When Joel Rose taught fifth-grade math in Houston, he experienced the same challenges many teachers face under the traditional education model. Because math is cumulative, there is greater potential for learning gaps to widen year over year. Students often enter new grades before they have fully mastered the curriculum from the previous year. Rose realized early that the best way to prepare students for success was to completely revamp the way math was taught in schools.
In 2000, Joel returned to Houston to attend the high school graduation of the students he taught in fifth grade. Many of them did not receive a diploma. This moment was a catalyst for developing a new school model that put students on the path to success. Joel created School of One while serving as the Chief Executive for Human Capital at the New York City Department of Education. In 2009, School of One was named one of the Top 50 Inventions by Time.
In 2011, Rose and Chris Rush co-founded New Classrooms Innovation Partners as an independent, non-profit organization in order to bring personalized learning to more students across the country. Teach to One 360, which evolved from the School of One model, is New Classrooms’ flagship school-based learning model that aims to maximize learning outcomes for all students, regardless of their grade level and learning styles. Teach to One Roadmaps was developed in 2020 in response to Covid-19 as a digital solution to further help students overcome learning loss.
Where did the idea for Teach to One come from?
As a former math teacher, I felt the real limitations of the traditional education system. Every year my students arrived at wildly varying grade levels and all I had was a set of fifth-grade textbooks. I worked hard and cared quite a bit, but it was nearly impossible to give each student exactly what they needed each day within the confines of the traditional classroom model. While I believed in the difference committed educators could make in the lives of students, I knew there had to be a better way.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Each day can be quite different, but most of my time is spent connecting with our implementation team to better understand our current partners, digging in with our design team to understand program improvements, and engaging potential school partners and policymakers about what the future of schooling might look like. I also spend a fair amount of time recruiting new team members and engaging with donors whose support for our work is so vital to our success
How do you bring ideas to life?
We try to bring together team members with a creative and diverse set of talents, and then challenge them to create something that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible. Breakthrough ideas really begin to take hold when team members steeped in how education works are creating side-by-side with those who can draw upon out-of-sector experiences.
What’s one trend that excites you?
So much of our work is oriented around matching each student with the lesson that will give them the very best chance to accelerate. The engine that we use those recommendations is fueled by our learnings and analysis over the last decade, but as we integrate machine learning techniques into those recommendations, I’m incredibly excited about what that can teach us.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m not sure I am more productive — or that it is one habit — but what I would say is that there is nothing more essential to the success of an entrepreneur than the quality of the team that he or she can recruit and retain.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’m not sure I’d listen to my older self — I was pretty hard-headed back then and really liked to learn things for myself. But if my younger self (in a moment of weakness) asked me for advice, I’d probably suggest spending time living abroad. I’m convinced those life experiences positively shape who we become in ways we don’t fully understand.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Most of my colleagues in the education reform space believe it’s essential that teachers teach grade-level standards to all students. I understand that perspective一expectations matter, and in far too many schools, the expectations simply aren’t high enough.
But in math, when teachers only focus on grade-level material, students with critical pre-grade gaps can fall further behind. And just saying that great teachers can somehow do both一address pre-grade gaps while also successfully covering grade-level material一sets everyone up for failure.
There is a path for all students to catch up and move ahead, but that becomes far more inaccessible if we simply ignore the pre-grade gaps students come with and insist that all students can catch up in a single school year
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Although we are non-profit, we still compete in the marketplace for school partners. And in most marketplaces, makers of products look to fit into a market. We’ve taken a different approach by trying to shift the market itself to fit the solutions we’ve built. That’s made it harder in the short term (most schools want to buy grade-level aligned material), but I think it will pay off in the longer term as schools recognize that each student deserves an educational program that connects students from where they are to where they need to be.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Each time we lose a school partner, it feels awful. These shifts are typically the result of leadership changes at the school or district level who are less oriented around personalized pathways. It can take a day or two to get over it, but once I do, the task to find other school partners who share in our values and want something better for their students becomes increasingly important.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
In the traditional U.S. education system, student assessments focus on measuring progress against grade-level standards. Students’ scores on these assessments are intended to indicate their abilities. Precisely measuring each student’s individual growth rate and progress from the start to the end of the school year is more indicative of their true learning growth, and would make for the basis of a more accurate accountability system for schools and districts.
How do you think Teach to One affects how students view learning?
Students love owning their own learning and Teach to One gives them that opportunity. They feel pride when they master a skill they had previously struggled with. I see this in the schools we work with and with my own kids.
How did your experience as a teacher shape Teach to One?
When I taught fifth grade, some of the kids in my class were on a second-grade level, others on an eighth-grade level, and everything in between. During my very first week on the job, I received a set of fifth-grade math textbooks and didn’t have any resources to help the students who were below or above grade level. And that is the story of many fifth grade teachers. There’s this constant challenge between trying to meet each student’s unique needs and trying to make sure that you cover the assigned grade-level curriculum. Teach to One gives teachers the tools they need to give all students access to the education they deserve.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m a bit of a business book junkie. I just finished BE 2.0 (I’m a big Jim Collins fan… he’s probably been the most influential) and Reed Hastings latest book (No Rules Rules), which really made me think.
What is your favorite quote?
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” –Albert Einstein. To create change and champion innovation, we must become open to that change and allow the prospect of change to be exciting rather than scary. This quote sums up that notion brilliantly.
- Creating systemic change in any industry requires forward-thinking thought leaders and evidence of efficacy.
- Teach to One offers innovative learning solutions that allow educators to maximize their ability to teach effectively, and provides each student with a personalized learning plan to maximize comprehension.
- Teach to One is committed to working alongside educators to ensure their success with a customized learning approach.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.