The Notebook was launched in 1994 as a newspaper committed to ensuring quality and equity in Philadelphia public schools. We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first publication this spring. We are featuring an article from our archives each week, shedding light on both the dramatic changes that have taken place in public education and the persistent issues facing Philadelphia's school system.
From the Fall 1996 print edition:
by Paul Socolar
Using his "management prerogatives," Superintendent of Schools David Hornbeck has crafted and announced his accountability program -- a set of planned District actions that are aimed at holding teachers and administrators accountable for the academic performance of students.
The program, outlined in September and taking effect immediately, will use schools' scores in last spring's standardized test as a baseline or point of comparison. Future test results and other measurements will be used to categorize schools as to whether they are improving.
Schools that make excellent progress in student performance over the next two years will receive awards of $1,500 per teacher to spend on school needs. Schools deemed to be performing poorly will receive assistance through school review teams and closer scrutiny of teachers through the teacher rating process. School-by-school performance data will be publicized.
Hornbeck's accountability measures go beyond the provisions in the new teachers' union contract-provisions that deny or delay some pay raises to teachers who are rated unsatisfactory and establish a voluntary Peer Intervention Program to assist poorly performing teachers.
Since taking charge as superintendent, Hornbeck has advocated a system of rewards and punishment to insure that schools are accountable for their performance.
Few teachers get bad rating
One accountability issue is that each year the number of Philadelphia teachers rated "unsatisfactory" is well under 1 percent of the total teacher force. The figure amounts to about one teacher for every ten schools in the District.
District spokespeople admit that many principals simply do not complete the time-consuming process required to rate a teacher unsatisfactory, because of "administrative overload." Hornbeck says that new procedures will mean "greater scrutiny is going to take place."
In addition, a recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Department of Education allows the District for the first time to use "student academic achievement" as a criterion for evaluating teachers.
While Hornbeck suggests that teachers and principals at the poorly performing schools are going to be rated unsatisfactory more often, the steps that will be taken to assure that principals do their jobs are not yet clear.
School rating system developed
The District's new accountability program will look at schools' standardized test scores and several additional indicators: schools' attendance rates, their "high-absence rate" (the percentage of students absent more than 18 times in a year), and their retention rate (the rate at which students fail to move forward in grade level.)
In addition, high schools will be reviewed for their "persistence rate" -- the proportion of students who graduate on time four years after entering 9th grade.
Using baseline data from the spring of 1996, each school is being informed in October of an average performance target for the 1996-97 and 1997-98 school year.
At the end of what is called a "two-year professional responsibility cycle," in the summer of 1998, schools will be categorized based on how well these test scores and other measures compare to the target set by the District. There will be five categories:
- "Distinguished" schools have exceeded their target and receive monetary rewards
- "On target" schools have met their performance target
- "Improving" schools have improved over the two years but not reached their target
- "Declining" schools have not improved or are doing worse than the baseline year and face " intensive rating of staff
- "Academically distressed" schools have failed to meet their target in two consecutive two-year cycles and face both inten sive rating of staff and possible reorganization
"School review teams" will work with all three categories of schools that fail to meet their targets.
The annual performance targets for schools are set with the aim of advancing scores steadily toward the same "finish line" -- the ultimate goal that every school in the District within 12 years will achieve a 95 percent proficiency score on the District's scoring system. Schools that are starting with low scores will therefore have more ground to cover each year to reach their annual target than schools that are starting closer to the finish line.
Each year a report card will be issued for the District and for each school, Hornbeck says. The report card will identify schools in the order of most improved to least improved and show how well each school is moving toward its performance target.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has denounced Hornbeck's plan in the media and at meetings set up to expl ain the plan. PFT leaders argue that it is unfair to expect schools to meet these targets with the current inadequate level of resources and add that it is "damaging" to the schools whose students are performing poorly to be given a negative label.
PFT members have also said these procedures and the sanctions in the new contract are focused on teachers and serve to set them up as scapegoats. Teachers have expressed the concern that middle level administrators and principals may not be subjected to the same level of oversight, the threat of dismissal, or the denial of wage increases.
At the top level, Hornbeck and the top District administrators in his cabinet do have a "pay for performance" system that will link their salary in future years to how well students in the District overall are performing on standardized tests and other measures.
Public school families have frequently raised demands for accountability and an improved learning environment, and will likely welcome the promised information about trends in student performance. But there has been little discussion with parents or community members to date on Hornbeck's overall accountability plan.