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Education groups at odds over study of Philly schools' performance

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Dec 16, 2014 05:26 PM

An influential school reform group is urging Philadelphia District leaders to approve every charter applicant that can effectively run schools serving a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

Last week, District officials heard pitches from operators hoping to open 40 new charter schools across the city.

Ground rules set for 2nd round of charter hearings in January

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 16, 2014 05:24 PM

The School District has established the ground rules for a second round of hearings on charter school applications next month.

According to an email from the District's Charter Schools Office, each of the 40 applications will get a two-hour hearing. Last week, the applicants went through a first round of hearings in front of a District hearing officer, in which they had 15 minutes apiece to make their case.

Pa. auditor backs off state Department of Education

By Mary Wilson for NewsWorks on Dec 16, 2014 09:43 AM

It appears that the tensions have subsided, at least for the moment, between the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the commonwealth's fiscal watchdog.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale blasted the agency earlier this month for being uncooperative with a performance review.

District won't propose any school closings this year

By David Limm on Dec 15, 2014 06:26 PM

For the second year in a row, School District of Philadelphia officials will not be proposing any closures of District schools.

"At this time, we are not making any recommendations to close schools next year," School District spokesperson Fernando Gallard confirmed in an email, without elaboration.

South Philadelphia High drives toward becoming a community school

By Payne Schroeder on Dec 15, 2014 11:48 AM

For Kamoy Gumbs, a senior at South Philadelphia High School, the school day doesn’t end after the final bell. Instead, he heads up to the third floor to do some homework in the school’s teen lounge before he trades his pencil for an apron.

“I love cooking, and one of my friends told me about it, so I came over,” said Gumbs, 17, who takes part in a culinary arts program after school provided by Sunrise of Philadelphia, a social services organization. “I started in 10th grade -- it’s my third year. I go every day.”

Southern, as the school is often called, has been working with local service providers like Sunrise for three years to provide afterschool programming and social services inside its building for students, parents, and, when it can, other community members.

ASPIRA charter provider on thin ice, School District says

By Bill Hangley Jr. for NewsWorks on Dec 13, 2014 08:46 AM

Philadelphia School District officials say time is running out for ASPIRA of Pennsylvania to resolve a host of fiscal concerns that could jeopardize its future as one of the city's largest charter providers.

"We've had numerous requests for them to provide information and address those concerns," said Lauren Thum of the District's Charter School Office. "And while we received verbal indication that they are working on them, they have not submitted anything officially in writing back to us in response."

School District expects more high school applications with new online process

By Laura Benshoff for NewsWorks on Dec 13, 2014 08:45 AM

For the first time, Philadelphia's high school selection application -- used by about 60 percent of District students to apply to up to five schools outside their neighborhoods -- is entirely online.

It's a matter of convenience for the District and the students, according to Karyn Lynch, the District's chief of student services.

The process makes things easier on the District by cutting out time-consuming data entry, she said, adding that parents can access the application on smartphones or other mobile devices.

Head of state charter coalition: Not sure of size of waiting lists

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 12, 2014 04:58 PM

The head of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools said Friday that there is no way of knowing whether the claim is accurate that 40,000 students in Philadelphia now are on charter school waiting lists. 

Is the number larger? is it smaller? Is it close? What is the relationship between the number of names on lists and the actual number of students waiting to get into charters?

Can't say, according to Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. 

Staying true to their code at Penn Alexander, students master programming

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Dec 12, 2014 04:32 PM

Friday is the final day of Computer Science Education Week – where educators nationwide work to spark students' interest in what it takes to create the digital world around us.

Some students in Philadelphia have risen to the occasion, turning their classroom into a DIY arcade.

At the Penn Alexander School, video games are actually part of the curriculum -- not playing them, but creating them.

The effect of student 'opt-outs' on schools

By Jessica K. Beaver and Lucas Westmaas on Dec 12, 2014 12:19 PM

The uproar against standardized testing has been getting louder in Philadelphia over the last few years. Recently, activists have been wielding a relatively new term in their vocabulary: “opting out.”

The term can be confusing, as it can mean two things. In one sense, it can refer to parents who use a provision in state regulation to exempt their children from taking state tests, including the PSSAs and the Keystones. In another sense, it can refer to entire schools or districts that decide not to distribute the tests in the first place.

City Council recently heard testimony from educators and activists who argued that high-stakes testing and budget cuts have upended any premise of a fair accountability system. Council yesterday passed a resolution in support of scaling back standardized testing in the School District of Philadelphia and asking the state for a waiver from the Keystone exams.

From the archives: Allegations of test improprieties cropping up across country

By the Notebook on Dec 12, 2014 10:32 AM

The Notebook launched in 1994 as a newspaper committed to ensuring quality and equity in Philadelphia public schools. We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first publication earlier this year. 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.

This piece is from the Spring 2003 print edition:


by Ajuah Helton

 In Rhode Island, teachers in some schools kept copies of previous years' exams and used them to prepare students for the 1999 state assessment.

• In New York City, a teacher was fired in 1999 after allegedly "sneaking a peek" at the state English test, discovering that the essay question concerned Cubist art, and giving her fourth-grade students a lecture on Cubism the day before the test. The teacher was one of nine employees reprimanded.

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