Is Deeper Learning Possible?

Tiana Alba-Lanzerin prepares to present her graduation portfolio at an Envision high school in San Francisco, California. She’ll be the first member of her family to go to college.

In some U.S. schools, deeper learning is already a reality. Students are learning how to analyze arguments, work in groups to design complex projects, and give presentations on challenging topics. At many schools, however, deeper learning isn’t typical.

Low-income and minority students in particular often lack the educational opportunities that would help them reach college and, in turn, successful careers. In 2009, the national high school drop-out rate was five times higher for disadvantaged students than for those from wealthier backgrounds. And, it was higher for minorities than non-minorities.

Fortunately, throughout the country, parents, teachers, and students are working together to bring a more effective education—focused on deeper learning—to students from all kinds of backgrounds.

Our partners show that any teacher can teach deeper learning, and any district can adopt it. They’re demonstrating that their students—regardless of race, income, or zip code—excel in school and later thrive in college.

Tiana Alba-Lanzerin attends City Arts and Technology High School, an Envision public charter school in San Francisco, California. In order to graduate, she’ll be required to prepare a portfolio of her work, demonstrating her mastery of academic content and deeper learning. Then she’ll present what she’s learned to her teachers, classmates, parents, and the community. Tiana—like 65 percent of City Arts and Tech students—will be the first member of her family to go to college. Across the country, 90 percent of Envision graduates are admitted to college, and nearly all of those students succeed once there.

Many more students will follow in Tiana’s footsteps and graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and life as a result of the new Common Core State Standards. The Common Core was explicitly designed to align the knowledge and skills that students learn in school with the ones they’ll need in the real world. In particular, these standards emphasize that students must be taught to think critically, communicate effectively, and master challenging academic content—all critical parts of deeper learning.

Not only is deeper learning possible for every student, but it’s also measurable. New ways of evaluating what students know and can do, like graduation portfolios, in-class assignments, and more effective assessments, are being implemented alongside the Common Core. This information will allow parents and communities to see results and hold schools accountable. And, as a country, we’ll be able to see our progress toward the goal that every child in every school graduates prepared for the twenty-first century.