Education Funding

Philadelphia and Microsoft Planning High-Tech School

By Marianne D. Hurst — September 17, 2003 2 min read
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The Philadelphia school district and the Microsoft Corp. recently announced a plan for a partnership to build a $46 million high school in the city that will be outfitted with the latest educational technology.

Paul G. Vallas, who became the chief executive officer of troubled 200,000- student district in July of last year, said the partnership signals a change for the better for Philadelphia students.

“We’re looking for a way to institutionalize excellence,” said Mr. Vallas, who hopes that the partnership will help create a paperless operating system for the school, and give all district students more educational choices and better learning environments.

The school, which is slated to open in 2006 and serve about 700 students, will have such technological features as a “virtual” library, handheld computing devices for all students, and wireless communications. Parents will have online access to student report cards, weekly teaching guides, and homework assignments.

The technology will also help optimize the school’s operations, officials say, by automating everything from ordering supplies to selecting a nutritionally sound lunch menu.

A Microsoft School?

Both district and Microsoft officials are quick to stress that the district, not the giant computer-software company, will run the new school.

“Microsoft is not getting into the business of managing schools,” said Wanda Miles, the executive director of Microsoft’s Learning Technologies Education Solutions Group. She noted that the funding for the project would come from the school district’s five-year, $1.5 billion capital-bond plan.

Still, Microsoft will be providing a human-resources team, including a full- time project manager, to help provide professional development for teachers and input on technology design.

Even so, district officials insist the school will not be obligated to use Microsoft software.

But some technology experts are skeptical that school officials will not be unduly influenced by Microsoft’s role in the school.

Kim Jones, the vice president of global education and research for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems, which has donated roughly $6 billion worth of its Star Office software to schools around the world, is concerned about Microsoft’s role.

“What you don’t want to have is a stranglehold on the curriculum,” she said. “Microsoft is one [corporation] that would be scary. Is it going to be a Microsoft school for Microsoft, or is it one that will be a showcase school open to all vendors?”

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