Support independent journalism.
Education news. In context.
Building Better Schools
From the Statehouse
Beyond High School
Funding & Finance
In the Classroom
Politics & Policy
Sorting the Students
Rise & Shine
Building Better Teachers
Support independent journalism.
Too much too fast?
December 6, 2016
Key piece of Aurora Central High School’s reform plan not yet in place
Aurora Central High School has been working on changes from an innovation plan to improve the school, but the change to the school's learning model hasn't happened.
November 22, 2016
Seeing needs beyond good teachers, Teacher Town Memphis changes its approach and its name
The philanthropic collaborative revises its public image as its leaders rethink the ways they want to help the city's schools change.
August 25, 2016
Memphis high schools change schedules to make catch-up classes the norm
Shelby County Schools is using a new remediation approach that doesn't involve adding time onto the school day.
August 16, 2016
What’s the end game for Tennessee’s Achievement School District? That’s the question facing lawmakers.
State lawmakers will answer questions about the future of Tennessee's school turnaround district when they convene on Wednesday.
May 2, 2016
iZone chief Sharon Griffin on fixing Memphis’ most challenging schools
A Q&A on school turnaround strategies that work, the challenges of urban education, the importance of coaching and supporting principals and teachers, and more.
Aye for Innovation
April 28, 2016
Denver school board approves innovation zone, granting schools new freedoms
The schools will be overseen by a new nonprofit and will have more control over how they spend the state funding.
April 20, 2016
Here’s where Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools stand a year before the state’s next priority list
Here's the so-called "cusp" list from the State Department of Education, along with five things to know before viewing it.
April 19, 2016
Building on Innovation Zone successes, Shelby County Schools to launch separate ‘Empowerment Zone’
Shelby County Schools' prized school turnaround initiative is getting a little sister.
April 6, 2016
Hopson: Proposed budget cuts to Memphis schools could reverse years of improvements
More than $50 million in proposed cuts would impact staffing and programs including special education, the Innovation Zone and CLUE within Shelby County Schools.
March 29, 2016
To launch first new iZone school, Shelby County taps established leader
Rodney Rowan has done what few principals have managed to do — turn around a long-struggling school. Now, he’s being asked to replicate that success.
March 10, 2016
Griffin hiring more top leaders for expanding iZone
As Shelby County Schools prepares to add more schools to its school turnaround initiative, regional Superintendent Sharon Griffin is putting three lieutenants in place.
February 24, 2016
In Denver, four schools want to push the boundaries of innovation
The schools want to form an “innovation zone” that would be overseen by a new nonprofit organization that would give principals more freedom.
January 20, 2016
New ASD superintendent asks state lawmakers for patience on school turnarounds
Malika Anderson's first charge as ASD superintendent is to fend off bills to limit — or totally abolish — the district.
January 13, 2016
D.C. Public Schools officials tour Memphis iZone
The mounting success of Shelby County Schools' iZone attracts national attention from other districts exploring school improvement initiatives.
until next year
December 23, 2015
Advocacy groups counter mounting criticism of ASD with year-end rallies
Two Memphis organizations push back against heightened opposition to the state-run turnaround school district.
December 16, 2015
Latest iZone expansion will leave few Memphis priority schools to improve on their own
Shelby County's Innovation Zone will absorb three more priority schools, growing turnaround efforts by the local district, in addition to the state's turnaround work.
December 8, 2015
Vanderbilt study: iZone more effective than ASD in turning around struggling schools thus far
A new study shows that iZones have had sizable positive effects on student test scores in Tennessee, while effects of the Achievement School District have been marginal.
October 30, 2015
Arne Duncan talks turnaround work in the trenches of struggling Memphis schools
The outgoing U.S. education chief makes his fourth trip to Memphis, where schools must overcome poverty and other mitigating factors to provide a culture of learning.
October 29, 2015
When Arne Duncan visits Memphis, he’ll see part of his legacy as U.S. ed chief
The outgoing education secretary will see firsthand one of America's battleground cities in the movement he spearheaded to transform public education.
October 28, 2015
iZone leader Sharon Griffin named Tennessee supervisor of the year
Sharon Griffin, who helped to create the Innovation Zone for Shelby County Schools in 2013, is Tennessee's 2015 supervisor of the year.
August 11, 2015
Six charts showing test scores in schools that Tennessee wants to turn around
A chart-by-chart analysis of efforts to improve failing schools in Memphis and Shelby County, based on the latest TCAP scores
August 3, 2015
Strong iZone scores viewed as chance to grow Shelby County’s turnaround initiative
Most schools in the district's Innovation Zone saw their student test scores rise, but additional funding to expand the program is anything but certain.
