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Details emerge on Great Schools Compact plans




by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Hoping to dramatically reduce the number of Philadelphia students in failing schools, a coalition of education leaders representing Philadelphia’s District, charter and Catholic schools last month submitted a $7 million grant proposal to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Their “Philadelphia Great Schools Compact” proposal calls for a coordinated effort to close or turn around failing schools and expand successful schools, as well as the launch of new initiatives ranging from a universal student enrollment system to a low-interest loan program to help charter schools re-use empty District and Archdiocesan school buildings.

“There’s a real focus on talent development,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), the group coordinating the compact’s work.

Some of the proposed work would involve an expansion of successful efforts already under way, such as Mastery Charter Schools’ highly regarded “train-the-trainer” program for improving the quality of teacher coaching.

“The idea is just to scale up,” Gleason said.

“Mastery has already dozens of school operators come through the program.”

The District has signaled its interest in having coaches from District schools participate, he said.

Other parts of the proposed work, such as an overhaul to the region’s system for educating and certifying prospective teachers, are more concept than plan.

“It’s a need that we’ve identified, and now we have to come up with what it looks like,” said Gleason.

A Notebook/NewsWorks request for the full Philadelphia Great Schools Compact grant proposal to the Gates Foundation was denied.

“We felt it was premature to release a draft of the proposal that may change based on back-and-forth with the Gates Foundation,” said Gleason.

But PSP has posted on their website a list of the “12 key collaboration initiatives ” proposed in the grant.

The last initiative, related to the re-use of surplus facilities, is actually part of a separate proposal to the Gates Foundation, Gleason said.

The hope is to entice the foundation to provide low-interest loans that charter school operators could then use to purchase and modernize vacant District and Archdiocesan school buildings.

“The District has a lot of empty buildings, and in the future there are likely to be even more,” Gleason said. “These are taxpayer-owned assets that we should be leveraging to educate kids in the city.”

The compact committee expects to submit a revised proposal sometime this summer, said Gleason.

Final word from the Gates Foundation is expected in early September.

The '12 key collaboration initiatives'

  • Take enrollment in chronically failing schools down to nearly zero by 2016-17, by adding at least 5,000 high quality seats in each of the next five years through a combination of turnarounds, closures, and school expansions.
  • Create an improved school-performance framework by the time 2011-12 student outcomes data are available; aim toward developing a third-generation framework incorporating more college-readiness data within a few years.
  • Develop and launch a multimedia information resource called GreatPhillySchools that will enable parents to use a simple, intuitive interface to research and compare all of the city's nearly 400 K-12 schools. The resource will be free to users and will be accessible in print and online.
  • Develop a common enrollment system for all public schools (and perhaps for parochial schools) to make it easier for parents and students to apply to a range of school options.
  • Create a reimagined Office of Charter Schools, one that sees charter schools as its primary constituents and that brings together outstanding support services and rigorous but transparent authorizing practices.
  • Reinvigorate Intermediate Unit 26 as an educational services agency focused on providing cost-effective, best-in-class services and programs to all K-12 school providers on an opt-in basis.
  • Create a Philadelphia urban school leadership residency program that emphasizes instructional leadership, management skills and mastering the technical elements of school administration (including school law, special education, state education policy, and more).
  • Expand the impact of Mastery Charter Schools' nationally lauded teacher-effectiveness training for instructional leaders & coaches by hiring additional staff and scaling up the program to enable more schools to participate.
  • Develop K-12 benchmark assessments aligned to Common Core curriculum standards, focusing initially on math and reading.
  • Develop and broadly share subject-based instructional strategies that move classroom teaching in the direction of student-centered or student-led lessons from the currently predominant teacher-led approach.
  • Develop a new postsecondary model for educating would-be teachers to expand the pipeline of teacher and leader talent in Philadelphia.
  • Make surplus facilities available to independent school operators at prices that take into account the schools' ability to contribute to the goal of adding 5,000 or more high-quality seats annually, and create a Great Schools Facilities Fund to provide low-cost capital to schools looking to renovate and reimagine aging school buildings.

(Disclosure: The Notebook is a partner in the development of GreatPhillySchools, a resource expected to be made available to the public this fall.)

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