When it opened its doors in 2006, Philadelphia's School of the Future (SOF) was touted as a high school that would revolutionize education: It would teach at-risk students critical 21st-century skills needed for college and the work force by emphasizing project-based learning, technology, and community involvement. But three years, three superintendents, four principals, and countless problems later, experts at a May 28 panel discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) agreed: The Microsoft-inspired project has been a failure so far.wow
First Michael Jackson, now this. What a week. Who could have seen this coming?
"Microsoft chose to ... assign a team of educators and technologists to work in concert with the school system and the surrounding community to create a sustainable learning environment," said Mary Cullinane, Microsoft's lead on the project and one of the school's initial architects, in 2006.That's the difference between me and Bill Gates.
By creating a general-enrollment school that was paid for, staffed, and operated by the public school system, project organizers aimed to create a model that could be replicated easily in other districts. (See "‘School of the Future' opens doors.")
The components of the school also were considered to be progressive. From alternative school hours to laptops for every student, from a customizable school portal to campus-wide wireless access, and from a panel to design 21st-century curriculum to a new teacher hiring model, the SOF was thought to be a sure winner.
"We naively thought, I guess, that by providing a beautiful building and great resources, these things would automatically yield change. They didn't," said Jan Biros, associate vice president for instructional technology support and campus outreach at Drexel University and a former member of the SOF Curriculum Planning Committee.
When I have a naive idea, the city of Philadelphia doesn't give me $63 million dollars to inflict it on other people's children.
Microsoft's expertise was based on what the company calls the 6 "I"s: introspection, investigation, inclusion, innovation, implementation, and--again--introspection. It was up to the Curriculum Planning Committee to design the underlying principles and goals for the school, based on this framework.You think?
However, these principles too often seemed unclear.
Although the technology itself was not supposed to trump basic classroom practices, Microsoft and the school's planners had decided not to allow the use of textbooks or printed materials; instead, all resources were located online through a portal designed by Microsoft.Books are good.
Yet educators frequently encountered problems accessing the internet, because the school's wireless connection often would not work.
"This vital part of the school's technology was never stable and robust enough to make it dependable," said Biros. "There was no safety net, and it seemed like a great leap of faith--faith that these teachers, amidst so many new circumstances, would be able to develop curriculum almost on the fly and store and distribute it electronically."
Another problem was that the students--most of whom came from poorer families and neighborhoods--could not use or maintain their laptops properly. Students were either afraid to take their laptops home for fear of theft, or they didn't know how to access all the programs on the machines.Again.
Books are good.
On another front, although Microsoft eventually sent someone to the SOF during its second year to try and foster community relationships, no one realized that school-community partnerships take time, perhaps even years, to mature--leading to uninvested partnerships with no long-term sustainability.I say forget the school-community partnerships and have the kids read some books. Also, math is good. You could teach kids math using a math book.
At one point during the discussion, an audience member asked: "All of your resources are online, and educators have to access [them] through this portal. However, your educators don't know how to work the technology. So, exactly what did the teachers teach in class? What were the students learning?"That's not an answer.
"Well, honestly, I'm not exactly sure," replied Biros.
According to Biros, the creation of assessments was problematic.They do what they do.
"We all agreed that students should be evaluated qualitatively, without customary grades and standardized tests, but we did not consider how colleges would use these assessments to determine students' acceptance into their programs," she explained.
"It's been three years, only three years," said Hess. "I can't say it's a failure, and I can't say it's a success. Give it another three years, and then we'll be able to say for certain."'Cause what is 3 years in the life of a high school student?
School of the Future: Lessons in Failure
by Meris Stansbury
But we don't feel like a failure...
Microsoft Lesson Plans