Teach to One's First Report Card

One of our first Freakonomics Radio podcasts was about an innovative New York City Department of Education pilot program called School of One. You can listen to the podcast here, but here’s the gist: “The School of One tries to take advantage of technology to essentially customize education for every kid in every classroom and help teachers do their job more effectively. “

School of One’s successor, Teach to One, just got its first-year report card from a Teachers College study. The program is thriving; some highlights of the study, from the press release

• Teach to One students started the 2012-13 academic year significantly below national averages

• The average gains of Teach to One students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades surpassed those made by students nationally by ~20%. The researchers said this is particularly noteworthy since participating schools would likely not have scored at the national average without Teach to One.  

• The average gains of Teach to One students in most demographic sub-groups outperformed national norms

• Teach to One students who started with the weakest mathematics skills made the greatest gains—50 percent higher than the national average.

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Can we just insert the obligatory sniping about how "a standardized test" (=giving the same test to all the students, under the same conditions, and counting the same answers as correct, rather than giving different questions to different students or accepting different answers depending on the student's identity) is a bad thing/doesn't measure artistic appreciation/doesn't cover morals/is culturally stifling/whatever?

Pretty much every time a study says, "Wow, these kids learned math!", some commenter who obviously has no idea of the content of the test comes along and says, "Who cares about math?" (Or worse, despite not having seen a standardized math test since 1978, they assume that it's still all about basic arithmetic rather than problem solving. Yeah, well, a bunch of teachers thought that a few years back, and they got a big surprise when their teach-to-the-test kids did remarkably poorly.)


Voice of Reason

With all of the standardized test bashing, people are forgetting that a major component of school is not just the raw educational process, but is the appraisal process and giving stakeholders informed decisions on aptitudes in apple to apple comparisons (colleges and employers). So maybe the teaching process should be changed, but they should still be given tests that are as similar as possible to eliminate bias and make it a fair fight.


But... but... technology in the classroom doesn't work. (Said every teacher ever who doesn't want to learn how to use new tools to do their job better.)

Voice of Reason

As a recent graduate, I'll give my opinion.

I felt that the professors who used Power Point basically relied on Power Point slides made by the textbook provider. They basically sat back and used a remote to move from slide to slide and read off of them. That was their lecture.

The professors who used a chalkboard had a lesson plan, and talked without notes or aides and actually knew the material cold. We knew that when they wrote on the board, it was important for the test and the subject material. They were the ones who could actually answer questions and speak about the subject without referencing the Power Point.

Also, the classes that had online tests and quizzes were worthless, because everybody would just cheat on them, or flip through the textbooks until they found the answer. When you have to take closed book tests with paper and pencil, you have to know the material cold.

Online classes may be possible for the education portion, but the exams should always be in testing centers, regardless of how far technology progresses.


Joe D

I enjoyed the podcast on this program.

However, if they're measuring gains, shouldn't the comparison be made against other students who began the year "significantly below national averages?"

Students who start at the bottom have more opportunity for big gains than average students or those at the top. If I score a 20 on a 100-question test, I have 80 opportunities to improve on the retest. Students starting with higher scores would have fewer opportunities to gain points.

Similarly, if question difficulty varies on these tests, the gains you're comparing might be different. Those starting out low could be improving on the easy questions. This sort of low-hanging fruit might not be available to higher scorers.