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New Visions Builds on New School Success With Innovation Agenda

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New Visions for Public Schools has probably been the most effective intermediary of the last decade. By launching 135 new secondary schools and helped to develop other intermediaries that developed hundreds more, they dramatically improved the quality of high school options in New York City. Thousands of students each year graduate from high school and go to college because New Visions created high schools.

In addition to developing new schools, as a NYC-selected Partnership Support Organization (PSO) New Visions works closely with a network of 76 schools serving more than 34,000 students citywide.

New Charter Network

New Visions is in the process of building a network of charter high schools. They opened two last year on the John F. Kennedy campus in the Bronx and will open two more in a few weeks.

Like NYC iSchool, the charter network features a challenge-based approach to learning that requires students to work together to develop and present solutions to real-world problems. Teachers begin each unit with a question. Using a variety of resources students construct quality work product that allows them to defend a recommended solution. New Visions charter school students write every day in every class to boost college and career preparation. Students benefit from extra time and personalization strategies including the following advisory structure:

Each student is assigned to a teacher or staff member who will serve as a mentor and counselor throughout his/her high school career. Advisory classes meet several times each week and are capped at 15 students. This small group setting fosters personalized attention and provides a forum for discussion about academic challenges and successes, as well as social issues. During Advisory, students will also explore colleges and careers through a College Readiness curriculum in order to prepare them for the ultimate goal of admission to a top-tier college or university, or other challenging post-secondary option.

Personalization also means expanded upper division opportunities to take AP and college credit courses.

MDRC studied these new schools , "which serve mostly disadvantaged students of color, are producing sustained, highly favorable effects, raising graduation rates by 8.6 percentage points, which represents 43 percent of the gap in graduation rates between white students and students of color in New York City." As I noted, the study "missed the big impact by comparing new schools to other choices and not the schools they replaced. In many cases the new schools had DOUBLE the graduation rate of disastrously bad schools closed by Joel Klein's administration."

New Innovation Agenda

Beyond their success in school development, President Bob Hughes and Beverly Donohue,
VP Policy and Research, are developing an innovation agenda. With support from the Ford Foundation, New Visions is piloting innovative after school programs including eDesign Labs, "collaborative R&D lab of individuals and institutions across the country, that aims to draw multiple disciplines into problem-solving for education and spur new ways of thinking about improving student outcomes."

Hsing Wei,
Senior Innovation Officer, leads New Visions' efforts to research, develop, pilot and diffuse innovative tools and partnership projects. She asked an interesting "what-if" question about bring teachers and technologist together to create learning experiences that reimagined the K-12 experience. Wei created a lab that "extended and facilitated hackathaon/designathon." While every eDesign lab member has another full time job, they meet two or three times over the four-month design cycle. Wei said, "We've managed to rapidly generate and transform user-driven concepts into trial-able prototypes for students and teachers."

Two of the functional prototypes to emerge from eDesign include Reading Robot, an iPad app exploring teachable agents to support active reading, and Evidently, an open, youth scientific community. The response to the prototypes has been positive. "It has also attracted technologists who normally do not design/develop for education," said Wei.

eDesign is a productive experiment. New York City (and Austin, Boston, Seattle, and D.C.) has the chance to join the Bay Area as an edtech cluster that is a hub of economic development and learning innovation.

New Visions continues to provide relevant and innovative education leadership in New York. Every city would benefit from an education intermediary like New Visions.

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