Lessons learned from the School of the Future in Philadelphia opens dialogue on nationwide school reform

You’re going to hear us talk a lot about the School of the Future in Philadelphia in the next year. The School of the Future is a unique partnership between the School District of Philadelphia and Microsoft to create a sustainable and replicable model for improved instruction and systemic reform through the use of organizational best practices and innovations in curriculum, architecture, environmental and technology design. The school has now been open for three years and we are beginning to examine, discuss and share what we have learned publicly. We are asking the most critical education scholars and researchers to take a hard look at the school and to identify what we can learn from our efforts and make changes. We believe it is paramount to be transparent and open this part of the journey to uncover some of the real challenges schools are facing…especially now as the Federal government is poised to spend billions of dollars to improve our nation’s schools.
Last week, Microsoft and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted an event in Washington, D.C. to discuss the progress of the School of the Future to date. While, eSchool News offered this summary of the event, the purpose was not to evaluate and give the School of the Future a passing or failing grade – frankly, it’s too soon to make that judgment. However, what we do know is that there are many indicators that while challenges exist, we are moving closer and closer towards true impact. The purpose of the meeting was to begin a discourse around the successes and challenges of the School of the Future and offer lessons learned in the areas of educational innovation in high school redesign, technology integration in the classroom, and how to get the maximum benefits out of public-private partnerships, so the School of the Future and other schools can improve.
We can’t measure a long-term journey with a short-term yardstick. The work of true reform takes tremendous time and effort. If you are going to do this work, get ready for a long journey with many bumps in the road. How do we assess a process that is improving, adjusting so rapidly, when our current methods of reflection yield our findings obsolete by the time they are shared?

Some examples of what we are learning…
• Professional Development and curriculum strategies need to be organic yet deliberate at the same time. While challenging, this tension will allow for systemic adoption over time.
• Community inclusion takes time. Identifying strong pillars in the beginning to act as foundational relationships is critical.
• Technology will always add an extra layer of intricacy to any work. Integration using an incremental approach will support long-term adoption.
• Just as our students need real-time reflection as they progress, so do our efforts of reform. This work with AEI is one step we know will improve the School of the Future, as well as provide a bright light on truly transformational efforts at whole school reform.

 Microsoft is absolutely committed to the long-term success of the School of the Future in Philadelphia. We will continue to have these honest and introspective conversations and share the constructive criticism received to help drive true school reform and change across the country. We will listen and act on feedback. We are working with Harvard Education Press and the experts who participated in the AEI event to compile their opinions, feedback and recommended actions to improve school redesign in a book that will be published this fall. And perhaps the best chapter is being written today…educators from the School of the Future are compiling their “3 years of inspiration” stories now that the school year is drawing to a close.

The School of the Future partnership is about confronting challenges…not building a model for schools in a vacuum. And we look forward to continuing the dialogue with you. 
If you aren’t familiar with the School of the Future, here is some more background reading…

Microsoft School of the Future resources: http://www.microsoft.com/education/schoolofthefuture/
2003 partnership announcement: “Microsoft and the School District of Philadelphia Team Up To Build School of the Future”
2004 ground breaking announcement: “Microsoft and the School District of Philadelphia Break Ground To Build School of the Future”
2006 school opening announcement: “School District and Microsoft Open School of the Future”
Fact sheet from SOF Summit, December 2008: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/events/sof/docs/SOTFFS.doc
School of the Future Green Building Design: My earlier blog entry here

MSNBC story from the first day of school, September 2006:  “Microsoft-designed school opens; three years in planning, ‘school of the future’ comes to Philadelphia”
Fast Company story, September 2007: “Microsoft’s Class Action”

Comments (5)

  1. Last week an event in Washington D.C hosted by the American Enterprise for Public Policy Research organization

  2. Jim_NY says:

    Good post and thank you for all the information.

  3. John Faig says:

    Sorry to hear about the SOF.  It was painful to read the article.  It prompted me to read the original article from three years ago.  I would buy everyone on the team a copy of "The new meaning of educational change" by Michael Fullan.

  4. Very helpful and informative blog for anyone considering better themselves by taking on-line courses

  5.  all the best with this project! This is so true…We can’t measure a long-term journey with a short-term yardstick. The work of true reform takes tremendous time and effort

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