Joel Rose is the co-founder and CEO of New Classrooms, a non-profit venture that helps schools redesign classrooms and curricula in order to customize teaching and learning. New Classrooms’ spotlight program, Teach to One, offers an innovative personalized math learning platform for middle and high school students.
Could you tell us a bit about the founding of New Classrooms?
When I was teaching, I remember my principal gave me these papers that showed the incoming grade levels of the kids in my class. I taught fifth grade, and some students were at a second-grade level, some were at an eighth-grade level, and everything in between. And then he gave me a set of fifth-grade textbooks, and he said, “Good luck.” And I tried the best I could, but there was no possible way I could possibly meet the needs of every student, every day when I was a teacher. I don’t think any teacher truly can.
Was math your favorite subject growing up?
Math—I liked the fact that the answers were either right or wrong.
How has Teach to One: Math changed over the years?
We’re just getting better each year. We now have millions of academic data points that have helped us to further refine our algorithms and understand more deeply how to accelerate each student. We’re also learning more about how to aim each student to different outcome targets—some schools care about growth on MAP, some care about the state test, some care about the 8th-grade test. We are understanding better how to align each student’s personalized curriculum to those different objectives.
How have teachers responded to Teach to One?
The vast majority never want to go back to the old way of doing school. They know how challenging and unsustainable it is for them to meet the unique needs of each student each day without a model like Teach to One. Not only can they now do that, but we’ve developed a role for them that’s not only at the center of the model, but one that’s far more collaborative and less isolating than what happens in the traditional classroom structure.
What are some of the pitfalls of a one-size-fits-all learning model?
Students have different starting points and they learn in different ways. The factory-model classroom just assumes that all kids need the same thing at the same time, even though everyone knows that is categorically false.
What is your leadership style at New Classrooms?
I try to ensure that everyone understands where we are headed and what the road looks like to get there. Our path is not always easy—no organization has really ever done this before. And the K-12 sector isn’t necessarily known for embracing cutting-edge innovation. But we’ve recruited an incredibly talented and dedicated team, and my goal is to put them in the best position to succeed each day.
What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned from your time working in education?
There’s a better way of doing school. As a country, we are all so stuck on assuming one teacher and 30 or so students in an 800 square foot room with a teacher and a textbook. We don’t need to assume that delivery model. It doesn’t work for nearly enough kids and it dramatically limits what’s possible. There’s so much potential once we unhinge ourselves from the existing paradigm of school and focus instead on what school is trying to accomplish.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Once your formal education is over, that’s when the learning begins. What matters most is who you work for and with and what you can learn from them. Keep learning.
How does New Classrooms imagine the modern classroom?
The modern classroom incorporates personalized learning paths, multiple learning modalities, a focus on both academic and social-emotional development, engaging roles for educators, and lots of joy. When parents drop their children off each day, they know that they’ll be getting the education that’s right for them.
What advice would you give to teachers today?
Teachers have among the most challenging and important jobs in the country. They don’t need my advice. They need to be respected, supported, and valued for the work they do each day, especially because in many schools, the system is not setting them up for success.
Where do you see New Classrooms in 10 years?
I’m confident that well before then, we’ll have a way to ensure that nearly every student can be caught back up to grade level in three years or less. We’re getting closer to that. Once we get there, my guess is we will see hundreds of schools that will find that value proposition too hard to pass up.
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