Visiting Schools in the NewSchools Catapult Cohort (Post 2 of 3)

January 5, 2016

Over the last three months, we have been convening, learning from, and visiting schools across the country that are in our Catapult 2015 cohort. Each school we support is reimagining, redesigning and recreating the student experience.

Through a series of blog posts, we are excited to highlight these schools and some of the ways they are building personalization, student agency and an expanded definition of student success into their models. If you know anyone launching an innovative school, learn more about funding opportunities through NewSchools Catapult.

In the previous blog, we visited Intrinsic and Roots Elementary, which are leveraging flexible scheduling to personalize learning for students. And we visited Thrive and Detroit Achievement Academy, which are using project-based learning to expand the definition of student success.

Today, we will travel to Pennsylvania, Los Angeles, New York and Houston, where Building21, USC East College Prep, Brooklyn Lab and A+UP, respectively, are using competency-based progression to personalize learning and build student agency.

Competency-Based Progression to Build Student Agency

Building21 Allentown is a competency-based high school in the Allentown School District (ASD). ASD partnered with Building21, a non-profit initiative, to design and operate a new public school that provides flexibility in how, what and where students learn. Teachers empower and guide students as they design their own pathways to graduation and choose from a variety of instructional opportunities, which include blended learning, problem-based learning and experiential learning. Students, parents and teachers track their learning on a competency dashboard powered by Slate, an open-source platform. Screenshots of the competency dashboard built by Building21 are below. To learn more about how Building21 thinks about competency-based progression, check out the Competency Toolkit co-developed with the School District of Philadelphia for the launch of Building21 Ferguson in Fall 2014.

Teacher Dashboard View
Teacher Dashboard View
Student Dashboard View
Student Dashboard View

USC East College Prep is the second of two charter schools opened by Ednovate, Inc. Ednovate opened its first school, Hybrid High, in Fall 2012. At USC East College Prep, students progress Ednovate-Malikthrough a mastery-based personalized curriculum that emphasizes a deep and enduring purpose. Students engage in annual thematic projects which include “know yourself,” “know your community”, “know your nation” and “know your world.” Mastery-based grading enables students to know what they need to master and to redo lessons until they are satisfied with their performance. Students drive their own learning, including where they work, with whom they work, and the general sequence and pace at which they approach their work. This promotes the development of mindsets that are needed to thrive in and persist through college and beyond. To get student’s perspective on his experience at an Ednovate school, check out this blog by senior, Malik.

Brooklyn Lab Charter Schools (LAB) is a growing network of open enrollment, 6-12th college-preparatory, public charter schools. LAB couples high expectations with acompetency-based learning model. Students at LAB focus on argumentation-centered learning and college-level reading and writing. Teachers use technology-enhanced, data-driven instruction to personalize learning for students. Students, parents and teachers track student learning on Cortex: A next generation learning platform, which gathers data about student learning experiences and customizes unit plans and playlists along a competency progression. Students progress at their own pace toward mastery and are able to set goals and create personalized learning plans.

To further personalize learning, students at LAB meet with tutors in small groups. Through a selective public service fellowship called LAB Tutor Corps Fellowship, a group of college graduates provides 1:1 or small group tutoring to students during 360Lab. This approach provides students with grade level content delivered by master teachers through direct instruction and differentiated content from Fellows. Fellows work with students on content that needs to be remediated in order to get them to grade level and extend content for students who are above grade level and need additional challenges.


A+Unlimited Potential (A+UP) is a newly formed CMO that will be opening three microschools in the Fall of 2016. The schools are integrated in Houston communities and will be based in three commercial hubs: the Museum District, the Medical Center and the Energy Corridor. In addition to real world experiences throughout the city, scholars have a learning path that addresses their needs, successes and interests. Lessons and units of study are customized to the learner through cultivated online “playlists” that are tailored to the goals of the learner,the goals of fellow students and the goals of the learning community.

Edmodo is used by students and learning coaches to track progression through playlists and set new goals.
Edmodo is used by students and learning coaches to track progression through playlists and set new goals.

Final Stop: Expanding the Definition of Student Success and Innovations in New Markets

In the next blog, we will visit Valor Collegiate Academy, Caliber Schools, and Solar Preparatory School for Girls. These schools are expanding definitions of student success by emphasizing social-emotional learning and mindset development to build student agency. We will also visit Phalen Leadership Academy and Gem Innovation Schools who are innovating with new structures in new markets.