling-Hammond, Julie Adams, et. al.

Big Picture Learning: Spreading Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor One Student at a Time
Kathryn Bradley and Laura E. Hernández

Internationals Network for Public Schools: A Deeper Learning Approach to Supporting English Learners
Martens Roc, Peter Ross, and Laura E. Hernández

New Tech Network: Driving Systems Change and Equity Through Project-Based Learning by Julie Adams and DeAnna Duncan Grand is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This research was supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is also provided by the Sandler Foundation and the Ford Foundation. We are grateful to them for their generous support. The ideas voiced here are those of the authors and not those of our funders.

Photo provided with permission by New Tech Network.