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Great Schools Compact set to reshape city's education landscape

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 27, 2012 04:04 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

Philadelphia already has some schools that are really good. So why not focus on sending those schools more money and more students?

Mark GleasonThat’s the basic challenge facing the District, says Mark Gleason, the executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership.

“Ideally, you could channel students and dollars out of programs and schools that are not getting the job done. We have plenty of those in Philadelphia,” said Gleason. “The goal should be to move those tax dollars and those kids into better performing schools.”

If you want to understand the seismic shifts that are already transforming the city’s educational landscape, you’d be wise to pay attention to Gleason. Through PSP, he has been facilitating the work of the city’s new Great Schools Compact, which commits the District to replacing or transforming 50,000 seats in low-performing schools with better options, many of which are likely to be in charters.

During an extensive interview last week with the Notebook/NewsWorks, Gleason said the compact could go a long way towards relieving the pent-up demand for more high-quality schools among Philadelphia families.

“Parents are definitely frustrated,” he said. “They don’t understand, why, if we have examples of schools that are really good, why we can’t have more of them."

One of the compact’s central strategies is to increase the number of students in high-performing charter schools. That could mean issuing new charters. It could also mean expanding the enrollments of existing charter schools and converting more low-performing District schools into Renaissance charters.  

All these options would be welcomed by the many Philadelphia charter operators who are chomping at the bit to expand, said Gleason.

“What we have is a system where charter operators who have done a really good job have been limited in their ability to grow the number of students they serve, and so that’s created a lot of frustration,” he said.

Gleason stresses that PSP wants to see a “proliferation” of successful District-run schools, too.

So far, though, it appears the compact has found little traction on that front.

The District is “very interested in that topic, but I’m not sure how far along they are, honestly,” said Gleason.

He discussed the example of E.M. Stanton Elementary, a District-run neighborhood school with a history of strong academic performance, a hugely successful arts program, and a dedicated parent following. Rather than seek to expand Stanton, however, the District has targeted it for closure, largely because it is small and located in an ancient building.

The expectation should be that the School Reform Commission “find a way to make a high-performing school continue to exist,” said Gleason. However, as it stands now, he said, Stanton is “a money loser” for the District. Keeping the “culture,” rather than the building, should be the priority, he said.

A Great Schools Compact Committee chaired by Mayor Nutter’s Chief Education Officer and including School Reform Commissioners Joseph Dworetzky and Pedro Ramos, as well as a number of charter operators, has already begun work. The committee will be recommending changes to the District’s School Performance Index, used to rate both District and charter schools. It is also exploring ways to make vacant and underutilized District facilities more accessible to charters. 

Despite the significance of those issues, the committee does not include any parents, teachers, or advocates for traditional public schools, and its meetings are closed to the public. Gleason addressed those concerns by saying the group is focused on the “internal workings of schools” and is not actually making policy.

“It’s certainly not the intention of the compact that stuff is going to get fast-tracked behind closed doors and come up for a vote without public consideration,” he said. “We’re asking charter school people and District people to put all their cards on the table… In some cases, that’s information that doesn’t belong in the public sector yet.”

Much of the work to be done, said Gleason, is breaking down the mistrust and adversarial relationships that have developed between the District and charter operators. 

First and foremost, he said, that means hammering on the message that charter schools are public schools, too.

“We have to get beyond this idea that charter schools are somehow taking away from the public sector,” Gleason stressed. “They are part of the public sector.”

Despite the District’s budget crisis, Gleason thinks the SRC’s decision to hire a Chief Recovery Officer and a high-profile management consultant to lead a massive restructuring effort will support the goals of the compact.

“We have a big bureaucratic system with a lot of facilities and a lot of overhead and a lot of taxpayer dollars tied up in all of that,” said Gleason. “If you can stop spending money on stuff that isn’t working, that’s where you can free up the money to spend on what is working or what can work.”

To see and hear more about the Great Schools Compact and the expansion of high-performing charter schools, check out Benjamin Herold’s radio report for WHYY.

An edited transcript of the full interview with Gleason follows.

Herold: What is Philadelphia School Partnership’s role in the Great Schools Compact?

Gleason: We are the facilitators …We have played a convening role in bringing [together] charter operators and representatives of the School District, as well as the mayor’s office and the governor’s office, to forge this agreement that’s all about breaking down the adversarial relationship that has existed between charter and District schools.

Herold: What is the landscape in Philadelphia right now in terms of the ability to expand high-performing schools options?

Gleason: The landscape right now is that the District has a very severe financial crisis on its hands, and that makes all sorts of planning very difficult…

We have a big bureaucratic system with a lot of facilities and a lot of overhead and a lot of taxpayer dollars tied up in all of that. And so freeing up those dollars to facilitate shifting students more aggressively into new or already existing, but high-performing, schools is really challenging. 

The District, in hiring a Chief Recovery Officer and a restructuring firm to try to address the District’s financial woes, is trying to get ahead of that so they can get to a point where they can…be more proactive in terms of outlining a strategy.

Herold: How much demand is there among parents for these high-performing seats?

Gleason: The majority of families in Philadelphia wish they had more high-quality school options…

Parents are definitely frustrated. They don’t understand, why, if we have examples of schools that are really good, why we can’t have more of them.

Herold: What is the landscape in Philadelphia right now for charter school operators?

Gleason: Philadelphia is a paradox. It is one of the cities that most aggressively embraced charters when the movement got going 15 or so years ago. Today, we have more than 80 charter schools. About one quarter of the public school enrollment in the city is in charter schools, which is pretty near the top of the list for large cities in America…

However, it’s been a number of years since the city has issued any new charters. There’s been a clamp down…

What we have is a system where charter operators who have done a really good job have been limited in their ability to grow the number of students they serve, and so that’s created a lot of frustration.

Herold: What do you hear from operators of high-performing charters who want to expand but can’t?

Gleason: The biggest frustration is that the District has not been clear about the process for applying, getting decisions, and knowing why or why not a request for expansion has been approved. There’s a deep perception among charter CEO’s that the District has changed the rules year after year to fit their fiscal situation at that particular moment in time. So it’s hard for charter schools to plan, it’s hard for them to know when they’re going to get answers from the District.

Herold: How do you think the city and District should be operating with regard to expanding the number and size of high-performing charter schools in Philadelphia?

Gleason: Ideally, you could channel students and dollars out of programs and schools that…are not getting the job done. We have plenty of those in Philadelphia, so those are really taxpayer dollars that are being wasted. The goal should be to move those tax dollars and those kids into better-performing schools, better-performing programs, so that taxpayers are getting a better return on their investment and we’re getting a better-educated citizenry as a long term result. 

To the extent that we have high-performing schools in the city, be they traditional District schools, magnet schools, [or] charter schools, we should be looking at ways to expand their capacity to serve more kids so that we can pull kids out of schools that have consistently not been effective in educating students.

Herold: What are some of the concerns about trying to help charter schools expand more?

Gleason: The main one we hear about is the cost, because that’s what we hear from the District. Certainly, the teachers’ union has concerns about charter schools because they cut into employment for their members who work for traditional District schools. Those are probably the two biggest issues.

You also hear criticisms that charter schools as a group have not been demonstrated to be any more effective than traditional public schools as a group. There’s a ton of data out there, none of it very conclusive on this point.

Herold: What about the concern that expanding charters weakens the District’s ability to serve its own students?

Gleason: For that analysis to be true, then [before] charter schools, the District would have had to have been firing on all cylinders, and clearly it was not. This was a District that the state felt compelled to take over because of a lack of performance and because it felt like it wasn’t being financially well managed in the late 1990s. So I don’t think that argument holds any water. 

It is true that in cities that have been very aggressive about charter school expansion, in some case there has been a lack of focus on traditional district schools, and they have really lagged. That’s something we have to watch out for in Philadelphia. But there are cities where that has not been the case. New York City is probably the best example.

You can do both well. What’s happened in Philadelphia…is that people get bogged down in this charter-District tension, which is really a problem, because it takes focus away from what you should be concentrating on, which is how you make both kinds of schools better.

Herold: Is there enough capacity and money in the District right now to facilitate the growth of high-performing charters and also maintain a high level of functioning in the hundreds of District schools?

Gleason: The School District has almost a $3-billion budget, which is a ton of money…. The challenge for the District is to suck as much cost [as possible] out of that system that’s not yielding results. There’s got to be a lot of it. If you can stop spending money on stuff that isn’t working, that’s where you can free up the money to spend on what is working or what can work…

I think the big first step, which the District has just taken by hiring this restructuring firm and bringing in a Chief Recovery Officer, is to dramatically look at how can we reshape the bureaucracy of our system so that it costs less and channels more money out to schools. The goal is to get more money into the classroom.

Herold: What would you say to those who are concerned that there might a public good that is getting lost in all this? 

Gleason: I think high-performing schools, no matter who the provider, are a vital part of communities…

Charter schools are public schools… We have to get beyond this idea that charter schools are somehow taking away from the public sector. They are part of the public sector.

Herold: A new policy brief from Temple University’s Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project looks at how charters have tended to locate on commercial corridors rather than in the heart of neighborhoods. The authors make the argument that the growth of charters is contributing to a severing of the connection between schools and neighborhoods. What is your take on that?

Gleason: I think it’s a valid point…One of the objectives of the compact is for charter growth to become part of the overall conversation about educational planning in the city. And so one of the models I think you’ll see happen in the future is charters will be allowed to expand in exchange for an agreement to primarily take students from a catchment area, so you end up with more of a neighborhood sort of school…

The opportunity is to coordinate planning between District and charter operators so you can identify those neighborhoods where we want to have an anchor…We need a more coordinated conversation to make sure we have coverage throughout the city. 

Herold: A Great Schools Compact Committee has already begun having that conversation. Why aren’t parents, teachers, and advocates for traditional public schools involved in those discussions?

Gleason: They’re not at the table because this is really about the internal workings of schools. I think there’s some confusion in that larger community that the compact committee is a policy-making body. It’s not. The School Reform Commission remains the policy-making body…They are the ones who are responsible and accountable to the public…

We’re asking charter school people and District people to put all their cards on the table, the reasons why they’ve made certain decisions. And in some cases, that’s information that doesn’t belong in the public sector yet, because it’s work product. It’s not a recommendation and it’s not a policy yet. 

Herold: Allow me to play devil’s advocate to the notion that the compact committee is not setting policy. Because you have two members of the SRC on the committee, it stands to reason for many that whatever comes out of the committee is likely going to be approved by the SRC, whether or not the public has had its chance to really weigh in. 

Gleason: The responsibility lies with the SRC to make sure the adequately give the public opportunity to provide input on things they’re going to vote on…It’s certainly not the intention of the compact that stuff is going to get fast-tracked behind closed doors and come up for a vote without public consideration.

Herold: That’s not what you see happening now?

Gleason: No. What we’re doing now is very early stage work…we’re trying to identify those areas where we think the District and the charter schools have the most potential for collaboration that could be mutually productive.

Herold: It seems as though one objective of the compact committee is to find ways to make District facilities more accessible to charter operators. Is it as simple as that?

Gleason: Facilities is a big question because the District has lots of empty buildings, or underutilized buildings. We’re going to be surveying schools about their level of interest in occupying those buildings….

There’s a potentially mutual benefit. The District wants to shed some of the cost associated with these underutilized buildings, and charter schools are actively acquiring or leasing buildings as they expand…

One of the things we’re hoping will come out of the compact is [determining] if there’s a win-win here where charter operators can start to occupy some of these unused District buildings…It makes sense to have a taxpayer-financed school located in a taxpayer owned building. 

Herold: Accountability appears to be another key conversation being had by the compact committee. What’s happening on that front?

Gleason: Right now, District and charter schools are measured annually on the School Performance Index…There have been a lot of complaints from charters about the formula, about the way the various components of that formula are weighted. 

From my perspective, a lot of those complaints are really rooted in the fact that the District built a pretty solid instrument with the SPI, but did a poor job of communicating how it was built. There was a lot misinformation and perceived lack of transparency in the charter community. So we’ve tried to work through some of that. 

One of the tasks the compact committee has taken on is to recommend to the SRC some improvements in the accountability framework. Right now, the committee is gathering information, trying to get a sense of…what are the frustrations with the current instrument. We’re also talking to some experts in the field about what are other cities using, how does that differ from what we’re doing, what are the statistical weaknesses and strengths of what we’ve got here. So we’re really at a fact-finding stage.

Herold: It appears to some to be a conflict of interest for charter operators to be shaping potential changes to the measure that is used to hold them accountable.

Gleason: The District is very much involved. And part of the problem with SPI the way it is today is that charter operators were not enough part of the conversation when it was first developed…

We took the mayor and some SRC members to Denver in early January on a learning expedition. One of the things we learned there is they have a very similar accountability framework in Denver that was developed largely by the charters with District input. As a result, the charters have embraced that instrument much differently than they have here in Philadelphia. 

Herold: Talk to me about the strategies that are being discussed right now for how the District can replicate its own high-performing schools.

Gleason: We’re trying to push the District to think about how can you expand the number of students you serve in some of your other kinds of high-performing schools. They’re very interested in that topic, but I’m not sure how far along they are, honestly.

You just saw a report…about the promise that is being seen in the Promise Academy turnaround model that the District is using. I expect we’ll hear more about that in the coming months. 

Herold: From the outside, it’s confusing. You look at a District-run school E.M. Stanton that is high-performing and doing well, and it’s actually targeted for closure. Doesn’t that play into the skepticism that the Compact is a vehicle for charters, but not for District schools?

Gleason: Stanton is an interesting case. It’s a high-performing school, has a very loyal and passionate parent community. However, it’s a money loser for the District. Enrollment is under 250 students, the building is expensive and inefficient to maintain. 

[PSP is] not really a central party in that conversation, but we’ve been pushing the idea that a school is not just the building it sits in. What really makes a school is the leadership of the school, the culture of the school, parent engagement in the school…

The challenge here is don’t close an asset for the wrong reasons. The opportunity is to find a building, find a situation, where that school can continue to thrive and serve more students. Is there a building nearby where you can make that school 350 or 400 students, which is a more efficient size for the District to operate, but keep the culture, keep the leadership team, keep the staff, keep the parent engagement? 

A successful school is the sum of many ingredients. We have to get away from the notion that it’s these four walls that define what a school is. 

Herold: Do you think the District has the capacity to make that kind of solution happen?

Gleason: On its own, no. That’s why we formed PSP. 

The community has to own this kind of problem, at the end of the day. The business community, the philanthropic community, the parent community – these are our schools. We all have to own this together. 

The SRC are the people who have been chosen to lead the effort, but they’re just five people who have day jobs. We have to support them, push them, hold them accountable when they make decisions for the wrong reasons, and make clear to them what our expectation is: that you’ll find a way to make a high-performing school continue to exist.

Herold: How do you think the city is going to look different in five years as the result of all the changes that are percolating up now?

Gleason: I think you will see a much smaller central office. You will see schools having more autonomy over the way they run the school and how they spend the dollars that go to that school. I think you will see more schools being closed that are considered chronically failing…and I think you will see more aggressive expansion of some of the higher performing charter schools. I think you will finally see some more new charter schools coming online. But I also think you will see the District aggressively look to expand in some of the District’s higher performing schools, or replicating those models…

What we hope is that across both sectors, there is going to be a proliferation of different school models that are high-performing.

