Why Schools of One Are Our Future

A. Graham Down – Too Simple to Fail, a new book from Oxford University Press, is a review of thirty years of research into how children learn. The author, R. Barker Bausell, a biostatistician in the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland, has come to the conclusion that classroom instruction is hopelessly obsolete, and that the answer to the deficiencies of our educational system is the tutorial model.

As a graduate of Oxbridge, with its time-honored tutorial system, it would be difficult for me to dispute Dr. Bausell’s central premise—that one-on-one instruction is the best guarantor of improved academic performance. Of course, this would involve displacing or at least supplementing the traditional 1:35 student:teacher ratio of the conventional classroom. But Dr. Bausell’s exhaustive research summary leaves one with no other plausible conclusion.

Dr. Bausell provides a comprehensive analysis of the lessons to be drawn from classic schooling research.  Among the more salient conclusions are: 1)  that what children bring to school is vastly more important than what happens thereafter, as the Coleman Report found; 2) in examining all of the variables that impinge on student academic performance (teacher effectiveness, socio-economic advantage, appropriate evaluation criteria, etc.), none is demonstrably more significant than time spent learning“one-on-one”; and 3) that only an individualized computer program can address all these issues effectively and simultaneously.

Though the reader is left to infer that such “one-on-one” computerized instruction is equally effective for all grade levels, one wonders whether the inculcation of basic skills and the more sophisticated analysis presupposed of high school students would respond equally well to this computerized approach. Notwithstanding, “one-on-one” appears to be the only way to go if we are really serious about eliminating the so-called “achievement gap”. However, equally obviously, it is the marriage of technology to the individual tutorial which makes it all possible from an economic point of view.


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February 24th, 2011

Staff Reporter EducationNews.org

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