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Struggles at School of the Future

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 5, 2010 06:18 PM

Starting a little more than a year ago, I got involved in a project sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute to compile a book about Philadelphia's School of the Future, the partnership between Microsoft and the District to create a new kind of urban high school.

My article adapted from the work done for the book by me and others has just been posted on the website of Education Next.

Plagued by leadership turnover and hampered by its admirable commitment to being a neighborhood rather than a magnet school, SOF has had its struggles in trying to break the mold.
Although it recruited within the parameters of the Philadelphia system, it landed a young, dynamic team of educators. Many of the new, first-time teachers on the staff have resumes that look very much like Teach for America recruits, except that they have made the career commitment to be teachers. They and others have worked very hard to create a new model that fundamentally alters the high school experience for urban youth to make it more relevant and engaging. They have done some remarkable things.
But with disappointing test scores, the pressure has been consistent to pull back and adopt a more conventional approach.
As the article points out, true innovation is very difficult. I think this story has important lessons for “turnaround,” even though SOF is a start-up school. Microsoft is not a “school manager,” but instead a partner in an effort to create an engaging and progressive curriculum that takes advantage of the latest technology.
The idea, much like Parkway in the 1970’s, was to reshape the urban high school experience for the typical student – and do it within the system, not outside of it. In its own way, again like Parkway, it aspired to be a "school without walls," by taking full advantage of our virtual world and promoting a concept of education that was not contained by the school walls but engaged fully with its surrounding community through real-world projects.
I tried to engage Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to talk about SOF and the implications of its experiences for promoting real school reform. Disappointingly, she never found the time.

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Comments (4)

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2010 6:38 pm

It is interesting to compare the article on the School of the Future with the post on Meade School. To prepare students for an inquiry based, student centered, technology infused curricula, a goal of the School of the Future, then students need opportunities for more than Dr. Ackerman's solution - Corrective Reading / Math, direct instruction and simulated "test prep" with benchmarks, predictive and now, "empowerment" school tests. Meade is an example of a school which is not only attempting to prepare students for standardized testing but also creating critical and engaged thinkers who are exposed to the arts.

Based on test scores, the School of the Future should be next in line for "Renaissance" treatment. What will happen to its mission if Dr. Ackerman's "formula" for "success" gets hold of the $65 million experiment?

Submitted by Jedidiah (not verified) on October 18, 2010 12:17 pm

Was there ever a chess tournament at this school hosted by someone with the last name Gil?

Submitted by cristina (not verified) on June 6, 2014 8:43 am
I think this is an amazing project. Microsoft can bring so many fresh ideas and opportunities. What are the chances of this actually happening? jocuri multiplayer
Submitted by gigel (not verified) on June 9, 2014 4:07 am
So this project has been dropped? Why? I think it would have been something really special. noutati seo

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