An ambitious pilot program that's bringing online classes into dozens of public schools is getting mixed reviews from principals.
The pilot, known as iLearn, is part of the city's $50 million Innovation Zone, or iZone — an initiative the Department of Education is touting as a strategy to improve schools during budget-conscious times. Funded through a combination of Race to the Top winnings, private donations and $10 million in tax dollars, the iZone is paying for experiments in online learning, staffing, and school time in 80 schools this year. Half of those schools are taking part in iLearn and are now offering students online Advanced Placement classes, credit recovery, and "blended" instruction that combines online classes with face-to-face instruction.
Though iLearn hasn't earned much attention from the press, it accounts for roughly a quarter of the city's iZone spending, or $13 million over the next four years. Mid-way through the school year, principals of iLearn schools report results that vary based on whether they're experimenting with advanced courses or programs for their most struggling students.
Principals of small schools where there's often too few students to fill AP classes are largely enthusiastic about the new programs. For them, iLearn is an add-on that helps their high-achievers.
A commenter named Scott raised readers' eyebrows by declaring that Obama's choice for education secretary, Arne Duncan, doesn't use a computer. Scott added, intriguingly, that:
"His secretary prints out the emails he receives, he writes the response and the secretary responds. The man literally does not know how to use a computer."
Not exactly, according to two spokesmen I just talked to at the Chicago public schools headquarters. It is true, they said, that Duncan sometimes has his assistant, a woman named Maribel, print out his e-mail messages for him. But he does have a computer, and he sometimes reads his own e-mail with it. He also carries a Blackberry.
Said spokesman Mike Vaughn:
"He’s out at schools all the time, meeting with principals and meeting with administrators, meeting with kids and teachers, various meetings throughout the city. He does not spend a whole lot of time at his desk. But there are times when he sits at his desk and reads his emails, there’s times that he responds to them with Maribel, there's times that he responds with his Blackberry."
Another spokesman, Malon Edwards, said Duncan has championed bringing technology to education.