Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Daily News Twists Evaluation Into Cheap Shot at School of One

By Rick Hess — September 10, 2012 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Last week, the New York Daily News took a careful and thoughtful evaluation of early outcomes at schools implementing New York City’s School of One (an intriguing effort to rethink middle school math instruction) and twisted it into an unfair, misguided, and destructive critique. It was a textbook case of how good research can be misused and how bad reporting makes it tough to talk sensibly about efforts to rethink schooling. But for today, let’s just focus on a couple of problems with what the Daily News did.

For those who aren’t familiar with the School of One, it’s a middle school math model that challenges conventions of the traditional teacher marching 30 kids through the familiar 180 day curriculum. Instead, all the 6th grade math teachers and students operate as a single team, and students are assigned to teachers and modes of instruction based on daily assessments and their particular learning styles. Students can pursue objectives working with teachers, online, in small groups, or whatnot, at a pace that’s right for them, while allowing them to skip past the objectives they’ve already mastered.

Basically, the idea is to take the kind of customized school model that Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier were talking about in the 1980s, and use new assessment, organizational, and instructional tools to make it more workable. The upsides, if we figure this out, are huge: it becomes much easier to differentiate and customize instruction; learning doesn’t stop when a single teacher is absent; students can skip objectives they already know; kids don’t fall behind when they’re absent; students can proceed through material as quickly or as slowly as is appropriate; and so on.

Anyway. The Daily News cited a new study by Rachel Cole, James Kemple, and Micha Segeritz of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools that reported that School of One had produced modest results at the three middle schools currently implementing the model as the regular in-school math program in its first year. (School of One had previously been piloted as a summer school and after-school program.) Accompanying the article, with the headline “Former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein’s highly touted School of One math project dropped by 2 of 3 schools in pilot program,” was an angry picture of Joel Klein and a big “F”.

There are several problems with the Daily News coverage.

First, the results are based on School of One’s performance for one year. I know we’re eager to know “what works,” but it took years or decades before folks decided that the telephone, airplanes, or the Internet truly “worked.” New ways of doing things are always messy and imperfect, and require a lot of learning, tinkering, and adjusting. Bumps in the road are only untenable if one thinks New York’s schools are so effective that it’s unnecessary to mess with the formula. Moreover, Cole, Kemple, and Segeritz observe that “SO1 produced a mix of positive, negative and neutral results across schools and grade levels.” So, a pioneering effort produces a mixed slate in its initial year, and the Daily News brands the whole thing with a big “F”. (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.”)

Second, the study uses grade-level assessments to evaluate the School of One program. By design, the School of One uses a competency-based model. This means that students are free to race ahead once they’ve mastered an objective, so sixth graders may be learning some seventh-grade content and may not have studied material on the sixth-grade exam in a year or more. The critique here illustrates how our current fascination with grade-level assessments can wedge schools and systems ever tighter into age-ordered classrooms, regardless of student need. Making precisely this point, Cole, Kemple, and Segeritz note: “When we looked within groups of similarly performing students, we found that those who were exposed to more on-grade-level skills experienced higher rates of growth on the New York State math test.” (I’ve previously noted that the Common Core could weld schools and systems ever more tightly to a one-size notion of grade-level mastery and discourage models that encourage kids to race beyond grade-level material- this is a terrific illustration of that risk.)

Third, a bunch of the folks eagerly cheap-shotting School of One are the same people who typically celebrate the virtues of formative assessment and note the dangers of leaning too heavily on simple test-based outcomes. Cole, Kemple, and Segeritz went to great pains to point out that their year one findings “should not be interpreted as a definitive indication of the SO1’s impact on student achievement. Rather, the findings are presented as initial feedback for SO1 in an effort to guide their ongoing development.”

Fourth, for what it’s worth, early results from the second year of SO1 implementation (2011-12) are quite promising. The school that stuck with the program (IS 228 in Brooklyn) posted student growth gains on the state assessment that were twice the average of NYC schools overall in its second year, and proficiency gains that exceeded both the city and charter school norms.

Finally, one “duh"-caliber observation: schools drop programs or close for a raft of reasons. In fact, one school that discontinued the program saw the strongest achievement gains, and the final school was shut down for a whole host of reasons having nothing to do with SO1. (In fact, the state report that led to the shutdown flagged SO1 as a strength.)

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not arguing that School of One “works.” I am saying that it’s a terrifically interesting way to think about how to better organize teaching and learning. The three NYC pilots may or may not have done a good job of taking advantage of the opportunities the SO1 model presents. And I’m sure there’ll be a big learning curve as we figure out how to organize schooling in fundamentally different ways. But, it’s safe to say that the Daily News did an awful job conveying what we know about School of One thus far. And it’s done a brutal disservice by suggesting that preliminary results from three pilot sites can tell us anything definitive about the potential of a wholly new way to think about how schools go about their work.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP