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Only six providers approved for 'turnaround'

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 5, 2010 07:31 PM

The School District has approved just six of 28 providers who applied to lead "turnaround" efforts under the Renaissance Schools initiative at low-performing schools:

  1. ASPIRA, Inc., of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  2. Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Philadelphia
  3. Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now, Baltimore, Md.
  4. Mastery Charter Schools, Philadelphia
  5. Universal Companies, Philadelphia
  6. Young Scholars Charter School, Philadelphia

Benjamin Rayer, who is overseeing the Renaissance Schools project for the District, said that the District's review team determined that these six were "high-quality teams" that demonstrated the capacity to do the specific work of school turnaround, had financial stability, and a good design.
 
The applicants also had to show a "track record" of success in turnarounds, according to the District's specifications.
 
All but Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now applied to run the schools under a charter model. The Hopkins team said it would run an "innovation" school, meaning it would choose the staff, but work under the union contract - this despite the fact that the District had said outside providers would have to hire their own employees.
 
No more than half the existing staff in an innovation school could be rehired.
 
ASPIRA and Congreso both run charter schools that have been successful in making "adequate yearly progress (AYP)," (though ASPIRA's second charter, Pantoja, did not make AYP in its first year last spring). Both have a "strong community presence," Rayer said. AYP represents state test score improvement goals created under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
 
Mastery Charter has taken over three city middle schools (Thomas, Shoemaker, and Pickett), which District officials said have made AYP each year of their existence (but in fact, Pickett did not make AYP in 2008). Mastery's start-up charter school in Center City, Mastery Lenfest, has made AYP in four of its six years.
 
Universal, part of Kenny Gamble's operation in South Philadelphia, runs a charter school, Universal Institute, that has made AYP for the past four years and runs two regular public schools as an "education management organization (EMO)," E.M. Stanton Elementary School and Vare Middle School. Universal took on management of those schools in 2002 after the state takeover, as well as a third school, Peirce, that has since closed.
 
While E.M. Stanton has done well, Vare has been in so-called "corrective action 2" status for seven consecutive years, showing little if any improvement under Universal's management.
 
Rayer commented, "They have had mixed success in the EMO model, but the charter model has worked well." He said the EMO model itself might be more of the problem than Universal's management because there is less autonomy. "We have said it is not a perfect model. We felt that this is a program with some strong successes that was worth learning more about."
 
Young Scholars runs a charter middle school in North Philadelphia that has made AYP for three of the last four years.
 
"They had an interesting story of having turned around their own school," Rayer said. "The founding CEO had left, the school got badly off track, and they were able to regroup with a new CEO. They also have a track record of strong community and parent engagement."
 
The Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now project runs three schools in Baltimore and one in Chicago using principles of early intervention and Talent Development, a program that concentrates on transforming the ninth grade experience and has been used with some success in several District schools, including Strawberry Mansion. It also has a middle school early intervention program in Feltonville Arts and Sciences Middle School.
 
The District doesn't immediately plan to release the list of unsuccessful applicants -- although EdisonLearning, former Edison Schools, was one of them. Its local manager, Todd McIntire, said last week that it had applied. Unlike EdisonLearning, all the approved providers are nonprofits.
 
The District also released a new timetable for deciding which of the 14 Renaissance Eligible schools will become Promise Academies -- a group of "turnarounds" under a team led by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman -- and which will be put through the process of matching them with one of these six providers.
 
The Promise Academies will be announced on March 26.
 
Rayer said that next week, the principals of all the schools will be asked to schedule community meetings so parents and others can learn about the Promise Academy model.
 
Rayer said that while each Renaissance School and Promise Academy will have an advisory council, those councils won't begin work until after the District has given the school a designation -- Promise Academy, Renaissance School, or deferred.
 
"The school community will have input, just not through the school advisory councils," Rayer said.
 
Ackerman has emphasized that the Promise Academy model, which incorporates the controversial Corrective Reading and Corrective Math programs, would not be imposed on schools. She has described that turnaround approach as a prescriptive model.
 
Carly Bolger, manager of the Renaissance Schools initiative, said that the four-person group that rated the provider applications consisted of a District official, a principal, a retired teacher and a member of the Renaissance Advisory Board. The District does not plan to release the names of the individuals on the panel.

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Comments (14)

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on March 5, 2010 10:33 pm

What I am wondering is if the School District will make the "turnaround" schools keep the children that the schools already have? Young Scholars, for example, tells children and families that they "are not a good match" and sends them back to their neighborhood schools. These providers should not be allowed to turf out the children who belong to the school's catchment area.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 5, 2010 11:00 pm

"does not plan to release the names"

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 5, 2010 11:55 pm

How is it that these decisions are being made under cover of darkness? That is patently undemocratic. There should be an immediate call for the release of the names of the panel making this decision.

Public education must remain public.

Submitted by Philly HS Teacher (not verified) on March 6, 2010 4:37 am

I assume, based on the local "providers" selected, politics played as much of a role as "achievement." For example Universal Companies charter school does not have significantly different test scores than a neighborhood school (Child's). Universal has only 2 reporting categories for AYP - Economically disadvantages and African American - while Child's has IEP (special ed), ELL (English Language Learners), African American, Asian American, and economically disadvantaged. (The more reporting categories, the harder it is to make AYP). Why doesn't Universal have enough students with an IEP to include it as a category for making AYP - that means they have less than 40 students in a K-8 school with an IEP? Are the students with an IEP sent to Child's? Young Scholars Charter is the same - only two reporting categories (African American and economically disadvantaged) but no IEP. Aspira's Antonia Pantoja Community Charter school has very low PSSA scores - 8.2% for ELL/reading and 6.1% ELL/math and 33.5% overall for reading and 35.7% for math. Aspira's school that made AYP - DeHostos - has no reporting categories for ELL and IEP - only, like Universal, two categories (economically disadvantaged and, in this case, Latino/a). (Regarding "economically disadvantaged," I don't know if any Philadelphia charter or SDP school doesn't have the "economically disadvantaged category - even Masterman has the category).

The "turn around" model apparently supported the SDP is a longer day, longer year, Saturday school and scripted curricula. This apparently works at Mastery (although they do not use Corrective Reading and Math - bless them!) But, only one Mastery school had enough students for more than 2 AYP reporting categories - Pickett - and, guess what, Pickett is the only Mastery school with enough students with an IEP to have this as a reporting category. So, can even Mastery "turn around" a school with a lot of students with an IEP.... apparently not.

This DOESN'T mean the charter schools aren't filling a need in the community. Charter schools are an important alternative for many families. They are particularly important for many of us who can't afford to live in neighborhoods with safe, "successful" schools. (Yes, there is a correlation between income/housing costs of a Philadelphia neighborhood and "academic success" - just look at the "Vanguard" list.) Some charter schools also offer unique curricula (e.g. language/culture immersion, environmental / outward bound focus, work based program, etc.) Also, this DOESN'T mean PSSA scores should define a school - they are one - often very unfair- measure of a school. It just means that the selected "turn around" specialist may not be able to "turn around" a school unless they eliminate most students with learning challenges.

If anyone wants to look up the test scores - http://paayp.emetric.net/

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on March 6, 2010 9:25 am

As I have said many times, Charters, even the best ones, have always been able to get rid of students ( and parents) who don't "get with the program". The Ren. Schools are neighborhood schools with a catchment area and the providers MUST be REQUIRED to honor that catchment area just like all other public schools. In other words, no long application process, no "suggesting" to families whose kids need an or mental health services IEP that they "would be better off" elsewhere. These are things that these named providers do now. I know because many of the kids who are kicked out of charters run by these providers end up in my school. Philly HS teacher, is absolutely right, the more subgroups (reporting categories) you have for PSSAs, the harder it is to make it. It will be interesting to see how these providers can do on a level playing field (if indeed it will be level)--once they all add an IEP recording category, we will see how it plays out. Our school has a large IEP recording category--we are committed to these students and work intensively with them....but it is almost always this category that hampers our AYP. Can the providers do better when and if they are forced to???

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on March 6, 2010 2:23 pm

The School District's Renaissance plan explcitly says that EMOs and CMOs must take all the students who attended the school previously and who live in the school's defined area.   Furthermore these schools are supposed to follow the same guidelines as regular neighborhood schools regarding student transfers.   Some, like the Teacher Action Group, have called for greater transparency and strict monitoring of these providers to insure these policies are followed.  The lack of transparency about the process to date and the indications that politics, as Philly High School teadher indicated, was at work in the selection process doesn't generate much optimism on this point. 

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on March 6, 2010 9:13 am

(Corrected) As I have said many times, Charters, even the best ones, have always been able to get rid of students ( and parents) who don't "get with the program". The Ren. Schools are neighborhood schools with a catchment area and the providers MUST be REQUIRED to honor that catchment area just like all other public schools. In other words, no long application process, no "suggesting" to families whose kids need an IEP or mental health services that they "would be better off" elsewhere. These are things that these named providers do now. I know because many of the kids who are kicked out of charters run by these providers end up in my school. Philly HS teacher, is absolutely right, the more subgroups (reporting categories) you have for PSSAs, the harder it is to make it. It will be interesting to see how these providers can do on a level playing field (if indeed it will be level)--once they all add an IEP recording category, we will see how it plays out. Our school has a large IEP recording category--we are committed to these students and work intensively with them....but it is almost always this category that hampers our AYP. Can the providers do better when and if they are forced to???

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2010 11:28 am

A recent report from Research for Action noted that Philadelphia has a tiered system of schools, with neighborhood schools at the bottom. The claim that the increase in school types has increased choice and benefits Philadelphia students and parents is a mirage. Schools with any sort of admission criteria or lottery and with no obligation to take and keep neighborhood children actually choose their students, not the other way around. As a result, the neighborhood schools must deal with the range of issues that kids bring. In addition, they have the least resources to accomplish that more daunting task. Now, the Renaissance plan is a "blaming the victim" approach, with the false assumption that you can "turn around" an individual school when that school's struggle is a result of structural/systemic factors -- brought about by the tiered system we have allowed since 2001 the SRC and district leaders to create. Outsourcing and increasing numbers of charters, the favoring of politically connected groups as managers -- in contrast to the denial of grass-roots and community based organizations the same chance to take control of their schools -- has been shown in other cities, including New York, Chicago, and New Orleans, to further disadvantage those children and their families with the most needs, to further diminish parent and community voices, and further to weaken neighborhoods. As Philadelphians, we must take back control of our schools from the state and from outside technocrats who have their own self-interests to serve rather than ours. Come to a rally at 440 N. Broad at 3 on Wednesday, March 10 to support West Philadelphia High School's effort to get off of the Renaissance list, to be able to continue its own efforts supported by its community to improve the outcomes for its students. This is our right - to collectively voice our objection to a system on the wrong track.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2010 12:26 pm

Suggestion: how about ensuring through accountability and transparency measures that the "providers" be required to have equivalency in the "subgroups" (what an Orwellian term) that they serve comparable to the neighborhood schools surrounding them. That's fair, isn't it? The providers should have comparable percentages of students with IEP's, ELL students, and the ethnic diversity of the surrounding communities. Additionally, demand accountability *not only* for the students *entering* the school, but for the students *exiting* the school. Public data should be made available about students expelled and transferred out of the school. Simply saying that "student mobility has decreased" since a certain provider took over a school does not necessarily indicate that provider has kept more students in the school - in fact it is more likely greater evidence that the student population has shifted toward more stable families while crowding or pushing out the other students. However, currently no actual data on these claims is made public. Additionally, we must all start to take the long view (and the hindsight view) that not everyone is on an equal playing field, and the process begun in 2001 has led to a domino effect - 1) create small islands of schools with relatively less challenges, 2) create loopholes for weeding out kids with IEP's, ELL's, etc, 3) "counsel" out/don't accept those more challenging students 4) pushing those students into the neighborhood schools which don't have those loopholes 5) seeding the ground for further "chronically failing" schools to be handed over to providers who start the cycle all over again and 6) get to a "tipping point" where politically and in the court of public opinion there are "enough" "good" schools/charters/magnets/special schools that the neighborhood schools with the most dispossessed students are forgotten about all together.

