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Thursday, October 23, 2014

School tech program is under scrutiny

By Nikki Dowling
Posted

The city comptroller is auditing a technology program currently in its pilot year at two local schools. 

The Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy and English Language Learners and International Support Preparatory Academy are two of the 81 schools involved in the DOE’s Innovation Zone or iZone program. The one-year pilot carries a $7.2 million price tag for its first year and purports to challenge traditional notions on education by allowing schools to buy technology to diversify course offerings.

Since its inception by former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the program has been criticized for being vague, expensive, untested and completely experimental. 

The Bronx Panel for Educational Policy representative Monica Major, who votes on the Department of Education’s proposed changes to schools and technology contracts, was one of two people to suggest an audit of the program.  

She said the PEP votes on five to six iZone contracts each month. However, the contracts are not labeled as such and PEP members have to ask many questions before they understand the specifics. Ms. Major said she first sees the contracts and votes on them during the same meeting. 

“They give it to you a little at a time so you can’t see the full number at the end of the day,” she said of iZone spending. 

Ms. Major is also concerned that iZone is untested and experimental. 

“The iZone is changing the way that we will be educating our children for years and years to come and you hear virtually nothing about it,” Ms. Major said.

At BETA, the funding has been used, in part, to create a “fully virtual course,” whereby a group of students work remotely with a teacher in Manhattan, according to iZone’s chief of staff Stacey Gillett.

“They never see each other face to face,” Ms. Gillett said of the students and their teacher during her iZone presentation at a District 10 Community Education Council meeting last week.

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