July 27, 2015
Five things to watch for when district and school test scores come out Wednesday
On Wednesday, the state unveils its district-by-district and school-by-school scores across Tennessee. Here are five important things to watch.
July 7, 2015
With Shelby County budget settled, Hopson reflects on process
Dorsey Hopson hopes the fiscal bleeding slows as a result of the district's most recent budget-cutting process and priorities.
July 7, 2015
More states look to Tennessee’s Achievement School District as a school turnaround model
Across the nation, more lawmakers look to Tennessee's pioneering district as a model to improve struggling schools in their own states, even as the ASD's impact in Tennessee remains murky.
May 18, 2015
Stanford-bound senior from Memphis Melrose talks about his public education and how students can defy the odds
Dellarontay Readus discusses how he overcame frequent moves and academic challenges to earn a full scholarship to one of the nation's premier universities.
April 29, 2015
For state’s only dual language program, turnaround efforts present challenges
Sometimes, when one innovative academic program bumps into another innovative academic program, worlds collide.
April 16, 2015
Laptops are providing new instructional tool for Shelby County students in ‘blended learning’ pilot
Shelby County Schools' 'blended learning' pilot program nears the end of its first school year with personalized computer instruction, high hopes for student testing, and a major new funding source.
April 8, 2015
Shelby County expands education reform efforts amid $125 million shortfall
While Shelby County Schools are cutting staff and services under a $125 budget shortfall, the district is expanding and investing in its Innovation Zone.
March 31, 2015
Shelby County closes three Memphis schools, moves students from three others
The Board of Education for Shelby County Schools votes to close three low-performing schools and transfer students out of three others, impacting more than 2,000 students.
October 2, 2014
Hopson says current I-Zone schools will not become charters
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson II told the board today that the district plans to pursue additional government and private funds to support its Innovation Zone, a set of turnaround schools that have shown dramatic growth on state tests in each of the past three years.
September 12, 2014
Innovation Zone financially unsustainable, SCS officials say
At a board committee meeting yesterday, Shelby County administrators told board members it would cost $28.5 million over the course of three years to expand the programs currently being used to turn around low-performing schools in its Innovation Zone—and that bringing in charter schools, which fundraise on their own, might be a more efficient strategy for the district. Board members are skeptical.
September 10, 2014
Memphis school improvement efforts in spotlight as Duncan finishes back-to-school tour
"I moved to Memphis thinking I’d change lots of lives every year. But really, my life has been drastically changed," said teacher Brittany Ordue.
August 7, 2014
Riverview principal uses military theme to improve test scores
This is the second time that Riverview principal Rosalind Martin has used the theme “Bootcamp to Improve Student Literacy.” The first school where she…
May 29, 2014
Blended learning pilot means a new role for teachers in 16 Memphis schools
At the Shelby County district building on Wednesday, school board members were digging deep into 10th grade English language arts—and the questions at the…
March 25, 2014
Shelby County and Nashville reveal plan to use charters to help improve iZone schools
For the first time, the Innovation departments of Tennessee’s two largest school districts are planning to turn some of their lowest-performing schools over to…
November 27, 2013
Teach For America contract in Memphis area approved, despite concerns
Shelby County's merged school board voted 5-2 to keep its contract with Teach For America at last night's board meeting, despite concerns about the program's recruitment fee.
the tech cure
May 28, 2013
Gap App winners think they can solve low middle school scores
Winners of the Gap App Challenge pose with Chancellor Dennis Walcott at Tweed Courthouse on Tuesday morning. The city Department of Education thinks it has found software developers who are solving the perpetual problem of middle school math. The department today announced four winners from its Gap App challenge — a competition inviting developers to submit programs that could help middle schools raise math scores, which remain stubbornly low. Developers submitted 200 apps to the challenge since it was first announced in January. The developer of the "Best Instructional App," KnowRe, has created an adaptive learning platform that offers Algebra 1 students different questions and challenges based on their previous answers. In the "Best Administrative and Engagement App" category, top-rated developer Hapara has created an interface that lets teachers see their students' work easily. "Our product is built exclusively on teacher and student feedback," the group says in an informational video.
