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The reality and the hype behind online learning and the 'School of One'

Ohanian Comment: I also posted this as "Research that Counts," because this is the kind of research we need if public education is to survive. I would add one brief note to Leonie's observation of a School of One's so-called individualized/personalized learning classrooms: A few years ago I visited a highly touted credit recovery room--better called a warehouse. A clerk sat outside the door, checking students in. Once "in," students went to their computer-delivered workbook-style material. There was no human contact in that room. Electronic school of the future.

This is a New York City story but Eli Broad--one of School of One's funders-- showed its broad implications, writing in The School Administrator:

This notion now is driving highly successful digital, individualized learning taking place in schools like Rocketship Schools in San Jose, Calif., and New York City's School of One. The founders of these schools, Rocketship Education's John Danner and Preston Smith and the School of One's Joel Rose, weren't afraid to try something new. Now, because these schools gear learning to every individual student's needs, teachers have the tools they need to propel students -- many of whom are low-income -- forward, further and far faster than other schools.

Teacher across the country owe Leonie Haimson and NYC Public School Parents a HUGE debt of gratitude for their support of public education and their relentless pursuit of those who damage public schools. I was struck by this paragraph from Leonie's description of her visit to School of One Classroom:

We then entered a large room, converted from the school's library, with about one hundred 7th and 8th graders seated at tables, most of them staring at computers and doing multiple choice math problems. I watched as one girl, seemingly in a trance, looked at the screen, and hit A, B, C, D keys in turn, until she got the right answer to a multiple choice question and moved onto the next one. Sadly, no adult but me seemed to be paying any attention to this student to make sure she was trying to think the problem through.

It is sadly typical that the library is what's sacrificed in the name of a scam that travels under the name of innovation.

Here are School of One's funders:

  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  • Carnegie Corporation of New York

  • Cisco Systems, Inc.

  • Education Collaboration Fund, a donor advised fund of J. P. Morgan Private Bank

  • J.P. Morgan Morgan Chase & Co. Global Philanthropy

  • Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

  • New York City Department of Education, Innovation Zone

  • NewSchools Venture Fund

  • Robin Hood

  • The Broad Foundation

  • The Wallace Foundation

  • US Department of Education, Investment in Innovation (i3) Fund

  • The precept behind School of One is that technology can do what teachers cannot do--personalize learning:

    In today's classrooms, it's just too hard for teachers to craft an educational experience that meets each student's unique needs--even though there is a large and growing amount of high-quality digital and live educational content available online and from publishers. Developing an individualized plan to meet each student's needs each day is unrealistic, even for our best teachers.

    Smart design opens the bottleneck

    School of One learns about the specific academic needs of every student and then accesses a large bank of carefully reviewed educational resources, using sophisticated technology to find the best matches among students, teachers, and resources.

    There is a lot to be said about this, but for starters consider how this fits in on the push for larger classes, deprofessionalization of teachers, and school privatization.

    Now School of One has become private and named
    Here are the Board of Directors and Board of Advisors. Follow the hot link on Relay Graduate School of Education and you get a whole new layer for conspiracy theory speculation.

    But you should take a look at all the other members of these board and consider what they do. I have put in brackets the associations not included in the official board postings.

    Several participated in NewSchools-Aspen Institute Summit 201, produced in partnership with NBC News' 'Education Nation', where Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered the closing plenary address, along with Laurene Powell Jobs, Emerson Collective and NewSchools Venture Fund board member, and Ted Mitchell, NewSchools Venture Fund.

    It is instructive to scan the list of participants. Pearson and the Doris and Donald and Fisher Fund were supporting sponsors and the Walton Foundation anchor sponsor.

    Take a look at this Labor Video Project film Who Is Behind The Privatization Of Education:Gates, Broad, KIPP, Pearson, EdWest & The Gulen Schools.

    Board of Directors

    Mike Bezos
    Bezos Family Foundation
    [ Long list of partners includes Aspen Institute, Education Trust, KIPP, NBC News Education Nation, Relay Graduate School of Education, Stand for Children Washington State, Teach for America

    Ariel J. Deckelbaum
    Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

    Joshua Lewis
    Founder and Managing Principal
    Salmon River Capital
    [Board of Directors of New Leaders for New Schools; Pearson Board of Directors; Advisor, Next Generation Learning Challenges program of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.]

