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Commentary: You're not speaking to me, Mr. Knudsen

By Helen Gym on Apr 24, 2012 02:28 PM

Dear Mr. Knudsen:

Helen GymI am the mother of three children in District and charter schools in this city. I have been actively involved in stopping good schools from decline and helping low-performing, violent schools turn around. I believe in the essential role that a high-quality public school system plays and have fought for that vision. My 7th grade son will soon have outlasted four superintendencies, including yours. And I’m here to tell you that you’re not speaking to me.

You’re not speaking to me with this brand of disaster capitalism that tries to shock a besieged public with unproven, untested, and drastic action couched as “solutions.” You’re not speaking to me when you invoke language like “achievement networks,” “portfolio management,” and "rightsizing" our schools – and say not a word about lower class sizes or increasing the presence of loving support personnel or enriching our curriculum. 

You’re not speaking to me when you plan to close 25 percent of our schools before my son graduates high school. You’re not speaking to me when you equate closing down 64 schools – many of them community anchors – as “streamlining operations,” yet you’ll expand charter populations willy-nilly despite a national study showing two-thirds of Philly charters are no better or worse than District-managed schools.

You’re not talking to me when your promises of autonomy come minus any resources, and when the best you have to offer parents is “seat expansion” – which just means larger class sizes without extra funds.  

You're not talking to me when you say all schools are public schools. They are not.

You’re not talking to me when you’ll go out of your way to spend $1.4 million for six-week consultants with whom you’ll boast of an “intimate, hand-in-glove” relationship, yet exclude community and public voices till you’re ready to drop the bomb. 

You’re not speaking to me when you’ll go to any extreme to radically transform “education delivery,” yet the most basic things parents and staff and students have called for – more teachers in our schools, bilingual counselors, nurses, art and music, librarians, fresh food in the cafeteria, new buildings, and playgrounds – are completely and utterly absent from your “plan.”

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been around the block a few times.

We’ve seen how promises of an 85 percent proficiency rate fall flat when all they’re based on is rhetoric and no concrete plan on how to achieve it; James Nevels’ School Reform Commission tried that. Contracts will do that? Sorry, we’ve been around that block, too. Ask yourself where the 2002 purported savior of Philly and Chester education, Edison Schools Inc., is today. Ask the Truebright Science Academy parents how it felt when their five-year contract didn’t work out, or the Martin Luther King High School community -- after 10 years of Foundations Inc., they ended up with a school arguably worse off than when it started.

We’ve seen how privatization and charters have done little to radically impact systemic achievement and improve education. There are some great charters out there, but no more than there are great public schools.

We’re tired of the ridiculous labeling of schools as high-performing and low-performing. The label mentality assumes schools are in permanent stasis rather than in varying stages of evolution and devolution highly dependent on resources and institutional priority. By simply expanding high-performing seat capacity and closing down low-performing schools, you fail to understand or even seek to understand the very elements that make a level of performance possible. You don’t understand schools, you don’t understand success and failure, and you don’t understand how change happens.

I believe in something.

I actually believe in the value of institutions, despite having been burned by them plenty of times. I believe that professional educators can do a better job than the majority of the hucksters and hustlers and ideologues scoring off of public education’s demise.

I believe in the possibility of school transformation and the role that community and parent voices play in concert with schools and districts. I believe in the value of the public sphere and the responsibilities it owes to the most marginalized of communities -- our immigrant students, special needs populations, and young people struggling with disciplinary issues.

I believe in choice options that co-exist to supplement, not destroy, a public school system. I believe in real, creative innovation in our classrooms, not the "drill-and-kill" test prep replicated in too many of these “high-performing” charters you tout. I believe in a vision of schools that is aspirationally led rather than deficit-based. Your focus on the bottom brings everyone down.

I believe our communities have always been there to pick up the pieces after administrations of hubris pass on. And I believe our public schools are worth fighting for.

Mr. Knudsen, these are the things that speak to me. So if you’re not speaking to me, who are you speaking to?

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Comments (222)

Submitted by hallettfan (not verified) on April 24, 2012 2:25 pm

Oh my goodness! You need to state this at an SRC meeting, with cameras from all the local and national news teams. You said it well and spoke the truth. That you for being who you are and putting your ideas out there. Keep it up.

Submitted by Sue Park (not verified) on April 25, 2012 10:40 am

Helen Gym should be ON the SRC because there needs to be a voice of reason! Her statements were so true, thank you for making them. The children of Philadelphia are the ones who will suffer, along with some excellent educators.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 7, 2012 3:15 pm

Thank you !!

Submitted by citizen (not verified) on April 24, 2012 2:17 pm

Bravo, Helen Gym! You speak truth to power. Philadelphia must listen.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on April 24, 2012 3:28 pm

No one could have said it better or truer, Helen!

Submitted by I Teach in Philly on April 24, 2012 3:28 pm

Thank you. Every word you said about genuine quality education is true.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 24, 2012 3:18 pm

I tip my cap to you.... Thanks for saying it so well.

Submitted by teacher (not verified) on April 24, 2012 3:43 pm

Thank you!

Submitted by breege (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:10 pm

Amen, Helen! Well said as usual. As I get nearer and nearer to sending my child to school, my anxiety about this becomes unbearable. Thank you for all you do!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:11 pm

Thank you so much for saying exactly what all parents in the city of Philadelphia should be saying. I am a teacher and have been around the block too. How do we come together and make more parents, teachers, and communities stop this madness. Get ou and vote today...we need to oust these politicians and corporate slugs who are destroying public education. Parents and teachers aren't heard at all. I hope people start to finally fight. Parents in this city don't have a choice, the src decides whatever they want.

Submitted by teacher (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:08 pm

Spot on!

Submitted by Garth (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:18 pm

I agree with you, and I also think there's a bunch of odd decisions being made in desperation by the new SRC crowd because of severe budget problems. As a public school parent since 1997, I remember Vallas, Ackerman and even Hornbeck, but this current period seems the most dangerous and in flux. My youngest is only in 7th grade, so I've got to last for five more years, and I don't think the funding is about to improve anytime soon. We have a republican governor, state house and state senate who are not keen on Philly public schools, and are looking for ways to reduce educational funds headed in this direction, I don't get how closing a public school and then reopening it as a charter school six months later is somehow saving money. Is the SRC just doing that to appease the powerful "pro-charter" faction in Harrisburg? I've heard people say that having more students in charters and fewer in public schools is somehow a cost savings for the city of Philadelphia, but I don't get how that works either. It seems like really fuzzy math, or maybe there's no mathematical explanation at all, and it's just pure politics. Without Rendell, it seems like we're playing a really weak hand in that arena.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:09 pm

Yes, Corbett and the Tea Party faction throughout the country are highjacking the republican party more to the right than usual. It's destructive and dangerous----besides being Unamerican and undemocratic. The last time I checked, this is still the USA not Nazi Germany.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:17 pm

It is all about the politicians and corporations trying to get their hands on the money. If a school is a charter, there is the potential for a lot of people to get rich. In the mean time I teach at a school where 7th graders can't read. The focus isn't on helping this child, the focus is on PSSA prep and testing. Nothing is being done to honestly help these kids read. Corbett's massive cuts has lessened this child's chance of success even more. Who cares if he can read, as long as the school makes AYP. It is a disgrace what Corbett's cuts have done to public education. Without the funding teachers can't help these non readers. So blame it on the teachers, close the school and let a charter school do it. Well, they aren't doing any better. It's all about privatization and union busting. There are lots of great teachers at my school and we are just surviving, not able to make a difference in the life of a child because we don't have the resources or enough teachers to do so.

Submitted by Philly Parent & Teacher (not verified) on April 24, 2012 5:23 pm

When the Commonwealth of PA took over the SDP in December 2001, they were charged with making the district fiscally "sound." Vallas followed and left with a large deficit (and now, a monument to his spending spree at 440 N. Broad - with 200 employees they will have to moth ball the building). Ackerman, spent federal stimulus money as if it was a long term grant-in-aid program, and left us with a huge deficit. So, the SRC has never done what it was suppose to do regarding finances. (In the late 1980s and early 1990s, teachers received no raises because of the budget.)

Now, the SRC and Knudsen have decided to "throw the bath water out with the baby." They are not addressing real needs - which Helen Gym stated so eloquently - they are implementing "slash and burn" on SDP schools. Most Philadelphia charters do NOT perform better than similar neighborhood schools (e.g. Greenfield and Independence Charter have similar scores). Some charters are worse. So, yes, how will shutting down SDP schools save money if the buildings are given to charters (remember Universal has Vare and Audenreid for free) while the SDP has to pay debt service on all buildings. We, as taxpayers, are losing money on Aspira's buildings (Olney and Stetson). Also, if the neighborhood schools are closed, what will happen to the students charters will not accept or keep? The SDP has not mentioned "alternative" schools. Does Knudsen plan on putting everyone who is a "problem" in a cyber charter? Cyber charters are the worst performing in the Commonwealth.

Ramos, Knudsen and Nixon appear to want to privatize the SDP similar to what Vallas did in New Orleans. That is not a success story - unless you follow the money trail to Vallas and his crew from Philadelphia who made tens of thousands (maybe more) by offering their "expertise" to other school districts.

Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:47 pm

Vallas' privatization plan didn't work out well even further south - Chilean students took to the streets to stop it.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:08 pm

Helen---Forget the SRC---RUN FOR PRESIDENT. I've always been a big fan of yours but now, I bow before you---OH, My Gosh !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:05 pm

Helen, Thomas Jefferson just jumped out of his grave and bowed also. Incredible writing !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:50 pm

I seriously wish she would run for president too!

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:58 pm

Helen--I was going to post my usual nasty, bordering on obscene response but after reading your post, there's nothing left to write. Marry me Helen, please !!!
Even if you already are married.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 24, 2012 9:49 pm

* Blush *

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:15 pm

Helen--Blush all you want but marry me anyway. I read your post and was speechless. I couldn't even curse which unfortunately comes both easily and quickly to me. I've never been so moved by a post. I bet nobody has !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:57 pm

Helen, I have been a Philly school counselor for almost five years. I have been a fan of yours ever since I first started reading the "Notebook" during my first year. Thank you, thank you for all you do and for always hitting the nail on the head! No one says it better than you do, and the PSD is so lucky to have parents like you in our district!

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on April 30, 2012 11:41 am

I agree. I wrote in Helen's name during the last mayoral election. She should be superintendent.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:52 pm

Hi Helen,

Great piece, as usual.

I would like to say to everyone that this is NOT over. WE must keep fighting. Please come to the Occupy 440 rally which takes place every Wed @ 4PM. This was organized by the SD nurses but has become an organization fighting for all aspects of public education.

We must continue to fight for our schools and our students.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Susan DeJarnatt (not verified) on April 24, 2012 5:42 pm

Helen--you are SO right!!!! Everytime I hear this garbage about "parental choice" I want to ask why the choices of all of us who have kids in the PSD--who chose our neighborhood schools--do not matter one bit. We don't exist in the minds of Nixon, Knudsen or the consultants. My son was in kindergarten when we defeated the Edison takeover. We've been fighting ever since--and now we're going to really have to go all out. Thank you for your courage and your incredible ability to speak truth to power!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 5:58 pm

Wonderfully written! Oh, how I pray those in power will read this piece! It is a wake-up call to all involved! "If we don't make a stand for something, we will fall for anything." Thank you, Helen, for standing up for the children, teachers, parents and public educational institutions of our city!

Submitted by kathy colbert (not verified) on April 24, 2012 5:23 pm

I teach in Philadelphia, have for the past 10 years. Ms. Gym, your article speaks volumes and is extremely well-written. (As an aside, would you consider placing your name for consideration as superintendent of the School District?)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:21 pm

You have my vote. Please keep posting. We need to fight this!!!

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on April 25, 2012 12:21 am

Loved this!! Please run this district!!

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on April 24, 2012 5:52 pm

Bravo, Helen.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:33 pm

What a phenomenal summarization of a master plan geared to the final destruction of the Philadelphia School District. Over the years of read different testimonies written by Helen Gym on ways to transform the district but this speak to the core of the matter. I truly hope that she reads this at an SRC meeting so the entire city and region can really know whats going on.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:22 pm

When Ackerman left, everyone on the SRC should have been FIRED. They allowed the overspending and never questioned the intelligence of increasing spending per kid for charter school education than for the traditional public education. As long as money can be made on the backs of the children, the vultures "for profit" education will circle.

Submitted by Old Man Warner (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:43 pm

The vultures are circling to be sure. They are coming from as far away as Boston and Northern Jersey. They never cared about a Philadelphia schoolchild before in their lives until they saw an opportunity to make a buck off of them.

And the money games are being played behind closed doors.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:42 pm

Bravo, Helen!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:56 pm

What a phenomenal summarization of a master plan geared to the final destruction of the Philadelphia School District. Over the years of read different testimonies written by Helen Gym on ways to transform the district but this speak to the core of the matter. I truly hope that she reads this at an SRC meeting so the entire city and region can really know whats going on.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:42 pm

Well said Helen. What is the solution then? Trimming the overmanagement at 440 is a step in the right direction. If the charters are part of the SDP's "portfolio" (which they are not because the SDP does not do hiring for them) then the consolidation should be true reorganization at the principal school admin level, not the closing of existing traditional schools; while charters (such as Green Woods) desperately try to raise the capital to find permanent homes.

I had to explain to my son how charters have a better chance of getting private funds through grants. For grants however there is no guarantee, so what is the plan if charters become insolvent? Seems like a lot more upheaval than progress.

Ms. Houston had a pretty nonsensical writeup about "a portfolio of schools" when charters are not under the control of the SDP at all. It seems that Mr. Knudsen is taking that picture at "face value" rather than looking deeper.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 24, 2012 9:37 pm

I don't understand why stabilizing the District's population is not a priority. It's this fatalistic assumption that there is a mass exodus and so more and more charters must be created. But at this point they are barely creating charters, they're just turning over whole schools. Right now charter schools are put into the expense category. Until they move into the asset category, there is no valid explanation for closing down District schools in order to open more charters.

Second, whatever happened to contract reviews? Last year we flagged $100M in discretionary contract amounts. I don't think all of that money is waste but I'm not clear that sector was significantly reviewed.

Third,how much cost savings has been reached by streamlined operations with the City? For example, why is the District still paying the city $4.5M to cover BRT costs? Why has that office not shrunk?

I should probably continue on another post though!

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:25 am

Good points. These need to be addressed by BCG. What needs to be kept in mind in this proposal is that in the world of finance it's all about keeping the money flowing. The reality of closing this many schools perhaps will never happen, but lenders need to be reassured that the PSD is financially viable (remember Mr. Butkovitz), before giving loans. I am surprised that anyone would lend money to the PSD. Mr. Knudsen was never hired to be the actual Superintendent, only granted the powers temporarily of. He was only hired to close the deficit and get the PSD on more stable ground. There is also in this proposal a rearranging of the power structure, which would never have been possible internally. As to labor concessions, of course I do not support them, but (and this is not to say that this is right or good) this has been happening in the private sector for many years already.

Ultimately, we need to keep what you have voiced in the forefront. These are the things that matter.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:34 pm

My assistant principal told me charter schools cost the district more money they just don't want anyone to know that.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:58 pm

Bravo, Helen. Everyone share this.

Submitted by kmelville (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:29 pm

Thank you Helen!!

Submitted by Bob Lendzinski (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:08 pm

I applaud you, Helen Gym, as I always do. But now what are the employees going to do. In a meeting today, I encouraged everyone in my department to start becoming vocal.

We need voices because our union has been absent. CASA has been absent. Every union in this district is just sitting on their hands. It's time for the individuals to write informative, poignant, yet respective letters to the media, SRC, and Mr. Knudsen letting everyone know what we are already working with.

We then need battalions of teachers, administrators, etc. to go to SRC meetings and sign up to be speakers.

We then need to get more parents on our side. We can't just have Helen Gym and the parents of schools who are closing. We need parents representing EVERY school to sign up to speak.

It is time to unite to get what is best for our students. We need to stand up, not as union members, but a collection of individuals who have the best interest of our students at heart.

The Governor needs to know. President Obama needs to know that we will no longer accept his education policies and demand that Arne Duncan step down. This started with Bush, but is being fed by Duncan/Obama.

Are you with me?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:59 pm

I am with you !! We do need to fight for the children.
Why are the union presidents so quiet.
Why aren't they talking to the media?

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 24, 2012 9:00 pm

Yes, and the challenge is articulating what we're fighting for, not just what we're against.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:28 pm

Thank you for saying this so eloquently!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:21 pm

wonderfully worded

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:34 pm

Every parent, teacher, student and concerned citizen should be in front of the SRC and sitting in at 440 until this nonsense stops! Enough!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:17 pm

Thank you, Helen Gym for such an eloquent article. The sad part of this is that the powers to be have lost their vision for the children of our city. The dismanteling of the schools is a quiet way to lose the teachers' union and begin the erosin of the middle class in Philadelphia. We all need to stand up and support our schools and those who have been laboring to be a positive presence to our children.

Submitted by Wake Up Philly (not verified) on April 24, 2012 7:48 pm

Kudos Helen - you know how to get to the core of the issue and you are such an eloquent writer!
Parents and Community need to pack the meeting tomorrow night - teachers and administrators should also be in attendance!
This so called "plan" will damage our children, communities and our City.
We need to stand-up and fight for our most precious gifts given to us "our children."
I am ready to take to the streets once again. Perhaps we should all meet at 440 and ring the building and tell the School District, the SRC, the Mayor and the Governor that we are the consumers and taxpayers and we are taking our schools back!
Let us unite and fight for our children's education and not the almighty dollar that will be made on the backs of our children!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:49 pm

As a public school special education teacher also acting as a building SEL.... I elect you as our next leader and say THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART for speaking up for the children, parents, and teachers of this mess of a district.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:10 pm

Where's Jerry Jordan?? It's not raining !! Jerry's Blog has 2 typos. Unbelievable !!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:20 pm

Well put! These are the recommendations of a financial advisor, not an educator. Educators know that smaller schools are a better path to success for students. Instead, we will fill every school left in existence to the maximum, every class will be at maximum, 30-33 students. Kindergarten, still not mandated in PA, will take in a larger geographic area and parents who cannot walk their students and won't get transportation, will just not send them. Now, we will have years of students, quite possibly economically challenged, without the 'leg up' that kindergarten might give them. And then we could talk about safety and climate in these buildings filled to the max... what do think that will be like? When we will finally organize and push back on legislators to let them know that our urban students deserve a good education, and they decision makers who are willing to fight for them.

Submitted by Christy (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:14 pm

You are amazing Helen! When the news hit today, I was saddened and felt hopeless but you have reignited my fire to fight. We must organize and prevent the demise of public education in Philadelphia. I have been teaching in this system for 14 years and I'm not willing to allow our children to be sold to the highest bidder.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 24, 2012 9:33 pm

Thank you Christy! We're inspiring each other.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:05 pm

It amazes me how some refuse to see. Both Republicans and Democrats have used the Philadelphia School District for their own purposes but there are NO REPUBLICANS RUNNING PHILADELPHIA OR THE NATIONAL ECONOMY AND THE DISTRICT HAS BEEN TROUBLED FOR DECADES!!!! WAKE UP!

THE ANSWER LIES IN THE HOMES OF THE KIDS SENT TO US TO TEACH AND THE STUPID RULES THAT DO NOT LET US HOLD KIDS RESPONSIBLE FOR HOMEWORK OR CELL-PHONES!

WE CANNOT TEACH WITH CELL PHONES GOING OFF! WE CANNOT TEACH WITH SECURITY GAURDS WHO REFUSE TO REMOVE UNRULY STUDENTS WHO READ AT A 3RD GRADE LEVEL IN 12TH GRADE!

HOW WILL YOU HOLD A HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE THIRD GRADE MATH LEVEL IN HIS CLASS?

NO HOMEWORK=NO MASTERY NO DIRECT INSTRUCTION= NO TEACHING NO CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE=CELL PHONES IN THE CLASS ROOM!

GRADES MUST BE BASED ON INDIVIDUAL GROWTH OF THE STUDENTS. IF A STUDENT COMES IN A FOURTH GRADE READING LEVEL AND INCREASES TO A SIXTH GRADE LEVEL, THAT IS TRUE SUCCESS AND WILL TAKE A MASSIVE EFFORT BU PARENTS, FAMILY AND SCHOOLS!

I RAISED MY KIDS AS READERS OVER 18 YEARS, HOW CAN I RAISE YOUR CHILD IN ONE YEAR IF YOU NOT WILL NOT DO IT PARENT!!!!????

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:43 pm

You are paid well and recieve benefits. TEACH! Do the best you can, differentiate your instruction. You cannot control the parents. You can plan, and TEACH!

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 26, 2012 5:53 pm

Is this you again, bleat ??????

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:37 pm

STOP WHINING AND TEACH! No one is asking you to raise children, however, you are paid well to TEACH! Plan and "differentiate" the best lessons you can. Reflect on what you can do differently after each lesson and do better. Ultimately, that's all you can do. Thank you for all you do, that's positive and non-judgmental, on behalf of our CHILDREN.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:41 pm

Umm since when is not being able to demand homework part of teaching? Do you learn things the first time they are presented while others around you are answering their cell phones? Ar eyou serious?

Who is the real baby here? Is it judgmental to note that gravity, or in this case, no school district leadership, effects everyone?

By the way, which schools really succeed in education? Schools that demand classroom order and support their teachers in their efforts right? Get it? No, you probably don't and that's the point.

Differentiation is great as long as students are not tweeting on their cell phones while you are trying to help them. Get real!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:51 am

This frustrated teacher makes a good point that is no doubt shared by a huge percentage of Philly teachers. There are so many many problems in most of the public schools that make it nearly impossible for even the best of teachers to do their job. Sure there are some great schools with parents like Helen and teachers like Lacey but in many schools you have totally INCOMPETENT PRINCIPALS setting the tone, making poor decisions, coddling the most unbelievable behavior in students, and forcing good teachers to do their job in the most impossible environment, often with unruly students allowed to remain in classrooms and totally disrupt all learning.

Focusing resources on the most successful schools, whether they be charter or not, and I'm not a fan of charter schools for all the reasons mentioned, is not necessarily a bad idea. The way administrators regularly handle attendance records covers up the fact that many schools and classrooms have VERY FEW STUDENTS EVEN ATTENDING and it is truly a waste of resources to keep them running in this way.

Hopefully this new group of district leaders will use the successful schools as models for others as they make long-overdue reorganizational decisions. De-centralizing the power-mongers at 440 is a positive first step in my opinion.

Submitted by ES (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:50 pm

As others have already posted, teachers have an unbelievably difficult job in a very difficult environment.

To answer a teacher in such straits to just "stop whining and just teach" has obviously never been in a classroom...or in the very least, that type of classroom.

The problem as I see it is that we are all against the current situation, both in the classroom and to those who hold the reins at the top. It is causing us to lash out at each other, instead of banding together and demanding that the SRC be accountable.....accountable for poor working conditions:

These include buildings in disrepair, classrooms with too many kids, not enough support staff to help kids who seem not to care or unable to learn in the "one size fits all curriculum", accountable for positive climate-- safety in the class and buildings, giving all staffs (principals, teachers, administrators) GOOD QUALITY professional development that doesn't waste time and is useless, involving parents by reaching out to all, being sensitive to their needs AND their children.

The list goes on and on...but the bottom line is that accountability starts at the top and isn't as simple as closing one school and opening another. What ever happened to try and fix things for the better?? What ever happened to involving those who are closest to the situation..not just those who sit in offices (whose working conditions are much better, I'm sure) !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 28, 2012 8:48 am

You have no idea what teaching is like in a typical school around here. You are probably one of the parents who give birth to the children and then assume the responsibilities belong to the teachers. You said teachers are well paid? how well? and how well compare to the equivalent levels of education? If you got nothing good to say, its better not to say anything.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:06 pm

I, too, thank you for your words.

I want to know, honestly, what will happen if we refuse to accept this plan? What will the SRC/state do if our unions just refuse to let this happen?

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 24, 2012 9:43 pm

A number of school boards are rolling back high stakes testing one of the critical measures by which schools are judged for closure. I don't know. I'm wondering about something similar that tackles these insane tests.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:37 pm

I agree--we need to fight. Interesting that Jordan has been nearly silent--as always.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:01 pm

This is the most articulate response to SDP's foolish proposal to get out of the business of educating young people. Public ed is the basis of a democratic society. Helen lead us in the taking back of public schools in Phila. We're willing to do whatever needs to be done to keep public ed in the public sector.

Submitted by L.A. Murphy (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:28 pm

Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:20 pm

Helen, your words speak volumes and I, too say thank you!

What will happen if we don't accept this plan? I wasn't aware that the powers to be were putting their plan to a vote. If there was ever a time when ACTION needed to be taken to stop this MURDER of an educational system, it is now! I hate to go there, but I will, you know why there isn't a revolt taking place to stop what is going on is because, let's face it, our schools are filled with poor children, both white, black and brown children, who have no where else to go. No one cares about the poor.

Why are the people who actively participated for the last several years, watching the school system be pushed further and further into the ground, why are they still employed by the School District of Philadelphia? The same folks who watched what was going on, drawing a paycheck are still the same folks who are going to watch the nails hammered into the casket of Public Education and they are getting paid to watch this death.

Why is there still talk of cutting more positions at 440, when the darn building needs to be SOLD and people placed in school buildings to do their jobs? It will cost more to have 440 remain open to heat, air condition, patrolled, and have the lights on than it is worth.

Why isn't there any information, news coming from the union about the changes that are going to happen whether we like it or not.

Submitted by Reginald Speir (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:53 pm

I am a retired administrator who still believes in the value of a quality public education - the vision so eloquently and passionately described by Helen Gym in this article. If only the "leaders" in this city and this district had such a vision... Thank you, Helen Gym.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:55 pm

I like how Knudsen's message about attending an information session on the school closures was sent today at 1PM, only three hours before it was scheduled. Most teachers were in professional development so they wouldn't have been able to even check their emails until after 3pm anyway. They did move the meeting back 15 minutes to 4:15. Knudsen has truly earned his weasel status.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 24, 2012 9:46 pm

Thank you everyone! I wrote this, as one poster Christy also shared, from a place that started around disbelief and despair then remembered why we've all been doing this work for decades. As someone said the task is to the organize, to talk to a friend and neighbor, and send a common message from the people.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 12:18 am

What is the common message? Can that message be stated briefly and in words clearly understood by everyone? And how do we make sure it gets to ALL parents and teachers?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:53 pm

Thank you Helen. You have spoken for all of us. I have been a follower of yours for years...back when my children were in the system and now as a teacher. I don't care how much money the district has or doesn't have. In my opinion, there are two things that need to be done to move our students to where they need to be. If they would remove ALL disruptive students and not allow them to return to their school and if they would reduce class size, then teachers could teach.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:06 pm

We are copying Helen's piece to send home to parents. I suggest all teachers in Philly do the same!

