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Problems of Practice

“Prix Fixe” vs. “A la Carte”: Should we scale a comprehensive model throughout our system or provide access to a series of independent, modular resources or tools?

Key Takeaways

  • A number of leaders have described engaging in an “A la Carte” model until they have the data and experience to put together a “Prix Fixe” model driven by what has already been shown to work in the classroom and/or in schools.
  • Models vary widely based on how a district or system defines blended or personalized learning. Examples include: personalization as a district/CMO philosophy, as a model for organizing school redesign, or as an instructional model. While these are clearly related, they also motivate slightly different approaches. A focus on instructional change, for example, may inspire a more “A la Carte” approach, while a goal of whole-school redesign may be better suited to a “Prix Fixe” model.
Inside classroom, student looks down at assortment of objects on table


No system’s context is exactly the same as another’s, and therefore pathways to system change cannot completely replicate each other. While case studies on system-wide implementation offer inspiration and ideas, they can be difficult to apply in new contexts.

Regardless of context, however, all leaders interested in scaling new approaches face choices about how to lead system change in a way that maximizes benefits to students. In interviews across the country, we found that certain decisions kept surfacing as critical to success, many of which contained competing priorities - forces pulling in different directions. Rather than choose one priority and ignore the other, leaders explain, the key is to figure out how to manage both in a way that best fits your context.

Overview of the Challenge

Districts/CMOs looking to encourage the adoption of blended learning strategies in a highly rigorous way may create a fixed, or encapsulated, implementation model to do it. This may mean that schools must adopt a set of practices, commit to a series of trainings, or adhere to a set of procedures or policies, in order to be eligible for district-level supports and funding. A benefit of this “Prix Fixe” model is that it creates coherence across the system in terms of how implementation is being done, which also provides a better platform for measurement and evaluation. The downside of this, however, is that it can be less responsive to local school culture and environment and risks losing teacher engagement by limiting their flexibility. Creating a “Prix Fixe” model also assumes that leaders know the right set of components that lead to high-quality implementation, which may not always be the case.

Why "Prix Fixe"?

“Prix Fixe” implementation treats blended learning as a system, rather than an isolated set of activities. It considers the importance of creating coherence between classroom practices and system-level policies and resource-use. “Prix Fixe” models may be more predictable for school leaders and teachers because the school is replicating a model, rather than creating one from scratch. It can also aid communication between people in the system, if they know that others are engaging with the same series of activities or stages of transformation. Finally, scaling a whole, encapsulated model may make it easier for leaders in the district/CMO to troubleshoot and also to create a coherent culture of change throughout the system.

The following examples highlight the use of a “prix fixe” component as part of a district/CMO scaling strategy:

Why "A la Carte"?

While a “Prix Fixe” model revolves around consistency and coherence of implementation, “A la Carte” models focus more on fidelity. The logic behind offering a menu of choices for school leaders and teachers to adopt is that choice brings both flexibility and authentic engagement. Rather than following a packaged process, teachers drive progress by using tools and instructional methods that directly support their teaching. It provides school leaders room to be teacher champions, rather than having to “sell” a model, and it empowers teachers with more control and more freedom. It also leaves room for students and community members to be part of the design process.

The following examples highlight the use of an “a la carte” component as part of a district/CMO scaling strategy:

The following strategies provide a good example of blending both approaches:

What the Data Say

In a survey of 89 leaders from 60 systems across the country:

  • 51% of respondents favor an “A la Carte” model, while 27% favor “Prix Fixe”
  • Larger systems (those with 60 or more schools) report using a more “Prix Fixe” approach as do those farther along in their scaling process
  • 90% of respondents said their system had dedicated time and resources to this challenge, and 38% cited it as a “top priority”.

Want a deeper dive into the data? Explore our white paper, entitled Look Both Ways for more information.

Take It Further

To jumpstart your own discussions, consider these questions:

  • Barring all barriers, what would complete success look like for your district or system to implement and scale blended and personalized learning?
    • Would it be teachers actively innovating in their own ways and using different approaches or a coherent, system-wide approach to instruction?
    • Would these approaches be deliberately captured and shared?
    • To what extent does your vision require lockstep activities between schools?
  • Sketch out this future reality with as much specificity as possible.