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Teach to One Founder Joel Rose on What K-12 Schools Should Look Like This Fall


Life in the age of COVID-19 means that each day is more difficult to predict than the next. Whether students and educators will return to the classroom this fall still remains uncertain. Those already planning to return should expect a different classroom setting than they left behind. Many schools are even considering staggered learning schedules, all while navigating each student’s anticipated social and emotional adjustments to a classroom environment.

Michael Horn is the founder of the Christensen Institute, a non-profit partisan think tank that promotes “disruptive innovation” for understanding society’s most pressing issues, including education. Horn recently sat down with Joel Rose, co-founder of Teach to One: Math. Rose advocates for educational reform and presents Teach to One as a logical, data-driven approach to individualized math education. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on what K-12 schools might look like this fall, Rose argues that now is the time to transition away from the factory model classroom and toward the techniques implemented by Teach to One.

What does a Teach to One: Math classroom look like?

Horn opened the interview with a question about what Teach to One: Math looks like in action. Rose describes a TTO classroom as a large open space with several stations. Each station will tackle an instructional modality. Some modalities facilitate group learning, while some facilitate one-on-one lessons. Each student is placed, according to Rose, based on “where they are and where they need to be.”

Teach to One: Math is administered by a nonprofit called New Classrooms, which is located in New York City. Every day, each student exits the classroom after completing a daily assessment. These assessments are then sent to the organization to inform the design of the next day’s personalized lessons. Since each student’s curriculum is designed on the basis of their individual strengths and weaknesses, TTO’s tactics pivot students toward mastery.

What are Teach to One: Math’s policy limitations?

Since Teach to One disrupts the norms of traditional classroom learning, its implementation faces large policy barriers. Rose discusses these policy barriers in an essay titled “The Iceberg Problem.” The essay includes a case study of a seventh grader who enters their first day of math class without remembering any skills from both fourth- and fifth-grade math. How did these skill gaps go unnoticed by previous math educators? Rose argues that state testing requires schools to prioritize assessment preparation. Test preparation means that teachers do not have time to go back and review more than a year’s worth of material. The resulting “maximum exposure to grade-level content,” Rose finds, perpetuates gaps in math education.

Rose also points out that educators tend to interpret student growth in a restrictive manner. Educators typically assess a student’s growth by comparing how said student performs on the seventh-grade standardized test compared to the eighth-grade standardized test. This, Rose believes, is “too granular.” As a result, teachers continue to teach skills that their students either do not truly know, are not ready to learn, or already know. By failing to evaluate mathematical growth adequately, students continue to fall behind.

Where does Teach to One: Math fit into an educator’s post-quarantine concerns?

It is common sense for teachers to expect wider educational gaps heading into the 2020-2021 school year than in ordinary years. Rose is hopeful that this will catalyze thinking “about learning loss much more holistically.” For schools that were already using TTO prior to stay-at-home orders, teaching math at a distance was not a difficult concept to grasp. “Their delivery model was already evolved,” Rose concludes, which created space to promote the personalization that students required to stay on track.

A student’s mathematical mastery will be harder to assess this year. “We’re not gonna know how kids did after this year,” says Rose, pointing out that many schools were not able to carry out their math curriculum as planned. In response, Rose says that timing is everything. Diagnostics will not be effective if they are implemented before students feel safe and connected at school. This might mean waiting for one, two, three, or even more weeks before beginning the math curriculum. However, waiting is necessary if students are not yet adjusted.

How did Teach to One: Math come about?

In 2011, Rose founded New Classrooms Innovation Partners, a New York-based nonprofit. New Classrooms: Innovation Partners administers Teach to One: Math (TTO) as a school-based approach that integrates multiple learning modalities. The organization assists with the implementation of algorithms and classroom-specific information to organize a daily math curriculum for 10,000 students per day. The outcome is teacher-led mathematical learning experiences catered to each student’s individualized progress.

Gaps in math education pose serious threats to college preparedness and long-term educational success. Fortunately, Teach to One was designed with these gaps in mind. At the end of every lesson, a student completes an exit slip. The student’s performance on that exit slip determines whether the student will proceed to the next lesson. This approach demonstrates the flexibility to go back and spend time filling gaps without sacrificing state-level assessment preparation.