Failing student writing at desk
Inside the Classroom

Are Students Really Failing?

“What? Why would I watch iCarly or Wizards of Waverly Place? Oh, no! I’m on my son’s Netflix portal, not mine!” Has this ever happened to you? It’s called personalizing, and it happens almost everywhere today.

We live in a world where technology enables deep levels of personalization. Even the coupons at the grocery stores are targeted toward our shopping patterns. If you don’t believe me, check out this article from Forbes about how Target identified that a teen shopper was pregnant before her dad knew.


The problem is that while personalization happens all around us, it is least likely to happen in our schools. I believe that this lack of personalization is a contributing factor to many of the sad statistics that are posted about schools.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation reports that two-thirds of eighth graders cannot read proficiently. StudentsFirst reminds us that the United States placed twenty-seventh of out of thirty countries in math on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). says that only 25% of high school graduates are college-ready in English, reading, science, and math. These stark statistics could be used to make the case that students are failing in our schools. But placing the blame for failure on students may be oversimplifying the real issue.

I read these stats and I don’t see students who are failing; instead, I see an educational system that is failing its students. Students are disengaging from school because it lacks meaning to them.


Let’s explore this idea with an analogy. Most people accept that no two snowflakes are alike. Snowflakes are composed of two basic elements—hydrogen and oxygen. Yet the same people who recognize the infinite diversity among snowflakes will accept that giving the same instruction to a classroom full of students is sound pedagogy.

The human body is composed of over sixty elements and seven octillion atoms. Given this, it seems mathematically impossible to accept that one instructional method could be appropriate for any class of students. In my mind, it’s our willingness to treat students as a class and not as individuals that is leading to their disengagement.

We have to be willing to provide the same level of personalization to students once they step into our schools that they experience outside our classrooms from apps like Netflix, iTunes, and Facebook. Adding technology to personalize instruction while fostering the strengths of the relationships between teachers and students is a way to keep students from disengaging in our schools. This idea is better known as blended learning.


Our schools will continue to fail our students until we recognize students as individuals and not as classes. If we want students to stay engaged, then we have to build personalized learning environments that are meaningful for students. In other words, a student doesn’t have to wade through material that is not as relevant, just like I don’t have to scroll through all eleventy seasons of Disney programming to find my Netflix faves. Instead, students should have access to customized content playlists based on their learning needs and preferences.

About the Author


Stacy Hawthorne

Stacy Hawthorne, Lead Strategist at Hawthorne Education, works with schools and districts across the United States as they design and implement technology-rich educational models. She started her consulting work with Evergreen Education Group, authors of the annual Keeping Pace report and a trusted consultant to some of the largest school districts in the country. Prior to her work with Evergreen, Stacy conceived and implemented a successful blended learning program as Technology Integration Coordinator for Medina City Schools in Ohio. Her passion for student-centric and technology-rich learning models grew from her experience as a classroom teacher.

Additionally, Stacy is the Past-President for ISTE’s Administrator professional learning network. Stacy was awarded the Silver President’s Volunteer Service award in 2015 for her efforts. Stacy was a contributor to iNACOL’s Blended Learning Teacher Competency Framework that was released in October of 2014 and a researcher for the 2014 Keeping Pace with Digital Learning and 2015 Proof Points projects.