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Bonds of mentorship help student defy culture of low expectations

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Jul 28, 2014 04:58 PM

According to the most recent longitudinal study of Philadelphia graduation rates, just 10 percent of students who begin 9th grade in Philadelphia public schools manage to persist all the way through to college graduation.

To raise achievement levels, the city and state have restructured public education in Philadelphia over the last 15 years, rapidly expanding both District and charter options – with mixed results.

The path forward: Q&A with Donna Cooper of Public Citizens for Children and Youth

By Bill Hangley Jr. on Jul 28, 2014 04:25 PM

Equitable education funding has long been one of Donna Cooper’s top priorities. As Gov. Ed Rendell’s chief of policy, she was instrumental in 2008 in establishing the state’s most recent stab at creating a workable and predictable education funding formula.

That formula didn’t survive the arrival of Gov. Corbett. But Cooper, now in her second year at the helm of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, believes that with the right political pressure, another version might not be too far off.

“A school funding formula is not brain surgery,” she says. “If the legislature feels the heat … they’ll do it.”

But creating a formula is one thing; getting the funds to support it is another. We asked Cooper to reflect on this year’s budget process, the strategic approach that could establish a fully funded formula, and the prospects of long-term stability for Philadelphia’s schools.

Reading program hopes to help Philly kids give 'summer slide' the slip

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Jul 28, 2014 09:58 AM

Education experts have long advocated for parents to keep their kids engaged in learning over the summer – when skills picked up during the school year can get rusty.

That "summer slide" can be especially tough on students from families who can't afford high-quality summer programs. To combat this loss, State Sen. Vincent Hughes has organized the Save Our Skills summer reading program – a free, four-week literacy program where students receive a free breakfast and lunch while sharpening their skills with certified teachers.

At institute, educators explore what teacher leadership looks like

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 25, 2014 03:40 PM

As the School District announced that it wanted teams of educators and others to submit plans for school overhaul, a group of young Philadelphia teachers was holding a summer institute on teacher leadership.

For three days this week, 18 of them met under the auspices of Teachers Lead Philly on the campus of Swarthmore College to discuss their challenges, draw from the wisdom of veterans, tell their stories and work on skills including mentoring, curriculum design, and writing for publication.

The path forward: Q&A with Chamber of Commerce's Rob Wonderling

By Bill Hangley Jr. on Jul 25, 2014 01:08 PM

As president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Rob Wonderling says that improving public education has become one of his group’s “top priorities.”

Where the chamber once focused primarily on things like summer internships and literacy programs, it is increasingly engaged with questions of leadership and finance. Wonderling served on the search committee that brought Superintendent William Hite to town. The chamber advised on the nomination and confirmation of School Reform Commission members Feather Houstoun, Pedro Ramos, Bill Green and Farah Jimenez. It has backed local property and sales tax increases. This summer it advocated on behalf of the proposed cigarette tax.

And now, the chamber has joined a coalition that will advise on a new funding formula. But unlike many, Wonderling is not convinced that the District faces a fundamental problem of underfunding.

Instead, he sees the formula discussions as a chance to rethink service delivery.

“You only get one shot to modernize core functions,” he says.

We asked Wonderling to share his thoughts on the business community’s interest in education, the prospects for funding increases and shale taxes, and the coming debates over what should be spent and how.

From the archives: School District implements daily weapons searches

By thenotebook on Jul 25, 2014 11:09 AM

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 1999 print edition:


by Paul Socolar

Philadelphia 's school safety problems took center stage this fall after the shooting of an assistant principal in a scuffle with a Bartram student and the murder of a King High School 10th grader outside school, both in October. 

State commission on basic education funding begins its work

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 24, 2014 09:12 PM

The state legislature's Basic Education Funding Commission held its first meeting Thursday, with the goal of creating a school funding formula that one member said would be "focused on children and their best interests."

Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that do not have a predictable education funding formula based on student enrollment and characteristics.The distribution of more than $5.5 billion in state aid has some relationship to a district's size and wealth, but does not account for enrollment fluctuations or what is needed to insure at least basic adequacy of services for all students. 

Students find calm through mindfulness and guided meditation

By Stephanie Marudas for NewsWorks on Jul 24, 2014 04:51 PM

Mindfulness meditation might be the new yoga, but does it have a place in the classroom?

Skipping recess to meditate might not be what most kids would choose to do. But in the lunchroom at Isaac Sheppard Elementary School in North Philadelphia, a loud bunch of 3rd and 4th graders are about to get quiet. They gather around teacher Jamie Roberts. She's going to take them to her classroom for meditation club and gets their attention.

Common Core: What it is, what it isn't and why it's political

By Laura Waters for NewsWorks on Jul 24, 2014 03:39 PM

What a week for adversaries of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)! On July 22, Glenn Beck, the radio and TV personality, hosted "a live national night of action against the Common Core" called WE WILL NOT CONFORM and told Fox News' Sean Hannity that the Common Core was "creating millions of slaves."

The path forward: Q&A with civil rights lawyer Michael Churchill of PILCOP

By Bill Hangley Jr. on Jul 23, 2014 04:24 PM

Michael Churchill has worked as an attorney with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia for almost four decades, winning widespread recognition as one of the region’s most effective education advocates.

Twenty years ago, he helped bring a landmark desegregation case to what he thought was a successful conclusion, when Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith ordered the Philadelphia School District to step funding for struggling schools citywide.

But what followed was a state takeover and a host of experiments in private management and school choice, and system-wide inequities persist to this day. We asked Churchill to reflect on the current budget proposal, its potential impact on schools, and the legal strategies that could be used to stabilize the District’s finances for the long term.

Appeal hearing delayed in case of MLK student's football eligibility

By Brian Hickey for NewsWorks on Jul 23, 2014 11:59 AM

Wednesday's scheduled appeal hearing to determine the football eligibility of a student who transferred to Martin Luther King High School in March has been postponed until next month.

Robert A. Lombardi, executive director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), told NewsWorks on Tuesday that scheduling conflicts for the principals of MLK (William Wade) and George Washington High School (Gene Jones) led to the delay.

Roadblocks to child care snag Philadelphia's student parents

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Jul 23, 2014 09:23 AM

A recent survey found that there are about 15,000 young Philadelphians lacking a high school diploma who are not currently enrolled in school or employed.

To better understand the "why" behind this number, the advocacy group Public Citizens for Children and Youth studied how access to child care for young parents affects high school completion rates.

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