The Education Innovator #4
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 January 31, 2005 • Number 4
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Editor's Note: March 7 will mark the 100th issue of The Education Innovator. Please submit an innovative practice or program that could be featured in that issue. Please send nominations using the feature outline to by February 7.

What's inside...
Virtual Pre-K, Chicago, IL
What's New
Margaret Spellings sworn in as the 8th U.S. Secretary of Education; a final rule creating a priority for rigorous evaluation of U.S. Education Department grant programs published in the Federal Register; ED offers public meetings on IDEA regulations; Exchange on education service providers live on the web; Ready to Learn TV panel review information available; grant competitions for Charter Schools and Excellence in Economic Education open; Gov. Lingle calls for increase in number of charter schools in Hawaii; Reading Is Fundamental receives $100,000 donation from Annenberg Foundation; AFT encourages affiliates to become supplemental services providers; Connections Academy to add a ninth grade program; and AFT creates tsunami relief fund.
Innovations in the News
Former Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee collaborate on an article about arts in education, plus information on charter schools, closing the achievement gap, supplemental educational services, and technology.

Virtual Pre-K Makes Lessons Real
In the world of computers and high-tech gadgets the word "virtual" is most often defined as "existing in effect though not in actual fact." Chicago Public Schools has discovered a way to make "virtual" become real through lesson plans that are available online, on videotape, or on CD. These lessons are designed for teachers, parents, and day-care providers to use when teaching preschool children.

"Virtual Pre-K" (VPK) is a teacher-created instructional tool focused on engaging preschool children in learning about themselves and the world around them. The lessons span three domains: the classroom, the home, and the community, so that classroom curriculum is integrated with home and community activities.

Designed and created for low-income families by the Chicago Public Schools and its Office of Early Childhood Education, Virtual Pre-K is a bilingual system in English and Spanish with tips on how to make learning come to life through hands-on activities. Teachers and day-care providers can use the video lessons in the classroom or other learning settings, and parents can use the supplemental lessons at home. Two themes in the series, All About Me and Taking Care of Me, create an educational framework to help build early literacy, math, social studies, and science skills. In addition, all lessons can be easily adapted for students with special needs.

In the classroom, teachers select a VPK lesson that relates to a current topic and plan a learning activity using the VPK Teacher's Manual. At home, parents obtain "activity recipes" online that can be printed out to include in a "recipe box." Each recipe corresponds to a lesson used in the classroom.

For example, Virtual Pre-K has a unit called "Fun with Fruits and Vegetables." Lessons on the video, CD, or web demonstrate to the teacher how to plant and grow vegetables from seeds and involve the children in the process. Using the same technology, parents are shown how to make a fruit and vegetable "Rainbow Salad" with the children. Then, VPK walks the parents through teaching "How Things Grow" in gardens and parks in the city or on a farm in the country.

The community domain of the program, called "Out and About," also links to an up-to-date calendar that informs participants of preschool-appropriate events happening around their community. Parents are encouraged to connect lessons learned at school and at home with real-world experiences at public parks, theatres, museums, and other places.

In addition, parents can access other features on the colorful and easy-to-navigate Virtual Pre-K website. Friendly, illustrated characters lead visitors to links such as "the idea exchange" where discussion boards and live chat sessions are moderated by other parents and teaching professionals at Chicago Public Schools. Parents can track their child's progress in Virtual Pre-K by following a trail of stars to a personalized "Success Chart" and by writing their own notes and observations online. VPK's technology offers parents numerous benefits, not just for their children, but also for themselves. They can use the CD-ROM and website to develop their own computer literacy skills, and they can learn about other parenting resources on the Internet.

Alicia Narvaez, the Virtual Pre-K Director in Chicago, states, "We want to encourage the use of technology especially for parents who may not be used to computers. Surveys on our website show the demographics of our users, who are incredibly diverse both ethnically and economically. We wanted to create a program that would reach a diverse audience."

During 2001, VPK's first year, 4,000 teachers, administrators, parents, and others received training on the VPK model. Now, Virtual Pre-K materials are available for loan in Chicago preschool classrooms and in public libraries. Free computer access is provided at these locations and at designated VPK training sites around Chicago, making it easier for more parents to utilize the "high-tech" portion of the program.

The success of the program in Chicago has spurred the launch of the "Virtual Pre-K National Network," an alliance of school districts and agencies created to improve parent involvement, children's school readiness, and early education in general. During the 2003-04 school year, a spin-off project was formed, the VPK Model Classroom Initiative, which consisted of 22 Chicago early childhood teachers who met bi-monthly to plan and discuss VPK implementation in their classrooms. In June 2003 the Dallas Independent School District became the first national partner in the network. This school year, five California counties (San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, and Orange) and the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) formed Virtual Pre-K Southern California. In each location, VPK is not only aligned with state standards, but also with the preschool curricula and goals of each unique locale.

The effectiveness of the program is measured through traditional and online surveys and through tracking by teachers and parents. Currently, the University of Chicago is working on an assessment of the first three years of Virtual Pre-K's implementation and student performance.

More than 300 Chicago public school classrooms have adopted VPK and over 53,000 individuals have visited the website. Narvaez comments, "We [have a] 90 percent adoption rate of the program in our [Chicago preschool] classrooms," which is significant, considering that Chicago teachers are voluntarily using Virtual Pre-K as an instructional resource.

Surveys conducted by Virtual Pre-K reveal that 57 percent of its website users are parents, who are anxious for more resources. With this information in mind, VPK is developing a "Virtual Kindergarten," with 10 lessons and a website that targets skills and concepts specific to kindergarten learners. This initiative is designed with the idea that the VPK model can grow with parents and children. The first wave of the program is scheduled to begin on February 15, 2005 with professional development seminars in Chicago.

The Virtual Pre-K program is aligned with the Chicago Public Schools Early Literacy Framework, which is based on recommendations from the National Reading Council report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children.

The California Association of Bilingual Education (CABE), which uses the Virtual Pre-K program, is funded by an OII Parental Information and Resource Center (PIRC) grant.

Resources: Note: The featured program is an example of one preschool program. The program is innovative, but does not necessarily have evidence of general effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation. The success of the program may not be replicable, depending on unique conditions in differing locations.


What's New
From the U.S. Department of Education

Margaret Spellings was sworn in as the 8th U.S. Secretary of Education in a ceremony attended by President George W. Bush at the U.S. Department of Education auditorium. (Jan. 31)

A final rule creating a priority for rigorous evaluation for U.S. Department of Education grants was published in the Federal Register. This priority will apply to some OII grant competitions, as well as other Department programs this fiscal year. In the programs that use the priority, grant applicants that propose to include an experimental or quasi-experimental evaluation as part of their projects can receive bonus points, making it more likely that they will win a grant. (Jan. 25)

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) is offering a series of IDEA Public Meetings which are being held from January 28 - February 24. Suggestions will be discussed for developing regulations based on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004. (Jan. 27)

From OII

OII sponsored the 7th Innovations in Education Exchange on "Lessons Learned from Education Service Providers." A webcast of the Exchange is available from Kidzonline (Jan. 28)

Information about the latest Ready To Learn TV Panel Review on September 24, 2004 is available online. This information includes the names of panel members, as well as the agenda, discussion, and suggestions and observations download files MS Word (56K) from the meeting. (Jan. 28)

Funding Opportunities

The grant competition for the Charter Schools Program is now open. The deadline to submit an application is March 14, 2005. (Jan. 28)

The grant competition for the Excellence in Economic Education Program is now open. The deadline to submit an application is March 23, 2005. (Jan. 28)

Charter Schools

Governor Linda Lingle (HI) called for an increase in the number of charter schools and authorities other than the Board of Education to oversee them in her State of the State address. [More-Star Bulletin] (Jan. 25)


Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), a coalition of New Jersey citizens dedicated to parental involvement in education, competition to stimulate better public school performance, and expanding educational options has an electronic newsletter, "School Choice Blitz." To subscribe, email and write "subscribe" in the subject line. (Jan. 31)


Reading is Fundamental (RIF), the nation's oldest and largest literacy nonprofit organization, received a $100,000 donation from The Annenberg Foundation to support reading programs in Philadelphia, PA. Funds will be used to create programs that encourage parents and caregivers to become active participants in their children's literacy development. (Jan. 26)

Supplemental Educational Services

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is encouraging its local affiliates to become approved providers of supplemental educational services under No Child Left Behind. AFT affiliates in Rochester, NY and Toledo, OH, (see also Creating Strong Supplemental Educational Services Programs) have already taken steps, or are working with their districts, to become providers. (Jan. 20)


Connections Academy a national provider of K-8 virtual public schools, will add a comprehensive 9th grade program for the 2005-2006 school year. Connections Academy operates in partnership with charter schools, school districts, and state departments of education. (Jan. 25)

Tsunami Relief

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has created a tsunami relief fund through the AFT Educational Foundation to provide direct humanitarian relief to teachers and other education and public sector employees in countries that have been devastated by the recent tsunami disaster. (Jan. 6)


Innovations in the News

Arts in Education
Former Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee collaborated on an article touting the arts in education. Tucson's Opening Minds Through the Arts, an OII-funded program, which received federal support from the Arts Model Development and Dissemination program, is regarded as a successful arts initiative. [More-Education Week] (Jan. 26) [free registration]

Charter Schools
The Chicago Board of Education approved plans to add 12 new schools to the district next fall. The Board hopes that the new schools will ease overcrowding and increase students' test scores. Seven of these schools will be charter schools. [More-NBC5 News] (Jan. 26)

Scio School District, with only 650 students, has approved the concept of Oregon's first virtual charter school. Scio's partner will be Connections Academy (see also "What's New"). [More-Connections Academy State] (Jan. 25)

The number of charter schools in Indianapolis could increase under new legislation backed by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Advocates say that up to 35 new charter schools could open under the bill that aims to loosen barriers to the growth of the charter sector. [More-Indianapolis Star] (Jan. 21)

For the first time in 10 years, the Anchorage (AK) School Board is revising charter school policies in the district. A policy committee has been working for nearly a year-and-a-half to rewrite old policies in order to strengthen language concerning charter schools' operating procedures. [More-NBC News] (Jan. 24)

Closing the Achievement Gap
Across the country, universities are partnering with urban school districts to manage public schools. Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore City (MD) created the Talent Development High School. In Worcester (MA), the Clark University formed University Park Campus School, which was ranked in 2003 as the only top-performing urban high school in Massachusetts. [More-Education Week] (Jan. 19) [free registration]

Supplemental Educational Services
More than 60 percent of Bethune Middle School students in Shreveport, LA, are participating in supplemental educational services provided by three for-profit tutoring companies. The district's school choice and supplemental services program director is impressed with the program because the tutoring teaches reading, which middle school teachers aren't trained to do. [More-Shreveport Times] (Jan. 27)

Counties in New Jersey and Mississippi are using web-based school alerts to inform parents and staff of weather emergencies and security threats. Honeywell Corp. and a "home-grown" system provide services in each area, respectively. Messages are sent to email, voicemail, and text messaging accounts. [More-Education Week] (Jan. 26) [free registration]

School districts are saving time and receiving quick feedback from constituents due to numerous online survey tools now available. Surveys can cover topics such as: satisfaction with school programs and facilities, families' plans for re-enrollment, and the quality of various services. [More-Education Week] (Jan. 26) [free registration]


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Last Modified: 08/14/2009