    Jordan Meranus
    NewSchools Venture Fund
    [he blogs at NewSchools; CEO Ellevation (where Andrew Rotherham is advisor); co-founder Jumpstart; Managing Director at Imagita; participant NewSchools-Aspen Institute Summit 201, produced in partnership with NBC News' 'Education Nation']

    Joe Wolf
    Board of Directors
    Innosight Institute
    [partner at RS Investments; formerly Goldman Sachs & Company]

    Joel Rose and Chris Rush also serve on the Board of Directors.

    Board of Advisors

    The New Classrooms Board of Advisors is a volunteer team of prominent education leaders who provide New Classrooms with strategic guidance on a range of academic and organizational issues such as student learning progressions, program research and evaluation design, school culture, teacher professional development, organizational design, fiscal management, governmental relations, and communications.

    Norman Atkins
    Co-Founder and President
    NewSchools-Aspen Institute Summit 201, produced in partnership with NBC News' 'Education Nation']

    Ann Bradley
    American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund
    [21 years at Education Week before moving to AFT]

    Anthony Bryk
    Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
    [formerly Marshall Field IV Professor of Urban Education in the sociology department at University of Chicago, where he helped found the Center for Urban School Improvement, which supports reform efforts in the Chicago Public Schools. He also created the Consortium on Chicago School Research]

    Tom Carroll
    National Commission on Teaching and America's Future
    [featured in Pearson Foundation interactive media project; created Technology Innovation Challenge Grants Program at the U.S. Department of Education (ED]

    Chris Dede
    Professor in Learning Technologies
    Harvard Graduate School of Education
    [Research funded by the U. S. Department of Education]

    Mike Feinberg
    Gates Foundation invests in charter schools]

    Susan Fuhrman
    Teachers College Columbia University
    [Pearson board of directors]

    John Katzman
    Founder and Executive Chairman
    [Formerly founder and CEO of The Princeton Review; 2tor delivers "rigorous, selective degree programs" to online to students globally. Here are their university partners.]

    Marguerite Kondracke
    President & CEO
    America's Promise Alliance

    Wendy Kopp
    CEO and Founder
    Teach For America
    CEO and Co-Founder
    Teach For All

    David Levin
    [Co-Founder of and Professor at Relay School of Education]

    Arthur Levine
    Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
    [When Bill Gates and Eli Broad put up $60 million to form Ed in '08/Strong American Schools, Arthur Levine, president emeritus of the Teachers College at Columbia University, hailed it as "the most important philanthropic investment in education in years."]

    Ellen Moir
    Founder and CEO
    The New Teacher Center
    [recipient, Harold W. McGraw, Jr. 2005 Prize in Education]; participant NewSchools-Aspen Institute Summit 201, produced in partnership with NBC News' 'Education Nation']

    Tom Payzant
    Former Professor of Practice
    Harvard Graduate School of Education
    Former Superintendent
    Boston Public Schools
    [also former superintendent San Diego schools; recipient, Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education; Broad Foundation Superintendent's Academy coach]

    Jenny Shilling Stein
    Executive Director
    Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation

    Tom Vander Ark
    Getting Smart
    [director of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning; former Executive Director, Education, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation]

    Gene Wilhoit
    Executive Director
    Council of Chief State School Officers
    [As executive director of CCSSO, Gene Wilhoit was instrumental in leading the nation towards more rigorous and focused standards through Common Core State Standards.]

    by Leonie Haimson

    Today's Daily News [see below] has a story about a new negative evaluation of DOE's much vaunted "School of One" program. This study, which found no significant achievement gains from the program, was quietly placed on the Research Alliance website in the middle of summer with no apparent outreach to the media or the public.

    This contrasts with the huge publicity machine promoting this online program that has operated since its inception as a pilot started in the summer of 2009.

    The School of One is an online or "blended" learning math program, combining online with small group instruction. It was started by Joel Rose when he was at DOE, using an algorithm devised by Wireless Generation. Rose, along with Chris Rush, formerly of Wireless Gen, has now taken the company private and renamed it New Classrooms. According to its website, the company is hiring new staff to work in NYC, as well as in Washington DC, Chicago and Perth Amboy NJ schools starting this year. I wrote about DOE's awarding of this contract to New Classrooms last year, in apparent violation of conflict of interest rules.

    By the time it started as a small scale pilot in the summer of 2010, it already earned a story in the New York Times. By September, Arthur Levine, former head of Teacher's College, wrote that School of One may turn out to be the single most important experiment conducted in education so far. It is the future. By November, it had already won a place on Time magazine's best inventions of 2009, which described it as "learning for the Xbox generation".