Submitted by Philly HS Teacher (not verified) on March 6, 2010 8:12 pm

To be fair to charters, there are a number with many academic reporting categories* - including IEP and/or ELL - (the state records academic, participation in the test, and overall participation to determine the number of reporting categories versus just academic).

For example:

Christopher Columbus (K-8 ) - 10

First Phila Charter School for Literacy (K-8) - 12

Folk Arts (K-8) - 10

Independence Charter (K-8) - 12

Maritime (9-12?) - 12

ETC. (Again - Information is at http://paayp.emetric.net/

This number of academic reporting categories (versus total which includes participation for each subgroup and overall attendance for testing) is similar to

Bethune (K-8) - 10

Bregy (K-8) - 10

McCall (K-8) - 12

Ziegler (K-8) - 10

In contrast, Meredith Elementary and Penn Alexander, for example, do NOT have a reporting category for ELL or IEP and these are neighborhood schools . Also, Central, a very large school magnet school, does not have enough ELL (English Language Learners) nor students with an IEP in one grade (11th) to have them as a reporting category. In other words, out of the 600, more or less, 11th graders at Central who take the PSSA, there are less than 40 students with an IEP and or ELL. With neighborhood high schools, it depends on the diversity of the school and size (e.g. West has 6 academic reporting categories, Furness 8 and Northeast has 16.) The small magnet high schools vary - Science leadership has 6 reporting categories (NO ELL, IEP nor economically disadvantaged), Constitution HS has 4 (also no ELL, IEP nor economically disadvantaged) while CAPA has 8 (no ELL nor IEP.) GAMP (about 600 students) and Masterman (about 1200 students), a 5 - 12 schools also do not have any IEP and nor ELL.

So, the tracking described by Research for Action certainly isn't at the seat of charters - it permeates the SDP.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 7, 2010 1:23 pm

The fact that it permeates the SDP is the point of the RFA report. Charters are not even part of its analysis.

Submitted by Amanda (not verified) on March 7, 2010 4:40 pm

The hard data provided by Philly HS teacher is extremely useful. I hope that the Notebook and other Philadelphia journalists continue to weave this data into their regular daily news stories to provide context.

Otherwise we just get "horse race" reporting that tells us which providers are winning or losing, without any analysis. If the reporter writes a whole story without disclosing to the reader that two schools are using different definitions of "neighborhood" or "catchment area" or "student" or "transfer," then you might as well be comparing apples to goldfish, never mind apples to oranges.

Submitted by Philly HS Teacher (not verified) on March 7, 2010 5:35 pm

The data is available to the public - the web site doesn't require a password. The numbers highlight one of the many problems with AYP - keeping the number of reporting groups low (e.g. number of students with an IEP under 40) improves a school's chance of making AYP either in actuality (e.g. 63% proficient in reading) or by "safe harbor" (10% increase from previous year). I have a friend at a suburban district which "ensures" they don't have an ELL category by assigning students to a grade other than their actual grade (e.g. switch a 6th grader to 7th for the sake of testing). Yes, the nature of high stakes testing leads to "gaming" the system in many ways which has nothing to do with the kind of learning I thought was suppose to be nurtured in schools when I decided to become a teacher.

Submitted by Erika Owens on March 22, 2010 11:02 am

If you'd like to discuss the providers further, we just launched a forum for discussion of Renaissance Schools. This topic is about the six providers

We're testing it out as a single place to gather all these great conversations we've been having on individual blog posts and articles. Check it out and let us know what ya think. Thanks.

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