New Personalized Math Program for Schools Shows Promise

November 19, 2013 5:26 am Last Updated: November 20, 2013 2:38 pm

NEW YORK—About 3,500 students at eight middle schools in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, experienced very different math classes last year. Every day, each student received a computer generated special lesson plan. It is part of the Teach to One: Math pilot program created by the nonprofit, New Classrooms.

The program, pools three to five classes of students together and then assigns different ways of learning, including options such as: a standard class with a teacher or only with other classmates, learning alone on a computer, or consulting with an online tutor. After each 90-minute class, students show what they have learned by taking a quiz. Results are then channeled to a computer in Midtown Manhattan that suggests what each of the students should learn the next day, based on what seems to work for him or her.

The program produced its first positive results, showing an increase of about 20 percent in math knowledge than the national average, according to a study by the Center for Technology and School Change (CTSC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, released on Nov. 18.

The students’ performances were assessed by a test called Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), once in the fall of 2012 and then again in the summer of 2013. The increase in performance was mostly attributed to William P. Gray Elementary in Chicago. Its middle school students managed to beat the national average by 40 to 60 percent. Other schools, on average, ended up with improvements close to the nation’s mean.

The authors of the study noted they were unable to set up a control group, so there’s no way to tell if the improvements were due to the personalized program or other factors.

Joel Rose and Chris Rush set up New Classrooms. They had already tested their project in 2010 with School of One, a $1 million project piloted in three middle schools by New York City Department of Education.

After a year, however, the idea was unconvincing with only one of the three schools showing improvement, according to a study by New York University’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools.

Shortly after, Rose and Rush moved on to set up their own venture, New Classrooms Innovation Partners Inc.

Rush said they went through a troubled beginning with New Classrooms. “We didn’t know what we were doing as much. But now the system is much more fine-tuned,” he said.

The program expanded to 15 schools this year.

What It Costs

With roughly 60 staff and 20 consultants, New Classrooms runs mainly on private money. It received a $3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year and many other contributions to muster up a budget of more than $9 million with “substantial growth expected in the next few years,” according to its website.

They plan for the schools to pay for their services in the future, with money saved on things substituted by the program—like textbooks, on-line programs, and assessment tools. “The goal is to make them much more self sustaining,” Rose said.

Sandra Carlson, principal at William P. Gray Elementary School, wasn’t clear on whether the school will be able to expand the program with its own money. She thinks people in public education need to change their thinking. “We cannot sustain education the way it is,” she said.

“As we see our kids become more adept and have more at their fingertips, we realize we can’t meet their needs with one person in front of the classroom,” she said, alluding to the financial issue. “You’re never going to do with tax dollars.”