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.
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.