study says...

Students in high-tech math program saw big gains, report says

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

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.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede