Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated.
Name VOISE Academy High School
Type District school: Neighborhood
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois
First year of operation
Grades served 9-12
% FRL 97%
% Black or Hispanic 100%
Per-pupil funding $7,424
Math, English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science
Content Apex Learning
SIS Impact SIS (Pearson)
Independent LMS Schooltown.net
Independent gradebook Impact Gradebook (Pearson)
Independent assessment StudyIsland
Program model: Flex
Students attend the brick-and-mortar school to learn roughly 80% of the time through online delivery, with face-to-face teachers providing the individual support.
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Traditional teacher-led instruction comprises roughly 20% of the time.
History and context
In the fall of 2008, a new high school located in the poverty-stricken, crime-ridden neighborhood of Austin on Chicago’s West Side opened its doors to 151 freshmen. Called VOISE Academy (VOISE), this school was different from many of the new high schools opening in Chicago at that time, as it blended a traditional brick-and-mortar school environment with something much less familiar—a mostly online curriculum. Now in its third year of operations, VOISE, which stands for Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment, plans to add a new grade each year until it serves up to 550 students in grades 9–12.
VOISE was created under Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Renaissance 2010 initiative, the goal of which was to create 100 high-performing public schools in priority communities by the year 2010. CPS allows Renaissance schools more freedom in their curriculum and structure than traditional CPS schools in exchange for higher levels of accountability. This increased autonomy has made it possible for VOISE to employ a mostly online curriculum.
VOISE follows a traditional school calendar and daily class schedule, with highly qualified teachers in the classrooms. But teachers are not the primary source of the learning content. Instead, students generally learn at their own pace and level through online courses that they complete on wireless laptop computers, with teachers acting as the instructional guides by encouraging and mentoring students and providing individualized instruction to them on an as-needed basis.
VOISE has found that its students often need the face-to-face teacher to get them started on an online module and orient them to the concepts. On average, students enter VOISE at a 4th-grade reading level and 5th-grade math level. They often find that jumping into the Apex curriculum is too demanding initially. Thus, the VOISE model has evolved to provide traditional, teacher-led instruction for roughly 20 percent of the learning time, and online learning for the other 80 percent. VOISE groups its students by level to allow teachers to gear the teacher-led instruction time to students at about the same place in the Apex curriculum. Some teachers use this time to introduce key concepts to their class before having the students move individually through an online lesson relating to that topic.
Teachers also engage with students face-to-face to help them learn particular skills, such as how to research topics online, make Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, or design Web pages. For example, one history teacher had his students work in small groups to create their own imaginary city-state using Google SketchUp, a 3D modeling program, after they had completed an online lesson about ancient Greece.
In addition to the regular school day, the faculty and staff offer students extra learning time with teachers on weekdays after school until 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. This extra learning time is critical to helping the students—many of whom are performing below grade level—develop the knowledge, skills, and character needed to succeed in school and beyond.
VOISE has a high-performance culture, in which the faculty and staff impose strict standards on the students, do not accept excuses, and stress that everyone can achieve. School uniforms, clean hallways, and strict enforcement of good behavior make it clear that the faculty and staff expect students to work, not play. College banners line the walls of the school and hang in the classrooms as a reminder that higher education is an attainable goal for each student. The faculty and staff theorize that setting high expectations and offering encouragement and support will give the students reasons to work hard and develop good study habits that their environment had not previously demanded of them.
VOISE’s freshman on-track rate has increased by 10 percent each year since the school opened. The freshman on-track rate was 90 percent during year three, which was above Chicago’s average freshman on-track rate of 69 percent. This placed VOISE in the top quintile of CPS high schools. VOISE received 650 applications for 135 seats in the 2011–12 ninth grade class.
CPS funds Renaissance schools on a per-pupil basis. Given the flexibility of the per-pupil funding, administrators operate VOISE with CPS dollars alone.
On the horizon
In the fall of 2011, VOISE’s founding students will progress to the 12th grade. Although CPS does not have plans to replicate the school anytime soon, VOISE continues to receive national attention for its innovative learning model.