Innovation in the Country’s Largest School System

With over 1.1 million students and approximately 75,000 teachers, the New York City Department of Education is the largest school system in the country. As pressure mounts on educational institutions to keep up with a rapidly changing world, the city has taken steps to ensure that its students maintain a competitive edge. Here are a few examples of new models the Education Department has implemented to better serve students:

Mastery-Based Learning

Launched in 2010 with 81 city schools, the Education Department’s Innovation Zone or “iZone” has encouraged experimentation to find new models for curriculum, grading and teacher effectiveness. In the upcoming 2012-2013 school year the iZone community will grow to include 250 schools. “Mastery-Based Learning” is one initiative that’s part of the iZone.

Imagine a student bringing home a report card without a grade. It seems counter-intuitive but about a dozen New York City schools have eliminated the letter grade system. Instead of receiving an “A” through “F,” students are evaluated based on how well they “master” certain skills and expectations. Educators tailor these expectations to each individual student. Once a student masters a particular skill, the teacher allows him or her to move onto the next task or curriculum unit.

In an interview with MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott highlighted several innovative projects that the Education Department has launched to improve schools. AP/Mike Groll

Common Core Curriculum Standards

Nationally, there is a movement among educators to opt in to a new set of standards for the classroom curriculum. Referred to as Common Core, the goal of the new standards is to raise the bar of what’s expected of students to learn and teachers to teach in all parts of the country. New York City schools are well on their way to implementing the new standards. In the 2010-2011 school year, the Education Department piloted Common Core in 100 schools. Additionally, this year every New York City public school student was required to learn at least one curriculum unit aligned to the Common Core.

Expanded Success Initiative

The Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) is the educational arm of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative, a $127 million agency-spanning collection of youth programs that aim to take on economic disparities for black and Latino men. The ESI program will allow education researchers to study schools that are successfully helping young men of color to graduate and move on to college. By the end of May, the city will choose 40 schools that will pilot the program and each school also receives $250,000. In order to qualify, the schools must have a “four-year graduation rate above 65 percent, an A or B on its most recent progress report, and a student body where at least 35 percent are black or Latino males and 60 percent are qualified for free or reduced-price lunch,” according to Gotham Schools.


Watch MetroFocus for more videos, including an interview with New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and articles about education in the metropolitan region.

“MetroFocus: Education Innovation” premieres on May 15 at 10:30 p.m. on WLIW21; May 16 at 10:30 p.m. on NJTV; and May 17 at 8:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.


MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.


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