off the podium
December 11, 2012
New York City won't get federal funds to "personalize learning"
If New York City wants to expand its use of technology to tailor instruction to students' individual needs, it will have to do so without special federal funding. The city was not on the list today when the U.S. Department of Education named the winners of its Race to the Top-District competition, aimed at rewarding districts that "personalize learning." One reason: The city Department of Education did not supply requested information about its budget. The city had been one of 61 finalists in the competition, which netted nearly 500 applications from school districts and consortia of districts from across the country. It had asked for $40 million to expand and augment existing initiatives, including the Innovation Zone, and build innovative schools from the ground up. Applications were scored by independent reviewers according to stringent rules set out by the U.S. Department of Education, and New York City's application got high marks in most categories. The reviewers lauded the city's vision, its prior record of success making major changes, and its analysis of where and why a move toward personalized learning would be useful. But it lost points because the city did not outline a clear timeline for carrying out the plans, show how the funds would benefit all students, or demonstrate that it had gotten buy-in from community partners with which it promised to collaborate.
November 14, 2012
City's Race to the Top-District bid centered on iZone expansion
Students at Brooklyn's Olympus Academy, a transfer high school, use online learning to move ahead at their own pace. The city is asking the U.S. Department of Education for funds to support additional efforts to "personalize education." Pitting itself against school districts across the country, the city has asked the U.S. Department of Education for $40 million to expand and augment its existing education technology programs. The city's biggest commitment in its application for Race to the Top-District, which city education officials filed last week, is to add as many as 100 schools to its three-year-old “Innovation Zone.” The application also promises to build innovative schools from the ground up and train teachers on how to use technology to improve instruction. Race to the Top-District is the latest effort by the Obama administration to entice state and local education officials to adopt its preferred policies. In the first Race to the Top grant competition, in 2010, New York State netted $700 million to overhaul teacher evaluations, add more charter schools, bulk up teacher preparation programs, and develop a statewide data system. Last year, the state fell short in its bid to win Race to the Top funds earmarked just for early childhood education. The current round — the first open to individual districts — is focused on "personalized education." City Department of Education officials say the Innovation Zone, which this year contains nearly 250 schools, makes the department uniquely positioned to turn federal funds into higher student achievement. "It’s something that we’ve been doing for three years," said David Weiner, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of innovation. "We really believe that that puts us in a great place to capitalize on what we’ve learned."
August 1, 2012
Audit: DOE did not gather data to justify expanding tech initiative
Comptroller John Liu's office found that the Department of Education's five-year plan for NYC21C was not followed. The Department of Education never checked to see whether an initiative to transform city schools for the 21st century that was announced with a splash in 2009 was paying off, according to an audit released today by Comptroller John Liu. The audit is the latest in a series by Liu's office to conclude that the department does not adequately evaluate its programs and initiatives, which the Bloomberg administration has always delivered in rapid succession. The audit also has the department insisting that a technology initiative once billed as "the most exciting work we are now embarking on here in New York City's public schools" was actually a "small educational initiative" in just a handful of schools. The initiative, called NY21C, was unveiled in May 2009 at the iSchool, a centerpiece of the department's efforts to rethink schools using technology. Then-Chancellor Joel Klein said the program, which the city billed as a "research and development project" in promotional materials, would quickly expand across the entire city. The initiative did expand — but it also quickly evolved. In 2010, NYC21C became the 81-school Innovation Zone, and seven of the original 10 schools were dispersed into different branches of the zone. Since then, Klein and John White, another official who championed the Innovation Zone, have left the Department of Education, and the department's focus has shifted away from innovation and toward making instruction more rigorous in all schools through new learning standards. Figuring out just whether NYC21C accomplished the goals set out in its original five-year plan was lost in the shuffle, the audit concludes.
Pomp and Circumstance
June 27, 2012
End of an era as iSchool's first graduates are told to 'go and do'
Former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein speaks at iSchool's graduation on Monday. Principal Alisa Berger is on the stage to Klein's right. In May 2009, the Department of Education launched a new initiative, NYC21C, to remake the American high school using technology. Then-Chancellor Joel Klein made the announcement at the NYC iSchool, then completing its first year, and praised its students and co-principals, Alisa Berger and Mary Moss. Now, all of those people have moved on. Klein left the Department of Education in November 2010 and now earns more than $4 million a year running the education division of a multinational corporation. Moss left last year when her family moved to North Carolina. Berger's family is relocating to Massachusetts this summer. And on Monday, members of the school's inaugural class graduated in an afternoon ceremony, featuring a speech by Klein, held at the Ethical Culture Society on the Upper West Side. This fall, they'll enroll at colleges and universities up and down the East Coast. "Our greatest hope is that you love college, that you discover something you love learning about, that what you love to do is something that makes the world better, even in small ways, and that you find fulfillment in your life," said Moss, who returned to see the school's first students graduate. Of the 100 students who entered the selective school in 2008, 94 graduated on time. "I ask that you go and do — that you take what you've learned at the iSchool to transform the colleges you attend and create communities for yourselves the way that you have created the iSchool," Berger told the graduates.