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on April 24, 2012 10:39 pm

 Great blog, Helen.   Over the last period there has been resistance to particular polices...the budget, school closures, zero tolerance, privatization etc., but what's needed is the coming together of all those who have a stake in defending public education against this regime...parents, students, unions, and community people.   Only if we assemble a coalition with real scale can we hope to stop the planned execution of public education as we know it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:31 pm

Instead of closing down 40 schools let's close down 440!

Submitted by Bill McDermott (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:06 pm

Everything you wrote is spot on. I would say you left one thing out. You correctly state that Knudsen et al are not speaking to you. You left out the fact that they know this and don't care. Parents and teachers aren't making them any money. We are NOT the stakeholders in this organization. If more parents felt like you, this fiasco would not be tolerated.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 24, 2012 10:56 pm

More people do feel like this. The issue is that we have to organize ten times harder than the other side in order to be heard.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 25, 2012 12:09 am

They need to feel pressure, real pressure, hostile pressure and lots of it. They're basically bullies and we all know how The Teamsters would deal with them. Why should we be any different? So far they have ignored us---that needs to change !!

Submitted by Tom Mazur (not verified) on April 25, 2012 11:56 am

Helen,
I agree, and wonder, with so many other people in obvious agreement as well, how the "powers that be" are managing to continue to bully their way to their own greedy end, and mesmerize over half the population with their double speak. We instruct our children to combat bullyism by not standing by and thereby empowering the bully, and rather to stand up to them and express displeasure for the hurtful actions.
I hope that societal "critical mass" occurs soon, as you say, "more people do feel like this," before the wolves in sheep's clothing have deceived and decimated beyond the pale, in particular public education.

Submitted by Phillip Aiken (not verified) on April 24, 2012 11:10 pm

I must agree with Helen Gym! I also agree with the parents that said as long as we let them keep giving us what they want then this is what we will get! It starts at home first! I do agree that the whole system needs to be overhaul, however , even the way they presented the meetings fo finding a new superintendent was not engaging to me as a parent! You do not ask me to have input and then tell me what my choice is! I see all the games that they keep playing with us parents and as long as parents uses schools as a baby sitter and do not call leadership to the carpet, when they give us somthing that is not in the best interest of our children then we as parents are missing the mark! The main goal should be that we get a better education for our childrenthen we did! Parents I have seen to many times the system try to make us feel that we are wrong for standing up and fighting for our children! I will never let anyone or group of people stop me from saying what I know is right! I have no responsibility to the Philadelphia systemwhen it relate to my children getting the best education that they can! I do not see how people can sleep at night when they let thing happen that they know is wrong and yet , sit back and say nothing! I have seen a system take program that was helping a school and purposely tar it down toget what they want! It should be about the students! When so called adults are doing things for the right reasons then the system will work for our children!

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 1:02 am

Say it Phillip!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 11:08 pm

I agree 1000% with Helen Gym, excellent article. As a parent and active home and school volunteer it gets very frustrating when you feel that most parents are out of the loop and are apathetic about what is going on and you start to feel like there is nothing to do. What do you think is the best way to organize and motivate the public before its too late and every school is turned into a charter school. I am confused as to what happens to all those students at the 40 schools they are closing because charters are a "lottery" system so no guarentee they will be accepted there so instead kids will be bused again to other parts of the city and crowded into already overpopulated schools with budgets that were just slashed at all district schools for next year?

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 1:13 am

All of those are legitimate concerns. As far as organizing, I don't think any of this is a done deal. I actually think that such a drastic plan has done a lot to wake up people in the city and shatter the illusion that smart guys who turn around utility companies may not necessarily have all the right answers even when they pay $1.4 M for the advice (Boston Consulting Group was paid that much money for this plan). There is time and need to organize. So let's start talking!

Submitted by CrazytoTeach (not verified) on April 25, 2012 12:35 am

Love, love, love your post! The pressure to accept federal dollars (and meet their requirements) has driven my state (FL) into the same sort of crazy unfunded, and also ineffective decision making. Yet many of the politicians wax poetic about the wonderful changes they are making by promoting more testmania- which flies in the face of common sense, and is clearly to the detriment of children and the teaching profession. They also do not listen to the teachers or the parent groups as they force through expensive, distructive legislation on party line votes. If only we HAD that money for expanding tutoring programs or updating our technology! The witch hunt to drive out a few bad teachers is costing millions and driving out quality teachers in droves. I refuse to leave- despite the pressure cooker I feel like I now live in- because like you, I believe in the value of public education, and will fight to keep my classroom a place of pleasure in learning and wait for this insanity to end! Won't it be nice to enjoy every aspect of my job!

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 1:00 am

Keep up the good fight in Florida!

Submitted by Robin Frisella (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:02 am

As a teacher in a Florida inner-city school, all I can say is, "Thank you, Helen." Pieces like yours are validating, and hope-giving. Thanks for the little slice of hope!

Submitted by Joanne Weill-Greenberg (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:24 am

So well said. Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 8:55 am

LOVE,LOVE, LOVE, Helen, thanks for hope! I am a fighter, but there is so much apathy!! I hope this wakes people up!!!!!

Submitted by Anissa Weinraub (not verified) on April 25, 2012 8:13 am

Excellent post, Helen! I am always inspired and moved-to-action by your words. I hope you're coming to the TAG Education for Liberation Curriculum Fair and Citywide Summit on Saturday at FACTS. The afternoon summit is focusing on how we as a community of parents, teachers, students and citizens can transform our schools from within, not just hand them over to the highest bidder.

Again, amazing!

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 9:05 am

Yes! Of course!

 

Submitted by sadams (not verified) on April 25, 2012 9:34 am

Thank you Helen for being the voice of the parents. Many families feel that we have no where to turn with all the "restructuring" in education, I appreciate having someone speak for us in laymans terms without the smoke and mirror that the district has been handing us for years.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 9:54 am

more parents need to get involved. Be inspired and get involved.

Submitted by Ulrike Shapiro (not verified) on April 25, 2012 9:38 am

MR. KNUDSEN, YOU ARE NOT SPEAKING TO ME EITHER!

Helen,
thank you. We need a sign-the-campaign button.

Submitted by Sylvia (not verified) on April 25, 2012 10:30 am

Amen!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 10:54 am

Real solutions:

1. All you dedicated teachers out there, form a competing union where bad teachers will have no place hide and STAY! If your union can not compete with the current one, there is no hope for "public education"!

2. Demand "bad apples" (be they students and teachers) be taken out of classrooms--"bad apple" students be placed in a specially designed teaching environment away from the kids who want to learn, and "bad apple" teachers be placed on the streets where they belong.

You will see instant improvement without adding a penny to the current budget and without closing any school, and without shrinking the class size, and without...(you know the whole drill).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 10:05 am

A follow up:

If you need 105 steps to determine who are "bad apples", there is no hope in "public education"!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 11:53 am

Reading through this proposal, disciplinary/alt ed has been thoroughly thrown under the bus. Where do they plan to send kids who disrupt the education of others consistently and severely? Where do they plan to put children who are dangerous to themselves and others in the regular ed school?

Perhaps Chaka Fattah Jr's pockets?

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 6:50 pm

Exactly. How would the achievement networks be held accountable for disciplinary expulsions, transfers? Where do these students go?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2012 9:19 pm

Real Solutions, why don't you and your ilk ever call for bad administrators to be thrown out? Call for bad apple students to be taken out. Gee, like we never thought of that before? It's the administrators that keep these problems in the schools even when they have proven themselves to be dangerous.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 10:22 am

A former Philadelphia teacher here, to say THANK YOU.

Submitted by Ken Derstine on April 25, 2012 11:07 am

There is a national movement against high-stakes testing which has been growing. A national resolution protesting high-stakes standardized testing was released Tuesday by a coalition of national education, civil rights and parents groups, as well as educators who are trying to build a broad-based movement against the Obama administration’s test-centric school reform program.

Information and the resolution is here:
http://tinyurl.com/7xmrpnz

Also, New York state school principals have issued an open letter to the New York State Board of Regents about school reform and the standardized testing regime. More than 1,400 New York State principals have signed a petition asking state education officials to rethink their reform agenda.

The open letter is here:

NY principals: A ‘wrecking ball’ of reform aimed at schools
http://tinyurl.com/7ubxvzp

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on April 25, 2012 11:51 am

Thank you Ken, for keeping us up-to-date with information. This high-stakes testing and "turn-around" model is losing traction in many places. Texas--where it all started--is rebelling as well!

Submitted by Ken Derstine on April 25, 2012 11:54 am

You are correct! See this article:

Education reform protests pick up steam
In Texas, New York, Illinois and other states, protests by parents and educators are getting louder against school reform that insists on using standardized test scores as the basis for evaluating students, educators and schools.

http://tinyurl.com/cs3pjpa

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 9:55 pm

Thanks for posting!

Submitted by ES (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:00 pm

Please remember that it was not the Obama but the BUSH administration who came up with NCLB (No Child Left Behind...for those of you who do not know the letters) That was the beginning of instituting all of this crazy testing and "teaching to the test" and the labeling schools as "passing and failing", as well as the demise of being able to teach creatively. I know...I was teaching during that time.

Check your politics!

Submitted by Ken Derstine on April 25, 2012 6:10 pm

Have you read the article? In the article it says:

"The high-stakes testing era started with the advent of No Child Left Behind in 2002, and though NCLB has largely been discredited, the Obama administration’s policies have expanded the use of test scores as assessment tools not only for students, but also for teachers and principals."

Please read the article and then check your politics!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/national-resolutio...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 12:38 pm

Helen, As a parent whose child is too young to be in school, I (we) have been watching the events that have rocked the school system for the past 1-2 years. Honestly, I have no clue as to whether these new proposed changes have any true merit and potential or are a blatant attempt to open doors to for-profit organizations. Maybe this is just the intended end of the cascade of events that Corbett started with his cuts. Maybe it's the culmination of decades of failed policy, independent of political or financial philosophy. As a bystander, I read passionate essays on The Notebook and Facebook by concerned parents and, while I feel terrible for the children of Philadelphia, I have yet to see an actual proposed solution plan in these writings. I do see a lot of anger and frustration.
Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place, but when I do ask district parents for their opinions, I seem to get referred to blogs such as yours. Upon careful reading, and besides your writing talent, I see a loving, passionate parent whose "J'accuse" is poignant but would be much more helpful had it come with an alternative solution blueprint stapled to it. I'm trying not to criticize because I feel too ignorant to be able to do so, but, where/what is the counter-plan to these proposals? Before the Corbett cuts, the schools were not performing well at all, so is it truly, as I was brought up to believe, only a matter of funding? You say "I actually believe in the value of institutions, despite having been burned by them plenty of times. I believe that professional educators can do a better job than the majority of the hucksters and hustlers and ideologues scoring off of public education’s demise." A belief, yes, but is it supported by any evidence? If you've been burned so many times, why are you still supporting it? Have professional educators remedied schools in Washington DC? Baltimore? Detroit? Does evidence that educators produce better outcomes compared to corporations exist? If yes, where do I find it? Again, not criticizing, just asking plain and simple questions any concerned parent would want to know the answers to. Sometimes when I ask these question, the topic is so raw to folks with kids in the district that all I hear is anger as a response. I wish I could just get some calm opinions instead.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 3:44 pm

We should put politics aside, then we can really get down to the core of the matter. Any pre-conceived notion about which system is better, public, charter, private or combination of all kinds, can only be misleading to others and self-delusional to oneself. I would like to list some of the common determinants for school-building:

Controllable:

1) The ability to keep good teachers and get rid of bad teachers;
2) The ability to keep good students learning and separated them from bad students (public) or ability of get ride of bad students (private);
3) The ability to discipline bad behaviors and keep the school in good order and safe;
4) The arbitrary student selection process (public and private)-Political ideology

Non-controllable:

Parent involvement.

The reality is that as the schools move further away from the straight up public schools, they enjoy more latitude on all of these controllable factors, so they stand a better chance to become better schools. In order to compete with non-public schools, you have to give current public school more latitude on these attributes. No spin, no ideology, just straight up common sense.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 6:00 pm

And I think that's exactly the problem with the "blow up the District plan." It leaves no room for communitie to create thoughtful alternatives.

So if I can digress one bit and just pull something out of work I did in Chinatown. More than a decade ago a baseball stadium was proposed for Chinatown North. At the time the argument was, this place is a dump (it kinda was), you don't have any ideas do you? do you? So might as well go with a stadium. Chinatown fought back that plan and what we won was not money or anything concrete but we did win time and space. Time and space to figure out an alternative. Now if you walk the footprint of what would have been a stadium complex, you'll find a Khmer art gallery, an annex of a new church, small businesses serving Chinatown, an Asian antique store, headquarters for the fastest growing Chinese ethnicity in Philadelphia, plans to renovate an abandoned railroad, and of course an arts-based charter school that we built. Its a different vision - no less viable, or valuable, and wholly our own. But we needed space and time to create it.

We can't get that with a District that swings from one drastic plan to the next. We can't get stability, we can't get focused, we just jump from one moving train to another and then are blamed for our freneticism.

So I'm not going to say I have this magic plan, but we need to beat back some of the mentality that sucks all resources and air out of the room to think, create, invest in viable alternatives. And NOT take forever to do so of course.

It should be noted that Knudsen's plan was bought for $1.4M from an outside consultancy group that spent 6 weeks here. If anyone thinks that's the best we can go with be my guest. But alternatives are being created everyday in our system. Our responsibility is to be able to look carefully enough and listen carefully enough to find them and see them.

You have a host of other questions, but I suspect you're less interested in specific answers. I would just suggest that if you choose to spend time and read through and understand educational perspectives you may find the answers you're looking for.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 7:47 pm

You are an inspiration everytime you post. I agree with everything you said. We need to find a way for the SRC to really start listening to educators and not the outside consultants. Teachers are not complaining when we say we don't have resourses, we really don't have them. We have students with special needs who aren't getting the instruction they need. Not because of bad teachers but because my school doesn't have enough teachers. We were told to make it work. My heart breaks to see a student in the mainstream that can't even read.

Submitted by Tom (not verified) on April 25, 2012 2:00 pm

We need you to be the parents voice on city council!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 4:37 pm

Helen Gym you don’t speak for me. You don’t speak for the parents who can’t get their kids into charter school because the waitlist was just too long and the lottery came up short. You don’t speak for parents who don’t have a Meredith or a Stanton in their neighborhood. And you don’t speak for my kids who have to wait empty-handed while we try yet again to make a failed school work with another round of support and resources while we use poverty as an excuse not to hold ourselves to the same results as kids growing up on the other side of City Line Ave. I have two questions: 1) How many more kids in the 40 lowest performing schools in this city will you condemn to a life of opportunity missed by offering no relief from a school where a majority of kids leave functionally illiterate before saying, "enough is enough – we ought to close this place and start afresh." One year more? Two years worth of kids? Three? And 2) would you put your kids in those most-troubled schools while we wait for it to get better? I respect your views, your passion, and your advocacy. But I wish more of it was focused on the plight of real kids in the worst schools -- kids who don't care whether they're in a charter or district or even private school... they just want to be in a good school -- as opposed to defending the system that keeps them there.

Submitted by Jack (not verified) on April 25, 2012 4:31 pm

You missed the point. Why aren't district schools given the same resources as charter schools? Why is the solution to close those very schools you talk about rather than give them the resources to succeed? Do you really think those teachers in those 40 lowest performing schools don't give a damn about the kids they teach...kids that are below the poverty line with all kinds of social issues and learning disabilities? No they care because if they didn't they would have transferred out long ago. Some of those very teachers spend up to $1000 of their own money to provide resources for their classroom. So I ask you, why haven't all schools been given a level playing field to succeed? And I have news for you; when those 40 schools to be closed are announced, you can bet that Stanton and Meredith and Sheppard will be on it because of the age of the buildings and the cost to keep them running. Again the question is why aren't all schools given the resources to succeed like lower class sizes which is mentioned nowhere in the big announcement...just closing and consolidations.
Yes, you missed the point. And why did the PSD play revolving door with principals at some of those schools. Some have not a the same principal for two consecutive years.
+

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 5:08 pm

Seems like the key variable at places like Meredith is a very actively involved parent body that demands good leadership and good teaching. One should also study what is going on at home to understand how this partnership betweeen parents/S.O.'s. and the school is so essential. Meredith students will do well whether the students are housed in an old building, portables or most ideally an energy efficient structure. They will do well regardless of PSSA testing and would probably do even better if the time taken to administer these tests was given back to them in the form of more classroom instruction. Why not give schools a break on testing who have reached a certain threshold? I think of the documentaries I have see about Finland's educational system that employs little testing. But, even Finland's programs will not work if parents aren't were completely engaged in their child's educational progress. Teachers see themselves as professionals and work collabortively. Finally, all this infighting is what the powers that be want while they enjoy their incredible tax holiday. Unions expect health benefits to continue as per usual, yet we as a country refuse to tackle the fact that costs are going up well beyond inflation, i.e. in double digits. The pie is shrinking while the pieces keep getting larger. It is time to take action, but with clear goals based on systems that work. Expecting parental involvement is the first goal in my view. The Harlem Project begins "in utero." In order to afford that kind of "village" we will all have to pay more in property taxes while at the same time expecting best practices that REQUIRE a parent or S.O. at the table. I remember the incredible umbriage of parents standing in a long line around the Liacouras Center because they were paying a fine for their truant son or daughter. If you want better schools, then as a parent, you had better be part of the equation. This includes attending parent-teacher conferences! THEN, you can demand better resources, better teachers, better leadership, more efficient systems, less costly, more energy efficient building and appropriate targeted testing while being as VOCAL as is humanly possible.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 6:00 pm

I have never claimed to speak for anyone else. As someone who has worked in and with plenty of struggling schools in this city (maybe you missed our work at South Philly High where we still are working) I understand the frustration of being left out. I started a charter school after all because of the things not being addressed in the school system. Almost 20 years ago I worked on Hornbeck' curriculum standards, advocated for Policy 102 (multiracial multicultural policy) taught in the classroom, organized parents, became the editor of the Notebook for heaven's sake. I've tried it all and we're all in pretty much the same boat.

At what point in this essay does it say great job School District. Leave things just as they are? At what point in any of my posts has there been any effort to say I love the status quo or "the system"?

My point is that I've tried pretty much everything I know to explore and try to understand the complexities and challenges of large institutions. At the end of the day, the people I care about can't get out of the Philadelphia schools, or don't find the so called solutions being offered as satisfactory. And no matter what you think, blowing up things has never made them better on a broad front, not in NOLA, not in Iraq, and not in Philly.

When I say that this is a system which leads from the bottom I mean that people in power are exploting the desperation to offer false solutions of mass hope. Kill & drill test prep, TFA stints masked as professional educators. Are they offering you a new school buildng? arts and music and an enriched curriculum? For the most part most definitely not.

This is a system that everday brutalizes and hurts children . We all share a mission and moral responsibility to change that. The educrats and neo-reformers have their way. They have the money and right now the political winds to carry them along. You can join them if you think you'll be heard.

I'm just one voice saying I think there's also another path that people may want to consider. It's up to you what you want to hear.

 

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 6:20 pm

One additional point. It may not matter to a parent whether their child goes to private, public or charter, but it does matter to the democratic, tax-payer funded system which has to pay it out.

The issue of public, parochial, private does not hinge on which system is better for students (I would argue every system has its stars and its lemons) but what responsibilities a system has to the public. Private and religious school students are not entitled entry into that school if they can't pay tuition, or if they don't adhere to religious beliefs or if they have special needs that can't be met. That is why those systems are systems of choice.

A public school system exists to take care of the general public no matter what needs are required. The notion of public education to me, is the most aspirational and inspirational beliefs in our democracy. The fact that it has too often failed terribly in Philadelphia is a failure of leadership, public will, resources, and other things. Not a failure of the belief itself.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:18 pm

But Helen, what solutions are you suggesting, if any?

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 7:00 pm

I would re-order priorities for what money we have - putting that money into as many classrooms or pilot regions as I could with an eye toward basic services (particularly nurses and security).  I would stabilize the school population by not expanding charters or turnaround without more evidence of success. I would revisit the District's former internal turnaround structure for failing schools, which was proven to have the most lasting gains. I would not assume a deficit model of funding for a five year term period, instead base it on reasonable returns. I would close schools - District and charter - with an eye toward equitable distribution of schools and maximizing of resources not some BS about seat capacity and I wouldn't close 64 of them based on some real estate developer's plan.I would change the school performance index so judgment on progress doesn't rely on test scores and we could refocus on what our priorities ought to be.  I would seek open campuses for high schools to assist with services. I would give attack dog credentials to a finance team and set them loose on unbid and professional services contracts. I would drastically reduce popular contracts like CIS, PYN, City Year. I would lean heavily on the City for specific overlap of services in DHS, parks and rec, health. I would create a leadership think tank on what real autonomy and decentralization would look like. I would seek to change the Parking Authority distribution of funds. I would pull together the Philadelphia delegation and a southeast contingent and lead a call to put more money back into education.

I mean dude, what the hell. What is the point of your questions? Is it about validity? If you don't have answers you don't have anything to say? 

As I said before the Knudsen plan was largely led by an outside consultant who spent 6-8 weeks here aand was paid $1.4M for a "blueprint" that it is in the business of selling around the country. Are you seriously asking me if we can come up with better ideas than them?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 7:22 pm

The point of my question? What is the point of asking someone who says that a certain proposal doesn't speak to her, what she would suggest? I am turning to you as someone who is knowledgable and experienced to ask if there actually is another plan. I'm not going to just yell "hooray" for a strongly worded essay. I want to know what our options are ("our" meaning my family and the residents of Philadelphia). This is exactly what I was talking about before...anger at any comment that puts the contenders of proposed changes in the hot seat. I never said you shouldn't vent, but I thought maybe you were someone who has, or has come across alternatives to this new proposal. What do you mean "what the hell"?

Maybe everything you just suggested (the above priorities list) is a better way to go, but I would like to see the balance sheet and maybe some precedents to back some of those ideas. Is that too much to ask? I mean, if there are no precedents, if there is no science, if there is no good rationale other than someone's best guess or "common sense", then who's to say these new proposals will fail in comparison? I am more than happy to hear more about your priorities list, just as long as it comes with a spreadsheet that doesn't lead to insolvency.

Regarding your Chinatown stadium analogy: please put yourself in my (our) shoes for a moment. We have a 2 year old daughter. We live in Germantown and are concerned about schools like everyone else. We have three years to figure out which road we want to take. We don't have "space and time." So yes, I am going to ask "do you have any ideas? do you? do you?." Not to be annoying, or to say that you shouldn't express your frustrations publicly. But maybe because I've been living in Pilly for almost 20 years and most of what I hear is venting about the schools that I'm hoping for even the smallest semblance of a viable (and sustainable) solution.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 8:00 pm

There is a huge difference between asking me what changes I want to see in a system and what you should do with your two year old daughter when you're out of space and time. There's no answer to a latter question: "do you? do you?"

As to the former. if you sense annoyance, it's because I think there's a whole series of things that people are trying to push for, based on priorities, based on studies and data and based on beliefs. If you didn't hear any alternatives in my post and found my Chinatown analogy irrelevant, that's fine but I think I laid some out and have for a number of years. Plenty of other people have as well. I suggest you check out Parents Across America and their affiliates if you want to see parent organizing in action. If you're unfamiliar with those things, it's not something I can write about in one post nor am I one person with all answers - and I would hope reasonable people would understand that.

I'm glad you're asking the questions, but honestly, it sounds like you expect there to be one easy way of saying something that convinces you right at this moment and I suspect no one is going to be able to do that either. It's partly why I say I can surely rattle off a list of things that come to the top of my head but we are still going to need time, space, and a serious think tank with like minded priorities to do a real strategic plan.

If you're hearing just venting, then it's worth considering whether it's a matter of who you're listening to and what you're listening for. There are plenty of people who are actively working on solutions in their communities. The frustration you're hearing from me is the unwillingness to recognize the on the ground work lots of people already do.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 9:08 pm

The previous commenter had every right to ask you to propose concrete solutions. As a progressive educator who has worked in schools for over fifteen years, I’m disheartened by the outrage you show in response to this post. In my opinion, one of the reasons why progressive educators are still fighting many of the same fights as we were a decade or two (or many more) ago is because we’re not as solutions-oriented as we need to be.

Here are some ideas:

1) If we’re going to point fingers, point them in the right direction and admit the implications for our schools: Philadelphia, like all localities across the United States, has been reacting to federal and state legislation and funding priorities for years. Test scores are the metric, so they’re the incentive. PA thinks of Philadelphia as an unwanted step-child, so policies short-shrift Philly at every turn. Years of waves of reform and mismanagement (the same ones you wrote about in your post) have accumulated to cause the financial mess (and a host of others). Philly (and Knudsen’s plan) don’t exist in a vacuum. If what you’re calling for is for the Philadelphia School District to lead the nation as a city that resists lowest common denominator test scores and celebrates far more meaningful learning and holistic progress (and risks possible short-term drops in test scores in favor of longer-term proof points), then say so – because that’s the vision we’re really talking about.

2) We need to use data more strategically: Per your comment above, we keep comparing schools based on test scores (because they’re the apples-to-apples metric) but claim to care about so much more. Let’s re-imagine the use of data. What if teachers, parents and students collected – and shared – other data (some of which already exists), such as experiences of safety and belonging, excitement for learning, relevance of curriculum and instruction, post-graduate college/career readiness, acceptance and matriculation, reflections as adults on the school’s value (which would require rare longitudinal studies and the PR to promote their worth)? I understand Audre Lorde’s instruction not “to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house”, but data isn’t the “master’s tool”. It’s everyone’s tool if both quantitative and qualitative data are used strategically. Its use will preach beyond the choir.

3) Be realistic about winning community consensus: For whatever reasons Knudsen took on the interim role, it wasn’t to win a popularity contest. I don’t envy his responsibilities, and I don’t have the same umbrella perspective he (or his well-financed team) has. However, I also doubt the cost-cutting measures you proposed would put a significant dent in the budget gap, which means that other hard decisions would need to be made (unless we “won” in larger spheres – see #1). I completely agree that student, parent, teacher, administrator and other staff voices belong in the conversations about budgeting and facilities, but I don’t pretend that this involvement will satisfy all constituents – and I think it’s important not to paint a too-rosy picture of what collaboration could look/sound like as you do at the end of your letter.

4) Acknowledge strengths instead of doubting sincerity: Both Knudsen and Nixon (in her master plan) discuss more local autonomy for (some) schools, their leaders and staff teams. Instead of writing invective suggesting this intention isn’t real, say, “OK, here’s the deal: You talk about the importance of autonomy. This is what autonomy means to me. Here’s how it doesn’t come across in the plan. Here’s how it could play out now, even in the early stages of this process…” Whether earned or not, starting from a place of belief (instead of doubt) opens the conversation rather than shutting it down.

5) Rise to the challenge of formulating solutions without getting defensive: This can only make the ideas and actions you stand for stronger.

(As an aside, I’m wondering: What is the role of the next superintendent if the SRC ratifies structural and programmatic five-year plans that s/he isn’t involved in drafting?)

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 9:26 pm

Well stated and appropriate humbled. I do apologize.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 26, 2012 6:06 pm

Dude, besides needing desperately to get a life away from work, you are missing the big picture. The politicians, headed by Corbett orchestrated this "crisis." Actually, it is likely that the big money types like The Koch Bros initiated this everywhere. In any case, the question now is how to stop this avalanche of abuse before it destroys Public Ed. You obviously don't know Penny Nixon at all. She's never had a thought of her own. Giving credibility to cretins like her only exacerbates the problem and we don't have the time for that.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:04 pm

My school does not have an art or music teacher, but the students get a grade for art and music. The principal said play some music for the kids and have them write about it. The same was said for art. They get a grade but it's really not art or music. It's so sad.

Submitted by ES (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:37 pm

I am not sure why you seem so negative toward Helen Gym. You and Helen Gym are on the same side. She is in favor of more teacher support to help turn around all schools...not just shut them down.

The "system" that you think she is in favor of isn't really the Philadelphia School District. It actually hasn't been around since the state of Pennsylvania took over the SDP because it felt it wasn't doing a good job and couldn't balance its budget. It calls itself the School Reform Commission (SRC)...but one wonders what kind of reform it really did.

Since the SCR took the "power" away from Philadelphia, I believe we've had more superintendents doing a poorer job and a bigger deficit than ever.

Perhaps it is time to return the school district back to the city and have a Board of Education consisting of local educators and parents who really care about it and the CHILDREN...not some consultants whose only care is the paycheck they'll receive.

Yes, we, parents, teachers and those who care about public education, need to band together and do something to fight this group of "pirates" and help all of our children succeed with all of the needed resources. Perhaps Helen Gym, with her background and expertise, is just the person to guide us. But she can not do it alone. She will need lots of support!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 5:19 pm

All the unions affliated with the School District of Phila., are doing hardly anything but being "shocked".

What don't you get ? Like that song titled "This Is It" -this in the overdue time to implement a no -holds- barred action immediately .

Otherwise, are you going just sit by like a bystander and get bullied by greedy busineses operators, corrupt ,greedy politicians ,and imcompentent ,greedy adminstrators trying to take over to make massive money, and gain power at the expense of the students?

In addition,all STAKEHOLDERS including students, parents, teachers, principals, staff, and people in the community that actually care about children and education need to do the same.

We can win this battle if we stand up and tell ourselves and illustrate to others (who are now making those decisions), I'd had enough and I'm not going take it anymore.Let's be visible, and auditory to the public ,and as Pres.Geo. Bush put it --the "deciders" currently.

(a concerned parent)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:52 pm

Helen, will you organize us? Our unions don't seem to be asking for a call to action?

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 7:00 pm

ORGANIZING Step 1: Teacher Action Group Ed Summit

Saturday April 28, 9:30-5 p.m.

Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter, 1023 Callowhill Street

http://www.tagphilly.org/

Submitted by The Philadelphia Junto (not verified) on April 25, 2012 8:15 pm

Bravo! Richard Carreno

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 8:58 pm

I am very surprised at the total fawning over this essay. Everything Ms. Gym says sounds awesomely progressive, selfless, and student=centered. However, she is brainstorming in fictitious boundaries. For a myriad of causes not worth recoiunting, the school district is almost on insolvency. This means a radical approach is necessary to keep basic education feasible in the city. Mr. Knudsen has done just that. It is not what I, Ms. Gym, or anyone would want at all, but it seems to be - in general terms - what must be done. Until taxes are collected, raised on the top earners, or Republicans in office start caring about the decline of the state's biggest city, this is the predicament we are left to navigate in. It's a matter of dollars and cents.

If we are to be guided by student achievement and student achievement only, then a city filled with charters is not necessarily a damaging proposition under the auspices that such schools must follow neighborhood school rules on attempting to remove troubling students. Too many people decry the implementation of charters not because of their supposed lack of improvement over city schools, but what it does to unionization. As a teacher at South Philly High School, I can tell you quite specifically, the negative effects unionization has done to my school and the effect on student achievement.

The one thing Knudsen has proposed, which no one seems to be focusing on, is the autonomy of principals and accountability on principals will now have. This is an enormous positive with potential for schools to do away with high-stakes testing and focus on new curriculum standards.

Although Ms. Gym's sentiments are rooted in the right place, they are not applicable to what the hand the city school system has been dealt. Rail against Nutter, scold Corbett, insult the largest back tax owner in the city - the Philadelphia Eagles - and save some scorn for the teacher's union who'd rather keep a 2% pay hike than save more teacher jobs. At the end of the day, Mr. Knudsen is quite simply trying to make a dollar out of .50 cents.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2012 9:29 pm

Three points of consideration:

  1. Plenty of people decry the implementation of charters because of their failure to improve academic performance. The Stanford Credo study I linked to raises major questions about charter school performance.
  2. Being at South Philly High, I hope you would recognize another concern of charters which is their failure to meet equity standards. They don't serve ELL students, underserve special ed, they do not accept students year round like the public schools must. Equity and choice do not go hand in hand.
  3. Autonomy is only a word unless there's a plan to actualize it. Under Knudsen's plan, all schools would be under five year management contracts to a provider. That does not sound like autonomy at all to me. It just sounds like another taskmaster.

 

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 13, 2012 6:25 am

The fact that charters can "council out" or kick out students any time during the school year is important. Far too many students have been sent from charters to our school this year mid year (Boys Latin, PET, Prep Charter, Mastery, etc.) Many have an IEP and all have behavioral issues. The neighborhood school has to try to provide for students the charters chose to reject. This obviously does not provide an equal playing field.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 25, 2012 9:45 pm

Do you mean give the principals more autonomy or give the local school community more autonomy? As Helen points out, what autonomy is there when they give five year management contracts to a "provider."

That is not what charter schools were designed to be. They were supposed to be incubators of innovation where teachers and the local community are in control of the instructional program. They were supposed to be doing credible school based research as a community of professionals and parents.

Charter schools were not supposed to be managed by providers. And to be honest, there are court decisions which hold that educational management organizations, "providers," can not be given the legal power and authority to run a charter school. Only a charter school's board of trustees can be granted the legal authority to run a charter school.

So are they creating more charter schools or just contracting out to what are really just "educational management organizations?" If so, that is privatization.

Which providers are really qualified to run our schools? Where is Edison Schools now? Victory Schools? Foundations? Are we planning on giving more schools to Universal? ASPIRA? Young Scholars? Mastery? Where have they shown legitimate gains in achievement and school climate? Where have they saved us money?

Are these schools going to be run as public schools? Or are they going to be allowed to be run as private schools for the benefit of those who control their board of trustees? You can call a school a public school, but if you allow it to be run as a private school -- it is a private school.

Is that what the people of Philadelphia want? Or is that the Agenda of politicians and privatizers? What will be the real costs and what are the legitimate benefits? These are serious issues which go to the heart of public of education and the heart of our democracy. We all need to be in this discussion....

After all, Whose school is it?

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on May 13, 2012 12:07 am

I don't like charter schools because it feels like navigating an elite private school system where you start prepping your child from birth so that you can ensure they get into the 'right' school. I want my child to have what I had, a decent neighborhood school that provides my child with a decent education, free from verbal or physical abuse and respects my child's rights.

Pennsylvania's labor laws are pretty bad...for example a salaried employee can be denied a lunch break at work if they are over 18 years of age, so in a field that's dominated by women and low paying in comparison to the education required, unions can protect teachers from exploitation and abuse.. But if the SDP wants parental support, they need to change their outlook on parents and students. Even using the term'bad' is offensive to me. There is no such thing as a 'bad' kid. Grading on behavior, not informing on abusive or unethical practices, not calling out unprofessional principals, and witnessing teachers who yell and scream at students, are really making me disengage from this district. My first line of contact is at the school level and after having a librain scream and call kids names in front of me, this week and also have another teacher scream at me for telling a parent to discuss with the principal instead of me another parent about her child being left alone in a classroom at the end of the day and forgotten as the child was sleeping, I just couldn't bring myself to an SRC meeting in support of the teachers. I can't support people who witness and or allow others to abuse not educate our children. I don't think the SRC has a children's interest at heart either, so instead I have now decided to try by any means necessary to remove my child from the SDP. I am broke and don't have the time to shop around but my child deserves an education free from the assumption he's bad or poorly behaved because I made the stupid mistake to buy a house in the city of Philadelphia.

Please keep up the good work Ms Gym. The kids deserve it.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 13, 2012 6:15 am

The "autonomy" proposed by Nixon/Knudson is very limited for "lower performing" schools. To date, there are three levels of autonomy. Magnet schools and schools with a high ranking (which in the SDP is a 1 - 2 or 3) have "full autonomy" but that still hasn't been completely defined. Schools in the "middle" (4 - 6 ranking) have limited autonomy. Schools with low rankings (7 - 10) have no autonomy.

The teacher from Southern who claimed standardized testing will be gone is misinformed. Standardized testing (PSSA, Keystone Exams) are required under NCLB. The Commonwealth creates the exams. No public school will be able to forgo testing. While the PA General Assembly tries to get its act together (how many are in prison or headed to prison?), we are waiting on what the Keystone exams for high school will entail for next year. Word on the street is, if a student takes Algebra 1 after 9th grade, a magnet might "accept" them and student takes their AYP status with them. One again, who will be left in neighborhood schools? We will only have students who struggle mightily. Yet, neighborhood schools will be closed because of low scores.

While I agree there are PFT members who are lazy, uninvolved and clocking time, it is not everyone. I want a union to protect due process because I have had too many incompetent, inadequate, insecure, vengeful and bullying principals. Too many principals in Philadelphia have their position because of who they know. They glory in their power rather than provide leadership. Too many also have very little teaching experience or were incompetent teachers. Why should someone who can't teach critique a teacher's teaching? What I hope the PFT supports is teacher collective led schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 9:01 pm

Dear Ms. Gym,
Your letter certainly speaks to me! Just another parent fighting the same fight in Denver, CO. Thank you for so eloquently saying what so many of us feel.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 9:08 pm

Talking about "charters" as if they are homogeneous is as disingenuous and misleading as lumping all district schools together. Some charter operators are crooks. We should close those and I think this plan will do that. Some cream or turn away hard-to-educate kids. Many do not. And frankly, while district schools may *have* to take those kids, dismal attendance rates show that just as many of those schools are failing those kids also. But many are flat out doing a better job than traditional district schools. I can't figure out why anyone would be against those schools expanding??!! Only the most ideological, impractical charter supporters claim that all charters are great or that they're mere existence will turn the tide. That's just foolish. What makes great charters great is the same thing that makes great district schools great -- talented teachers and principals. And you are more likely to find that talent in charters for all sorts of reasons, mainly that charters afford the opportunity for great teachers to work with more aligned peers. To make this fight about charters or about resources alone is just a red herring... more money in the right hands would be a difference maker for sure. But you could throw all the money in Harrisburg at the 40 lowest performing schools (charter or district) in Philadelphia and it won't turn the tide. Many of the folks in those buildings mean well... but the reality is that some buildings produce results with the same kids, the same level of resources, and the same challenges... and so we have to address the harsh reality that adults in the building are responsible for the achievement of their kids.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 26, 2012 8:09 am

I would agree with you and I'm glad to see someone taking the time to delineate what is important. If the end result, that is actual achievement of the children, not just prescreened selection, is used to choose leadership, then I think we have a chance. Whether it be traditional or charter.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 26, 2012 8:40 am

I am in support of allowing the well governed, well led and effective charter schools to expand. The issue with the "new plan" is that the School District is presently preventing individual charter schools from expanding.

What they are increasing is schools run by "charter operators." Schools run by charter operators are not charter schools under the Charter School Act unless "the school" has its own board of trustees.

Mr. Knudsen's plan, which is really the The Boston Consulting Group's plan, is a privatization plan. The school district presently has no plan to allow the creation of more "true charter schools" to be created.

Nor does it have any plan for the teachers of a school to govern their own schools which is the expressed purpose of the Charter School Act in Pennsylvania. That was the original philosophy of the charter school movement.

There is also a provision in our School Code which allows the district to create 'Independent Schools" governed by teachers pursuant to a collaborative governance structure.

I agree with those who see this as a moment of opportunity for teachers to rise and demand that they be treated as the professionals they are. But we all have a lot of homework to do on the various models of school governance that are possible.

I also believe the SRC has a whole lot of homework to do on the possible models of school governance and the rationales behind them.

It is time we moved into the 21st century when in comes to our notions and understanding of school governance.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 26, 2012 9:49 am

Also, could you please support your contention in your last sentence with real life examples.

I am speaking about this statement: ",,, but the reality is that some buildings produce results with the same kids, the same level of resources, the same challenges... and so we have to address the harsh reality that adults in the building are responsible for the achievement of the kids."

Could you give me one "apples to apples" comparison to support that statement?

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 27, 2012 8:36 am

I can provide an example with two teachers at Levering who were able to bring their group of challenging behavior 8th grade students to 80% (PSSA) in both Math and Literacy (above the school's 60%). As soon as they left (and this is as soon as they left), the scores dropped. I was fortunate to be able to watch them in action. Just down the street (literally) is Cook Wissahickon who has essentially the same demographic of students and no special admission... individual people do make a difference.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 27, 2012 9:22 am

Good example of individual teacher effectiveness. Are Levering's and Cook Wissahickon's collective PSSA scores significantly different over a two or three year period?

Why did those teachers leave?

Teachers matter. So does leadership. So does class size. So does curriculum. So does pedagogy. So does teacher collaboration. So does the synergy of a school community. Who controls those factors?

The issue really is, How do we get talented and dedicated individuals to join the teaching profession, empower them, and keep them in the profession?

Also, you watched them in action and found them to be Great teachers. What was it that made them such good teachers? What were their teaching styles and exemplified characteristics?

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 27, 2012 2:25 pm

Yes. It is an instructive study to compare Levering and Cook, as the two are geographically/demographically nearly identical. There is a difference in the overall scores over a 2, 3 year period. Cook consistently made AYP over a 3 year period, and their scores consistently rose across all their grades. Levering on the other hand had a period of 3 years in which it did not make AYP, and the scores vary tremendously from grade to grade.

Of interest in looking at Levering's PSSAs is that the scores tended to follow a class rather than a grade/teacher. That is, for example, if one year's 4th grade class did poorly in Math vs Literacy, the next year's 5th grade class did likewise. (This is looking at a period during which Levering did not make AYP, so the number of new transfers in were minimal.) The 8th grade however, consistently made AYP, which implies the teachers were the influential factor.

The teachers left because of misunderstanding by the principal. They were a tight knit team, with adjoining classrooms; and they "covered each other's back". Because of internal insecurity (jealousy?)/complaint, the principal split them up ("to work with others" was the stated reason).

A lot could be learned by observing them. They were tough tough tough, vigilant (nothing escaped their eagle eyes), while constantly affirming faith (and caring) in their students, asserting their belief to each individual student that he/she could accomplish prize academic goals. We're talking about kids whose main goal was to tear teachers apart, yet they were able to teach them. The vigilance I would say was a key reason they were effective. The fact that they supported each other so seamlessly enabled them to establish discipline. So it would be a combination of being very (proactively) tough and working as a team that made them successful. If a child did not do his/her homework, they made them do it (and supervised them) during their lunch period.

Watching good teachers teach, one can only conclude that teaching is a calling. There have been many good comments here on the Notebook on how to help teachers develop their skills; all good, all useful. I try and comment where my own observation might contribute. I was only a volunteer parent. For Levering, in the end, it was lack of good leadership that led to the loss of good teachers, and loss of parent and neighborhood community.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 27, 2012 3:07 pm

Thank you for expressing your observations and beliefs. I find your input and comments very interesting and poignant in many areas.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 28, 2012 8:14 am

Likewise your posts are always thoughtful and positive.

While the consistency in grade scores can prove individual teacher influence at Levering, the schoolwide improvement in Cook -W's test scores can be attributed to a strong Home and School/caregiver involvement. Whereas at Levering I was threatened with a suit for "defamation of character" when I pushed for accountability from their Home and School; At Cook, their fundraising and expenditures were disclosed for everyone to see on a website their Home and School created. What a difference.

So the conclusion is, no matter how carefully thought out a system of government, in the end it relies on individual people. What BCG has proposed will not work unless these "achievement networks" actually have strong enough communications (common vision). As predicted, it takes an outside group to enact a real reorganization. No one has commented on the fate of the middle management.

The accountability factor (which worked in the case of Levering and Cook (parents left Levering for Cook)) will be in who has the power to hire and fire.

Finally, I feel it is not inappropriate for Mayor Nutter to initiate a lawsuit against the State as the former SRC was key in this financial fiasco.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2012 7:47 pm

That was a "one and done" situation: those 80% PSSA results were for the 8th grade only and for that year only, yet those two teachers also taught 7th grade and whose scores weren't near or at 80%.

Also, the year 2009 is when STATEWIDE (let alone city-wide) 8th grade scores skyrocketed.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 22, 2012 6:59 am

Right then, the critical comparison would be to the school district average, which should show the larger trend. Remember AYP is based on improvement. I checked and the trend for these teachers was a definite trend above the SDP average and upward, including 7th grade. If that year was "one and done", then it should also show district wide.

Submitted by squandette (not verified) on April 27, 2012 12:30 am

I agree what you say about charters, but the problem is that is NOT how they are presented to the general public. They are presented as the be all end all and the only solution to struggling public schools. And I need to be specific - when you hear about flourishing public schools, they are usually in the suburbs or they are charters in the city. But it is rare that you hear about urban public schools that are doing well. And it is not that they aren't. It's just not news. The message that is sold is that if your school is turned into a charter, ANY charter, your child will learn more, be in a safer environment and perform better on tests. And if you disagree with that premise, you are a teacher who is part of the problem.

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