Five Years On: Reflecting on Lessons Learned

Five years after the launch of School of One, we reflect on 25 key lessons.

Five years ago, while part of the New York City Department of Education, we led a team to launch School of One at a middle school in Manhattan. For five weeks, approximately 80 students attended a special summer school math program that combined live, online, and collaborative learning to personalize learning based on each student’s needs and abilities. Each day, students received a unique schedule informed by their progress the previous day.

The School of One pilot launched at a middle school in Manhattan in the summer of 2009.
Over the course of the pilot program, School of One received significant attention. Mayor Bloomberg visited, as did the New York Times. That fall, Time Magazine heralded School of One as one of the “Best Inventions of 2009”.

While the media was intrigued by the “whiz-bang” elements of our reimagined classroom (yes, every student uses a laptop), we knew that what we had learned at that point was only a small fraction of what it would ultimately take to bring high quality personalized learning to scale. As has been said before, it’s all about sweating the small stuff.

Asking questions and sweating the answers

We began cataloging the small stuff from the outset. Our team began the process by focusing on all the questions we would need to answer in order to truly demonstrate that there was another way to educate our kids. What is the purpose of homework? Where should students put their coats? What happens when a substitute teacher is present? When all was said and done, we had nearly 700 questions—and we knew we were just getting started.

Many of our initial questions would require multiple answers. There were answers from a technology perspective, answers from an operational perspective, answers from an academic perspective. In some cases, we drew on the perspectives and research of national experts. In others, we relied on the experience and expertise of our own team members. And in still other cases, we encountered questions that had no precedent, and so we set off to develop hypotheses from which to iterate.

Sharing what we’ve learned

Over the last five years, we’ve answered and re-answered most (but not all) of these questions. In some cases, we’ve answered the same question multiple times as experience and feedback from teachers and school leaders helped us to find a better answer.

Over the next several months, we plan to write about what we’ve learned on our journey to reimagine the classroom. As more organizations explore ways to meet students’ individual needs and abilities in support of personalized learning, we wanted to share what we’ve learned on our own journey.

School of One to Teach to One

One important historical fact as it relates to our work. School of One was an initiative started at the New York City Department of Education in 2009 (NYCDOE). NYCDOE owns the trademark to that name. In 2011, many of the original team members that worked on School of One left the Department of Education to join a newly-formed nonprofit organization called New Classrooms Innovation Partners. Among New Classrooms’ first orders of business was to create a new model of math instruction that shared some of the same principals and goals as School of One, but explored new academic, technological, and operational strategies. Our team called this new model Teach to One.

Later in 2011, we partnered with pioneering schools to bring this new model to students and teachers in Chicago and Washington, DC. Following an open procurement process from NYCDOE, New Classrooms was awarded the contract to use Teach to One to power School of One. The program that students in NYC experience is the same as those in other parts of the country. In the 2013-14 school year, nearly 6,000 students in 15 pioneering schools participated in Teach to One.

As you’ll see over the course of this year, our growth from the School of One pilot to an independent nonprofit organization involved much more than simply a change in governance structure. Under the hood, Teach to One is a vastly different innovation, one that built upon our experiences with School of One, but was ultimately built from the ground up as we reviewed new research and explored new intuitions.

So away we go. We’re on a mission to share 25 of the most important lessons we’ve learned. To start off, we look at New Classrooms’ Skill Map, which provides the foundation to the Teach to One model and maps the relationship between over 300 mathematics skills.

Read Lesson #1: The Skill Map

Joel Rose and Chris Rush

Joel Rose is the Co-Founder and CEO of New Classrooms. Chris Rush is the Co-Founder and Chief Program Officer of New Classrooms.