July 21, 2009
In one city classroom this summer, a computer algorithm is telling students what to do.
The classroom is actually a library at a Chinatown middle school with just 80 students, but school officials are hoping that it offers a glimpse into the future of the school system, one in which every student’s individual strengths and weaknesses are calculated before each day is planned.
Students in the new pilot program, a $1 million effort that officials are calling the School of One, take a quiz every afternoon, and then receive a computer-generated schedule each morning, called a “playlist.” A student’s playlist might tell him to begin the day by meeting with a tutor, then to complete a set of online tasks, and then to work on a project with his classmates. The program, which focuses only on math instruction, will expand to three sites in January.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein will roll out the program today, along with its mastermind, Joel Rose, who previously worked for Edison Schools, the for-profit education management company now known as EdisonLearning. The announcement will mark one of the first initiatives of Klein’s administration that focuses on what happens inside classrooms since he unveiled citywide math and reading programs six years ago. That effort scripted moves down to how teachers should arrange their classrooms and the size of rugs.
The School of One project is based on the much different view that every student in the city should be taught a curriculum designed specifically for him or her, with technological innovations leading a transformation of the way teachers and students interact. Earlier this year, Klein told a New York Times columnist that he envisioned a school system where instruction was individualized by cutting down on the number of teachers and relying more on technology.
The School of One actually has a lower student-teacher ratio than typical middle school classrooms, with 10 students to every one adult. The summer pilot includes 80 rising seventh-graders from Manhattan’s MS 131 and, on the supervisory side, four teachers, four assistant teachers, and two high school interns, according to Will Havemann, a schools spokesman.
At the end of the summer, the department will test the students on 80 discrete math skills, and an independent group will assess the program’s effectiveness.
The department plans to open three School of One math programs in January, Havemann said. Expansion beyond that and into other subjects is dependent on the pilot’s success, he said. But he noted that most schools would not need any major structural changes before they could run a School of One program.
John Chubb, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and an executive at EdisonLearning whose new book “Liberating Learning” lays out the vision for using technology to individualize instruction and lower the number of teachers, praised the School of One in an interview yesterday. But Chubb, who co-authored the book with Stanford professor Terry Moe, cautioned that it’s too early to decide whether the program is working.
“There are lots and lots of people who are trying to figure out how to use technology to figure out its promise, which is to be able to meet the needs of students at their own pace,” Chubb said. “This is a very promising effort to try to do just that. How well it works out — who knows.”
CORRECTION: This article originally said that Joel Rose “headed” the Edison Schools company. In fact, he managed only Edison’s after school division. Rose joined the Department of Education in early 2007.