At the tail end of former Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, the Innovation zone educational initiative started. The program was an experimental trial aimed initially at a group of 81 schools including the NYC ischool and NYC Laboratory school with the goal of providing more comprehensive personalized education for the city’s dense and diverse student population. The projected expansion of the program was estimated to include 400 schools by 2014. Mayor Bloomberg said at the time, “The challenge we face is nothing less than transforming our schools from assembly-line factories into centres of innovation.” Seven years on from the program’s inception, how has the program fared and was it a success?
According to NYC DOE figures, the budget for the innovation zone initiative has dropped from 47 million in 2013 to 3.2 million in 2017. Furthermore, 50 schools in the NYC area dropped out of the I-Zone’s proprietary ilearn program between 2015 and 2016. The program is now only staffed by only 14 employees and ever since the administrative changes at the DOE, including the arrival of Chancellor Carmen Farina, the structure holding the I-Zone in place has been less certain. With the izone now effectively morphed into part of current mayor Bill de Blasio’s Computer Science for All drive, where can the innovation in New York City’s education come from?
A potential source of innovation in the city’s classrooms lie with the edutech startup industry that has emerged. In just a few years, New York City’s education-technology startup industry has become a multimillion dollar enterprise in the Big Apple and is revolutionizing the city’s classrooms. Nationally, funding for edtech startups and companies hit $1.87 billion in 2014, up 55 percent over the previous year, according to data from CB Insights.
New York City is quickly becoming a focal point for edutech innovation. With the largest public school system in the nation, and about 1.1 million students in 1,700 schools and the largest post secondary population of students with 626,000 students in 100 higher education institutions, New York is steadily catching silicon valley as the national hub for edutech development. CodeAcademy is one such example of the city’s impact in this area. Based in NYC, CodeAcademy is a free platform founded in 2011 that utilizes networks and interactive lessons to teach students how to code. Another startup, Neverware, upgrades software of a school’s outdated hardware. Even at the lower end of the funding spectrum there are exciting new startups making noticeable waves in the education market. These include Girls who Code, a non-profit organization that teaches high school girls computer science, web development and design and Slate Science, which uses tablet-based education technology for STEM subjects in grades K-12.
These edtech startups are vital in compensating for some of the setbacks in the local governments efforts at redefining some of the orthodoxy of classroom teaching. In looking to the future of educational innovation and the goals of Bloomberg’s I-zone program, the source of that innovation could very well come from the private sector edutech startups that are booming in NYC.
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