Last week an event in Washington D.C hosted by the American Enterprise for Public Policy Research organization and commissioned by Microsoft unveiled the findings of data collection efforts by several education researchers. These finding were discussed in an open forum and not debated but presented to the general public for consumption and interpretation based upon information gathered at the school from learners, educators, parents and community members. Anthony Salcito, MSFT General Manager for US Education posted on his blog some insightful thoughts on why the School of the Future will continue its mission and vision of learning and sharing of best practices in curriculum and technology innovation. I highly recommend you read his post.
An account of this event was later published in an article by eschoolnews, and well, I'll say this, as one of the authors put it "journalists only know how to write in absolutes, either you're the villain or the hero...you're either a success or a failure....because that's what sells subscriptions...”
I suppose that's some comfort in the face of many ongoing challenges that still exist in education, not just at the School of the Future, in that many people are quick to judge effort based upon their need for immediate proof that money, time and effort are paying off. I've been at the school now for about 2 years, and the reality of the School of the Future is that we never expected that within 4 years a learner who walks through the doors bringing with them emotional, behavioral, social, economic, education and personal baggage would emerge triumphant after those 3-4 years of being at the school. More likely our learners gain a sense of worth, a sense of pride, and a sense of belonging that no test can evaluate, and no one individual can judge.
I've copied below a response to the eschoolnews article, by one of our learners who I presented the article to, in order to gain feedback as to how she felt when information is shared about her school that seems so far from the reality of her high school experience.
What makes a school innovative? Is it huge leaps and bounds in education, or is it finding the right 'thing' that is engaging those, that have been forgotten. Some people may have forgotten why this School is so important to Microsoft and the School District of Philadelphia, luckily we have technology that can help us remember:
I am a third year learner here at School of the Future. I will be a part of the very first graduating class of 2010. There have been so many misconceptions of High School of The Future. When I got accepted into High School of the Future I was ready for change. I knew that the school wouldn’t be perfect but who is? I came from a elementary/middle school in the Chestnut hill area of Philadelphia, I represent the 25% of the schools population that comes from all over the city, and not just the “poorer families and neighborhoods” mentioned in the article. After reading that article I thought about how much my school really means to me. School of the Future is different from other schools in so many ways, and we have come a long way since the opening day! Although we are still growing, after all (Rome wasn’t built in a day), we have accomplished so many achievements. Learning at High School of the Future means learning in a fish bowl, unfortunately that gives people the opportunity to voice their negative opinions about how we should and should not be educated.
I travel 1 and a half hours to get to school each and every day, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. When I come in the building I am greeted by teachers, and other staff members that love to come to work every day, believing that they are doing the right thing and educating us. No my school is not set up like most and no my grades aren’t the same. When I achieve an Advanced on a assignment or a test vs a traditional A+ I know that I have mastered the proper understanding of that subject, that means more to me then memorizing a few index cards. When I am in class I sit amongst 20 other learners who are just as eager to learn as I am and help each other when needed. Although the doors open around 9am and the school days ends around 4pm the learning doesn’t stop then, many students like myself are involved in extra curriculum activities like student government, cheerleading, cross country, and the year book club etc...
There is not one student who attends High School of the Future who doesn’t know how to properly work a laptop computer whether it may be a tablet, dell, or gateway. I have used my laptop to teach others outside of school as well because I come from a continuous-relevant-and adaptive learning environment. The learning portal is designed to keep the learners on track no matter where they are, and also remind the parents what is going on with his or her child during school hours. My mother can check my GPA and missing assignments while she’s at work or on a plane, she can even she how many classes I have been late to. So there aren’t many things that I can hide without my parents knowing. The Philadelphia school district is very big and there is so much room to slip in-between the cracks and still pass by. School of the Future seems to be a safe haven within the district I come to school every day feeling safe no matter where my fellow peers come from, and there is no such thing as just doing okay or passing by here at S.O.T.F that’s why I have so much school pride. My teachers know me by first and last name they also care enough to know what my hobbies and dislikes are. You don’t get that anywhere, my teachers communicate with my parents when I’m doing good or bad and not just on annual report card conference days.
It hurts my heart to hear people call my school a failure because I have already achieved great thing and I am not done yet! I have been trained to trouble shoot three different model computers; I have also been trained to give black history tours at a historical underground rail road museum that has been noticed nationwide. I have debated constitutional issues against other high school student my age and older in the tri state area, received acceptance to college internship programs through my school and not to mention proficient grades, and I still have one year to go. We have enough positive activity in my school to write a 12chapter book and when I walk down the aisle in June 2010 I will remember this article and further my education to become the best lawyer Philadelphia has seen all because of the School of The Future.
I read your post about the AEI session, which I found very informative. I don't agree with the comment that journalists only deal in absolutes because that's what sells subscriptions. At Ed Week we work hard to bring the gray areas into focus, and present a nuanced and comprehensive picture of the issues and challenges in education. I hope to do that in a story about School of the Future as well, because I think that there are many lessons that could help in other similar efforts, and I also left with a sense of the underlying message: that innovation in education is HARD, and there are bumps in the road, perhaps many, but that doesn't mean it's not worth traveling on anyway.