September 7, 2006 1:21 PM PDT

For Philly kids, it's back to the future

As other kids head back to school, a group of Philadelphia high school students will be going back to the future.

The Philadelphia School of the Future, built through a partnership between the school district and Microsoft, opened its doors Thursday to an inaugural freshman class of 170 students chosen by lottery, from largely low-income families around the city.

The students now command their own wireless laptops for school and home use and are connected to the school's centralized high-tech network for learning and administration.

The School of the Future is the first such high school to be built and completed under a school district's budget. And it integrates technology throughout the school to teach urban students hailing from all backgrounds and skill levels. Most other high-tech highs, as they're called, are charter schools in typically wealthy neighborhoods and require minimum academic standards.

"It's a big change and it's about transforming education by making it more engaging and empowering to students by having technology at their fingertips," said Ellen Savitz, the chief development officer at the School District of Philadelphia. "It's a different way of teaching. We expect it to result in higher student achievement through a culture that is collaborative and supportive."

The school opens at a time when the digital divide continues to be a national concern. Many more white children have access to the Internet at home and school than do black or Hispanic students, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education, and that discrepancy could prove a setback to underprivileged children. The School of the Future could help level the playing field, given its student population is 99 percent black.

"It's a big change and it's about transforming education by making it more engaging and empowering to students by having technology at their fingertips."
--Ellen Savitz, School District of Philadelphia

One of the features of the school is a centralized wireless computer system. It can identify individuals--whether students, parents or teachers--and then serve up tailored information to that person's laptop. Teachers can log on to get lesson plans or W-4 forms. Parents can access information on their child's progress or school lunch schedule. Kids can download homework, read required books, study new languages or take pop quizzes.

"Not all students move at the same pace, so the virtual teaching assistant software (we're using) allows teachers to get a sense of where kids are," said Savitz. "If a child gets all five questions (of an ad-hoc quiz) right, they might be taken to challenge resources. Others might be given more learning time."

She added: "Those technology solutions allow for a more adaptive and personalized approach to learning."

Students are also given smart cards to access their digital lockers (no combination required), the food court and the interactive learning center. The cards will also keep track of what children buy at the food court and help provide data on diet, nutrition and caloric intake.

The idea for the school was born in September 2003, when Philadelphia public school district CEO Paul Valis met with Microsoft executives. The two parties discussed working together on formulating the high-tech school of the future so that it could be a template for other areas around the country. The school came to fruition this year.

"Our focus was (building) a collaborative structure," said Mary Cullinane, group manager of Microsoft U.S. Partners in Learning and a former school teacher. "We need to diminish time and place for learning opportunities to occur."

The school cost about $63 million to build from the ground up, a figure that Savitz said is typical. The building itself is designed to be energy efficient, with features like a green roof, so the funds normally devoted to upkeep can be rechanneled to education. Those funds have helped buy electronic books, geometric sketch pad software and Rosetta Stone foreign language software. Philadelphia school planners aim to spend the same amount on the School of the Future as other highs in the district.

Microsoft contributed to the project by donating the time and skills of its project managers, rather than equipment and software.

There may be challenges ahead, however. Administrators do not plan to use any blocking software to limit student's access to the Internet, according to Savitz, so they must rely on children to do the right thing when it comes to popular sites like MySpace. Teachers are educating kids on protocol while using the technology, both online and ergonomically, however.

"This is a new frontier, and it's is part of the instruction," Savitz said. "Kids are aware of what is appropriate and what is not. But they don't always do what's appropriate. It's a question of raising the judgment level of the kids."

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So because I am white I have to go to regular school?
This is why I cannot stand "racial equality", because basically they are trying to eliminate racism by discrimination and stereotyping. ( the irony of it kills me )
I am all for racial equality and am not a racist of any kind, but I hate that minorities get special benefits just for being minorities. They get special college scholarships, selective picking for colleges and jobs, special tax cuts and benefits, and now... their own high-tech school to "bridge the gap".
What about all the poor white people without internet? ( like the ones that live around me and go to my school )

These programs, as well as college scholarships in general, should be based on economic, not racial status.

sorry for rant, just had to say what needed to be said.
Posted by woody56292 (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your right
In our quest for "racial equality" we have made the "minority"
more important then everyone else. Its like the law school in my
town if you are an individual from the "minority" and you meet
the very basic requirements to get into school you will get a slot
over a white student who has better grades and test scores.
Minorities are also held to lower standards in high school and
undergrad studies because their group was discriminated on in
the past and so we are told to go easy on them. And the same
goes for jobs and everything else in this country. I hate dual
standards and I ignore them every chance I get as long as it is
within the limits of the law. If you want to eliminate racism hold
everyone to a single standard. I am not racist, I work with many
people from minority groups and most of them are hard
workers. So I have no problem with minority groups I have a
problem with lazy people and a system that perpetuates the
problem. Help should not be given based on race it should be
given based on need.
Posted by jones_8099 (177 comments )
Link Flag
Your Right
"Racial Equality" is a good thing if it is just that one standard for
all people. However, in school (high school and college) minority
students are held to different standards. They also get special
consideration for some programs like Law School and Med
School and so on. And what that means is they don't have to be
the best to get into the programs they just have to meet the
minimum requirement. This also happens in the workplace and I
don't know about everyone else but that bothers me. I want to
know that the lawyer or doctor I am using is highly qualified and
wasn't just given the degree because he was the only one from
his minority group to apply for the school that year. And until we
stop looking at racial identity we will never have racial equality.

Also I dont appreciate my first post being deleted when it said
nothing wrong.
Posted by jones_8099 (177 comments )
Link Flag
Dogma and your systemic racism
Simply declaring that you are not racist does not make it so. You
hide your true motivations behind your "equality of opportunity"
rhetoric well, perhaps so well that you do not even see it
yourself. But your racist dogma blinds you and colours your
perceptions. Case in point, your subject heading, NOWHERE in
the article did it say that the school was only for minorities,
NOWHERE did it say it had no white students. You perceive this
to be the case because your ideology clouds your perceptions
and manufactures things that do not exist.
You claim: "These programs, as well as college scholarships in
general, should be based on economic, not racial status."
If you had read the article without your blinders on, you would
have seen that at the very beginning of the article it said that the
students were drawn from across Philly, mostly on the basis of
Perhaps you are not racist; perhaps it is only that as a white
person, you were not afforded "special opportunities," and thus
never learned to read like all the little advantaged minority

As for your rant about "special benefits" (leaving aside the fact
that that is an oxymoron) the very fact that you are white affords
you with special benefits. Your current socioeconomic position is
directly tied to that of your parents, and theirs before them. As
the saying goes, it takes money to make money. Being white
inherently puts one in an advantage that this country has done
little to nothing to level. You can not level a rutted field by
covering it with dirt and smoothing it over. That just leaves
things one rain away from returning to the state it was in before.
As such, "leveling" the playing field by not taking these things
into account is tantamount to institutionalizing past racial bias.
And this does not even take into consideration present and
future racial discrimination.
You will be hard pressed to find a single demonstrable example
of how whites, as a class, have been adversely affected by any
affirmative action program. It is trivial to come up with examples
of how minorities are hurt by the lack of them.
People often make the argument that affirmative action should
have played out by now, and that the playing field is level, but
this ignores the reality.
First, many affirmative action programs were fundamentally
flawed. More importantly however, the benefits accrued to white
Americans did not accumulate in the course of a single
generation, and to counter the inherent lead afforded them, it
will take more than a generation to lift up those who would
otherwise have little in the way of opportunity to rise. Until
several successive generations have had the opportunity to pass
on the accumulated benefits of social restitution, the playing
field can never honestly be described as level.
Many whites get into colleges partly on the basis of alumni
programs, few minority kids have this advantage. It takes more
than a few years of scholarships to counter this bias. It takes
several generations, through which a minority family can
establish ties to a particular institution, before they too are
afforded this "special" benefit. This is just one of many ways the
playing field still remains uneven, even with the aid of "special"
If you truly want a level meritocracy right now, where only your
own merits are used to assess your value, you must support a
100% inheritance tax, abolish property tax as a funding vehicle
for schools and apportion funds equally throughout the states,
redistribute incomes to pay reparations for stolen slave labour,
illegalize nepotistic hiring in corporations (or any business for
that matter) buy back properties from minorities whose property
values were destroyed either by white flight or misguided urban
renewal programs, disallow private school, and institute a vast
array of additional "reforms" that I doubt many, especially you,
would support.
Posted by DeusExMachina (516 comments )
Link Flag
retro-active equality is not a fair process for anyone
Simple solution, move to Philadelphia or wherever these schools are located.

