How Is a Bad Radio Station Like Our Public-School System? A Freakonomics Radio Podcast Encore
Our recent podcast “Weird Recycling” looked at ways to reuse things that most people don’t think are reusable, like chicken feet and nuclear waste. This week, we’re taking our own advice, and updating a program we did a while back. It’s called “How Is a Bad Radio Station Like Our Public-School System?” and it focuses on what you might call the thrill of customization — that is, how technology increasingly enables each of us to get what we want out of life. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
The main focus of the episode is a fascinating New York City Department of Education pilot program called School of One, which customizes the classroom experience for each student. You’ll hear from founders Joel Rose and Chris Rush as well as then-schools chancellor Joel Klein and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (whom you may remember as the former head of Chicago Public Schools who worked with Steve Levitt to get rid of cheating teachers).
The School of One tale is told from conception onward. You’ll hear about its victories, its potential pitfalls, and how it works day-to-day. We spend some time in a classroom in I.S. 339 in the Bronx, hearing from kids like Lionel (at right), whose daily “playlist” — in this case, his math lessons — are chosen in part by an algorithm that is designed to learn how Lionel learns best.
Furthermore, you’ll hear how Rush and others track and analyze the schoolwork that Lionel is doing to make sure he’s not just doodling away his time (like Levitt did in the third grade).
Below you’ll find some more images, including screen shots of the School of One software that helps handle the various analyses of schoolkids’ work.
There have been some big changes at School of One since this episode originally aired. Joel Klein, you probably know, left his job as schools chancellor (and landed in a very different universe). And Joel Rose left School of One to start a new non-profit organization that hopes to take the mixed-modality model national. We’ll be sure to update his progress on this blog. It’s quite possible that cities across the country will soon start experimenting with a classroom experience that looks very much like what School of One has been doing in New York.