May 22, 2012
Proposed rules for new Race to the Top pose issues for NYC
In the beginning, there were charter schools, data systems, and teacher evaluations. Then, there was early childhood education. And now, the Obama administration wants to reward individual school districts for tailoring their offerings to individual students. "Personalized education" is the emphasis for the U.S. Department of Education's third iteration of Race to the Top, a competitive grants program that launched in 2009. New York State won $700 million in the first year after legislators approved new teacher evaluation requirements and allowed more charter schools to open. It's an approach the city has embraced for years, providing data tools for schools to zoom in on each student's weaknesses and creating an "Innovation Zone" that allows schools to restructure their space and time in a bid for stronger scores. The principal of Olympus Academy, an Innovation Zone school that allows students to progress at their own pace, appeared in Washington, D.C., today as part of the competition announcement. But some of the federal government's proposed eligibility criteria — including a requirement that school board members undergo formal evaluations — could make it tough for the city to qualify for the grants. Large cities could receive up to $25 million, or about .1 percent of the city Department of Education's annual operating budget. Perhaps most crucially, the city and its teachers union have spectacularly failed to adopt new teacher evaluations, despite commitments set out in the state's first Race to the Top bid and in an application for a different federal program, School Improvement Grants. The latest competition requires that districts commit to having new evaluations in place by the 2014-2015 school year.
inside the iZone
May 21, 2012
Wired Olympus students race toward diploma at their own pace
Danielle Boone at work in her U.S. History class. Danielle Boone's U.S. History class at Olympus Academy High School had just begun, but she didn't need a teacher to tell her what to do. The glowing screen looking back at her told her everything she needed to know. Boone typed out the final section of an assignment on immigration – "a FIVE-sentence summary paragraph (including analysis sentence) about immigration and urbanization" – which she emailed to her teacher, sitting nearby, for grading. She then watched a short video online about the Civil War to research her next assignment, an essay on the Transcontinental Railroad. Boone will continue knocking off these assignments on her school-issued Mac computer at her own blistering pace until, finally, she's completed what is required to pass the course and earn a credit. The day after she completes the last assignment for the U.S. History class, she'll start working on another course she needs to pass to graduate. "I'm a student who works fast and this school helps me get credits," Boone said during a brief break in her work. "The faster you go, the faster you get credits." Boone is the kind of self-starter that city officials envisioned when they tasked Olympus Academy, a transfer school, with creating an online learning model in its school for its over-aged population two years ago. Olympus is part of the iLearnNYC initiative, a division of the city's Innovation Zone. Until now, the initiative, which included 124 schools this year, mainly provided technological resources to schools that were devising ways to mix traditional classroom instruction with online curriculum, an approach known as blended learning.
November 11, 2011
DOE, local groups approved for more federal innovation funding
The Department of Education's Innovation Zone is poised to bring home millions of dollars in federal innovation funding for the second year in a row. The Obama administration yesterday released a list of 23 Investing in Innovation grant applicants that it wants to fund. The groups, culled from nearly 600 applicants, will share a $150 million pool of funding. The groups have until next month to line up matching funds from other sources to secure their grants. The DOE's InnovateNYC program landed high on the list of applicants aiming to bolster science and technology education, putting it in line to receive $3 million in federal funding. The department will use the funding to connect its Office of Innovation with private partners and other school districts as it designs technologies for schools, according to Chancellor Dennis Walcott. "There is so much potential for technology as a tool that helps students get on track for college and careers — but right now, engineers and developers need a better understanding of the challenges facing New York City and other urban school districts," he said in a statement. Last year, when the Obama administration made $650 million available, another city Innovation Zone program, School of One, won $5 million to develop its computerized math teaching program. (School of One is part of InnovateNYC.) But the city's request for innovation funding for other purposes, such as to open new small schools, was turned down.
