“Allegory of the Cave” is, in essence, a story of the effects of education on individuals and their perception of reality. Plato believed there were four levels of knowledge, and the more one explored, learned, and understood, the closer they got to leaving the cave, and obtaining true knowledge, or “Perfect Intelligence.” For those left in the cave, shadows cast on the wall by way of flame and puppeteer constitute reality, making the conception of life beyond it nearly impossible.
Much like the perception of the viewer of the puppet show in Plato’s allegory, a lack of funding, particularly in schools serving historically disadvantaged communities, has limited the scope of perceived possibilities when it comes to academic support. Ask any educator in your life if they wish there was more they could do to meet each child in their class “where they are” each day, and the answer will invariably be yes.
Teachers, administrators, and districts do everything they can to try to ensure each student gets the support they need and deserve, but in the face of unprecedented learning loss, it can be difficult to give them the individualized time and attention necessary to accelerate their learning. Limited resources, both in terms of finances and support providers, have made it difficult, if not impossible for schools to truly provide individualized support to each student.
The pandemic brought new challenges that are still being faced daily, which brought out the best in educators at every level. They created novel instructional delivery methods - both in-person and virtually - while demonstrating incredible poise and creativity under immense pressure. These innovative solutions have opened the door to new possibilities within K-12 education, and an opportunity for school districts to revolutionize their educational models by including individualized academic support for every student as a key component of instruction.
It is essential for us to consider this ultimate ideal of personalized, individualized education when creating new models of instruction, and not just previous models. The pandemic highlighted the power of technology as it pertains to delivering high-quality instruction and lessons; this power does not have to be, and should not be limited to virtual learning. We must leverage what we learned in these past two years as we return to in-person learning to maximize outcomes for all students. Incorporating academic support into these models is the necessary next step.
Research shows that high-dosage 1:1 and small group tutoring can be highly effective at addressing unfinished learning for a wide variety of students. Furthermore, “Design Principles: Accelerating Student Learning with High-Dosage Tutoring,” released by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, provides a framework for implementing such a program successfully, touching on everything from the who to the how.
Through various rounds of emergency funding (most recently ARPA), the federal government, perhaps for the first time, has provided schools with the means necessary to truly step beyond the Platonic cave and try innovative solutions and approaches to academic support. Districts must use this time to find the right solutions unique to their students and not just for this moment, but for the future when funding returns to pre-pandemic levels.
Record public and private sector investment, an increase in access to student technology, and the urgency of this moment have created a unique opportunity for us to get closer to the Platonic ideal of individualized education than ever before. Those outside of education are placing the importance and focus on it that those within education have always known it deserves and demands.
Those familiar with Plato’s allegory will remember that his darker view of humanity leads him to conclude that there will be heavy resistance to leaving the cave. We believe that districts have been waiting for the chance to not step, but leap beyond it. Littera’s academic support platform removes the operational lift of implementing district-managed, high-dosage tutoring aligned to the aforementioned design principles put forth by the Annenberg Institute. By utilizing your existing district data, your existing curriculum, and (if you choose) your existing staff, the solution is as flexible as teachers have been over the past two years, providing students with the individualized support they need right now, and rightly deserve going forward.