Innovation Zone

Too much too fast?

rebranding

Remediation remedy

Big questions

chalk talk

Aye for Innovation

Warning List

Pilot program

Painful plan

Change agent

iZone growth

Joining Forces

until next year

Turnaround work

Ed Chief

Ground zero

Top administrators

Charting improvement

opportunity cost

Budget process

ASD copycats

chalk talk

Dual Language

iZone

iZone

Arne Duncan

Blended Learning

Portfolio

the tech cure

off the podium

innovation application

New York

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."

innovation check

New York

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

New York

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.

boxed out?

New York

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

New York

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.

winners circle

New York

DOE, local groups approved for more federal innovation funding

in the zone

New York

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.”

time machine

too soon

New York

Tech-savvy principals give muted response to seat-time change

lab schools

The scoop