in the zone
October 7, 2011
An offbeat school gets funds and a push to try something new
Maria Clausen, a special education teacher at New Design High School, works with students on laptop computers provided by the iZone program. Teachers at New Design High School have long tried to conduct familiar tasks in new ways. They write announcements in graffiti chalk in the hallways, maintain a freestanding "pond" inside the science lab, and ask students to fashion outfits out of newspaper in a design class. But this year, innovation is a second job for New Design's teachers. As one of 26 schools participating in the Department of Education's iZone360 initiative this year, the quirky high school on Manhattan's Seward Park Campus is getting extra funding to let teachers test out homegrown strategies to boost student achievement. iZone360 is the smallest slice of the DOE's two-year-old Innovation Zone, which expanded from 80 schools last year to 163 this year, but it offers the most flexibility. The zone's two other divisions offer online learning and small-scale pilot projects. In contrast, schools in iZone 360 are encouraged to rethink every aspect of their existence, from their schedules to how they use space to the way that teachers work together. A month into its first year as an iZone 360 school, New Design is using the $30,000 it received to pay teachers overtime to coach students one-on-one; host weekly brainstorming sessions, called “beehives”; and methodically document their lesson plans and deliver feedback to students online using an organizational tool called Teacher Dashboard. The point, according to Principal Scott Conti, is to let teachers make their own attempts at figuring out how to promote innovation by giving teachers extra pay to imagine alternative teaching practices — and then try them in the classroom. “The DOE has said, ‘We don’t know what you’re going to create, but we’re going to support you. Go out and do it, make mistakes,’" he said. "The city is saying through the iZone that the traditional model of education that dominates the system no longer works.”
September 22, 2011
At conference about the future, some students are already there
iSchool senior Bria Lewis explains her film adaptation to attendees at the Schools For Tomorrow conference. Attendees at a conference today about the future of education spent their morning imagining classrooms with beefed-up digital offerings — until students from an innovative New York City high school showed up. During lunch at the New York Times Schools of Tomorrow conference, a small group of students from iSchool, a centerpiece of the Department of Education's Innovation Zone, filed into a basement room to demonstrate how they are already using technology in their classes. In a class called "#disastercamp," Chanel Mowatt dreamt up a mobile phone app that allowed people find loved ones using geotagging technology after an earthquake or a hurricane destroyed communication infrastructures. "If I really want to make a difference in someone's life, I need a tool that's going to help me actually do it," said Mowatt as she paged through her SlideShow presentation. In another class, called "Sixteen," students chronicled the lives of 16-year-olds from around the world. Using Skype and other multimedia tools, the students connected with their contemporaries living in London, Australia, Utah and even Nigeria.
July 11, 2011
Tech-savvy principals give muted response to seat-time change
Principals are grappling with the implications of a state policy change that allows them to award credit for shorter courses that students take online. A regulation passed in June by the Board of Regents allows city high schools to award credit in online courses or blended learning courses, where the class is conducted partly online and partly in a traditional classroom setting, regardless of how much time students actually spend in the classes. City Department of Education officials lobbied the Regents in support of the change. A dozen principals discussed the new regulations today at the meeting of a monthly panel led by Alisa Berger and Sarah Scrogin, two principals who have spearheaded activities within the Innovation Zone, the DOE's subset of technology-centered schools. (Notably, Berger's high school, the iSchool, and Scrogin's, East Bronx Academy for the Future, have worked together in the past on intra-city distance learning classes.) As members of the Innovation Zone's selective iLearn cohort, which numbered 40 last year but is jumping to 127 this fall, the principals who attend the monthly meetings have used technology to reshaped their schedules, supplies, and teachers' workloads. When it comes to using technology to change teaching and learning, the principals usually have a lot to say. But when Scrogin asked them how they were thinking about responding to the change in seat time rules, they were quiet.
April 14, 2010
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.
July 21, 2009
In a new futuristic Klein initiative, school happens via "playlist"
In one city classroom this summer, a computer algorithm is telling students what to do. The classroom is actually a library at a Chinatown middle school with just 80 students, but school officials are hoping that it offers a glimpse into the future of the school system, one in which every student's individual strengths and weaknesses are calculated before each day is planned. Students in the new pilot program, a $1 million effort that officials are calling the School of One, take a quiz every afternoon, and then receive a computer-generated schedule each morning, called a "playlist." A student's playlist might tell him to begin the day by meeting with a tutor, then to complete a set of online tasks, and then to work on a project with his classmates. The program, which focuses only on math instruction, will expand to three sites in January. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein will roll out the program today, along with its mastermind, Joel Rose, who previously worked for Edison Schools, the for-profit education management company now known as EdisonLearning. The announcement will mark one of the first initiatives of Klein's administration that focuses on what happens inside classrooms since he unveiled citywide math and reading programs six years ago. That effort scripted moves down to how teachers should arrange their classrooms and the size of rugs.
RISE & SHINE
You are now subscribed!