    This led Mayor Bloomberg to put out a press release, boasting that "The School of One [is] creating a 21st century classroom to meet the individual needs and learning styles of every student." Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard wrote an oped for the Boston Globe in 2011, saying that "This type of out-sourcing [to private providers] could be encouraged everywhere, which could support a nationwide industry dedicated to smartening our children."

    The School of One has also been recognized and encouraged by the US Department of Education, which awarded the DOE a three year $5 million I3 federal Innovation grant to expand it in NYC schools. By the time the application was written, DOE had already spent $1.5 million on the project, and now according to the Daily News, has spent $9 million over the past three years -- they say from private donations. According to its federal grant application, the DOE had planned to spend $45 million on expanding the program through June 2013 (though the DN also reports officials expect to downsize that by an unspecified amount, "with help from a private contractor.")

    The "personalized" learning system featured in "the School of One" has now become the focus of the new federal RTTT program for districts; encouraging the spread of virtual or "blended" instruction through computers, by offering nearly $400 million in grants, again with little or no evidence that such programs work. Nearly 900 districts have applied for these grants, including the Superintendent of Miami, who recently said that Miami's application "will focus on personalizing education for students based on how they best learn, rely more on digital content and changing the learning environment and outcomes of middle school students who have fallen behind. . . ." This is a creative and effective way of spurring reform from the bottom up," he said."

    Bottom up? Not exactly. This is an initiative driven from the top down. What has been the actual record of the School of One?

    In the spring of 2010, the School of One was implemented at IS 228, in Brooklyn. By Sept. 2010, it was added to two more middle schools, MS 131 in Manhattan's Chinatown, and IS 339 in the Bronx. I visited the program in Chinatown as was not impressed; I saw chaos and many disengaged kids, as I described here. As Joel Rose said during my tour of the school, it is intended to substitute for smaller classes, since "no human being" can provide fully individualized instruction to a class of 25.

    As Gary Rubinstein first explained on his blog, in two of these schools it caused achievement to slip in math, according to the DOE's Progress reports: slightly at IS 228, and drastically at IS 339. By the next year, two of the three schools had dropped the program, including at MS 131, the school I visited in Chinatown (which had already earned the school an "A" in math progress the year before) and at IS 339, whose progress grade on math fell from a "B" to a "D". MS 131, the school that appeared to do the best with the program but dropped it anyway, has a relatively high-achieving, mostly Asian population; the school that did the worst, IS 339, has primarily poor Black and Hispanic students.

    Now the new study from the Research Alliance not only quietly confirms those findings, but also finds that the lowest achieving students within each school were the ones who tended to fall furthest behind in below-grade level skills, showing that this virtual instruction may actually widen rather than narrow the achievement gap, as some have feared:

    Students who came to SO1 with low prior performance were exposed to approximately twice as many below-grade-level skills, compared to those who came with higher performance levels from prior grades. However, these students mastered less than 15 percent of the skills to which they were exposed (as measured by SO1's daily assessments), compared to approximately 85 percent mastery for students who entered with higher prior performance.

    These results fly in the face of the DOE's I3 application, which said it should be awarded extra points because it would provide special benefits for struggling students.

    Next year, there will be four more NYC middle schools which will adopt this model, along with IS 228: IS 49 and IS 2 in Staten Island, MS 88 and MS 381 in Brooklyn. There will also be a new "randomized" study, led by Jonah Rockoff of Columbia.

    Good luck to these schools. One wonders if the parents at these schools have given their consent to what is really an experiment on their kids, with no research to back it up. As the new study points out,

    . . .SO1 program staff hypothesized that schools might experience a variety of implementation and outcome "dips," in which instructional quality and student achievement might initially decline, as teachers adjusted to the new organization and delivery of the math curriculum. . . . in general, educational innovation is exceedingly challenging: Program impact is often incremental, rather that abrupt and dramatic; the process of development and evidence building is iterative and dynamic, rather than linear and uni-directional; and it often takes years, rather than months, to establish program efficacy and a credible track record for expansion and scale.

    Meanwhile, of course, the DOE makes decisions about holding back children, and evaluates teachers and grades schools based on one year's worth of test results -- regardless of the sentiments expressed above.

