Equitable Opportunities for Deeper Learning: Exploring Differences Between Traditional and Network Schools
In the United States, more than 500 schools are associated with formal school networks that promote deeper learning competencies, which may be defined as interpersonal, intrapersonal, and cognitive skills that prepare students for success in college, career, and civic life. Among other findings, researchers at AIR have found that students who attended schools that focused on deeper learning attained higher achievement test scores and reported higher levels of collaboration skills, academic engagement, motivation to learn, and self-efficacy than similar students who attended comparison schools.
Because deeper learning network schools have an explicit mission to provide deeper learning opportunities to all students, we would expect to observe more equitable learning opportunities in network schools than in traditional schools. In this brief, we use data from the Study of Deeper learning to examine whether students attending deeper learning network schools do indeed report more equitable learning opportunities than students in comparison schools. Using student-level demographic data and self-reports of high school experiences for students attending 13 network schools and 10 matched comparison schools, we examined equity in student opportunities in two ways.
- First, we examined the extent to which students who were enrolled in the same high school varied in their reports of opportunities for deeper learning and whether the within-school variation in opportunities differed between network and comparison (i.e., traditional) high schools.
- Second, we tested whether students’ reports of opportunities for deeper learning differ for different types of students enrolled in the same school—especially traditionally underserved students (e.g., Black and Hispanic students and students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch).
Within-school variation in some but not all of our measures of opportunities for deeper learning differed by school type. Specifically, we observed less within-school variation in network schools than in comparison schools for four of the nine measures of opportunities for deeper learning, indicating that these opportunities were experienced more equitably across the student population in the network schools than in the comparison schools. The four measures included opportunities for learning how to learn, feedback, communication, and collaboration.
Within-school variation for the remaining five measures of opportunities for deeper learning were similar in network and comparison schools: opportunities for aligned assessment, creative thinking, real-world connections, complex problem-solving, and interdisciplinary learning.
Students were more likely to report similar opportunities for deeper learning across student groups in network schools. This means there were fewer reported gaps in opportunities for deeper learning in network schools than in comparison schools. In particular, we observed fewer gaps in reports of opportunities for deeper learning by gender, race/ethnicity, and prior achievement in network schools than in comparison schools.
Conclusions and Implications for Future ResearchOpportunities for deeper learning are present in both traditional and network high schools, but the network high schools in this study were more successful at providing these opportunities more equitably across students within their schools. These findings indicate that schools should examine their policies and practices to ensure that structural and social barriers are not preventing traditionally underserved students from experiencing the opportunities for deeper learning that their more socially advantaged peers experience. As a larger number of schools and districts are turning their attention toward “fifth indicators” of student success, it will be important to ensure that opportunities to develop academic and non-academic skills and mindsets are provided to all students equitably.