Experimental Education: NYC's Innovation Zone

Established in 2010, New York City's Innovation Zone (iZone) was created by the city's Department of Education to enact inventive new ways of educating the students under their charge. One of the key methods they've taken up is an integration of modern technology into district classrooms. What is New York City trying differently, and what can other districts learn from the city's example?

The digital age has brought complete and inescapable change to almost every modern industry. Now, despite a serious financial crisis, some New York City educators have begun to embrace that change in their own field. In keeping with popular modern technology, New York City calls this initiative iLearnNYC, an offshoot of the iZone. So far, the initiative's efforts have led to select schools offering a 1:1 ratio of computers to students, allowing for individualized digital curricula and even letting students take AP or catch-up courses online to fill in gaps in their education that may not be otherwise available at their schools.

At present, iLearnNYC's technological initiative is only in the testing, or 'pilot', stages. According to their website, around 40 select schools will feature various aspects of their program in the 2011-2012 school year. That's only a small amount - about 2.3% - of New York City's roughly 1,700 schools, but iLearnNYC also states that they plan to expand their operation in coming years. Right now, administrators are trying to figure out what parts of their unique tactics work and what needs improvement.

students with computers

A large part of iLearnNYC involves familiarizing students with technology they'll need to use in college or their professional careers. Some schools, for instance, give e-mail addresses to every student and even their parents. Others require assignments to be submitted via Google Docs, which allows for remote editing and collaboration.

In fact, remote collaboration seems to be one of the major overarching benefits of iLearnNYC's reforms. Thanks to Skype videoconferencing, for instance, students from less affluent areas can receive Advanced Placement instruction in conjunction with their more well-off peers. East Bronx Academy Principal Sarah Scrogin sees such benefits as a way to achieve social desegregation without having to bus students to other parts of town.

Of course, no program in its beginning stages is without its difficulties. Some teachers report that an infusion of technology into their classrooms can seem overwhelming at first. Budgetary problems have also stoked fears that the 'last hired, first fired' policy amongst teachers may remove those educators most equipped to handle this particular innovation. Still, early attempts at evaluating progress among the selected schools have been positive, showing gains in engagement and learning and drops in behavioral incidents. If things go as planned for the iZone, they'll have more than 400 schools technologically outfitted by the 2013-2014 school year, leading to increased opportunities for almost a quarter of New York City's public school students.

Read about another inner city school, Chicago's Urban Prep Academy, that's producing stunning results in its graduates.

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