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Monday, September 20, 2010

City Schools Gamble on Going Digital

Check out this this month's article by Andrea Gabor. She is a professor of journalism at Baruch College/CUNY and the author of several books, most recently The Capitalist Philosophers (Three Rivers Press, 2000).

At City Polytechnic High School in Brooklyn some students take courses on engineering and architecture taught by college professors; they also can accumulate enough credits to graduate in just three years or earn an associate's degree in five years. The students can do all this because City Poly has divided the school year into trimesters, packing core requirements into a shorter time frame, allowing them to use the third trimester for less traditional classes.

Across the city in Harlem, every student at Global Technology Preparatory, a middle school, receives a laptop at the start of the school year. They use them to develop Power Points for social-studies presentations, take online language classes, play math games and build a digital portfolio that the students will use in their high-school applications. This year, the school day also has been extended to 6 p.m.

These new schools are part of the New York City Department of Education's innovation zone, a high-stakes gamble to reinvent New York City public schools. Launched two years ago as part of what has become the iZone, it originally included 10 schools and now has ballooned to 81. So far, the schools have shown promise by many measures, including attendance, student and parent satisfaction, and student progress toward graduation. The city now hopes to expand the iZone to 300 schools within the next few years.

Some question, though, whether the Department of Education has the money to continue and expand the initiative. A dearth of research on kindergarten through 12 online education means that much of what the iZone is doing is highly experimental. And now, at the start of its third year, the iZone is undergoing a raft of changes that could unsettle the experiment -- and even help determine whether it succeeds or fails.

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