September 8, 2006

It'll All End in Tears

The Philly School System has opened up High Tech High reports the Philly Inquirer, calling it the "School of the Future." I hope not.

Let's run through the list of things that High Tech High will bring to the table of the future:

  • A laptop for every child. (They will be traded in for computerized tablets soon.)
  • Smart cards that track student movement throughout the school.
  • Virtual teaching assistants.
  • Software that will allow parents to track students' progress from home.
  • Lockers that open with the swipe of a smart card.
  • A fully wireless building.
  • Virtually no textbooks.
  • Plasma screens & Plasma Boards.
  • Ceiling projectors.
  • Interactive white boards.
  • Classroom furniture is on wheels to allow for group work in varying configurations.
  • Students will be required to apply to at least one college. (huh?)
  • A later start. School will begin at 9:15 a.m., acting on research that says teens think better a little later in the day.
  • Photovoltaic panels in the windows and roof will convert sunlight into electricity.
  • The building also will catch rainwater and convert it for non-potable uses, such as toilet and boiler water.
  • The school also has established partnerships with local universities.
  • Teachers were hand-picked by the principal.
  • "They have those sinks that you just put your hands like that and the water comes out."
  • "Mirrors for girls."
  • "Toilets flush by themselves. It's all just so nice."
Yes, it does sound all so nice. Certainly with the $13k the Philly school district squanders on each student each and every year, every school should have such amenities.

There's only one little thing they forgot to upgrade:
The curriculum is traditional academic with a focus on projects and interdisciplinary learning.
So all those improvements will amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic because they're still going to be teaching the same old crap. And, last I checked, the traditional high school curriculum hasn't worked all that well with the typical skill set that this population of kids will have. And, the "focus on projects" and "interdiscliplinary learning" are, at best, neutral when it comes to academic success. If anything, they tend to drive academic performance down because they complicate and throw unecessary variables into the learning process.

In case you were wondering here are the projected demographics of the school.

Racial breakdown of student body: 95 percent African American.

Gender: 54 percent female, 46 percent male

Economic background: 85 percent come from low-income families.

Special-education population: 12 percent

Entrance requirements: 75 percent of students are from the neighborhood and 25 percent from the rest of the city. Students currently in eighth grade must apply by Nov. 17 to the district for entrance in the 2007-08 school year. Enrollment is determined by lottery.

Mark my words, High Tech High will turn out to be an expensive failure that peforms no better than other similarly situated high schools. It'll all end in tears.

Update: Rightwingprof comments on High Tech High and deconstructs the principal's silly comments in this Reuters article. That principal will certainly be an albatross around the neck of the students. It'll take a lot more than plasma white boards to compsensate for the edunonsense being peddled at High Tech High. Bill gates really needs to learn a thing or two about education before pissing his and Microsoft's money away on this crap.

Mayor Street has already all but given High Tech High the kiss of death:
"You won't be able to say, 'I didn't have the computers. I didn't have the technology. I didn't have the teachers. I didn't have mentors,' because the young people who go to this school will be in the premier educational environment in the entire country, maybe even in the entire world," Street said. "So the bar for you is raised."
These poor kids. High Tech High is going to be one of the most embarrassing education experiments we've ever seen. You can take that to the bank.

7 comments:

rory said...

A laptop for every child. (They will be traded in for computerized tablets soon.)
laptops are a poor replacement for books, will be used for nefarious purposes, and will soon be lost/stolen/damaged.

Smart cards that track student movement throughout the school.
So what...

Virtual teaching assistants.
Software that will allow parents to track students' progress from home.

Decent idea

Lockers that open with the swipe of a smart card.
So an easily lost card can lead to easily stolen items, and what happens when child forget smart card?

A fully wireless building.
Virtually no textbooks.
Plasma screens & Plasma Boards.
Ceiling projectors.
Interactive white boards.

No textbooks... you got to be kidding. Everything else is nice, but not required.

Classroom furniture is on wheels to allow for group work in varying configurations.
Bored kids rolling stuff around in classroom. I predict it takes less than 1 hour before the first race happens.

Students will be required to apply to at least one college. (huh?)
double huh

A later start. School will begin at 9:15 a.m., acting on research that says teens think better a little later in the day.
A good idea...

Photovoltaic panels in the windows and roof will convert sunlight into electricity.
The building also will catch rainwater and convert it for non-potable uses, such as toilet and boiler water.

also good idea but not applicable to learning

The school also has established partnerships with local universities.
Education schools?

Teachers were hand-picked by the principal.
Who picked the principle?

"They have those sinks that you just put your hands like that and the water comes out."
"Mirrors for girls."
"Toilets flush by themselves. It's all just so nice."

Yes, but do they have doors on the boys stalls?

rightwingprof said...

End in tears, perhaps, but right now, I'm laughing so hard my side hurts.

More money for education!

LOL!

allen said...

As far as I'm concerned, this is as far as you have to read to know where this wondrous experiment is going to end up.

From Reuters:

"It's not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test," Grover said. "It's about thinking how math might be used to solve a quality-of-water problem or how it might be used to determine whether or not we are safe in Philadelphia from the avian flu."

So they're starting out with a principal who's well versed in edu-babble and that's not a good sign.

My guess is that "regurgitating them (algebraic equations) in a test", indicates that something much more creative will be used to accomplish the tedious task of measuring educational attainment. Something which has the hallmarks of real measurement such as the use of percentages and integers but will, in fact, be entirely subjective and of no use to the students outside this high school.

The message the students will get - and isn't "sending a message" almost as good as accomplishing something? - is that you don't measure what you don't value. The less patient among the students or those who don't have parents providing the patience will understand that message and drop out or transfer. Those that remain will almost certainly display the same spread of attainment as comparable students at less cutting-edge high schools and in a couple of years the excitment will die down as the equipment malfunctions or is damaged or stolen, and isn't repaired/replaced.

Five or six years from now, when all this expensive, cutting-edge equipment is passé, the school will be indistinguishable from any other urban high school except for the relatively new construction of the building.

KDeRosa said...

Good find, Allen, that al-Reuters article deserves a post of its own.

KDeRosa said...

Oh good, I see Rightwingprof has already beaten me to the punch with the Reuters article, saving me the trouble

David said...

There is some evidence that when a company becomes obsessed about its physical facilities, its best days are past.

The same principle applies in education. If you're really excited about what you're building and selling (in business) or teaching and learning (in a school) you don't worry all that much about things like self-starting water faucets.

See The Edifice Clue.

allen said...

What else is there to obsess about other then physical facilities? It's not like standing in the NAEP or any measure of educational efficacy has any value. So about the only thing there is to be excited/obsessed about is physical plant.

You can put a precise dollar figure on that and act as if that's a worthwhile accomplishment.

Ken I read about the school somewheres that didn't have a link and the Reuter's story is the first one to come up on Google. Juicy quote from the principal but the story reads like a lightly-rewritten press release.