Lackluster results from School of One pilot scrutinized

Lackluster results from School of One pilot scrutinized

Sep 12, 2012

The New York Daily News featured a harsh critique at School of One (SO1), the blended learning math model hailed by former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. The piece charges that two out of three pilot schools have dropped the program due to less-than stellar results from a study by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. Expectations were high for the program, given all the publicity and the amount of dollars spent on it (an estimated $9 million over three years of privately raised funds, according to the Daily News). And so the Daily News gave Klein an "F" grade.

The study itself is more cautious. Its authors note that "with only one year of program operation and no consistent pattern of results in other grades, one should be extremely cautious about drawing inferences about the potential sources of this variation." Rick Hess details this point in his EdWeek blog--that the data is too scant to "tell us anything definitive about the potential of a wholly new way to think about how schools go about their work."

Hess also questions the whether these early results were directly responsible for the schools' choice to drop the program, as the Daily News suggested. "I can just see the Daily News in 1902, stamping a big 'F' over a picture of Orville and Wilbur Wright and the headline, 'Latest 'Airplane' Attempt Fails, Proves Air Travel Is a Dumb Idea,')" writes Hess.

Parent advocate Leonie Haimson, who was not impressed with SO1 when she visited a pilot school, slams the program further in an essay in the HuffingtonPost. It was hyped up as a great promise for schools, she says. Instead she worries that "...we are moving towards two different school systems: one for the wealthy, who insist of proven reforms including small classes for their children. The other highly experimental model, for disadvantaged and even middle class kids, will increasingly deliver so-called "personalized" instruction via a machine, causing struggling students to fall even further behind."

There is a wrenching disconnect between the ethos of the entrepreneurs, which includes mantras such as "fail early, fail fast" and "iterate, iterate"--and the perspective taken by teachers, which is rooted in wanting to help every child succeed. Teachers want evidence, research and sounds pedagogical practices to inform their choices. Innovators (both for profit and nonprofit ones) contend that new approaches are never born fully formed but instead need review, input and improvements from users.

Haimson bemoans that schools can be closed after reporting poor results; why not call for the same action if computer-led instruction has a poor year?

Poor results deserve close scrutiny--whether they result from an ineffective teacher or an ineffective technology. In either case, any moves need to be accompanied by thoughtful, shared critiques--call it shared lessons--so that the same problems are not delivered to a new set of student. Name calling doesn't help; trigger-happy evaluations based on few data points doesn't lead to a better result for students. Shared, thoughtful research is key.

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