Published Online: June 10, 2014
Published in Print: June 11, 2014, as Teacher's Project-Based Curriculum Lost Amid Cuts

Award-Winning Phila. Teacher Frustrated by Stagnation

Daniel E. Ueda spent the past five years developing an innovative, project-based physics curriculum for his students at Philadelphia's Central High, founded in 1836 and now one of the city's elite magnet schools.

One week before this school year started, he was forced to put it aside.

Severe budget cuts and stringent staffing rules meant that Mr. Ueda was shifted into precalculus, a subject he had never taught.

It's been hard for the former engineer not to draw a connection between the upheaval at Central this year, the school's pronounced lack of resources and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.'s decision to redirect millions of district dollars into new school models.

Faces of Change

Philadelphia educators experience hope, disappointment when pursuing hands-on, technology-rich school models. Hear what five of these educators had to say about their efforts.

Gianeen C. Powell
Principal, James G. Blaine Elementary School

Daniel E. Ueda
Teacher, Central High School

Lisa J. Nutter & Dana A. Jenkins
President, Philadelphia Academies Inc. & Principal, Roxborough High School

Grace J. Cannon
Executive director, Office of New School Models

Andrew A. Biros & Joshua D. Kleiman
Teachers, Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts

"It feels like you're being sacrificed for the greater good," Mr. Ueda said. "And it's questionable whether or not it's the greater good."

Even so, he is quick to say that he's a huge fan of Science Leadership Academy's instructional model, which has helped inspire the approach in the new schools. His passion for the hands-on, inquiry-driven learning favored at SLA bubbles over when discussing his favorite physics units or Central's award-winning robotics team, which he has poured hundreds of hours into each year.

The problem in Philadelphia, Mr. Ueda said, is not so much the district's capacity to innovate as its penchant for squashing that innovation once it takes root.

About This Series

"The Innovation Gamble" follows a city district resting its hopes on a tech-themed approach. This is the third of three parts.

Part One: Philadelphia Seeks Salvation in Lessons From Model School

Part Two: Innovative Ed. Model Challenges Teachers to Adjust

Part Three: Phila. Funding Crisis Threatens Spread of Innovation

Video: Watch Christopher Lehmann discuss the motivation for Science Leadership Academy's switch from Mac laptops to Chromebooks.

Video: Watch Karthik Subburam, a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, work to change how he teaches.

Multimedia: Replicating a Model School: The People Behind the Effort

Not only was he forced to jettison his project-based physics curriculum; the loss of prep time—the result of having to pick up an extra class because of the budget cuts—also meant limited opportunities to develop similar materials in math. And with just two counselors for Central High's 2,300 students, Mr. Ueda and other teachers were forced to pick up the slack.

The work of the robotics team was also sharply limited because the district can no longer afford to keep the school building open on weekends.

The worst feeling, Mr. Ueda said, has been the constant uncertainty.

Faced with the possibility of being laid off this summer, the award-winning teacher plans to leave the district for an education-outreach job with a prestigious university robotics lab.

"I believe in this kind of education so much," Mr. Ueda said. "It made me sad to not be able to provide that to the students."

Vol. 33, Issue 35, Pages 16-17

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