Journalist and Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates is troubled by a paradox: Why was he a failure as a student, but remarkably successful as a professional writer? A college dropout, Coates says that he just needed to learn differently—his own way, and at his own pace—than other students. That’s what makes him so enthused about an on-going project in New York City called the School of One. Launched as a summer school math program last year, and expanded to three middle schools this spring, School of One puts students on their own, customized path through school. Not only do they learn in the style (or “modality”) that suits them best—online, small group, direct instruction, etc, but even more revolutionary, all of their work—the level, the speed, even the material—is individualized. Daily diagnostics plus regular teacher observations about each student are fed into a complicated algorithm that spits out a daily schedule of what subject material should be covered, how the student should learn it, and how much time he or she should spend doing so. The longer a student is in the program, the smarter the algorithm gets about predicting his or her needs. The program won’t be easy to replicate or expand right away—classrooms have to be remodeled, teachers trained, algorithms built and fed with data—but School of One is certainly a promising example of the transformative power of technology.

The Littlest Schoolhouse," by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, July/August 2010

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