School of One: It’s About Differentiation, Not Technology

Bill Tucker has a two-part article up, offering some useful perspectives on this NYC Schools innovation. Example, differentiation is central to the strategy:

…While technology undergirds School of One, the core problem that the program is trying to solve is age-old: how to effectively teach all students, especially when each enters with a variety of different math backgrounds, skill levels, and interests. The solution is differentiation — not only for students, but importantly, also among teaching roles.

During our tour, Chris Rush, the program’s co-founder, emphasized that the key cultural mindset that changes with School of One is not the technology, but the way in which the program thinks about student progress. The approach attempts to meet each student at her current level and create as much growth as possible. For a 7th grader working at a 4th grade level, instruction focuses on 4th grade, attempting to lay the foundation so that as the student progresses, he has the fundamental understanding going forward. It’s a big change for many teachers and parents, since it means that 7th grade students are not necessarily getting 7th grade content. And, while each school determines its own grading scheme, Rush notes that grades reflect progress, not absolute performance: “If they are doing what we put in front of them, they get the grade.”

This progress mindset has important implications for how we judge the performance of both teachers and schools. Rush says that first year proficiency scores are not the correct benchmark, since passing the 7th grade test is not the goal for the student starting at a 4th grade level. Yet, making up ground is essential. So, the approach changes conversations with families. If a student needs to catch up, or is moving more slowly than expected, then teachers can provide options. At Boody, for example, some students have elected to forgo a few of the school’s magnet classes to catch up in math. Others learn during after school programs and some are even coming in before school, during a so-called “period zero,” for additional instruction.