Agreed, retroactive equality is not a fair process.

If you want "real" equality, it means setting a year zero mark & proceding forward.

(forget history, or at least reconcile it & don't turn it into baggage)
Posted by acpang (5 comments )
Link Flag
if racist then sue but be cautious
IF M$ chiose a location devoid of white students then and if you can prove it, sue on basis of racism

But I doubt that that is what happened...

first it is likely that there were whites there as well just not as a majority of the populace.

second if they chose the area for its minority populace, the microsoft people can still claim they can give resources to whom ever and for whatever reason they chose... the students were chosen by lottery (I assume the only thing they needed to do was apply) so such a system has no ratial bias that isn't inherant in the geographical area

third, any of a number of reasons to chose that area have non ratial reasoning... including:

Fan of bill cosby, who grew up in philly

fan of american bandstand, started in the area

sympathetic with the plight of the american steel worker, many who lost jobs as philly mills shut down

Likes the idea of brotherly love, philly being the city of brotherlt love

threw a dart at a map of the USA

I'm sure you get tyhe Idea... there is little chance that it is racially motivated....

BUT, you wanna know what I think the reasoning is? ... MONEY

M$ is always after better ways to take a buck and the taxpayer is not a forbidden target. If this thing works to show it raises good of students then M$ is in the catbird seat for government grant money to pay for the things it gave to philly schools

on this theory I present the following senerio (and if I were a betting man I'd put money on it's acuracy)

is the school system chosen, in the studies published most reciently prior to their talks with the school system, listed near the bottom in ALL the following catagories:

dropout rate? (bottom being highest rate for dropouts)
student attendance?
student scores on the 5th grade standard test? (ninth grade scores too)
poverty level?
even the likelyhood of succeding after leaving school (both dropouts and grads)

the first four are certian to have hard studies that can be checked the last may need to be ignored if there isn't a study published prior to day one talks to the school officials

the reasoning,
if you choose a school that is at the bottom of measurable standards then you can say: look at the improvement... and the improvement will look more impressive when talking in percentages
look at two example schools. each have 100 students enrolled but one has a 50% attendance rate while the other has a 90% attendance. you are able to get 20% of absentees to attend so the two schools have 70 and 92 students attending every day... the 90 to 92 increase is just over a 2% increase in attendance... less than the 3%-5% variance that studies can be off... but the 50-70 attendance is a 40% increace in attendance... very impressive... but both inspired the same percentage of students.. and the numbers from the other studdies will also have more impressive results from bottom dwelling scorers than if they used scholls near the top in their catagories

So I bet M# chose them because they are the overall worst school system, not because of poverty or ratial mix... which are just the results of a mentality that is pervasive in our society at large and concentraiting on the dregs that percipitate to the areas that then become known as slums
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
Link Flag
and here you are typing away on the must really be disadvantaged...don't tell me you're at the library right? lol
Posted by df561 (94 comments )
Reply Link Flag
excuse me?
where in my comment did I say I was poor or didn't have internet? I clearly said...
" What about all the poor white people without internet? ( like the ones that live around me and go to my school ) "
I never said in any of my comments that I was poor.
Although probably won't have enough money for college unless I get a ton of scholarships.
( which is ironic because my step brother can get in pretty much for free because he is like 1/8 native american, and half-black )
Please do not take this as a personal attack on your character, as I know you were just trying to be witty, but read a post before you decide to reply to it.
Posted by woody56292 (10 comments )
Link Flag

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