Monday, March 14, 2011

Innovation in New York City Public Schools

The Innovation Zone (iZone) is a project of the New York City Department of Education designed to move education into the 21st Century. This program was begun in 2010 to address three initial areas of traditional education: the way the school day and school year calendar are structured, the role of teachers and how they are compensated, and how knowledge is delivered to individual students.

The project is intended as a three year initiative which will be implemented in one form or another in over 400 schools of all levels -- elementary through high schools. Not all schools will participate in each area of innovation; schools and their leadership have been and will be given a good deal of latitude to "try on" various programs. For example, for this school year, eight schools have been working on changes to an academic schedule which had its origins in the needs of an agricultural population. These involve both changes to the school day schedule and, by using collaborative teaching techniques which free up teachers to take vacation time outside the usual holiday and summer periods, changes to the academic calendar as well.

Other schools will use online learning to give students access to advanced coursework they might not otherwise have available. Still other schools will provide individualized learning to each student -- each of whom will be provided with their own laptop computers to use in school. The programs implemented through the iZone are intended to be based on the best available research and will, in turn, be reviewed for efficacy using a number of evaluation parameters.

The technology company Cisco initially provided much of the technical and financial support for these initiatives, but that is no longer the case. Although private funders have stepped in, it is not clear how long these innovations and the technology needed to support them will be able to continue in a city that claims it needs to lay off hundreds or thousands of teachers for lack of funds. Still, we have learned that new schools are being added to the program for 2011-2012 and we will check in to see how things are going during the next school year.

In the meantime, there is an in depth examination of this initiative by Andrea Gabor in the Gotham Gazette from September, 2010.

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