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Smart Cities: New York

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"New York City is probably the UR-example of a creative city. It has always been about creating the substrate conditions on which innate aspirational energies could anchor and thrive," said Steven Hodas, tech entrepreneur now serving as Executive Director of InnovateNYC for the NYC Department of Education.

InnovateNYC received a federal i3 grant to build an ecosystem connecting school needs with solution developers. It's part of the NYC iZone, an innovation hub and change management model that is the largest blended learning initiative in the country.

With 1.1 million students and 1,700 schools, NYC is the largest district in the country and the most diverse and mature system of school choice. By opening 528 new schools in the last 10 years, New York has been the most aggressive of any city at closing and replacing failing schools (and a Study Validates Replacement of Big Bad Schools With New Small Schools ) -- a benefit of mayoral control and twenty years of gap-closing leadership.

Innovative new school development began in the 1970. Seymour Fliegel, first as the Director of Alternative Schools and then as Deputy Superintendent, changed the education landscape by creating a network of small schools as an alternative to traditional schools. Fliegel won an Astor Award for his contribution and continues to lead the Center for Educational Innovation, Public Education Association ( CEI-PEA).

I remember reading Fliegel's Miracle in East Harlem as a new superintendent in 1994. Rudy Crew may have recommended it, he was superintendent in neighboring Tacoma and a mentor before becoming Chancellor in NYC in 1995. One of the innovations that Rudy introduced was the Chancellor's district, a differentiated approach to supporting struggling schools -- a foundational strategy for the portfolio approach common in most urban districts and the basis for federal School Improvement Grants. (Crew is now the Oregon Chief Education Officer.)

Harold Levy followed Crew as Chancellor in 2000. With help from Gates, Carnegie and other foundations, new school development accelerated under his leadership. There was a charter school cap, so all the new schools were district schools but supported by an array of high capacity intermediary organizations (below). Levy is an education investor at Palm Ventures.

In the fall of 1999 I visited dozens of NYC schools including the Julia Richman complex which was the best early example of small autonomous schools sharing a large facility. When I asked about how all the yellow buses could support the system of choice, the principals looked at me like I was from Mars. New York's public transportation system is vital to supporting a dizzying array of choices.

New schools. New York benefits from numerous high capacity intermediary organizations. New Visions for Public Schools has been the most productive intermediary in the country supporting over 200 new schools in the last decade. These days New Visions is building on new school success with innovation agenda . EDesign Lab run by Hsing Wei of New Visions for Public Schools, is pairing teachers with creative technologies to design and develop useful tools for the classroom.

Turnaround for Children knows what school turnaround really takes. They recently published two reports that outline robust student supports.

New York is home to great school developers: Urban Assembly,Expeditionary Learning, Asia Society, Internationals Network, and National Academy Foundation, the network of 460 career academies (that recently launched a partnership for real-time student data).

When Joel Klein took over as Chancellor in 2002, he had Mayor Bloomberg's support to close failing schools and open new schools. Klein assembled a world class team of educators including Michele Cahill from Carnegie. Leaders from Klein's cabinet have gone on to lead districts and states around the country. Klein's decade of leadership made NYC the most important and innovative in the country. These days Klein is leading Amplify where his team is developing an innovative tablet bundle.

Great Charters. The charter cap was lifted in 2010 (in a deal that threw for-profit operators under the bus) leading to high growth of 24 percent last year, as reported by the Times. That's about 5 percent of public school students in NYC but there are 110 school districts where at least 10 percent of students attend public charter schools. New York is home to some of the best school networks in the country including Achievement First, Democracy Prep, KIPP, Success Network, and Village Academy. New charters are supported by the New York Charter School Center and a great state association.

Charter development has been supported by facilities developers like Civic Builders (read this greatfeature on founder Brian Olson) and by advocacy groups including Democrats for Education Reform.

Talent Development. Wendy Kopp launched Teach for America 22 years ago in NYC. This year there are 688 corps members in 200 schools. The hidden impact story is the 3,400 alumni in the area and two thirds are still active in education and 160 leading schools.

John Schnurr launched New Leaders in 2000 with the goal of building a cadre of great school leaders and transforming leadership preparation. In their first decade they trained 800 leaders nationwide including 125 New Leaders in NYC.

The Education Pioneers alumni network is now over 180 strong in the New York Metro area and multiplying quickly. They hosted their biggest graduate school fellowship cohort ever this summer with 77 fellows in NYC and Newark supporting the work of 30 organizations including the DOE, charters, and edtech innovators. And currently, nine analyst fellows are finishing their third of ten months providing analytic capacity to five organizations.

Smart Cities is a blog series exploring the cities where innovation and innovators cluster. New York City is second only to the Bay Area in importance as a source of innovations. As the financial capital of the world, NYC is home to many scaled education industry participants and the private equity firms that support them. More recently NYC has blossomed as the second most important edtech hotspot. Next week, we'll explore the activities and influence of private enterprise and private investors in NYC.

We're also exploring innovation diffusion--how ideas spread from school to school and from higher education and the private sector to schools. In a sector where a good idea won't walk across the street, New York's iZone is among the most thoughtful and productive large scale R&D efforts in the country. In 2013, we'll see productive demand aggregation put to use to accelerate platform and tool innovation.

If there's anything I missed or something you want to make sure I don't miss next week, comment here or send me a note at Tom@GettingSmart.com.

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