    These words of caution are similar to those expressed by a recent study of the Izone, DOE's online learning initiative, of which the School of One belongs:

    ". . . NYC school district leaders are taking risks with the iZone, implementing new models, committing deeply to a defined set of principles that challenge core assumptions about what a school should look like, and moving to scale very quickly. How and when they will know if they got the big bet right is a question district leaders will have to ask so that students are not subjected for too long to programs and schools that don't work.

    There is a well-documented gold rush now, with many companies getting into the business of online learning, including Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp, headed by Joel Klein, which acquired Wireless shortly after Klein was hired. With the help of the right-wing organization ALEC, of which NewsCorp is a member, these companies are using their considerable resources to fund astroturf organizations and persuade politicians to encourage or even require students to take virtual courses for credit, with NO evidence that this helps them in any way. You can read exposes about how this has happened in Maine; Pennsylvania; Minnesota; Wisconsin and nationwide.

    Here in NY, the Regents and the State Education Department has encouraged the growth of online learning by eliminating seat time requirements which, along with the overriding pressure for high schools to inflate their graduation rates or risk being closed, will likely cause districts statewide to follow in NYC's footsteps by implementing substandard credit recovery systems, what Diane Ravitch has rightly called academic fraud.

    More and more in this nation, we are moving towards two different school systems: one for the wealthy, who insist of proven reforms including small classes for their children. The other highly experimental model, for disadvantaged and even middle class kids, will increasingly deliver so-called "personalized" instruction via a machine, causing struggling students to fall even further behind. Is this the future we want for our kids?

    See also Jersey Jazzman's blog here and here on how the superintendent of Perth Amboy, a controversial former NYC administrator named Janine Caffrey, has proposed a $575,900 contract for New Classrooms. Meanwhile, Caffrey is serving only at the pleasure of Chris Cerf, Joel Rose's former boss who is now NJ Education Commissioner, as the Perth Amboy school board has voted to remove her.

    Initiative was hailed by Time magazine as one of the 50 best inventions of 2009, but NYU study shows $9 million effort failed to raise test scores more than old-school math classes

    New York Daily News
    September 4, 2012

    Initiative was hailed by Time magazine as one of the 50 best inventions of 2009, but NYU study shows $9 million effort failed to raise test scores more than old-school math classes

    By Rachel Monahan

    AN EXPENSIVE city program touted as the future of middle school math education had disappointing results in its first year -- and was abandoned at two of the three schools where it was implemented, the Daily News has learned.

    School of One, championed by former city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and named as one of Time magazine's 50 best inventions in 2009, didn't help kids improve on the state math exams any more than regular math classes, a recent study found.

    Stuyvesant High School math teacher Gary Rubinstein, who recently wrote about his visit to School of One early in the pilot program, said he wasn't surprised.

    "Even if they got results, I wouldn't be impressed because it looked like all they were learning how to do was do better on a standardized test," he said.

    Analysts with NYU's Research Alliance for New York City Schools looked at how students at the three original schools performed on state math exams in 2011.

    School of One nudged up test scores at Middle School 131 in Manhattan, but officials dropped the program there. And Intermediate School 339 in the Bronx also bailed out after the program produced worse results than the average class.

    The analysts cautioned that the results from just one year were "not definitive."

    Results improved the second year at IS 228 in Brooklyn, where in the first year, fewer students passed the math exam -- 59% in all, down 2 points -- in a year when the citywide pass rate climbed 3 points. But this spring, 64% of students passed -- up 5 points from the previous year while the citywide pass rate climbed just 3 points.

    "We had phenomenal growth in mathematics," said Principal Dominick D'Angelo.

    The city is pushing forward, planning to expand the program this fall to four more schools -- Intermediate Schools 2 and 49 in Staten Island as well as Middle Schools 88 and 381 in Brooklyn -- with the help of a high-profile $5 million grant awarded by the Obama administration.

    City officials said they've spent $9 million over the past three years -- all from private donations.

    In its grant application, the city projected the total cost of the program's expansion at $46 million, though officials say they've been able to get that price down with help from a private contractor.

    "School of One has the potential to solve what has historically been a teacher's greatest challenge -- meeting the individual needs of each and every student," said Department of Education spokeswoman Connie Pankratz, who declined to explain why two schools dropped the program.

    Critics charge the agency should focus on solutions that are known to work.

    "School of One is expensive and disruptive," said Patrick Sullivan, Manhattan representative to the Panel for Educational Policy.


    — Leonie Haimson with notes by Susan Ohanian
    NYC Public School Parents





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