Leonie Haimson, NYC Parent Activist, is blessed with a long memory and deep knowledge.

In this post, she explores the origins and evaluations of a blended learning program called Teach to One.

She writes:

Last week, two different studies came out about the results of the well-known blended learning program originally called “School of One” and now called “Teach to One”, created and sold to schools by an organization named New Classrooms.  If you want to cut to the chase, you can read about the contrasting analyses in Education Week, Chalkbeat or the Hechinger Report.  If you want to know about the history of this much-hyped program that was first developed for use in NYC public schools and uses software programs and algorithms to deliver instruction, read on here. It provides lessons in how insistent the promoters of online learning have hyped programs with little or no evidence behind them, how negative evaluations have been suppressed or discounted and how conflicts of interest have been ignored – all in the service of convincing schools to adopt these programs far and wide.

According to his Linked-in profile, Joel Rose was a Teach for America corps member for three years, until he was hired to work at the headquarters of Edison charter schools in New York City, a national for-profit chain of charters headquartered in NYC.  By 2003, he was running a division of Edison called Newton Learning that provided tutoring to students through the supplementary services program (SES) that was included in No Child Left Behind.  NCLB required public schools with low test scores to pay for their students to receive tutoring services from private companies.  In 2003 alone, Newton Learning was paid more than $5 million by the NYC Department of Education for its tutoring services.

According to NCLB, parents of students at these schools were supposed to be provided with the choice of tutoring companies. Yet in 2005, the NY Post found that in some NYC schools, principals and parent coordinators were incentivized to recruit students for Newton.  In one Bronx school, as a result, the school distributed flyers to parents saying “Newton Learning is your best SES choice. The Newton Learning Adventure offers FUN and EXCITING activity-based lessons.”  Some parents were told by their schools that the only choice was for them to enroll their children in Newton Learning, or they would receive no tutoring at all.

In March 2006, the NYC  Special Investigator of Schools Richard Condon released a report, revealing how several SES providers, including Newton Learning, had engaged in a number of “questionable business practices” in their dealings with DOE officials, parents and students.  These companies had been involved in the “misappropriation and misuse of confidential student information and the offering of self- serving incentive programs”, and Newton staff had been improperly allowed entry into schools to directly solicit students.  In one case, a principal permitted Newton reps to perform skits in front of students during class time to promote their services. 

Newton staff had also improperly obtained student contact information from school staff and had offered financial incentives to principals and teachers if their students signed up.  They had promised gifts to students in exchange for enrolling, including CD players and $100 gift cards.  This sort of chicanery continued even after DOE told Newton to stop these practices, according to Condon’s report. Newton also had failed to carry out required fingerprinting and background checks for the staff they hired as tutors.

According to the DOE rules, Newton and other tutoring companies could use classroom space in the public schools free of charge, if granted a “permit” by the school’s principal.  Yet in return, any company was also supposed to give students a 9% reduction in fees.  Yet every company which had asked for a waiver from this discount was granted one by David Ross, the head of DOE’s Division of Contracts and Services. (Remember that name, David Ross; it will come up later.) Here’s an article  in the NY Times, with more about the special investigator’s findings. 

Condon’s report and news articles about his findings were apparently ignored by DOE, as shown by the fact that a few months later, in December 2006, Joel Klein hired Chris Cerf, to be his Deputy Chancellor, even though Cerf had led Edison schools during this period.  In February 2007, Cerf brought Joel Rose to DOE to be his chief of staff. 

Rose created the School of One pripogram, Which was hailed as the greatest, most revolutionary education program before it was ever implemented.

Read on to learn more about this remarkable job of marketing.

The story of hype and suppressed evaluations is fascinating and well worth reading.

Haimson concludes:

“Teach to One has been the most praised and promoted online learning program in the nation, aside from the Summit Learning platform, which has had its own serious problems.  While Summit has refused to allow any independent evaluations of its efficacy, New Classrooms has suppressed studies with less than stellar results, with the help of the federal government.

“The most recent RAND analysis of schools that used personalized learning programs that received funding through the Next Generation Learning  initiative, which have included both Summit and Teach to One, concluded there were small and mostly insignificant gains in achievement at these schools, and their students were more likely to feel alienated and unsafe compared to matched students at similar schools.  The overall results caused John Pane, the lead RAND researcher, to say to Ed Week that  “the evidence base [for these schools] is very weak at this point. ”

“Yet both Summit and Teach to One, along with other online learning programs, continue to be generously funded and promoted by Gates, Chan-Zuckerberg LLC  and other foundations.  In April, the Dell Foundation gave New Classrooms  another million to expand into high schools. On January 29, New Classrooms announced that Emma Bloomberg had joined its  Board of Directors. How many negative evaluations have to be done before billionaires stop funding and helping these companies experiment on children?”