Increasing numbers of traditional public, private, and charter middle schools are partnering with a nonprofit to implement a personalized learning program, Teach to One: Math, the brainchild of two former New York City schools employees who had previously piloted the program during their department tenure.
Joel Rose and Christopher Rush created the groundwork for the Teach to One program by launching the School of One program in Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School in Manhattan in 2009.
The School of One was praised for producing positive academic results, expanded to five other city schools and received national publicity, including being named as one of 2009’s Best 50 Inventions by TIME magazine.
At the same time, the School of One has come under criticism from those who have questioned its performance at individual schools, and whether its model is too costly, compared to other math programs.
Rose and Rush left the department 2011, founding the nonprofit New Classrooms Innovation Partners. That organization works with schools to revamp mathematics instruction through its flagship Teach to One program by pooling teacher resources and offering an algorithmically based personalized curriculum platform.
Teach to One program officials said this week that their program now serves 10,000 students in 28 schools in eight states, plus the District of Columbia.
Schools that adopt the program agree to combine sections of similar level math classes into large cohorts where multiple teachers co-teach students.
In turn, students are given highly flexible schedules that supplement traditional teacher-led learning with group work and customized online lesson plans organized into “playlists” of instructional videos gathered from third party content providers.
Daily quizzes provide data to feed Teach to One’s algorithm, which then creates a personalized lesson plan for each student based on their individual learning needs.
CEO Joel Rose, in an interview, said that Teach to One’s program requires schools to be open to changing long-held practices, noting that the program’s growth is attributable primarily to “pioneering superintendents and principals” who are willing to “embrace personalized learning and new models.”
One principal who has decided to take a chance on Teach to One Math is Noah Tonk of Morey Middle School in Denver.
Tonk, a strong proponent of competency based learning, said he was attracted to the program because it encompasses “the best of blended learning with the best of teacher-directed learning.”
The ability to tailor lesson plans to individual student strengths and weaknesses is particularly important at Morey because of the school’s academic makeup. The distribution of math scores at the school follows a “valley curve,” as a disproportionate number of students are either below grade level or in the gifted and talented program, meaning that “on-grade-level students are actually in the minority,” Tonk said.
Teach to One’s tools allow classroom educators at Morey to pace each student individually, so that advanced students are properly challenged, and struggling students aren’t left behind. In addition, digital records of daily quizzes ensures the availability of markedly improved feedback to parents.
The initial costs of implementing Teach to One were steep, Tonk said. But he believes the payoff is worth it.
"[I]f it is true that kids learn in different ways at different speeds, then what we’ve been doing is all wrong,” and he believes that “Teach to One represents the answer to that problem.”
Since its inception in 2011, the Teach to One program has grown steadily, expanding to partner with middle schools from Illinois to Georgia. The program is funded through a combination of federal grants, national philanthropies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and fees collected from local school districts.
Recently, Teach to One announced its new 2015-2016 partnerships which include schools like Morey in Denver and Education for Change charters in Oakland Calif, bringing the number of students actively participating in the program to over 10,000.
Teach to One has just under 100 employees, many of whom work in the field supporting teachers. About half of the organization’s staff works on research and development in ongoing efforts to tweak and modify offerings.
Currently, Teach to One only has programs in mathematics for grades five through eight. Rose said he was confident that the program would expand to other grades and subjects, but he wasn’t sure when.
A 2014 study by Douglas Ready, associate professor at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, and paid for by New Classrooms, analyzed Teach to One’s rate of success over its first two years.
Despite important caveats including the small sample size and the self-selected nature of the schools, the study suggested that on average students participating in the program produced academic gains that were well above national averages. Read comprehensive Ed Week coverage of the Ready study here, and here.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.