New Classrooms CEO and Co-Founder Joel Rose recently joined the “School Growth Mastery” podcast for a wide-ranging conversation about Teach to One: Math and innovation in education. Check out some of the key takeaways by reading the summarized excerpts below. You can listen to the full episode by visiting the “School Growth Mastery” page or clicking play here:
Kids are coming into middle school sometimes multiple years behind in math. They have all of this unfinished learning from prior years, and because math is cumulative that unfinished learning can keep them from actually succeeding with grade-level content and more advanced concepts.
“The Iceberg Problem”
When we went into this work initially, we just wanted to create an impactful math program. And what we realized is that broader education policy was making it harder for us to succeed—not only us, but far more schools than the ones we happen to serve. The “Iceberg Problem” is centered around this idea that, number one, math is cumulative; number two, students are coming into middle school with unfinished learning back from elementary school; and number three, policies are actually signaling to teachers that they should teach all students grade-level material regardless of where they’re starting from.
If a student walks into seventh grade on a fourth-grade level and that student is taught seventh-grade material, the data show that they are very likely to fall further and further behind. And so the unfinished learning keeps accumulating beneath the surface, year after year—that’s the Iceberg Problem. What that particular student needs in order to catch up is a mix of pre-grade and on-grade material, figured out in a way that gets that student back to grade level as quickly as possible—not just a steady dose of grade-level content.
Research and development is lacking in K-12 education
If you look at nearly every other sector in our society—telecommunications, healthcare, transportation, media—we’ve seen everything evolve in the last 30 years. Those advancements don’t just happen because the sun comes up, although it can feel that way. It happens because people make investments, either with public money or private money, to make things better. Apple invests billions of dollars every year into new versions of hardware and software because they know that they’ll get those dollars back several times over when we all buy their new products, and the same thing happens in every other sector.
But in K-12, that doesn’t happen. Venture capitalists often want nothing to do with the K-12 sector because it’s bureaucratic and highly fragmented. Unlike in defense, health care, and energy, the public sector doesn’t invest very much in K-12 R&D at all. So we’re stuck with textbooks and 800-square-foot rooms with teachers doing it the same way that it was for us.
We would love to see an ecosystem developed around a new sector that we would call the “model provider sector.” Model providers would do two things: one, get R&D funding from federal sources—as DARPA does in defense, for example—to design totally different learning models; and two, support the implementation of those models within existing schools around the country and share in the accountability for outcomes.
Future generations are going to look back at our generation and ask what took us so long to recognize the critical importance of innovation. Most education reform over the last 20 years has been about optimizing the existing model with various incentives, with carrots and sticks, but they have left the fundamental construct of one teacher and 30 kids in an 800-square-foot room in tact.
It’s time for us to recognize that this is only going to get us so far. If we collectively develop and explore different and new ways to get to the same objectives, we’ll get there much faster.