Following our lecture this morning on the use of data in education, I couldn't help wondering about an interesting pilot project I heard about recently on the Freakonomics Podcast. 'School of One' is a project being trialled in New York for a couple of months. What intrigues me about this project is that it seems to be borne out of a set of concerns and beliefs that I completely empathise with. Here's Arthur Levine setting the scene…
"Today's schools are an anachronism. They resemble the assembly lines of the industrial era, when they were conceived. Groups of 25 to 30 children, beginning at age five, are moved through 13 years of schooling, attending 180 days each year, and taking five major subjects daily for lengths of time specified by the Carnegie Foundation in 1910. These schools are time-based — all children are expected to master the same studies at the same rate over the same period of time. They focus on teaching — how long students are exposed to instruction, not how much they have learned. They are rooted in the belief that one size fits all — all students can benefit equally from the same curriculum and methods of instruction. We have learned much about education since today's schools were created. We know now that what students learn and what they are taught are different, and that learning is what matters."
Where they go from there is interesting. From their website, "The School of One pilot program departs from the traditional classroom model. Rather than one teacher and 25-30 students in a classroom, each student participates in a combination of teacher-led instruction, one-on-one tutoring, independent learning, and work with virtual tutors. To organize this type of learning, each student receives a unique daily schedule based on her academic needs and recent progress. As a result, students within the same school or even classroom can receive very different instruction, each lesson tailored to the concepts a student needs to learn and the ways she can best learn them. Teachers acquire data about student achievement each day and then adapt their lessons accordingly."
So, we are bringing together three important things here: multi-modal learning (not just teacher-led), digitally delivered learning (both individual work and 'virtual tutors' using voice over IP), and continual assessment and refinement of personal learning plans. The model has been consciously borrowed from progressive businesses. If our present model of schooling was developed two hundred years ago based on the industrial paradigm of the day, School of One is truly based on the modern 'information society', 'Web 2.0' industrial paradigm.
Have a look and make up your own mind. From even a cursory examination, I have serious concerns – both philosophically and practically – about the program. What interests me most is the eagerness with which it is being greeted. Clearly this is very much the solution 'of the moment'. Where it goes from here will be very interesting to watch.