In 2009, the New York City Department of Education launched an ambitious new initiative to personalize student learning called the School of One. The program relies on a complicated algorithm that analyzes a student’s performance in a given topic and math and suggests activities that the student should tackle next in order to deepen or improve his or her knowledge in that topic or move onto to the next related mathematical concept. Data about student learning and performance is streamed to teachers who can guide the student along towards mastery. The program was lead by Joel Rose, human resources direct at the Department of Education, with help developing the algorithm from Wireless Generation.
The School of One was named as one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions in 2009. Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Nation Fellowship Foundation and former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, heralded it as the school of the future. Joel Klein, schools chancellor at the time, touted as one of the crown jewels of the city. The New York City Department of Education received a $5 million I3 innovation grant from the federal government to develop the concept. At the time of the grant submission, the city had invested $1.5 million and planned on spending upwards of $45 million by June of 2013. The grant application suggests that the DOE would lower their costs by bringing in a private contractor. As of this writing, $9 million has been spent on the School of One.
MS 131 in Chinatown piloted the School of One as a summer program in 2009 with IS 228 in South Brooklyn and IS 339 in the Bronx being the first schools to integrate the program into their curriculum the following year. Four more schools are expected to adopt the program in the coming school year: IS 2 and IS 49 in Staten Island as well as MS 88 and MS 381 in Brooklyn.
According to a 2009 report in the New York Times, the city expected that the School of One model would be adopted by over twenty schools by 2012. But instead of continuing the grow, adoption is beginning to shrink. Two of the original schools, IS 339 and MS 131, have dropped the program for the upcoming school year citing a drop in student performance in the former school and unimpressive gains in the latter.
New research—quietly released over the summer and without a press release—suggests that the two schools may be onto something. The Research Alliance for New York City Schools at NYU Steinhardt released a study entitled "Assessing the Early Impact of School of One: Evidence from Three School-Wide Pilots that reported that there were no significant gains in student performance attributed to the School of One.
Rose has taken the School of One private, rebranded it as New Classrooms, and contracted it out to the Department of Education in a move that some suggest violates the city’s conflict of interest laws. Upon leaving the Department of Education for News Corp, Klein acquired Wireless Generation, the company that helped develop the algorithm that powers the School of One and is working on a new initiative called Amplify.