School of One: pilot project lives up to its name

Education changed on July 6 at PS131 when Joel Rose and an intrepid group of teachers opened a sixth grade summer school pilot program ambitiously called School of One. The NYTimes summarized it well today, but allow me a little hyperbolic extrapolation.

Schools tell kids what to do, when to do it, what to learn and how to learn it. We teach kids in age cohort groups around a printed curriculum—a big dumb batch process. We infantilize teenagers about ready to step into the adult world with busywork, bathroom passes, and bubble sheets. Virtual schools are an improvement in some regard—at least kids can vary rate and time—but it’s still a slog through a single body of digital content.

School of One is an attempt to create a series of engaging personalized learning experiences that boosts the motivation, persistence, and achievement of individual students by precisely matching their learning level, style, and modality.

Joel Rose, one of Joel Klein’s brilliant senior team members, wrote a great paper on this subject last year—the best description of the future to emerge from a school district. Klein gave Rose the opportunity to pilot the concept and begin assembling the tools necessary to enable all NYC schools to increasingly personalize learning. Julian Cohen is busy building 21st century network of schools based on School of One concepts. NYC iSchool, first in the C21 network, just finished its first year of operation.

Rose & Co. spent the spring tagging 1200 bits of content so that they could match it to student needs and interests. By mixing online learning, seminars, and one on one tutoring, and continually improving the mix based on daily performance feedback, School of One will evolve in cycle of continuous improvement.

School of One team is just a sixth grade math summer school , but with philanthropic support could (relatively) quickly become a whole school model with components available to a large number of schools.

NYC DOE staffers aren’t the only ones thinking about personalization. Sylvan will be rolling out a new personalized learning platform to its centers this fall. Pearson has several adaptive content projects in the works. A half a dozen recent entrants in the learning game space will rapidly expand learning options. In 24-36 months it will be far easier to build a custom learning ‘play list’ for students (and in 48 months there will be smart AI engines that will do it automatically).

School of One isn’t just a pilot, it’s a picture of the future of school.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Kelsey Parker

I wonder how the results of this pilot program will compare to the upcoming, game-driven charter school Quest 2 Learn:


Tom Vander Ark

Quest will be fun/interesting to follow. Katie Salen is great and is designing a very cool school based on and incorporating learning games. Adaptive content, especially games, will increasingly incorporate assessment and will do a lot of what School of One is to attempting to do.
World of Warcraft is currently the biggest learning system in the world--just to no good ends. We'll soon see MMO learning games that adapt the experience by level, interest, and modality.

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