Interview: Joel Rose, CEO, School of One

<b>Update</b>: You can visit School of One this month and in June. Please click on this link and find the dates for the next open house.
First of all, congratulations. You just recently got your first school off the ground. Where is it and can you describe your next steps for more schools?
Thanks, Doug. We recently opened our first in-school implementation at a middle school in Brooklyn for all 230 of the school’s sixth graders. School of One is now how those students receive math instruction.
In the fall, we will become the in-school math program at 3 NYC middle schools serving approximatley 1,500 students in grades 6 and 7.
Tell us about the theory behind School of One and what you hope to achieve through these methods.
The basic idea is that live, teacher-led instruction (the type we all think about when we think about schools) is simply one way – perhaps the best way – but not the only way kids can learn. School of One tries to complement the work of teachers with other instructional modalities such as online learning and collaborative learning in a way that personalizes instruction to each student’s particular academic needs and ways of learning.
Who are your students?
We currently serve all of the 230 6th grade students at IS 228 in Brooklyn. That school happens to be 38% white, 22% black, 16% hispanic, and 24% asian. 63% of the students qualify for free/reduced lunch.
Your method helps teachers focus more on teaching and on other duties that enable them to be better teachers. What has been your feedback from teachers about this? Is this a kind of professional development built into the learning process?
We’ve received some great feedback from teachers. They are the first to admit that the traditional factory model of school makes it almost impossible for them to meet the individual needs of each student each hour of the day. And beyond that, too much of their time is spent doing things other than teaching. We’ve tried to take as much of the administrative work off of their plate so they can focus on doing what they do best.
Teachers receive roughly a week of professional development before the program begins. And because our model requires teachers to operate a large, open space, the schedule also enables more time for teachers to collaborate and participate collectively in professional development each day.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced in building your school model, and how you overcame them?
School of One is a way of delivering instruction that will ultimately fit into any school – charter, district, or independent.
We’ve had a number of challenges over the last year. Finding over 2,500 middle school math lessons was one. Integrating all of the technology is another. Identifying a way to adminster a unique assessment to each student each day was another. But our approach is probably no different than most other organizations. Through the right combination of a great internal team and a set of partners that complement the work we can do ourselves, we’ve been able to overcome many of these challenges. We still have a long way to go, but we know so much more about how to do this than we did just a year ago.
What kinds of outside partnerships did you develop and what are you developing now to make the school a continued success?
We have parternships with technology companies such as Wireless Generation, Microsoft, Google, and Cisco. We have partnerships with 24 different content providers including the largest publishers as well as new educational start-ups. And we’ve been lucky to forge partnerships with a set of funders who not only believe in what we are doing, but are using their platform and expertise to provide invalubale guidance to our work and to share our work with others in the reform community.
Data is big in your process. How do teachers use it? How does the administration of the school use it?
In a typical classroom, teachers use data to help them determine student mastery, to help figure out how to differentiate their instruction, and to help them grow as professionals.
The challenge, of course, is the fact that individual needs can vary so widely in a classroom that having the data is only part of the battle. Converting that data into action, and in a way that meets the needs of each student, is really what needs to happen. And it is here that our system excels. Based on our technology, we can analyze student data and recommend to teachers what lessons would be most effective for each student each day. Once teachers acccept or override those reocmmendations, we then incorporate those activities into each student’s schedule. Daily assessment data helps our algorithm to refine student schedules as we learn more about each learner and about the instructional content.
As a result, teachers can use data to get information about the effectiveness of their lessons on particular skills and can carefully and easily track each student’s progress and success in various modalities. Adminstrators also have a window into how efficiently each student is progressing and can use the data as the basis for the development of staff.
Let’s talk trends. Data quality in education. Where is it now in terms of its standards level, and where does it need to be?
We need to develop standards for data. That is one thing what will enable the type of innovation that our so sorely industry. The iPhone is so powerful because of all the things it can do, in large part because there is a common platform upon which these tools can then be developed. With 15,000 districts across 50 states – each with their own way of capturing data – we simply can’t expect the same types of powerful tools to emerge.
Any comment on the recent tying of data and assessment to teacher contracts in NYC? Does this affect you?
It’s essential that we do all that we can to improve the quality of teachers in our classroom. I think using student data is not only the right thing to do, it is actually a fairer way of evaluating performance than the drive-by teacher observations that we currently use to guide our teacher evaluation process.
But that said, School of One is focused on something else. Even if we have a great teacher as measured by data, it’s just not enough. Half of all teachers we are hire are gone five years later, and of those that stay, 40% consider themselves disheartened. That tells us there is something fundamentally wrong with the job that the use of data along won’t fix. School of One is focused on developing powerful tools that can complement the work that teachers do so they can all be more successful in the classroom.
Can you explain how all of your different supporters / vendors work to form a holistic learning environment in your school? At first blush, for most people it must look like a lot for teachers, management and even students to handle? How do you get it to work holistically-seamlessly?
All of this happens behind the scenes. From the student and teacher perspective, they simply log into their portal, see their schedule, move to wherever in the room they are assigned to, and access whatever they need for each lesson. For example, once a student is in the portal, if they are scheduled for virtual online instruction, one push of a button may lead a student to content from any of our providers. Technology is so much more interoperable now than it is was before.
Also, we have a team from several different organizations working day in and day out that simply focus on making School of One work and not on putting one product or solution ahead of another. That makes all the difference.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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