This from Alana Goodman at Campus Report Online:
School of Future Shock
At Philadelphia’s School of the Future (SOF), textbooks have been replaced with laptops and high schoolers are taught core curriculum through technology-based programs like YouTube and instant messenger.
SOF is a charter school in the Philadelphia School District serving mostly low-income students, and was created through a 2006 partnership with the Microsoft Corporation. But the school, once hailed as “the next big thing” by National Public Radio, is struggling to live up to these high expectations.
SOF’s original goals were to supply each student with a laptop computer that he would personally care for, open the school to the community in order to educate urban adults in technology and use technology and a project-based curriculum to increase student learning. Unfortunately, problems have been plaguing the school since the beginning: Students are unable to properly care for their laptops, there is very little community involvement and test scores have been inconclusive in measuring student achievement.
On May 28, teachers, administrators and researchers got together at the American Enterprise Institute to analyze the successes and failures of the school.
Some analysts expressed concern over what seemed like the lack of clear goals for SOF. “It’s very easy to convolute ends and means. Online learning is not the end…You need a very clear vision,” said Mitch Chester, commissioner of the Massachusetts public schools.
“When not wanting to be like what exists becomes one of the main qualities, you can’t grow on what’s good,” Chester added. “You reject what might be worth saving.”
...However, some analysts believe that SOF will never be able to foster innovation as long as it is working within the public school district.
Dennis Cheek argued that technology in schools has an inverse relationship to the strength of teachers unions. “The system is resistant to technology,” he said. “Technology is going to take some of the jobs of teachers.”
Chester E. Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, agreed that working within the system is not going to yield results. “Vendors are not reformers. Consultants are not agitators,” he said. “At the end of the day, are we talking about school reform, or are we talking about being consultants to a system that does not want to change?”
Margaret Cullinane, the director of innovation and business development for the Microsoft Corporation, disagreed that innovation could not happen within the public school districts, saying that you “can only change the system if you’re involved in the system.”