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Comments (54)

Submitted by tom-104 on February 27, 2012 4:45 pm

“We have to get beyond this idea that charter schools are somehow taking away from the public sector,” Gleason stressed. “They are part of the public sector."

Just because charters are taking tax dollars does not mean they are the same as public schools. What is their corporate structure, what is the salary of their CEO, must they abide by labor and environmental regulations? If not, they are not public schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 5:31 pm

You beat me to it. This is such a farce, a disgraceful, especially nasty farce too. Pretending to help kids so they can line their pockets with money designed for education of the inner city children. Of course, the SRC means Public Ed. no good. I'm more than ready to fight this, where's Jerry Jordan?? At this rate, in 5 years, there will be no more Pubic Ed. in Philly. Tell me where I'm wrong.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 27, 2012 10:16 pm

The whole premise of the Great Schools Compact is not public. It's being pushed by the Gates Foundation which has a very specific agenda. The reason that public schools are public is they shouldn't be influenced by markets and funded by foundations with agendas.

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on February 28, 2012 8:58 am

What business does this guy have being on the charter compact committee? Who is he? I read his history and his bio. He is not an educator. He has no expertise in anything. He is obviously another know little privatizer coming here from the outside to exploit the situation to line his pockets. Who funds PSP?

What a disgrace this show is becoming and our leaders are falling for it hook, line and sinker. The more I study these people who are driving education policy in Philadelphia the more it turns my stomach.

The more he speaks, the more he shows how little he knows about education and how dishonest he is about the issues of privatization. We need people leading our educational community who have shown a commitment to Philadelphia and a commitment to education, not their own agenda or the agenda of Gates.

This guy has shown a history of serving himself and his pockets. He needs to go home to North Jersey and leave Philadelphia to Philadelphians and real educators. This is getting Faustian now.

I feel so sorry for our children, their parents and our true Philadelphian dedicated educators.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 27, 2012 5:04 pm

Interesting. Good job Ben. There are issues upon issues which must be sorted in a public manner and in a credible, open, honest, inclusive and transparent way.

An essential question of school governance and leadership is: How do we create viable governance structures which "set the conditions" to ensure that the "best interests of the children and their school community" standard is, in reality, the guiding principle that governs our schools?

There are no easy answers, Mr. Gleason.... of that I am sure.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 6:48 pm

Again, you are giving far too much credit and credence to these slithering types. Their bottom line is profit margin. Caring about the kids, neighborhoods, families etc. mean absolutely nothing to them so why even go there? They laugh at people like you who still don't see the forest through the trees.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 27, 2012 6:28 pm

I get a kick out of your reply. I assure you I am well aware of the issues of the privatization of our public schools and that I have my eyes wide open in all of this.

I just believe there are "enough good people" in our community and our profession who really do care about our children, our community, our profession, and our democracy. And if I am wrong, what does it say about us?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 7:11 pm

I know you get it. I hope you're right about all these good folks everywhere. I remember Joey Coyle saying, Money Talks and ..............Walks. Or as The Watergate Folks said--Follow The Money. Or as Woody Allen says, The Lion and The Lamb may lay together but the lamb won't get much sleep.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 7:25 pm

Or as Bob Dylan once said,, "Money doesn't talk, it swears!"

Submitted by Mark T. (not verified) on February 27, 2012 7:12 pm

I agree. Great Schools Contract, my ass !!! what a complete, total bunch of crap. Corporations deciding what's best for poor kids and why isn't Jordan screaming the same thing ?? I tire of Jesse Jackson rhyming so much but he's screaming in Chicago about all this along with the Teacher's Union Leader. Where's Foghorn Leghorn AKA Jordan ??

Submitted by SOS 60 on February 27, 2012 5:40 pm

Comments about E. M. Stanton are interesting. Some are correct and some are not. Enrollment figures used by the district and evidently used by Mr. Gleason do not include pre-K students in the building. District admits that they are not included. Stanton's counter-proposal has an aggressive plan to increase enrollment to 342. Also there seems to be broad brush strokes concluding that the building is a "money loser" w/o quoting hard facts and figures. Wouldn't it be more helpful for those concerned about dollars and cents and capacity and efficiency to speak in specific terms which could lead to solutions? Many charter schools are in "older buildings." Let's take Independence Charter for example. There building is 1909. Is it not a money loser because it has more students? When does a high performing school with the desirable qualities of the "good schools compact" such as Stanton, get some counterbalancing weight because it is high performing? Will we close all schools that are below 350 that are high performing and low performing over the next ten years. And will these ancient buildings be banned to charter schools that are looking for buildings that are already laid out to be schools?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 5:24 pm

The Charters will get whatever they want.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 6:32 pm

Christopher Columbus Charter is in old Catholic schools. The age of the building doesn't matter if it is properly maintained. Stanton is in a gentrifying neighborhood where property is at a premium. I assume this is another one of Kenny Gamble's / Universals "verbal agreements."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 6:29 pm

Exactly--You get it !!!! Gamble calls the shots down there, of course and all sensible people know it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 6:09 pm

This time last year, people were interviewing at Promise Academies? Any thoughts on when we will find out what will be going on for next year. Just curious as all we're reading is about how much money the district is bleeding, yet they keep siphoning monies to the charters.
Not hearing anything this late in the game is starting to get me worried.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 6:34 pm

March 3 (Saturday) is the all-day hearing for affected schools on closing list. March 29 is date when SRC will give final ruling/decision.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 7:18 pm

Until we stop this money going to the charters, nothing good will happen. This SRC is likely worse than the last batch. They simply do as they want apparently and yes, where is Jerry Jordan's VOICE ?? By the way, you should be very worried.

