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How We Work

“School practices that emphasize lecture and rote memorization are part of the ‘pedagogy of poverty.’ Students are good at acquiring knowledge, but struggle to apply that knowledge and new and innovative ways. 

If we label kids as disadvantaged and do not teach them the higher order critical thinking skills they need we are setting them up for failure and maintaining the achievement gap, not closing it.”

Zaretta Hammond, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain



Setting the Vision

The Urban Learning Institute partners with schools and districts to meet a common challenge: develop innovative strategies that close the achievement gap and better prepare all students for the rigorous demands of college and careers in the 21st century. We support schools to design, implement, and evaluate new school models of Competency-Based Learning that organize around students’ needs, strengths, and motivations aligned with four key design principles:

  1. Authentic Transfer 
  2. Meaningful Measures
  3. Flexible Environments 
  4. Community Alliance



Design and Planning

Schools engage in a structured process to design and plan their evolution toward new school models. We structure this process around four work products that are the tools by which each school designs and plans its evolution toward a new school model. Through this process we aspire to rethink every aspect of school that impacts our students, and to rigorously align our priorities, practices, and resources around meeting the needs of each one of them. 


Competency-Based Learning Index

The Competency-Based Learning Index (CBLI) defines what it means for schools to be designed around the needs, strengths, and motivations of individual students. By defining innovative practice across a set of key indicators, schools and districts can articulate their vision for using the four design principles to transform learning. This index serves as a common measure of innovation for each indicator along a continuum from Foundations to Investigations to Innovation. The CBLI enables schools to self-assess their current practices against innovative, student-centered practices, and set goals and monitor progress as they progress toward their vision. 


Future State Design

Using the CBLI, schools define how they will look when they have organized their practice and resources around students’ needs, strengths, and motivations. Schools select key indicators from each design category of the CBLI and translate the “Innovation” descriptors into a future state design for the school. The design specifies the innovative practices for each selected indicator that schools will implement. 



Having developed its future state design, schools develop a long-term roadmap describing how it will phase in innovative practices to realize its future state vision. The roadmap specifies what practices will be developed and adopted in which grades and subjects each year to achieve the full future state design over the intended duration. 


Implementation Plan

Having developed its long-term roadmap, schools develop a detailed one-year implementation plan outlining how they will execute the practices targeted for the first year. Implementation plans identify primary work streams, major deliverables, tasks, Directly Responsible Individuals, milestones, and timeline.




To maximize efficiency in order to scale and sustain this work we developed The 360 Support Model, a multi-faceted approach to provide anytime, anywhere access to expertise, resources, and community.




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