Students in New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. schools in a program called Teach to One made better-than-average math gains.
Students in New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. schools in a program called Teach to One made better-than-average math gains.

Students in a high-tech math program that features computer-generated student work schedules, virtual tutors and live teachers posted above average math gains last year, according to a new study.

More than 2,200 students in seven middle schools in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., that used the Teach to One learning model made an average of 1.2 years of math growth, according to the report by researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University. That was 20 percent more progress, on average, than other students made on an optional test used in school districts across the country.

But the gains varied across schools, according to the report, which follows an inconclusive study that was released last year. Students at five of the schools gained less ground than the national average in at least one grade, the report found.

Teach to One, which has expanded to 15 schools in seven cities in its second year, grew out of a city Department of Education program called School of One, which enjoyed national attention and federal funding before its co-creators left to start their own nonprofit.

“Our big takeaway [from the study] is that it looks like, at least so far, we’re on the right track,” said Joel Rose, the former city official who helped build School of One before co-founding New Classrooms Innovation Partners, the nonprofit behind Teach to One.

The report cautions that it cannot attribute students’ math gains to the Teach to One program, since it was not an experimental study that could control for various factors. The report was prepared for New Classrooms using students’ fall and spring scores on the Measures of Academic Progress test.

The report notes that the sixth- through eighth-grade students in the program last year — its first in operation — were more likely than the average test-taker to be non-white, English language learners, and from low-income families. They are also more likely to receive special-education services.

“Given that this was a first-year initiative implemented with an underserved population, the early data are encouraging,” the report said, adding that the model deserves “continued exploration.”

Schools that use Teach to One’s math model gather several grade-level classes — for instance, five classes of seventh graders — into a single open space with about a dozen learning stations and multiple teachers and assistants. Students find their stations listed on large monitors, then pull up their daily agendas, or “playlists,” on laptops.

Algorithms use diagnostic and daily assessment results to select the skills — which are pulled from multiple grade levels — that students will target for the whole year and each day. Students complete computer activities, work in small groups, chat with remote tutors through headsets, or sit for teacher-led lessons based on plans from a vast digital trove.

The model is meant to maximize class time by customizing what each student is learning to reflect only areas where he needs to improve.

“We’ve been doing school the same way with one teacher and 30 kids for 150 years,” Rose said. “There are just limits to how successful that model can be — even with the best of teachers.”

This model is similar to what School of One offered when it started in three city schools in 2009. The updated model includes changes such as regular applied-math projects and content aligned with the Common Core standards.

Students
School of One students speak to remote tutors at the program’s kickoff in 2009. (GothamSchools)

A study last year by New York University’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools found mixed results for School of One. Of three pilot middle schools that used the model in 2011, one saw a positive impact, one saw a negative impact and one saw neutral results, according to the study. (Two of the schools are no longer using the model.) The researchers said the first-year study was not definitive, but offered “initial feedback.”

School of One was built for the city using a mix of public and private funds. In exchange for the rights to use elements of that model in Teach to One, New Classrooms runs the program for free in the six New York schools that use it, according to New Classrooms co-founder and city Department of Education veteran Chris Rush. Department officials said the city’s ethics board cleared the arrangement.

Rush and Rose’s departure raised questions about whether innovations incubated by the school system — especially under the technology-minded former chancellor, Joel Klein — would persist across administrations or spin off into private ventures, like Teach to One.

The co-founders said the move enabled them to attract investments from donors who want to see the model expanded nationally and to “insulate” it from political forces.

Those political forces include a new mayoral administration that will decide whether to renew its contract with Teach to One, which expires in June.

“Time will tell if the new mayor and chancellor are interested in continuing to be leaders in education innovation,” Rose said.