Last year, we ran a feature on a three-year-old school in Philadelphia, partially funded by Microsoft, which sought to replace pencil-and-paper curriculums and handouts with wired laptops and project-based learning. The experiment in education, known as School of the Future, hadn't produced any hard data on its success yet (aside from having no dropouts among its three classes of students).As part of a project sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, former Philadelphia Inquirer education beat reporter Dale Mezzacappa looked into the joint venture between Microsoft and Philly's school district. He presents some of the findings from his investigation in an article written for Education Next.
To be sure, the future has not yet arrived at School of the Future. Its early years have been plagued by a crisis in leadership, a revolving door of principals and wavering support for its mission from the Philadelphia district. ... Some of the more exciting plans for technology use, including a Virtual Teaching Assistant that would allow teachers to track individual student progress online, never materialized. ... Despite the awe that the school generated in the community, it has not filled to capacity. Built for 750, enrollment is below 500 in its fourth year. Walk through classrooms today and what you will see, pedagogically, is not terribly different from what happens in any high school.Among other similarities between School of the Future and other Philly public schools, it now administers tests every two weeks to make sure that its students are keeping up in a city-mandated core curriculum-a set of standards that stands in near-direct conflict to the school's intended project-based learning design.Clearly, School of the Future is still trying out its sea legs. However, it'll be interesting to see what becomes of its initial graduates. Hopefully, the trial-and-error approach to re-envisioning education didn't unintentionally leave them behind.Photo (cc) by Flickr user John Jobby