The scoop

In a new futuristic Klein initiative, school happens via "playlist"

In one city classroom this summer, a computer algorithm is telling students what to do.

The classroom is actually a library at a Chinatown middle school with just 80 students, but school officials are hoping that it offers a glimpse into the future of the school system, one in which every student’s individual strengths and weaknesses are calculated before each day is planned.

Students in the new pilot program, a $1 million effort that officials are calling the School of One, take a quiz every afternoon, and then receive a computer-generated schedule each morning, called a “playlist.” A student’s playlist might tell him to begin the day by meeting with a tutor, then to complete a set of online tasks, and then to work on a project with his classmates. The program, which focuses only on math instruction, will expand to three sites in January.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein will roll out the program today, along with its mastermind, Joel Rose, who previously worked for Edison Schools, the for-profit education management company now known as EdisonLearning. The announcement will mark one of the first initiatives of Klein’s administration that focuses on what happens inside classrooms since he unveiled citywide math and reading programs six years ago. That effort scripted moves down to how teachers should arrange their classrooms and the size of rugs.

The School of One project is based on the much different view that every student in the city should be taught a curriculum designed specifically for him or her, with technological innovations leading a transformation of the way teachers and students interact. Earlier this year, Klein told a New York Times columnist that he envisioned a school system where instruction was individualized by cutting down on the number of teachers and relying more on technology.

The School of One actually has a lower student-teacher ratio than typical middle school classrooms, with 10 students to every one adult. The summer pilot includes 80 rising seventh-graders from Manhattan’s MS 131 and, on the supervisory side, four teachers, four assistant teachers, and two high school interns, according to Will Havemann, a schools spokesman.

At the end of the summer, the department will test the students on 80 discrete math skills, and an independent group will assess the program’s effectiveness.

The department plans to open three School of One math programs in January, Havemann said. Expansion beyond that and into other subjects is dependent on the pilot’s success, he said. But he noted that most schools would not need any major structural changes before they could run a School of One program.

John Chubb, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and an executive at EdisonLearning whose new book “Liberating Learning” lays out the vision for using technology to individualize instruction and lower the number of teachers, praised the School of One in an interview yesterday. But Chubb, who co-authored the book with Stanford professor Terry Moe, cautioned that it’s too early to decide whether the program is working.

“There are lots and lots of people who are trying to figure out how to use technology to figure out its promise, which is to be able to meet the needs of students at their own pace,” Chubb said. “This is a very promising effort to try to do just that. How well it works out — who knows.”

CORRECTION: This article originally said that Joel Rose “headed” the Edison Schools company. In fact, he managed only Edison’s after school division. Rose joined the Department of Education in early 2007.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”