Home > Uncategorized > Philadelphia’s School Without Walls is Re-Born 50 Years Later

Philadelphia’s School Without Walls is Re-Born 50 Years Later

Medium sends me thought provoking articles every day on a range of topics I get to select, and an edition earlier this week included an article describing the latest “new idea to reinvent high schools” from XQ: The Super School Project, the brain child of Laureen Jobs Powell. The “Super School Project” was launched in 2016, announcing 10 winners in a competition to “re-think high schools”. From the outset, there have some questions raised about the ability of a foundation to pull this off, but I sincerely hope that this group will succeed where others have failed, their funding source notwithstanding.

The article in Medium breathlessly reported on four practical ideas to “deepen school and community connections”, ideas that XQ presumably believes are innovative, original, and creative. In fact the practical ideas were developed and implemented over 50 years ago in Philadelphia when Superintendent Mark Shedd teamed with Board President Richardson Dilworth to introduce progressive reforms to Philadelphia’s struggling schools. One of the ideas was the Parkway Project a.k.a the “School Without Walls”. The concept behind the Parkway School incorporated all four of the “practical ideas” described in the XQ article. The Parkway Project:

  • Co-located schools in existing institutions: the art museum, Franklin Institute, the Museum of Natural History, and the Public library line the Parkway in Philadelphia and each was to offer classroom space to public school students.
  • Ensured that students learned from experts: the idea was for professors from colleges and staffs from the museums to co-teach courses with public school staff
  • Provided students with early access to the professional world: another element of the program was that students could devise their own courses and curriculum by working in internships and/or co-operative work study programs
  • Create opportunities for students to experience higher education early and often: since the Parkway Program envisioned the courses to be co-taught by local professors the students would experience college-like courses ad expectations throughout their schooling.

As a college student at the time the Parkway Project was launched, I was excited at the prospect that high school was on the dawn of reinvention. In the late 1960s everything was changing in the world and many of us on campus believed it was changing for the better. 50 years later, schools are even more segregated than they were in the 60s, poverty is more intractable than ever, students in elementary schools are still batched by age cohorts, and high schools still require students to pass a specific set of courses based on seat time.

I sincerely hope Ms. Jobs succeeds where Mark Shedd failed… for his ideas ultimately died as a result of budget cuts and traditionalists who believed high school should remain the competitive battleground where students compete for grades in an artificial environment that has no parallel in the world of work.

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