Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s strategic plan for the School District calls for a panoply of changes including contracting with providers for the “turnaround” of some 30 low-performing schools, differential pay for highly effective teachers, and the creation of regional early childhood centers.
The plan leaves seemingly no stone unturned in compiling a wish-list for change, from faster school repairs to a more transparent budget process, from more timely teacher hiring to widespread intramural sports, from a citywide “parent university” to a redesign of the preK-12 core curriculum.
District officials estimate that the total additional cost – once savings are identified – will be $50 million over five years, or about one-half of one percent of the District’s overall budget. In an interview, Ackerman conceded that the figure might rise to $75 million.
A Notebook analysis indicates, however, that any one of several items – such as reducing class size from kindergarten through third grade, doubling the counselor-student ratio in middle and high schools, implementing the labor-intensive Reading Recovery program – could each cost more than $10 million per year. A costing-out study conducted by the state in 2007 estimated that Philadelphia needed $1 billion more a year to educate all its students to high standards.
Chief Business Officer Michael Masch did not respond to requests for further details on the cost.
Ackerman said that for her, money was not the issue.
“I’m not worried about the money; it’s so basic,” she said. “Everything in this plan, I got in my high school 40 years ago. So why is it we can’t do it for children in Philadelphia in 2009?”
The plan is called “Imagine 2014.” While hailed for its ambition, it has generated skepticism for not setting clear priorities and for continuing to look to outside providers to turn around low-scoring schools.
The District would recruit charter and other education management organizations “with proven track records” to rebuild these schools, but also would solicit proposals from “successful principals …and other organizations including the PFT that have demonstrated experience in producing successful student outcomes,” according to a fact sheet.
Ten schools, to be called Renaissance Schools, will be identified this summer and have a year to plan before re-opening under new management in 2010, Ackerman said. They will include schools at all levels. Officials have said communities would be involved in choosing the operators, and no students would be displaced.
Since the plan was released, the District has downplayed comparisons to Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 turnaround plan, in which dozens of schools have closed and 75 new ones opened, about two-thirds of them charters or under outside management. Instead, it is touting the Boston Pilot School model, in which the district and teachers’ union have collaborated on reforming 20 schools.
Of those, 11 are high schools, but most are small and, like charters, require students to apply. Many of Philadelphia’s low-performing schools are large neighborhood high schools.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the union “would rather be a partner in talking about what good schools need as opposed to managing” one. He said that while union leaders were invited to join some strategic plan working groups, the union was “essentially not involved” in developing the blueprint.
“The choice of words, ‘Imagine,’ says it all,” Jordan said of the plan. “I guess the intent is if we had the resources to provide for every school and every child, imagine what schools would have and what children would be given.”
For teachers, the strategic plan would create an Office of Teacher Affairs, tuition reimbursement and loan forgiveness, and other incentives including approved sabbaticals “with a purpose” and trips to conferences.
The plan also calls for something the union has long opposed – performance pay tied to “effectiveness.”
A new report from the American Enterprise Institute cautions that school turnaround, while appealing, is “complicated.” It is new to education, but the track record in industry “suggests a need for tempered claims and steely-eyed realism,” according to the authors, Rick Hess and Thomas Gift.
Where to speak up
Each of these community meetings on the strategic plan will start at 6 p.m.
The SRC plans to vote on a plan April 18.
March 12 - School of the Future, Parkside Ave. near Girard.
March 19 - South Philadelphia High, Broad St. near Snyder.
March 23 - Northeast High, Cottman Ave. near Algon.
March 26 - Pepper Middle, 84th St. near Lindbergh Blvd.
March 31 - Girls High, Olney Ave. near Broad St.