lab schools

More schools to experiment with online work, schedule changes

Chancellor Joel Klein is expanding a pilot program that takes the experiments city schools often conduct behind closed classroom doors and brings them to other schools.

Called Innovation Zone, or iZone, the program began this year in ten schools and will grow to include 81 schools next year. At its core is a heavy emphasis on expanding online learning, a major focus of Klein’s tenure at the Department of Education.

Of the iZone schools, more than half will adopt the “virtual school” model. This involves using online Advanced Placement classes and credit recovery courses or simply combining online work and face-to-face instruction. Six schools will alter their schedules to make the school day or year longer and 35 will begin using software that’s designed to change instruction based on how much a student struggles or excels.

One of the six schools that will change its schedule next year is P.S. 50, an elementary and junior high school in East Harlem. A spokeswoman for The After School Corporation said the organization is in talks with P.S. 50 to extend the school day to 6 p.m.

Many of the ideas for iZone schools’ alterations came from public schools like Brooklyn Technical High School, which designed its own online courses, and the Brooklyn Generation School, which radically changed its schedule to create an 11-month school year.

“We know each of these innovations has significant research demonstrating its potential to accelerate student learning,” White said. “Those that have the most impact, we’ll work to scale throughout the system.”

A Brooklyn high school, Victory Collegiate, is going to adopt elements of the Brooklyn Generation School’s schedule, which staggers teachers’ vacations to lengthen the school year and front-loads the school day with core subjects, giving teachers afternoon time to prep.

Next fall, ten schools will begin offering online credit recovery courses. Some, such as Curtis High School, are big schools with students who fail and have to retake courses for innumerable reasons. Others like Chelsea Career and Technical High School are small, but have a proportionally high number of students who are held back because they don’t accumulate enough credits to graduate.

Arthur VanderVeen, who is tasked with overseeing the iZone for the DOE, said the current model of credit recovery isn’t working for many students. “If a student fails a course their options generally are to retake the course in summer school or after school, and usually without very effective results,” he said.

“Schools that use online credit recovery see it’s an alternative approach that’s very engaging. They’re [students] getting that individualized attention and that’s often the difference.”

Online credit recovery programs could also lend some credibility to the process of making up class work or completing extra assignments that sometimes inspires skepticism from critics who see the standards as being too lax.

“This is the kind of delivery system that lends itself to greater rigor, which is what credit recovery needs,” White said. “There are more controls around what a student is obligated to do.”

Twenty schools — many of them with too few high-achieving students to hire a teacher for Advanced Placement classes — will adopt online courses next year. Students at these schools will be able to discuss their work in chat rooms with students and teachers at other schools, VanderVeen said.

Two schools — I.S. 339 and I.S. 228 — are going to become pilots for the School of One program next year, which began as an after-school program in M.S. 131, a Chinatown middle school, last summer. School of One will become part of the day for all three schools next year. The program focuses on math instruction and creates a computer-generated “playlist” of lessons for students.

Nominated by their school support organizations, 110 schools applied to be part of the iZone, which is being funded in part through about $2 million in donations from Cisco Global Education and the Ford Foundation, $3.2 million in stimulus funds, and additional capital fund dollars. DOE officials would not disclose the project’s total cost.

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or FACE@schools.nyc.gov.

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”