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on February 28, 2012 10:40 am


Thanks for your comment.

Mr. Gleason did address the multiple perspectives that exist regarding the cost of charters to the District, saying that: 

"Charter schools get a little bit less money per pupil than a traditional District school, so their argument would be we’re doing a great job, we’re doing it for less money, that’s a good value for taxpayers, we should be growing faster. 
The District on the other hand is saying that we agree with all that, but the problem, particularly with lottery charters that have the ability to draw from all over the city, the District has very little ability to predict where students will get pulled from to go into a charter school. That makes it really hard for the District to realize the cost savings, because one charter school of 500 could pull from 40 different zipcodes, which means they’re not pulling any big chunk of students from any one school, and so the District is not really saving any cost as a result of that.

That’s the challenge, how do we bridge that."

Submitted by Concerned Philadelphian (not verified) on February 28, 2012 10:38 am

Has there been a report on a salary comparison (administration, teachers, support staff, maintenance, etc.) between charters and SDP schools? I'm sure some charters provide less compensation for teachers / staff than others. This obviously impacts costs.

Submitted by Mark T. (not verified) on February 28, 2012 6:09 pm

EVERY CHARTER pays the staff less in salary as well as in all forms of insurance. Also with no unions, the staff are a collection of worker bees, any or all of whom could be shot down for no reason at all. Is this what we want for the America of the future--to turn the clock back 110 years?? I think not.

P.S. By the way, Obama has the audacity to now to suck up to unions after ignoring us for more than 2 years. You gotta love him.

Submitted by SOS 60 on February 27, 2012 6:22 pm

Gleason: "Stanton is a hugely successful school." Let's look at why. How much of it is the building, the staff, the location, the history, the partnerships. And we are prepared to increase enrollment while not destroying what makes us a hugely successful school. Schools in the new world order will be different shapes and sizes. Someone tell us what is the threshold for not being a "money loser." And if we are hugely successful, does that counterbalance the so-called broad-brush label "money loser," which by the way, no one has broken down for us. For those so concerned about numbers, dollars and sense, it's curious that we can't seem to get that figure.
Anyone from the Compact, PSP and elected officials (as well as parents looking for a hugely successful school) can make an appointment to visit. Come and see a hugely successful school in an older building (but not as old as Independence Charter and a host of other schools, both charter and district managed) but a building with no major issues, before you draw conclusions based on old and incorrect data. Which is going to drive the equation and the decision making - the building or the school community. Gleason points out that a school is much more than the building. Parents are not looking for new buildings. They are looking for programming, safety, good teaching and enrichment - they are looking for what we are all looking for. Who dares recommend sacrificing this particular hugely successful school. Why Stanton, why now?
Hey anonymous and anonymous - I know what you think the answer is, but I am interested in other points of view.

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on February 27, 2012 7:38 pm

The problem Mr. Gleason is that you are an outsider with no or little
knowledge about Philadelphia, our community, our schools, or our history. It is obvious from your platitudes that you are an outsider with an agenda of privatization with no real honesty about the hard issues before us.

EM Stanton is exactly the kind of small nurturing school which the charter school movement was intended to create. The charter school movement was originally born out of the idea that teachers should be able to create innovative schools and programs that meet the needs of the local community and its children.

Instead what it has grown into is a frontier where businessmen who never cared about our children before, get to have an opportunity to make money off of our schoolchildren.

There is no charter school in Philadelphia that is presently being run as a public school. There is no charter school in Philadelphia which is exceeding the performance of our regular public schools.

Our poor performing schools are all products of academic segregation and victimized by the unequal funding of our schools.

Have you ever taught in a Philadelphia school. Have you ever taught anywhere?

Submitted by Mark T. (not verified) on February 27, 2012 8:37 pm

I bow before you----Great Post--Very well said !! We're surrounded by carpetbaggers with the Elmer Gantry gift for gab and we all need to mobilize to stop this movement before it's too late.

Submitted by tom-104 on February 27, 2012 8:08 pm

Once again we have evidence of how our society undervalues education. Not only in this so-called reform, but in the people who are leading this "reform". How can these "reformers" develop our educational system if they do not think education is important.

Notice, for example, Mr. Gleason's limited experience in education.
This is his biography:
"Mark is an entrepreneurial leader with a record of launching and growing new ventures. He has significant experience in fund-raising, partnership development, strategic planning, general management and communications. Having worked primarily in media and marketing over the past 20 years, his commitment to improving American schools was ignited when he joined the board of education for a racially diverse school district bordering Newark, N.J., in 2006. Quickly he learned there is no shortage of good intentions in American education—but that too often political disagreements and bureaucratic torpor block those intentions from leading to better outcomes for students.

Mark served as president of the South Orange-Maplewood, N.J., Board of Education from 2007-2011. During that time the board focused its energies on developing an organizational culture that revolves around rewarding outcomes rather than intentions. The district has developed a strategic plan rooted in measurable outcomes (student test data as well as others), recruited a new superintendent, overhauled the English curriculum in grades K-12, instituted a new, robust system for evaluating teachers, and aligned principals’ and supervisors’ pay with student performance—all while reducing the rate of tax increase five years in a row. The fruits of these efforts began to show last year, when the district narrowed achievement gaps between blacks and whites in nearly every grade while also improving its performance relative to statewide benchmarks.

Prior to joining PSP, Mark led partnership development at Christ the King Prep School, a Cristo Rey Network high school in Newark, N.J. Earlier in his career, Mark co-founded a web venture called What’s Next Media, founded and built a national magazine about books and culture called Book, led the brand launch of telecommunications firm Qwest Communications, served as editor in chief of the leading business newspaper in Cincinnati, Ohio, and helped launch a Hispanic marketing group at Procter & Gamble Co. He has a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Georgetown University and a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s journalism and communications school."

Check out the Philadelphia School Partnerships website to see what a good "investment" (not in the needs of our society, but in their making money) schools are:

Notice in this video by Mr. Gleason he says we should not look at the school leadership (and by implication political leadership in Harrisburg and City Hall) as the reason for the high dropout rate. This is all a game of slight of hand to take people's attention from the true reason the schools are in the condition they are in."

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on February 27, 2012 9:05 pm

Check out the board of directors of Philadelphia Schools Partnerships. There is not an educator amongst them. They are all people seeking angles to make a buck....

Mr. Gleason should resign from that committee. He clearly has his own agenda.

The Boston Group will prove to be privatizers with no clue about teaching and learning or our city.

Watch the mess that these people create -- just watch.

Submitted by Mark T. (not verified) on February 27, 2012 7:15 pm

The bottom line is all Public Schools should be funded fairly and fixed giving the inner city kids a fair opportunity to succeed in the world. Poverty and all its ugly relatives will continue until Justice prevails. I don't know about your anonymous references or to what they pertain. We need to be very careful and leery of these privateers who would sell us cancer if they thought they could make money from it. Businesses are in the business of making money, nothing more and folks who would profit from taking money designed for the poor are nothing more that people who steal from the poor boxes at church.

Submitted by tom-104 on February 27, 2012 8:31 pm

Check out this column at Chalk and Talk:
SRC Favors Corporate Community Over True Stakeholders

Submitted by tom-104 on February 27, 2012 10:35 pm

Mark Gleason has at least indirect connections with the Broad Foundation, one of the leading promoters of privatizing public education, founded and led by billionaire Eli Broad.

See the biography of Mollie Mitchell, founder and President of The K12 Search Group, Inc.

Look at the "Education Reformers on the Move- August 2011" on the K12 Search Group website. Note it lists "reformers" they are tracking, stating, "When I meet people in our sector, they almost always want to know two things: what searches we are working on and who we have recently placed. Through talking to hundreds of senior professionals every week, we are able to consistently track some of the most interesting moves in our sector–whether they are our placements, placements orchestrated by our competitors, or one of the many transitions that happen without the help of a search firm."

If you do a search on this page, you find one of their "reformers": "Mark Gleason, President of the South Orange-Maplewood, New Jersey Board of Education (and founder of Book Magazine and What’s Next Media) has taken the role of CEO of the Philadelphia Schools Partnership."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 5:03 pm

Tom 104--------------If you and I can get this level of information, so can everybody else, including the SRC, The Mayor etc. It just doesn't matter how much clear conflict of interest exists with these folks. So how do we stop it if not by force??

Submitted by tom-104 on February 29, 2012 6:14 pm

About the Broad Foundations connections in all aspects of privatizing Philadelphia schools, I have no doubt the Mayor and SRC are quite aware of their involvement and are following their directions since the Broad Foundation provides the "professionals" (including Arlene Ackerman) at destroying public schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 6:43 pm

So, again, what do we do next if NOT to mobilize--as teamsters would--to force this to stop??

Submitted by tom-104 on March 1, 2012 8:48 am

The problem we face is political as well as economic. Both parties represent the interests of the 1%. The 99% need our own party with a program that represents our interests. This includes free public education for all from preschool to college. Full funding of the needs of these schools. Universal health care for all. Nationalize banks that are "too big to fail". Put our vast resources towards improving society rather than having a larger military budget than the rest of the world combined.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on March 1, 2012 9:03 am

Eisenhower warned us about this 60 years ago. I still believe the democrats overall are much more sensible and caring than the nazis, I mean republicans.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 10:03 pm

How about some links to the charter school stories from, say, the past three years?
That should include the investigations at New Media and others.
It's one thing for Gleason to say we should expand high-performing charters, but what about closing charters?
Where is he on that?

Finally, is he really looking for sympathy for charters? 'We're public schools, too, guys, just like you!'
Come on.
You can't have it both ways, Mark.
You want the public dollars but no oversight, no transparency, and no performance measures.
That's quite a compromise.

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on February 27, 2012 10:59 pm

Thanks Anonymous and others for all the reaction and commentary.

For more Notebook coverage of charters, you can browse stories tagged with the label "charter schools."

Can offer a couple of additional tidbits on your other questions.

Asked to describe the charter landscape in Philadelphia right now, Mr. Gleason responded that "Philadelphia is like a lot of cities in that we have a lot of high-performing charters, we have very low-performing charters, and everything in between."

He also said that over the next five years, he anticipates "more schools being closed that are chronically failing" - though he did not specify whether he thought that would include charters, neither did I specifically ask.  

It's worth noting also that the compact itself does include some language on this point: 

"Chronically low-performing schools of any type shall receive specific, clear feedback and access to technical support, after which shall follow a probationary period. Failure to significantly improve will bring meaningful consequences, including closure.

The undersigned commit to assisting low performing schools in pursuit of excellence, across all sectors, by providing access to high quality professional development and technical support at the minimal cost possible. The Philadelphia School Partnership will endeavor to provide funding for technical assistance targeted to low performing or developing schools, provided such technical assistance is paired with performance targets so schools’ progress can be measured.
In the event that the School Reform Commission revokes or fails to renew a charter, it will conduct a competitive process to identify an educational provider, or providers, (including the District or existing or new charter schools) to assume some or all of the enrollment of the closed charter. In the competitive process, the quality of educational programs and leadership shall be paramount."

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 28, 2012 4:15 am

If the Harvey Williams (yes, Anthony Williams) charter is a "model," it has been a "failing" school for years. Now, Anthony Williams turned it over to Mastery. So, I assume this is the model since Anthony Williams is the guru of the privatization bandwagon in Philadelphia.

I'd also like to know how a school is evaluated. I'm well aware of the annual ratings of SDP schools. PSSA test scores are significant. Does this mean there will be even more emphasis on the PSSA? (It is hard to imagine how that is possible but... To date, we are told schools like Mastery are excellent because of test scores. That is a very limited lens of a school.

Also, what about the students who are "counseled" out of charters? There are plenty of students in neighborhood schools with mental/social health issues that no other schools will tolerate.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 7:58 pm

Well said--Hitler made compromises like that, so did Mussolini. Isn't it amazing that they have the audacity to make such ridiculous statements in print??? They either must think everybody else is brain dead or they just don't care. I would carry your theory one step further--how can anybody judge whether a charter is performing well or not? They can say whatever they want without any real evidence to support it. Please, just a shell game right in our face !! At least the mute one, Jerry Jordan finally opened his mouth.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 10:25 pm

Five years there won't be public schools in Philadelphia outside of Central and a couple other ones. At that point the Charters will have a problem; no place to send the disruptive kids. So maybe the district opens a few discipline schools to take the difficult students of the charters hands at public expense but all the tax money goes to charter operators. The Politicians will like this because these guys can hand out campaign donations and if the screw things up it is not the public system and you cannot blame the politicians anymore. A Win Win for them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 28, 2012 6:33 am

The fact that I'm leaving Philadelphia in less than a year and a half has never been more appealing. Public educators have no place here anymore.

Submitted by SOS 60 on February 27, 2012 10:53 pm

From the PSP website: "The Philadelphia School Partnership invests in the creation, expansion and maintenance of great schools in our city. We do this by increasing the number of high performing charter, District and private schools in Philadelphia."

If Stanton is a "money loser" does that mean that some schools are "money winners" or more to the point, "money makers?"

Would PSP consider supporting the "hugely successful" E. M. Stanton School as one of the high performing "District" schools per their mission? We have a school-based plan drafted and conceived by parents and the community that would increase enrollment so that more students in poor performing schools could enroll at Stanton in a way that would not detract from the climate and culture that has made the school hugely successful. We can free up classroom space by building an addition that would house a flexible performing arts space and gymnasium. We have the land. Wouldn't Stanton be a good District managed school for PSP to support?

What district managed schools has PSP supported thus far per their stated mission? Does the funding PSP provides to the various Renaissance charter managers vary based on those charter managers' performance? Are all Renaissance charter managers created and treated equally?

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on February 27, 2012 11:21 pm

Thanks for your comments and questions, SOS60.

On the point re: PSP's support for District-managed schools:

I did not ask specifically about PSP's role in this, independent of the Great Schools Compact.

Mr. Gleason did say that to date, PSP has raised about $5 million and "invested" about $3 million.  I am not sure if that total includes any schools other than Renaissance charters.

As the transcript indicates, Mr. Gleason did say he is "not sure how far along" the District is in thinking about strategies for replicating its own high-performing schools.  

To the extent that he did talk about specific strategies, it was largely related to the District's magnet options.  

For example, asked how he thought the city's educational landscape will look different in the next five years, Gleason said: "...But I also think you will see the District aggressively look to expand in some of the District’s higher performing schools, or replicating those models. So a high-performing magnet school, maybe you’ll see a cousin of that crop up in another part of the city."


Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 28, 2012 4:51 am

Did you ask him about students with an IEP and ELL? They aren't getting into the "high performing magnet schools." The SDP is extremely tracked/segregated already. So, Mr. Gleason wants schools filled with students with an IEP - a violation of "least restrictive environment?" What about the teachers in the neighborhoods schools that will warehouse Mr. Gleason's "undesirables?"

Submitted by SOS 60 on February 27, 2012 10:56 pm

Supporters of Stanton did invite PSP to "come and see" E. M. Stanton. It seemed to us that Stanton would be just the kind of district managed school they would be interested in and interested in supporting and helping thrive and grow. But to date, they have not come to see Stanton. We appreciate Mr. Gleason's assessment that Stanton is "hugely successful" so clearly, he has some good information. On the other hand, it seems perhaps he has some misinformation also re: the building, the efficiencies, the costs and the state of the physical plant. The invitation is open. We are a high performing district managed school that would be interested in discussing support from PSP per their mission.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 28, 2012 8:43 am

It's not hard to identify "high performing" schools: generally they are the ones with special admission requirements (here we'll never know if it's the schools or the students that get the credit) or are already overcrowded.

Management team was mentioned (i.e. principal). It's really that simple: focus on the management team, and you will not be shifting students all over the place chasing some mythical "high performing seat"; or more importantly, losing them.

It's amusing that "mandated reorganization" can get this complicated (or expensive).

Submitted by SOS 60 on February 28, 2012 9:58 am

E. M. Stanton is a neighborhood school and high performing. It is not a special admit school. We plan are planning a more assertive and visible strategy for neighborhood children as well as outside of the neighborhood so that it is on the radar of more parents along with the usual district managed schools where parents try to enroll their students. i.e., Meredith, McCall, Greenfield, et. al.
Many charter schools are not traditional neighborhood schools with catchment areas - and the most desirable ones by parents have a lottery and are not options for many parents.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 28, 2012 11:12 am

From everything I've read here, yes it looks like E.M. Stanton is a successful school model: and thus it should be possible to increase the enrollment/utilization of the current building. You would think the City would have an interest in improving the neighborhood as well, as they want to attract businesses to South Philly (e.g. Naval Shipyard). It would be a plus to have a school to showcase.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 28, 2012 11:18 am

Why is EM Stanton a money loser? Because it educates Afro-American children and it does it well! Imagine 2014 the Philadelphia School District will be renamed the Philadelphia Charter School District.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 29, 2012 9:32 am

I would guess it's a "money loser" because the student to teacher ratio is low, about 14:1 according to (though these stats may be a few years old, it seems the enrollment has not changed significantly in this time).

It is really disheartening to see all this staging over a "great schools compact", when it's well understood/established what makes a "great school". Low teacher to student ratios; highly motivated teachers and staff; high caregiver and community involvement.

E.M. Stanton has these things, and most importantly a good leader who enables them. There is no unique model to replicate. All the innovations I have heard of only work if there also exists these elements (low student to teacher ratio; highly motivated teachers and staff; and caregiver and community involvement.) This includes the latest digital programming designed to cater to individual student levels within a larger "master" class. Schools that have special admissions can't be used as successful models because they depend on the prior established motivation of their students.

All this rhetoric about "replicating seats" is really about "how do we increase student to teacher ratio" without looking like we're doing this?; and "how do we avoid the real work necessary to obtain and promote good management"?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 7:59 pm

Kenny Gamble, Kenny Gamble, Kenny Gamble......

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 28, 2012 1:08 pm

All part of a general attack on public education, public employee unions, and poor people. In the name of "quality schools." All charters are not alike and some of them do some good things. But what ever happened to quality public education? I'm disgusted.

Submitted by tom-104 on February 28, 2012 2:55 pm

Look at this video which puts it all together.

Still Separate, Still Unequal: Racism, Class and the Attack on Public Education, with Brian Jones

Submitted by Kathleen Sannicks-Lerner (not verified) on February 29, 2012 6:55 pm

Posting and responding here is all very well and good, BUT... this is truly a call-to-arms. If we don't do something, and NOW, the School District of Philadelphia may well go the way of Chester-Upland, and end up being a footnote in history. Yes, it IS THAT SERIOUS.

What can be done? EDUCATE (i.e., ARM) YOURSELVES AGAINST THE TAKEOVER. Read this article in Tikkun Magazine: I have the full body of the article, if anyone is interested. If you are, please send an email to:

TAKE ACTION: please, PLEASE, for the sake of the students we all serve, come to the TAG (Teacher Action Group) itAG (inquiry to Action Group) meetings entitled "Being Radical in a Status Quo Environment": Once you're there, the group is second on the list, and you can register for the meetings using the link at the bottom of the page. If you are interested in attending, feel free to contact me at the above email address.

The politicians are going to KILL the SDP, and the privateers will pick over the bones. We must do more than rally. The time has come! I hope YOU are with me! I can't stand alone, and this I know, but I WILL TRY!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 7:48 pm

FINALLY---Someone as crazy as I am---well posted--I totally agree. Writing, singing, praying---PLEASE !! get real--It's time to fight this !!!!!

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on March 1, 2012 5:08 pm

Great Schools Compact, my ass--just a corporate centered and directed scam group doing the leg work for the big money privateers.

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