Want to know something cool?

One point of view, taking note of sundry "cool" things that affect-- or could affect-- the education business.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Philadelphia Opens "School of the Future"

Built for $63 million, Philadelphia's new "School of the Future" is open for business. Developed in partnership between Philly and Micro$oft, the school is physically, pedagogically, and strategically innovative. The building is constructed to be "green," the homework and assessments are online, and the school's robust intranet will serve as a platform for student collaboration, teacher-parent communication, content delivery, and workspace.

Located in West Philadelphia, the school opened to 170 ninth-graders (95% of whom are black, 85% of whom come from low-income families) chosen by lottery from a field of 1500 applicants. There are/were no entrance exams, and the school is tuition-free. The lottery system, according to Philadelphia School District CEO Paul Vallas, means that the "experiment" inherent in cutting-edge education isn't "rigged" by selecting only "the best and the brightest."

Microsoft collaborated heavily with the Philadelphia board of education and school administrators, to develop a robust infrastructure that is designed to minimize paper and to maximize collaboration and information flow. Textbooks are eschewed in favor of interactive content, software, and multimedia assets. (You may recall Microsoft's failed foray into the education space with Microsoft Class Server, a "curriculum manager" that was built as a virtual learning management system.)

Microsoft has gone further with the School of the Future, envisioning a school without walls or limits, where research on the internets is par for the course, and where institutional partners such as the Philadelphia Zoo and the Museum of Art are as integrated with the school as the "food court" that replaces the traditional cafeteria.

Time will tell how well the School of the Future serves today's students, but it's a grand vision and a bold step. Whether it can shed some of the burdens on more traditional schools remains to be seen.

Cool, huh?

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