The Three R's Are So Over

A collaboration between Microsoft and the Philadelphia public school district created an experiment called the School of the Future, which opened last September. This according to a recent article in the September, 2007 edition of Fast Company, entitled “Microsoft's Class Action, by Elizabeth Svoboda. (Also check out the NPR feature entitled “In Philly ‘Future’ School, Books Are So 20th Century.”)

This one is radical on the spectrum of corporation-led experiments in the public school system. According to Svoboda, while it has universal wireless and student-ID smart cards, it goes well “beyond a cookie-cutter school tricked out with a high tech veneer.” In this school, science, English, math, writing and the rest are not taught as separate disciplines, but in the context of exploring real-world problems using Powerpoint and Excel.

This one is also loaded. Setting aside the “wholesale tearing apart” of the traditional curriculum, you’ve also got heavy corporate involvement in the education system and the potential conflicts arising from that. This is not the first such corporate/public school collaboration by a long shot. Check out this prior posting on Sandy Weil’s efforts from American Express in this area way back in 1982. But many people will question Microsoft’s motives.

Microsoft appears to take the issue head on. Svoboda reports that Mary Cullinane, director of Microsoft’s U.S. Partners in Learning program, says the company’s “interest in education is very much a vested interest."

No truer words have been spoken -- daily by many, many of us in every industry and sector in this country. We are all worried about the quality of education and, perhaps more importantly, overall preparedness of our future employees - to speak, to write, to program, to create. It’s not at all clear where, in trying to do something about it, Microsoft has crossed some important line with this initiative.

Test scores won’t be available for over a year, so we’ll have to debate this without the metrics until then. I hope we’ll hear from the education experts on whether a line has been crossed.

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 1:04 AM, Sep 18, 2007 in Education | Permalink | Comment