A decade ago, as the human resource executive for New York City schools, Joel Rose took his team to visit some of the most well-respected organizations in the country to see how they were organized around recruiting and developing talent. They learned a lot, but were most impressed with they way these organizations set people up for success with clear and well-supported roles and goals.

As a former teacher, Rose had the relentless sense that he had not been set up for success. Seeing examples of fully aligned systems where roles, goals, structures and supports were all aligned convinced him school could work differently and better for teachers and students. He began researching a proposal for a new approach to mathematics learning.

It’s easy to forget, but in 2007 there was little private or philanthropic investment in education innovation. Access to technology was improving, but it was before smartphones and adaptive learning, and still in the early days of blended learning.

Rose presented a proposal to chancellor Joel Klein for a summer pilot program in 2009. With Klein’s approval, Rose launched an 80-student summer school program called School of One.

Time Magazine said, “Each day, students in the School of One are given a unique lesson plan—a “daily playlist”—tailored to their learning style and rate of progress that includes a mix of virtual tutoring, in-class instruction and educational video games. It’s learning for the Xbox generation.” They named it one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2009.

After the successful pilot, School of One became an afterschool program, and then it was adopted as the math program in a couple of middle schools. In 2011, the program was renamed Teach to One and was spun out of the NYC DOE as an independent nonprofit, New Classrooms. As co-founder and CEO, Rose chose nonprofit status to focus on a long R&D runway over a quick effort to scale.

Promising early results

Teach to One is a personalized approach to math learning featuring an enhanced “station-rotation” blended learning model. Only two of the nine modalities are computer driven—there are three teacher delivered stations, a math advisory station, a collaborative station, a peer to peer station, an independent learning project, a station with paper worksheets, and two computer stations. Teach to One regroups students and reconfigures stations each day.

“There’s also a ton of operational design embedded in the model—from managing student traffic flow to student grading to furniture placement to managing personalized homework,” added Rose.

As they have expanded the program to 40 schools and 13,000 students, Rose said they attempt to balance the level of personalization by grouping for common experience and teacher experience.

A 2014 evaluation showed 1.5 years of growth per year for Teach to One students. Results in 2015, based on MAP tests, showed 1.2 years worth of gain across partner schools—and significantly more for special education and English language learners. About a third of the students make two or more years of progress.

The Teach to One model allows students to progress at their own rate. An end of session assessment each day determines mastery and builds a schedule for the following day.

The data is clear—students have clear learning preferences. “Some want to be teacher taught, then practice, while others want to try first,” said Rose. Like Pandora, the algorithm adds more experiences tailored to the student’s preference over time.

Teach to One will stay focused on middle grade math, although content goes down to 2nd grade and may move up to geometry. The team has added more problem-based learning, called Tasks, which now accounts for about 40% of overall instructional time.

“If we designed experiences taking advantage of what we know about learners,” said Rose, school would work fundamentally differently.

Results have been promising, but partner school preoccupation with grade level standards rather than student growth has clearly depressed growth in results. Rose is confident that a focus on competency and the addition of machine intelligence to the Teach to One platform will accelerate progress.

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