Taking Student-Centered Learning & Equity to Scale

Can teaching and learning practices that foster “deeper learning” among all students—not just the most advantaged—be successfully replicated across large numbers of schools? The answer is an unqualified “yes,” according to a new study released today by the Learning Policy Institute. The study examines how Big Picture Learning and two other school networks representing mostly students of color from low-income families have successfully taken student-centered learning and equity to scale.


Deeper learning approaches, including project-based learning, experiential work-based learning, and performance assessments, allow students to explore their interests in personalized and inquiry-based ways, learn core academic content, and develop key skills such as collaboration, communication, and critical problem solving that enable them to apply their knowledge in ways that prepare them for college, career, and citizenship. The new study, Deeper Learning Networks: Taking Student-Centered Learning and Equity to Scale, features three case studies and a cross-case report and brief that take an in-depth look at how three networks of schools successfully overcame major barriers to instituting complex teaching and learning practices in a variety of settings and enabled positive outcomes for their students. The networks—with a combined 271 schools and 90,000 students in the United States and abroad—are Big Picture Learning, the Internationals Network for Public Schools, and New Tech Network.


“We’ve known for some time the importance of ‘relationships, rigor and relevance’ to the cause of advancing more deeper learning and equitable practices,” said Andrew Frishman, Co-Executive Director of Big Picture Learning. “But honestly, with the constant change in policy and pedagogy happening in education year in and year out, it sometimes feels like you’re doing this work in a bubble. It’s helpful to have reports like these from the Learning Policy Institute to add additional credence to our collective efforts.”


While each has its own distinct approach, the three networks have taken common steps to re-create their deeper learning models in new settings while adapting to the challenges and opportunities in local communities. These steps include:


  • Designing whole schools with structures to personalize learning and to support equitable outcomes, including supports that address students’ academic and social-emotional needs;
  • Collaborating with district, and community partners to implement network models in ways that develop a shared commitment to deeper learning and equity;
  • Providing ongoing, multifaceted, and experiential professional learning that enables teachers and leaders to develop and improve their practice;
  • Developing leaders who deeply understand and are committed to implementing network practices in new and existing sites; and
  • Maintaining a learning orientation that allows the network and its affiliated schools to continually improve their designs to ensure quality and equity.

“There is no question that deeper learning approaches are fundamental to modern education,” said Learning Policy Institute President and Stanford Professor Emeritus Linda Darling-Hammond. “And yet, far too often these approaches are only available to affluent students attending well-resourced schools. What we have learned from studying these three exemplary school networks is that systems can be put in place in sustainable, scalable ways that ensure all students—and especially traditionally underserved students—can experience high-quality learning that prepares them to succeed in the 21st century.”


The study also offers a set of findings and implications for districts, schools, and educators seeking to expand access to deeper learning and equity in a wide range of settings. It shows how these school networks have successfully overcome traditional constraints to provide deeper learning that promotes equity on a large scale by focusing on multiple dimensions of change—structures to redesign schools and sustain deeper learning environments, partnerships with local stakeholders, robust systems of professional development, and systems for continuous improvement. 


The report and case studies (including this one specifically about Big Picture Learning) are authored by Laura E. Hernández, Linda Darling-Hammond, Julie Adams, Kathryn Bradley, DeAnna Duncan Grand, Martens Roc, and Peter Ross. To read the full report and individual case studies on each of the school networks, visit





About the Learning Policy Institute

The Learning Policy Institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the Institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness.