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A new partnership on school selection

By Paul Socolar on Jun 5, 2012 01:19 PM

One of the Notebook’s key objectives is to support families in making informed decisions about schools through products such as our annual Fall Guide to High Schools. To support that goal, the Notebook has signed on as a partner in an ambitious new initiative to provide more comprehensive information about school choice in Philadelphia.

The new project, called GreatPhillySchools, was initiated by Philadelphia School Partnership, or PSP. It will debut this fall.

This new project aims to address a problem identified in a 2010 study by Pew Charitable Trusts, which found that 42 percent of Philadelphia parents surveyed said it is hard to get enough information about the school options for their children. The Notebook has been committed to providing more information at the high school level, because we know that large numbers of students try to exercise school choice but don’t get any of their options.

GreatPhillySchools aims to be a comprehensive source for information about K-12 school options, including private and parochial schools. It will include both web and print resources. The project aims to examine and present school options in the framework of preparation for postsecondary success. PSP has been able to secure funding for this project to develop multimedia materials on school choice, including a robust website that will be accessible by smart phone, printed guides, and translations of materials into additional languages.

Deciding to collaborate in this endeavor was a complicated decision that the Notebook did not take lightly, because our mission is to provide information and to support conversation and engagement specifically about public schools in Philadelphia. The Notebook’s mission reflects a belief that a strong public education system is critical in a democratic society and that a news organization such as ours can play a role in ensuring that this system is accountable to the public.

Our decision to cooperate reflects a compromise and a desire on our part to create the best possible information source for making school-choice decisions, rather than having two dueling organizations and resources compete with each other. Part of our understanding with PSP is that we will continue to print a Fall Guide to High Schools, and we maintain independent editorial control over that. In the three years that we have published the guide, it has become our most popular and widely used print product. The focus of that guide will remain the same – District and charter schools serving the high school grades.

While we will continue to focus the Notebook’s energies on reporting about public schools – District and charter – we will also be trying to make the resources and presentations of school data produced by GreatPhillySchools the best they can be.

Reflecting our collaboration, this year our research for the “school profile” section of the Notebook’s Fall Guide is being done in collaboration with PSP. The Notebook is receiving funding from PSP to support our annual survey, which was jointly developed, and the data collected will be shared with the GreatPhillySchools project. The Urban Affairs Coalition is being funded by PSP to do similar work on K-8 schools. Coordinating our information-gathering is an important step, because none of us wanted to subject principals to multiple, detailed surveys about their schools and their programs.

The Notebook, Urban Affairs Coalition, and several other organizations sit on the advisory council for the GreatPhillySchools project, where we have an opportunity to advise PSP on the types of information to present, the organization of the website, and how to make the project as accessible and parent-friendly as possible.

Much work remains to be done in the next few months. There are important and difficult decisions to make about the measures best used to define a “great school.” But we are all hopeful that the product will be a better school-choice information source than has previously existed.

Getting support for this project through PSP is not the first time the Notebook will be receiving funding from an organization that is a significant newsmaker in Philadelphia. In this case, PSP plays a lead role in the Great Schools Compact, staffing it and managing the submission of funding requests to the Gates Foundation and other organizations. PSP has also made large donations to managers of Renaissance Schools and has contributed to supporting the work of Boston Consulting Group in Philadelphia, as reported by the Notebook.

For the Notebook, receiving contributions – and advertising dollars – from organizations that we write about is a constant reality. Our news organization would have virtually no money if we did not take funding from foundations, organizations and individuals with their own education agendas for the city. We sometimes obtain funding that is earmarked to supporting a particular topic, as we are doing in this case to assist with the production of our high school guide.

But our pledge to our readers, and our message to our funders, is that we are determined not to be influenced in how we approach our news coverage by who gives us money. We strive to maintain a diversity of funding sources so that we are not overly dependent on particular funders. That is one reason why we are working so hard to increase our individual memberships and why we run an annual fundraising event.

In the case of Philadelphia School Partnership, the funds committed this year represent about 2 percent of the Notebook’s total budget.

Stay tuned for more information about GreatPhillySchools, which we hope will be a valuable addition to the resources available to parents.

Comments (7)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 5, 2012 3:21 pm

Good luck with all that--you're going to need it. Contributors have an agenda almost always or they wouldn't be giving you money in the first place. There will be an exception here and there but very seldomly.

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on June 5, 2012 4:46 pm

I have no trust in the Philadelphia School Partnership because of its agenda of privatization of its founders and operators. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Caveat emptor!!!!

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 6, 2012 11:21 am

It's good to know the Notebook, with its exemplary track record of working for transparency, is willing to get involved. There will be a lot of interest in manipulating the information since it will influence decisions on enrolling.

Will there be a better way to log student, teacher, and caregiver input? It is not unrelated to the effort to find a better way to assess a school, and eventually the staff; so funding should include similarly what was set aside to develop the SPI, and might also include some of the recent "Race to the Top" Federal grant that PA promised would go to developing a better way to evaluate teachers.

If there is a website created where users can access the information, it should be opened to advertisers, and the income given to the District. It could eventually be a significant income stream for the District relieving the taxpayers.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on June 6, 2012 12:12 pm

Yes, it is a good thing the Notebook is getting involved because it is the Notebook community who have been standing up for transparency, truth and propriety. They can keep their eye on things.

As you say, there will be a lot of interest in manipulating the information.

I find it quite 'interesting" that PSP is now donating to the Notebook and they are undertaking the "good deed" of setting up this new "partnership" to put out information on our schools.

One of the games the privatizers play is control of the information put out to the public. Their tool is their money that they give to politicians and news organizations. They attempt to influence and even control the press. They also create organizations to appear as though they are doing public service when they are actually promoting their own ideologies.

The SRC has a duty and responsibility to see that all information is objectively printed and published to give parents objective and unbiased information. The SRC should be in full control of any official publication of the School District.

We need truth and objectivity in the information given to the public.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 6, 2012 2:01 pm

Thanks Rich for reminding us of the unhealthy trends in our media today. Recently, there was a story created on CNBC about how illegal immigrants were taking advantage of the Additional Child Tax Credit on tax returns to get huge checks (shown were $14,000) back above what they paid in taxes. I looked at Form 8812, and this was NOT possible, yet no one noticed; Instead the story was treated as fact and put on nearly every patriotic and anit-Obama website. There's not an illegal immigrant that can sue; How evil is this? Turns out CNBC is owned by GE which managed to dodge over $3 billion in Federal tax obligations (published picture has smiling exec shaking Obama's hand)...sigh, I want to move to Canada...

Reading this article more closely, I think the main way of gathering info right now will be surveys given to principals. The better evaluation of schools is still a work in progress and probably will only be touched. Better tracking of alumni might be interesting/helpful, but that is an imposing task.

Certain stats, such as school demographic have already been kept on the District's website, but have not included all the charter or private schools. Also, certain things are not calculated for the reader: such things as student to teacher ratio by grade for example; or a better breakdown of the individual school budgets (how much and how is the Title I spent (my favorite bone)?). While we're at it let's also post the School Improvement Plans -every caregiver's right, and not proprietary by any means. It would also be revealing to post the budgets of the individual School Activity Funds as well as those of the Home and School's (both of which the principal is required to have) to gage the strength of the caregiver involvement. These are just a few easily done suggestions...

The website greatschools.org, though incomplete and lacking an up-to-date set of stats, has some useful features and incorporates a feedback section (screened by having to register) though again this only reflects the opinions of those who took the time to write (much the same problem as the SPI). This site ambitiously attempts to give readers a nationwide comparison based mostly on standardized test scores. Interestingly, the Gates Foundation is one of their funders also :)

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on June 6, 2012 11:39 am

The Executive Director of Philadelphia School Partnership is Mark Gleason. He is the one who wrote the propaganda piece: "A silent Majority for School Choice" in the Inquirer on May 24th. Did anyone read the comments to that commentary? The commenters blasted him for the inaccurate and unsubstantiated statements he made in that commentary.

PSP is one of those organizations like Children First which was recently set up specifically to push the privatization agenda. Mark Gleason is a paid shill of the privatizers.

Mark Gleason recently came here from North Jersey to get in on the action. He is not an educator with any previous ties to Philadelphia. He is a businessman who never cared about us or our children until he saw an opportunity to make a buck here.

Submitted by Concerned Philadlephian (not verified) on June 6, 2012 12:26 pm

"There are important and difficult decisions to make about the measures best used to define a “great school.”

How will the Notebook determine what is a "great school?" We know the bias of the Great Schools Compact - private, parochial and charter over neighborhood schools. The SDP criteria is heavily weighted toward evaluation of principals rather than what makes a school a positive learning environment.

Please tread carefully! Solicit information from many sources. Don't just rely on what you're told by a school principal. Neighborhood schools have selling points too!

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