What Does Zuckerberg’s $14 Million Personalized Learning Gift Mean for Struggling Students?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave personalized learning a big boost this week. His foundation is giving $14 million to expand personalized learning in Chicago Public Schools. 

What Zuckerberg’s Gift Will Do

Personalized learning is still an emerging field. Its goal is to customize education. If personalized learning is done well, the what, when, where and how of learning gets tailored to meet each student’s abilities, needs and interests.

In Chicago, the new grants will help train principals and teachers on how to use personalized learning. Part of the money will go to a nonprofit that develops personalized learning software.

The $14 million is part of a bigger promise. Last year, Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, said they’ll be donating hundreds of millions of dollars to help schools. The money will be used for what they call “a whole child approach to personalized learning.” This means they’re looking at more than just academics. Social and emotional learning are important too.

What the Gift Means for Struggling Students

Personalized learning could be a boon for the 1 in 5 kids with learning and thinking differences.

“But if personalized learning isn’t done well, it could leave some kids behind,” said Ace Parsi, who analyzes education trends for the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). (NCLD is a founding partner of Understood.)

“Schools need to ensure personalized learning is accessible to kids with disabilities,” said Parsi. “Accommodations and supports need to be fully integrated. They need to be baked in, not added on top. Personalized learning also places heavy demands on kids’ executive functioning skills. Schools need to provide support and help kids develop those skills.”

Zuckerberg’s gift to Chicago includes a plan to track results. Chicago Public Schools will study how kids at schools with these programs perform compared to kids at traditional public schools.

“I’m glad they’re going to study this closely to see if it works,” says Lindsay Jones, NCLD’s vice president and chief policy and advocacy officer.

“I’m also glad Chicago Public Schools and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative want to raise the bar for students,” said Jones. “That’s what we want for kids with disabilities across the country. We want schools to raise the bar and to provide services and supports to help kids meet higher expectations.”

Although personalized learning is individualized, it’s not a replacement for IEPs. For a deeper dive, check out NCLD’s resource hub on personalized learning. And explore our parent toolkit on how to ask for schoolwide teacher training in key areas like personalized learning to help kids with learning and thinking differences thrive.

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About the author

About the author

Julie Rawe is the special projects editor at Understood.