Funded by a $3 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the Department of Education, Elizabeth Public Schools, which educates 23,374 students in 33 schools in New Jersey, will expand its use of the Teach to One: Math model from two to seven schools next year.
The idea behind Teach to One started in 2009 with School of One, a middle school math program which personalizes curricula and lesson plans for individual students in three New York City schools. In 2011, its founders, Joel Rose and Chris Rush, started a nonprofit, NewClassrooms, to spread the idea of School of One to other districts. NewClassrooms has since implemented Teach to One: Math, the model used at School of One, at 15 schools in nine districts, serving 6,000 students nationwide.
The Teach to One program uses technology to develop an individualized learning plan for every student, every day. Joel Rose explained a typical seventh grade math period: “You walk in and see monitors with your names on them, and open stations. At some stations there are teachers, at some there’s software, at some students work collaboratively with each other.”
Students spend the math period working on the particular skills they need to develop, in a learning style that works well for them. Rose said, “You might spend the first 30 minutes working on factoring binomials with Mr. Smith, and the next 30 minutes working on that same skill using software at a different station.”
At the end of class, all students take a ten-minute online assessment of what they’ve learned. NewClassrooms then analyzes that data to create a custom schedule of the next day’s math period for each student, taking into account which stations a student worked at. “If you don’t do well on the assessment, the next day you’ll typically be taught the same skill, but in a different way,” he explained.
Rose sees this model as a testament to technology’s power in individualizing instruction. “In the past two years of doing this, we’ve learned that personalized learning is possible, and can be operationalized,” he told EdSurge. He sees Teach to One’s method as answering a central question: “For each kid, what is exactly the lesson that will be most effective for them, each day?”
The data is encouraging, if mixed: according to NewClassrooms, students on average made 1.5 years progress in math in the 2013-2014 school year, 47% more than the national average, although a report in 2013 showed that gains were not consistent across different groups of students. Updated results will be available soon: The $3 million i3 grant will also support a three-year study of Teach to One’s impact, conducted by Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Olga Hugelmeyer, superintendent of Elizabeth Public Schools, first found the Teach to One program when comparing achievement at her district with others across the nation in 2013. “We were looking into what had contributed to increases in student achievement in other large urban districts,” recalled Hugelmeyer. “And we came across the School of One program, being implemented in New York City.”
Hugelmeyer soon reached out to Rose and learned about Teach to One. She was intrigued. Elizabeth Public Schools was in the process of establishing a new middle school, iPrep Academy, a lottery-based charter school using blended learning and 1-to-1 technology. Hugelmeyer saw Teach to One as a perfect fit. She was looking for an “ability to create an individualized plan for every child, so that they’re able to be successful by year’s end,” she explained. “Joel had developed a model that made that possible for our children.”
Because iPrep Academy was a brand-new school, Teach to One didn’t have to un-do existing practices. “Typically, we never go into a district unless we’ve engaged with the principals and teachers there, and make sure they understand what it means to implement Teach to One and how it changes their role,” Rose said. “That early involvement from teachers is completely critical to implementation.” For iPrep Academy, Teach to One was able to train teachers before they entered their new 1-to-1 classrooms for the first time. “Teachers were quite enthusiastic,” said Hugelmeyer.
And teachers continued that enthusiasm with their 205 students throughout the year, according to Hugelmeyer. “By the end of the day, my teachers are receiving the lesson plan for the following day,” she said. “This changed the way we conduct team meetings and common planning time--it allows for a rich discussion and reflection around best practices.”
At her other schools, Hugelmeyer assesses and evaluates curriculum every 8-9 weeks, she explained. Because Teach to One makes “a diagnostic assessment each day,” her teachers are “responding to students’ needs on a day-to-day basis.”
After success at iPrep Academy, Hugelmeyer implemented the Teach to One model at Jerome Dunn Academy to 152 students in the middle of the 2014-2015 school year. And after positive results at both middle schools, she plans to rollout Teach to One at five additional middle schools in the 2015-2016 year, to a total of around 1250 students. After the expansion, 25% of K-8 schools in Elizabeth will use Teach to One.
To Hugelmeyer, the benefits of Teach to One go beyond the classroom. “It’s not just what the product is doing to improve outcomes for the children, but about the true partnership with NewClassrooms,” she said. “They’ve anticipated the challenges in an urban school district and designed a program to meet our needs. My sense is that ours is the only district that [Rose] is working with, and that’s what we hope for in a partnership.”
And what does New Classrooms look for in a partnership? “The most important thing for us is desire and willingness of teachers,” said Rose. “We need to make sure we work in schools where everyone can be successful, and no one feels like this was forced down their throats.” Rose is looking for more partnerships: he’s hoping to double Teach to One’s reach next year, from 15 to 30 schools.
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