I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Is "Reform" Really About Selling Schools Junk?

What if all the hype over education reforminess is really an excuse to sell schools worthless techie junk?
In the spring of 2010, the School of One was implemented at IS 228, in Brooklyn. By Sept. 2010, it was added to two more middle schools, MS 131 in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and IS 339 in the Bronx.   I visited the program in Chinatown and was not impressed; I saw chaos and many disengaged kids, as I described here As Joel Rose said during my tour of the school, it is intended to substitute for smaller classes, since “no human being” can provide fully individualized instruction to a class of 25.
As Gary Rubinstein first explained on his blog, in two of these schools it caused achievement to slip in math, according to the DOE’s Progress reports: slightly at IS 228, and drastically at IS 339. By the next year, two of the three schools had dropped the program, including at MS 131, the school I visited in Chinatown (which had already earned the school an “A” in math progress the year before) and at IS 339, whose progress grade on math fell from a “B” to a “D”.  MS 131, the school that appeared to do the best with the program but dropped it anyway, has a relatively high-achieving, mostly Asian population; the school that did the worst, IS 339, has primarily poor Black and Hispanic students. 
Now the new study from the Research Alliance  not only quietly confirms those findings, but also finds that the lowest achieving students within each school were the ones who tended to fall furthest behind in below-grade level skills, showing that this virtual instruction may actually widen rather than narrow the achievement gap, as some have feared:
Students who came to SO1 with low prior performance were exposed to approximately twice as many below-grade-level skills, compared to those who came with higher performance levels from prior grades. … However, these students mastered less than 15 percent of the skills to which they were exposed (as measured by SO1’s daily assessments), compared to approximately 85 percent mastery for students who entered with higher prior performance.
These results fly in the face of the DOE’s I3 application, which said it should be awarded extra points because it would provide special benefits for struggling students.
You should read all of Leonie Haimson's post, but here's the quick summary: School of One is an on-line math curriculum developed in NYC by then-DOE staffer Joel Rose. Rose took it private (in a move that Haimson says violates NYCDOE rules) and is now spreading the program around to several cities, including Perth Amboy, NJ.

I've written before about the nearly $600,000 contract with SO1 that Perth Amboy's controversial, anti-tenure superintendent, Janine Caffrey, has put before her board. There are two very interesting connections between Caffrey and School of One:

- Caffrey is at war with the majority of her board, which tried to boot her earlier this year. She only survives in her position due to the graces of NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. Cerf used to work at the NYCDOE; his right-hand man was... yes, you guessed it, School of One's Joel Rose.

- As Haimson confirms here, the heart of SO1's computer software was developed by Wireless Generation. WG's current CEO is Joel Klein, who was Cerf's and Rose's boss at NYCDOE. WG is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also funds StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee's reformy lobbying shop. SF's "partner" in New Jersey is B4K, which paid for a public relations campaign supporting Caffrey against her school board.

Yeah, it's confusing - here's a chart:

Joel Rose posted a comment on this blog that denied a relationship between Wireless Generation and School of One; but Haimson confirms that WG developed the SO1 software. Before Perth Amboy drops a ton of money on Rose's product, they ought to clear this up once and for all. Rose and Cerf also need to come clean about their relationship; has there been any contact between the two since Cerf stopped Caffrey's firing?

And, most importantly: someone needs to vet SO1's efficacy. Is this a product that really can help kids, or is it just the latest digitized fad? I know Joel Klein thinks we have to rush this stuff out in front of students before we actually find out whether it works, but I'd say the taxpayers of Perth Amboy and their children deserve a school system that acts a little more prudently.

(Again, read Leonie Haimson's post; it's a great story.)

No comments: