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District: Closings could mean end of neighborhood assignment, middle schools

By the Notebook on Sep 25, 2012 03:15 PM
Photo: Emma Lee for NewsWorks

Parents and community members attended the first of a series of meetings about how the District should approach school closings.

By Benjamin Herold
for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

In order to close up to one-fifth of the city's traditional public schools by the fall of 2013, Philadelphia District officials are considering some dramatic steps, including a move away from assigning students to schools based on their home address.

Also on the table are eliminating traditional middle schools and closing some poor-performing schools located in adequate facilities in order to preserve stronger academic programs elsewhere. All told, as many as 57 schools could be shuttered over the next few years.

Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen told about 75 parents and community representatives at a Tuesday morning forum that the District has no choice but to take aggressive action.

Listen to Benjamin Herold's radio report

"These school closures represent the opportunity for us to save about $30 to $35 million a year and put those resources toward the kinds of educational programs that we all want for children," Knudsen said. 

"It is that simple a calculus."

But identifying which schools should be closed is sure to be both complicated and controversial. To help inform those decisions, the District is hosting a series of seven public meetings to gather input on how officials should balance “competing objectives” in three areas.

The first area is how students should be assigned to schools. 

Deputy for Strategic Initiatives Danielle Floyd said the District wants guidance from parents on whether they would rather be assigned neighborhood schools they can count on, or given access to a number of good school options that might not be within walking distance of their homes.

Right now, said Floyd, most K-8 students opt to attend their neighborhood schools.  But more than half of the city’s public high school students do not attend their assigned neighborhood high school. 

“As a parent or a guardian, how much flexibility are you comfortable with?” she asked.

Audience members responded using real-time polling technology -- punching buttons on devices that look like remote controls to give their views. Taken as a whole, the group expressed support for a middle ground – keeping neighborhood assignment for younger students, but moving toward a full choice-based system for high school-aged students.

The District is also wrestling with what to do about good schools located in bad buildings. That dilemma was highlighted last spring when public outcry led the School Reform Commission to ultimately spare E.M. Stanton and Sheppard elementary schools from recommended closure.

“We really have two ways we can go about this,” Floyd said.

The first option, she said, would be to close the older building and reassign its students to better facilities nearby, regardless of the quality of the respective schools’ educational programs. That strategy could result in students moving from a high-performing school to a less successful one.

Or, the District could prioritize protecting strong academic programs. This would likely mean closing poorly performing schools in better buildings so that the nearby higher-performing school could move there.

What to do with middle grades is the third big issue. Some communities have expressed strong support for K-8 schools, Floyd said, while others prefer “true middles,” serving only grades 6 through 8. 

Right now, she said, the District has 23 standalone middle schools, many of which are housed in woefully underutilized facilities.

“We really want to get your perspective on how should the District be thinking about management of that 6th-through-8th-grade experience,” Floyd said.

Audience polling indicated group support for a “case-by-case” approach.  It was the third such compromise solution born from the District’s feedback strategy, perhaps giving a clue as to the directions school officials are hoping to take.

No specific schools were discussed at the forum; District officials said they expect to announce their recommendations for closure in November, with an SRC vote tentatively slated for March.

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos and Commissioner Wendell Pritchett attended the meeting, as did new Superintendent William Hite. 

Hite echoed the SRC’s stance that widespread school closures are needed in order to save money and reduce the “stranded costs” that have resulted from a decade-long exodus of students from district schools to charter schools. 

“Every dime that’s spent somewhere else, like an empty seat or heating a room that is not in use, is a dime away from classrooms or students,” Hite said.

Audience polling indicated that roughly one-third of those in attendance were community members or representatives of interest groups. Twenty-eight percent were parents, and 16 percent came from outside of Philadelphia. More than two-thirds had attended previous meetings about the District’s “facilities master plan.”

The District’s forums are being sponsored by groups including the Philadelphia Education Fund, Parent Power, and the Philadelphia Right to Education Local Task Force.

“We have been extremely impressed with the sincerity with which both the District and the SRC has approached this task,” said Darren Spielman, executive director of the Philadelphia Education Fund. “We fully endorse the process.”

A team from the Boston Consulting Group attended Tuesday’s forum, but did not speak and was not publicly recognized.  

Last month, the District released a 119-page document detailing a number of the management consulting firm’s analyses and findings, including a recommendation to close between 29 and 57 schools in time for the 2014 fiscal year.

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Comments (56)

Submitted by A worried Philadelphian (not verified) on September 25, 2012 5:15 pm

Isn't the bill for expanding charters just from renewals/expansions from this year over $110 million? $30 million to close up to 57 schools seems like chump change. How many charter seats could be cut to preserve at least a group of neighborhood schools? If the SDP increases the distance students travel to schools, this will increase the transportation budget. Has this been included in the costs?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2012 12:23 am

Agreed. As a percentage of budget, 30 million is chump change, considering the devastating effect a move of this scale will cause to neighborhoods.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on September 26, 2012 3:28 pm

I totally agree with you. The charters have raised the cost of educating children. Often times, the charters are no better than traditional public schools. Why were we not spending this kind of money on the publicly run schools?

I was also thinking about transportation costs. I think a choice based system could work for high school students, but I am opposed to it for younger students. Many younger students rely on family members for after school care. Closing middle schools should take place on a case by case basis. Some of the elementary schools may not be able to accommodate middle school students. In addition, the middle school students should be on their own floor or in their own part of the building for the safety of the younger students. This separation may not be possible in all buildings.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2012 8:09 am

That's my question. If they're running a $200 million dollar deficit, any savings is not going to educational programs. It's going to the deficit.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 25, 2012 6:46 pm

Questions: Schools that have been in corrective action ll for multiple years (up to as many as 9) is located where is this equation? Is there a plan to begin with schools that have in corrective action ll for longest period?

Are we going to ignore experience/research/data that indicate the middle school model has failed miserably at educating adolescence? Shall we pretend we don't know of multiple studies that pinpoint serious challenges associated with standalone middle schools?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 25, 2012 9:58 pm

I agree with your first point that before any schools are closed we look at ones that are not successful. I am interested in the research you wrote about that states true middle schools are worse the K-8. I have looked for some research and have found no real agreement of studies either way. Most studies cite the middle school decline is due to other factors such as larger class sizes, lower specialized funding, and schools being further from students homes. Additionally, one study I found that followed Philadelphia students ( showed that students did the worst at newly formed K-8's. Is changing those schools over in their best interest? Why should we get rid of a school just because of the format? Is there other information that you used to form your opinion?

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on September 26, 2012 3:33 pm

The Middle School vs. K-8 debate has been going on for a long time now. The poster you just questioned doesn't need facts, just feelings to support his argument. My dealing with Middle Schools has been positive overall, not so much with K-8.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 25, 2012 7:39 pm

How much extra money would the district have to dole out on travel expenses for high school students who attend school out of the neighborhood? I would imagine that it is approximately $15 per student per week.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2012 4:28 am

Actually, my experience at neighborhood schools is that a huge percentage of students already live at least far enough away to qualify for a Transpass anyway. Between students moving, but staying in the same school, disciplinary transfers, living with a different parent that when they started at a school, etc., many high school students already attend schools far enough from home to get a transpass.

Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on September 26, 2012 6:56 am

It depends on the neighborhood. Schools in South Philly, North Philly/Kensington, Frankford often have students who live within the 1.5 miles. Less than 50% get a transpass. Northeast schools have students who often live more than 1.5 miles because they are farther apart. But, as you wrote, because of the proliferation of special admit/magnets under Vallas, many high school students attend schools out of their catchment.

Submitted by Mark Rauterkus (not verified) on September 26, 2012 12:53 pm

The aim is to educate kids. Schools that don't do that should be closed. Schools that do educate should remain open. Replicate what works. The building is less of a factor next to the performance of the students and staff.

It is a software problem, not a hardware problem. Bricks and mortar are secondary.

Furthermore, expand the successful schools. If the Creative and Performing Arts School works, then make two of them. Or, make it grow by 20% a year.

Allow some extra capacity so people can depart schools that are not working for them and move to other schools. To be perfectly "right sized" is bunk as the families can't then vote with their feet and leave the schools that are floundering. The families and marketplace decisions will show more and show it much more quickly than some silly test results.

Submitted by Moving Philly (not verified) on September 26, 2012 1:05 pm

What experience do you have "educating kids?" An arts school meets the need of some students - certainly not all. There are a variety of schools in Philadelphia. 1/2 the high schools have admission requirements - they will not accept all students. Most of the charters have admission procedures which are the equivalent to admission requirements. Schools which have the majority of students with special needs (language, behavior, mental health, learning disabilities, etc.) are in so called "low performing" schools.

Your market place solution will work for families who can navigate the system and students who are attractive to so called high performing schools. (This year only magnet / special admit high schools were labeled "high performing seats" and given extra students.) We have neighborhood high schools where over half of the students have an IEP and/or are ELL. Then, there are schools like Central and Masterman which have less than 1%.

It is much more complicated than a "market place" solution. A "market place" solution would get rid of 30 years of progress in making schools more accessible (e.g. IDEA).

Submitted by Mark Rauterkus (not verified) on September 26, 2012 3:07 pm

Lots of experiences here. Shoot the messenger and not deal with the message. First grade #FAIL.


I never said to make ALL the schools ART SCHOOLS. Replicate what works. Would you rather replicate what fails? Or, do you want to close schools based upon the condition of the roof? Second grade #FAIL, exaggerate wildly.

Kids with special needs will and should always have a home in the public education system. When a failing school is closed, the kids are not banished from the system. Come on.

The market place solution is your term. I'd rather have what happens in the USA with the trade schools, colleges and universities, (a longer tradition than 30 years of progress,) where the students pick. What won't be accessible = is a number of schools it seems.

The flip side to a student/family choice is a student/family FORCE. If your address is the 200 block, go here. If 300 block, go there. That's enslaving people to a government monopoly without any ability to vote with their feet.

By the way, there is nothing more complicated than the marketplace as each consumer gets to make his or her decisions based on their never ending factors and available options. Only a fool would try to be smarter (and dictate solutions) than the collective wisdom of all the individual families in a city.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2012 4:17 pm

You used the term "marketplace." Privatization of public institutions does not work. The outcome is never equitable. Interesting that you state special education students "have a home in public education." Not private?

The choices families have in Phila. are vast - almost too many. We need to support public schools - not turn them over to charter operators and privateers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2012 10:04 am

Think of this like this, instead of closing schools and providing families "choice", which is like saying all kids can get into Harvard because they can choose to go there, redirect energies to working with schools and communities to make it better. Instead, we had ten years of measuring school success and directing resources towards test preparation. Meanwhile, the lowest performing schools are in dire need of the basics and better supported personnel. The solution is not a voucher/choice system. In fact, such policy is undemocratic. That is, when another parent takes our public money and uses it to choose another school which then undermines the stability of my school, so they can get into a schoo,with special preferences or worse, a charter that is most likely worse in many ways and perhaps better in others, I lose my ability to as an voter to build a stronger community school. Individualism in the market place works nicely, at times, when it is a measurable product. Education is not really easily measurable. Market reform movement in education is flawed essentially. It assumes everyone has equal access, equal information, and equal wealth.

Submitted by Mark Rauterkus (not verified) on September 27, 2012 12:20 pm

Your ability to as an voter to build a stronger community school should not last a lifetime.

What is measured is satisfaction. That measurement resides with the families. They get to control their own destiny with their children. That's democratic.

And, I'm not talking about VOUCHERS. I'm talking about choice among public schools.

I advocated that all feeder patterns in Pittsburgh be eliminated. Allow anyone in the city to go to any school. Give sibling preference. Give neighborhood preference too just to cut down on transportation costs. All feeder patterns could vanish at the high school grades now in Pittsburgh if the administrators and board were with enough courage, IMNSHO.

Submitted by Marc Brasof (not verified) on September 27, 2012 4:55 pm

Your idea is quite worthy of examination and has been from many perspectives. Choice sounds like a great idea but in practice it does not work as well in a system that MUST accommodate for everyone. Schools would have to create first-come-first serve admission policies or establish some sort of criteria. As soon as that happens, you have the issues I mentioned: market reform assumes that everyone has equal access to information and resources. They don't and therefore the result is a tiered system in which resources were again reshuffled and the issues with schools remained unresolved. You can't improve schools soley through market forces. You are not advocating for a voucher system but that is how it would operate regardless.

Submitted by Mark Rauterkus (not verified) on September 27, 2012 6:45 pm

The point of doing a choice model is to determine what schools to close, contract, expand, duplicate. The choice is not to determine what schools to improve.

Improve schools by all means. But, let the people be the judge of those improvements by watching enrollment rise and fall.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on October 2, 2012 1:00 pm

This is an interesting conversation. With caregivers, choice is often about finding the "right" community for their child. The question then is, with admission requirement screening, is a community of "like" with "like" the best for children, as is often the case for the special admission so labelled "high achieving" schools? Having these magnet schools rather than improving schools really has started another wave of segregation as well as increasing transportation costs. (Honestly, the magnets aren't doing things much differently (greater arts offerings does not change the basic classroom approach), that is "choice" ultimately refers to who you want your children to associate with (perhaps we need gov't intervention to keep this democratic?).) What about studies that are showing the importance of sufficient sleep for children, considering those who are transported long distances daily?

Although I agree that the families of the children should have the most say, I feel that the fundamental connection to the neighborhood has not been given enough credit (I agree with Anonymous who states that a neighborhood can and would want to get involved to improve a school). City planners should be in on this conversation. Obviously a school that is getting top resources can attract families/revitalize a neighborhood (look at Penn Alexander). Perhaps we can't replicate the "name brand", but we can start to focus on fixing rather than running away, which the highly overrated "choice" is, more often than not.

In terms of physical buildings, perhaps the City could look into the possible use of schools which were strategically placed geographically, as community centers or neighborhood arts centers going forward.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on September 26, 2012 3:41 pm

The question is how do you measure "educate"? Do you measure it by how well a student performs on standardized tests? Or is it more holistic? I think that education is more holistic, encompassing factors such as:
- How well a person communicates,
- How well someone is able to think critically and independently about the media that they encounter, including advertising;
- The ability to find a living wage job; and
- The ability to participate meaningfully in the democratic process in our nation, including voting and running for public office.

These are reasonable ends for most students to meet. Unfortunately, people want black and white data that is objective and foolproof. This kind of data and evaluation system doesn't exist. In order to truly evaluate student progress, there needs to be a portfolio of assessments (standardized, formative, curriculum-based), student products (papers, projects, artwork), videotapes, and interviews. This kind of holistic evaluation system would be very expensive. Some people would rather use test scores to save money.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on September 26, 2012 9:24 pm

You're wasting your breath. This is not now nor never has been about educating kids. It was, is and always will be about making more money for the already rich. Of course, you are correct about education and its many facets but the Charter issue is not about education in any serious way.

Submitted by Another grad Student (not verified) on September 28, 2012 1:19 am

Wonderful idea but not realistic when your goal is to save money. While test scores aren't perfect, the state and local (and federal) governments also use other factors such as graduation rates, retention, attendance, suspensions, college attendance and enrollment when measuring a school's performance. College attendance and graduation rates are very important. While it it possible to still write well, speak well, and get a decent paying job without having earned a high school diploma, it is extremely unlikely in today's economy. Sure there are some kids that just don't test well, but it's really not very hard to score a proficient on the PSSAs, it's untimed and there's lots of practice, if the school itself is really preparing students for college or a decent career and the student has attended school regularly and is on track to graduate. However there could be an "appeals" process in place for students that can't seem to pass the PSSAs but classroom work demonstrates that he or she can communicate well, think critically, do sophisticated math, and be a productive member of society in some capacity.. But still I would argue that is a small minority of students. The bottom line is most students need to actually attend school regularly and graduate to really be able to do all the things you mentioned well. If a student drops out in 9th or 10 grade, having never passed the PSSAs do you really think they are going to be the next Bill Gates or Obama? Or even make a decent living without welfare? Possible, but very Unlikely.

I think there is a simple yet complex answer for the high schools: There should be more spots open in very high preforming schools such as Masterman, Central, Carver, GAMP CAPA and SLA. Most students who have a good chance of succeeding in those schools should have the option to attend their selective school of choice, at least until space fills up. High preforming elementary schools and middle schools should also be expanded and programs replicated, charter or traditional. More money should be made available to high preforming schools trying to expand or help other schools replicate their success.

People on here have often commented that opening up spaces in the so-called high preforming, but selective high schools will just make the non-selective "Neighborhood" high schools dumping grounds for "problem kids" or kids without supportive or savvy parents, ELLS, special ed kids,etc. I already see this to some extent. Therefore, the neighborhood schools need many many more resources and autonomy to provide services to these children. There should also be more theme-programs, magnet programs, and other offerings in the neighborhood schools to engage students. I'm talking about, more support and training for teachers, smaller class sizes, extended school day or other options to re-engage lost students, coordinators and effective "early warning" teams, mental health providers in EVERY school, aside from the school counselor who is probably bogged down with everything else that is going on, school social workers, better security, and better buildings and facilities. Businesses could even step up to offer paid internships and scholarships. Students, parents and teachers should also feel secure knowing that their school won't close next year or experience massive turnover or layoffs. The discipline schools should receive even more support. Now, a lot of people feel, What's the point, my school is probably going to be shut down anyway... Better just look for another job or another school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2012 11:05 am

Any teacher will tell you there are a number of students who are simply not good test takers and, regardless of their grades in class (based on a more holistic approach), do not score proficient. Students already get drill and kill test prep starting in October and still, they do not score proficient. Test anxiety is not a myth, and it should not be taken lightly. If these same students had an IEP, then they would be privy to accommodations that would help them perform better on the test, but automatically preclude them from admission into the best schools in the city.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 6:02 pm

An IEP is irrelevant to admission in any school. The fact that more students with IEPs are not involved in selective high schools is not good, but it is illegal for schools to take that into account when admitting a student.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 7:11 pm

Where are you getting your information? It's ALL wrong, my friend.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 8:16 pm

I'm a Special Education Coordinator at a Philadelphia High School. In our admissions process we are not allowed to ask if a student has a disability until they are enrolled.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on October 3, 2012 8:08 pm

Yes, but you get the child's PSSA scores. That tells you pretty much all that most high schools want to know. And you get that one-page handout that lists attendance, negative report card comments, and so on.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2012 11:06 pm

That's not true. There is a box on the application asking if the student has an IEP.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 4, 2012 4:49 am

I have a child with an IEP. The information is in the high school application. As you wrote, there is a "check off" for IEP / 504 plan. While high schools are suppose to have 7 - 10% students with an IEP, most magnets do not come close. Central has less than 1%. Most have 2 - 5%. Students with an IEP - especially if the IEP is learning disability / behavioral - they are not getting into magnet schools. Magnets who take a student with an IEP / 504, are taking the students who are the most challenging to work with.

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on September 26, 2012 12:38 pm

Attention Neighborhood High School Teachers:

Closing Middle Schools will end Neighborhood High Schools. At the end of 8th students will have to choose a High School and salesmen for all Charters will be pitching their wares to the families whereas your principal will do nothing since it is not in his job description to sell the school and in a few years you got no students.

Submitted by Moving Philly (not verified) on September 26, 2012 1:32 pm

Charter schools - just like magnet/site select - will not accept all students. They will also kick out students. There have to be some neighborhood high schools left. That said, I agree, the demise of the neighborhood, comprehensive high school (other than in the Northeast) will be gone. There will be one neighborhood high school per region which will function as a discipline school for students who are kicked or "counseled out" of their charters / magnets. This will escalate with the Keystone Exams.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2012 2:03 pm

It'll happen faster than that. Ramos and Pritchett don't think there should be neighborhood high schools at all.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2012 7:07 am

I am surprised that the people here so blithely accept the language and standards of NCLB.

What is a "failing school"? One that hasn't reached AYP? Having just one subgroup fail to improve could put your school in that category. Is any consideration given to school with high populations of special ed students, ESOL students or very poor students? No.

The SRC/Boston Consulting Group plan will have devastating affects on the entire city. Loss of neighborhood schools will destroy the fabric of the city. Schools are not just items on a bottom line. They are homes for students and actors in neighborhoods.

Will we go through this again after the SRC has sent more thousands of students to more charter schools?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2012 6:02 pm

I totally agree with you, Lisa. Folks here need an infusion of GUTS or something even more. They're just sitting around accepting more and more crap and it all begins with Jerry Jordan. He needs to lead, not just watch and be shocked, just shocked 24/7.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 4, 2012 12:36 pm

I think it's offensive to assume that 'very poor students' make a school a failing school. Do you mean 'poor' as in students who do not apply themselves? Unfortunately, I do not live near a neighborhood high school that is a 'home for students or and actor in the neighborhood.'

The high school in my neighborhood is beleaguered with daily violence, delinquent, disrespectful students (NOT ALL OF THE STUDENTS BUT A GOOD PORTION ON THE STUDENT BODY), apathetic parents or parents who are struggling so hard to make ends meet they have let their children slip through the cracks, etc. This high school offers no 'shelter in the storm' so to speak on any front and closes its doors at the end of the day as fast as it can. Year after year it cranks out precious few students who are prepared to or who do go on to secondary education, the rest of the 'graduates' get minimal employment, sell drugs, or prey on the neighborhood.

I don't think that charters are the solution to the ills of public school but if there is an avenue for children to go through while everyone else wastes time arguing about who is wrong and who can do it best - use it. If folk hate charters so much, show up at meetings, give your input and don't complain if you haven't. FIX WHAT'S WRONG and do it quickly (another mostly ill prepared class will graduate from my 'neighborhood high' in June 2013)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2012 8:11 am

Forgot to sign.

Last sentence: Will we go though this again after the SRC has sent more thousands of students to more charter schools?

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2012 4:05 pm

I feel for all school community members in Philly. The school closing process is a tough one. Here's a post I wrote today about this titled: Retrenchment in Philadelphia Threatens Neighborhood Schools

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2012 5:47 am

"anchors" not actors


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2012 5:27 pm

Wait until you see how many students will be going from certain inner city neighborhoods to the NE. When that happens parents will be requesting a proliferation of more charter schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 30, 2012 7:57 pm

If there is a funding problem, why not just wear our red shirts and threaten the politicians to raise taxes on everyone else for the third time in as many years. Or we could raise taxes on the 40,000 New York City emplyees, although I don't know how because we Philly has no taxing authority over them, or we could just pull down some money from the magical money tree that all public sector unions believe exists. Tough choices.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 30, 2012 9:45 pm

The people of Greece and Spain know who is to blame for austerity...and its not the workers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 11:36 am

You're right. It's the fault of the people who DON'T work. The entitlement people. In Greece, hairdressers who get to retire at 50 because they're around "dangerous chemicals" and want a bailout from the Germans who retire at 65. Let'ssee how long that lasts.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 12:53 pm

Could you give us a link for Greek "hairdressers who get to retire at 50" or is this just an old wives talk you conjured up to give the bankers cover for robbing the workers?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 4:19 pm

Here you go:

It also includes TV reporters because of the danger of bacteria on their microphones. The unions killed Greece, just like they are killing cities and states in our country.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 5, 2012 9:41 pm

What is incredible is no one is talking about the costs to close so many schools so fast. First, the district does not have the manpower to close 57+/- schools in one year. The logistics are beyond the skill sets of those in the facilities department to handle the logistics and beyond their physical ability to pull it off. Plus, they are going to be losing union membership so the incentive to move fast is going to be huge obstacle. They will not move fast in protest as they will lose a few hundred union brothers and sisters. The movement of equipment and furniture, the sealing of buildings, the security, the property assessments in preparation for sales (that is if anyone wants to purchase the buildings) just cant happen in one year. And, the district is going to sit on so many of these properties. Real estate is still not stable.

The final point in my diatribe questions the filling up of buildings. One only needs to look at schools like Carnell and see that big schools DO NOT work. Moving kids to schools that have lower enrollment to"fill" them up is senseless. Where is the research supporting this major tenet of the closures. There is something to be said about keeping school enrollment low and manageable. I would venture a guess that the research backs this up.

This is going to be a debacle and continue to demonstrate to Harrisburg that this district does not have its stuff together.

Oh, where is our PFT leadership?

Submitted by tom-104 on October 5, 2012 9:52 pm

This is a very good analysis of the chaos we are descending into.

This is all by design. For ten years the School District has been run by the state. When the state first took over they wanted to turn over 45 schools to Edison. That was an abysmal failure. The only thing the privatizers learned from that fiasco is that they had to starve the traditional schools to drive desperate parents to the charters. Never was there any mention of fixing the traditional public schools.

I therefore disagree with your last statement, "This is going to be a debacle and continue to demonstrate to Harrisburg that this district does not have its stuff together." ALEC, the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation have been laying the groundwork for years to privatize the public schools. The reason enrollment is down in the public schools is because the state has starved for resources the schools in low income areas. They are not looking for public schools to "get its stuff together" because this not part of their agenda.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 6, 2012 10:16 am

"State changed PSSA testing rules for charter schools without federal approval
Rules change appears to have inflated success rate of some charter schools.",0,...

A few weeks ago I posted about the discrepancy in how a charter school makes AYP versus School District schools. This is an important story - it explains inequity.

"A Morning Call analysis found a higher percentage of charter schools made AYP in 2011-12 than they did in 2010-11, including 52 that had one or more grade spans that did not hit testing benchmarks.

In addition, 14 charter schools that had failing grades last year moved into the passing category this year.

The change meant 21st Century Cyber Charter School, with an enrollment of 746 students in sixth through 12th grade, was given a passing grade even though its 11th-graders failed to meet standards.

Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School in Philadelphia made AYP because its high school grade span (11th-graders) hit targets while its middle school grade span missed because it failed to get five of six reading targets and four of six math targets."

"Stuart Knade, chief legal counsel for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said he found Tomalis' unannounced charter-school change troubling. He said his organization has been looking at the charter school results too and has come to conclusions similar to those of The Morning Call.

He said parents shopping for a school for their children might think a charter school is performing better than their neighborhood school when it's not.

Knade also said the change might give the Legislature the false impression that charter schools outperform traditional public schools as they consider bills supported by Corbett to expand the number of charter schools and change how they are authorized in Pennsylvania.

"The General Assembly needs to ask what is real and why are we being fed this kind of facade," Knade said."

The SRC also needs to look at this before claiming charters have more "high performing seats" than SDP schools. The Phila. Partnership just gave $2 million to another charter. This is a shame.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 6, 2012 10:25 am

This is a previous post:

How, for example, did Math, Civics and Science Charter make AYP?

This is from emetrics: This only applies to charters -

"District measures are assessed in three grade spans: Grades 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12. To meet AYP goals and targets in Academic Performance or Test Participation, the district needs to achieve all measures for both subjects in one grade span only. Currently, test results from Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 will determine AYP results.
This year, charter schools are assessed in three grade spans: Grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12."

Math, Civics and Science Charter -

The do not have one grade "span" where both reading and math targets were met. Yet, they are listed as "Made AYP." Why?

Most charters did not make AYP K-8, they made one grade "span." Look at Universal Institute Charter - bombed 3 -5th grade and barely made 6 - 8. The same is true at Christopher Columbus Charter - bombed 3 - 5 but passed on 6 - 8. Now, if they were a School District of Philadelphia school, they would not have made AYP.

Here are charters which would NOT have made AYP without this "exception" that is NOT given to SDP schools:

Belmont Charter, Alliance for Progress, Antonia Pantoja community CS, Discovery Charter School, Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter, First Charter School for Literacy, Global Leadership Academy Charter, Hardy Williams CS (run by Mastery), Khepera Charter, KIPP Philadelphia, KIPP West Philadelphia, Mariana Barcetti Charter, MAST Community Charter, Mastery Shoemaker, Math, Civics and Science Charter, Northwood Academy Charter, Pan American Academy Charter, People for People Charter, Phila. Academy Charter School, Richard Allen Prep Charter, Russell Byers Charter, Truebright Charter, West Oak Lane Charter, Wissahickon Charter, Young Scholars Frederick Douglass

Now add these schools to the other charters than did not make AYP and the percentage of charters that made AYP is very close to the SDP - about 15%.

The SRC needs to be made aware of this "gimmick" for determining AYP in charters. It gives them a huge advantage.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 6, 2012 10:13 am

This I also posted about 3 weeks ago - Now I know how the Corbett Administration is gaming the system to make charters appear more "high performing" when in reality it is NOT true.

Ben and Dale - I'd appreciate clarification on why charter schools only have to have one grade configuration (3 - 5, 6 - 8 or 9 - 12) make targets to make AYP while School District schools have to have all grades in the building (K-8) meet all targets to make AYP? This is on the emetrics site. There are many K-8 charter schools (e.g. Hardy Williams, KIPP West, etc.) that "Made AYP" but did not make all targets.

This is also evident in Mastery schools. Most Mastery Renaissance schools are 6 or 7-12. If you look at Mastery Shoemaker, they did not make AYP for 6 -8 (special ed). In 9-12 they do not have a special ed subgroup so for 9-12 they made targets. Therefore, the school made AYP because they only have to make AYP in one grade configuration.

The convoluted way AYP may or may not be achieved may depend on the grade configuration in charter schools. Obviously, without an IEP (special education) sub group, the chance of making AYP increases. The modified tests for special education are not going to be continued. Will this encourage more schools - charter and special admit schools in the District - to try to keep their special education numbers low (under 40 students) to ensure they have a better change of AYP? Lab Charter under June Brown apparently ensured they had nearly no students with an IEP.

I would appreciate any information on why charters are allowed to make AYP in one grade configuration but school district schools are not given this "privileged." Far fewer charter schools would have made AYP if they didn't have this advantage.

Submitted by tom-104 on October 6, 2012 10:39 am

Thank you Philly Parent and Teacher for keeping your questions alive about the way test scores are possibly being manipulated for a political agenda. Philadelphia is not alone is these practices as the articles below show:

Double-Digit Increases and Decreases in NCLB Pass Rates: Real or Fraudulent?
from GFBrandenburg’s blog

“A lot of DC public and charter schools have had a lot of double-digit year-to-year changes in their published proficiency rates from 2008 through 2012.
Of course, that sort of change may be entirely innocent, and even praiseworthy if it’s in a positive direction and is the result of better teaching methods. However, we now know that such changes are sometimes not innocent at all and reflect changes in methods of tampering with students’ answer sheets. (And we also know that DC’s Inspector General and the Chancellors of DCPS are determined NOT to look for any wrong-doing that might make their pet theories look bad.)
Whether these are innocent changes, or not, is for others to decide – but these schools’ scores are worth looking at again, one way or another. If it’s fraud, it needs to be stopped. If double-digit increases in DC-CAS pass rates are due to better teaching, then those methods need to be shared widely!”

Cheating scandal lands ex-schools chief in prison in El Paso
from The Answer Sheet at the Washington Post

“There’s the garden-variety form of cheating on standardized tests — and then there’s the kind that is landing the former superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District in prison for 3 1/2 years.
Ex-schools chief Lorenzo Garcia was sentenced by a federal judge in part for his role in a conspiracy to force out low-testing students so that they would not drag down the scores of the district. The test scores were used to measure whether schools were meeting accountability standards. The El Paso Times reported that Garcia, along with six unidentified co-conspirators, had 10th graders tested early so that low scorers could be singled out and then driven out of school.”

These Charter Schools Are #1

“As regular readers can attest, EduShyster has been driven nearly INSANE (not to mention deep into the bottom of the occasional box of wine) by the vagaries of charter school math. That’s why it was such a relief to encounter some detective work by an enterprising local edu-blogger that found that charter school numbers really do add up—to quite a lot, it turns out.
First, a little context for your edu-fication. You see, charter schools are public schools, (unless their teachers want to join a union in which case they suddenly become private.) And because they are public the state collects reams of data about their students, their incredible shrinking classrooms and their 100% graduation rates. Tragically, reporters and state edu-crats are banned from viewing this information which means that the data often feel very lonely. And that, dear reader, is why it is so important that we have edu-bloggers.”

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 6, 2012 11:56 am

Thank you, too! I appreciate you and Tom keeping me well schooled on this issue. It needs to be brought out into sunlight.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 6, 2012 11:27 am

We also need to thank The Morning Call (Allentown newspaper). They are actually looking into Corbett / Tomalis's education department and their voucher/charter shenanigans. The Inquirer is doing squat. Decisions are being made in Harrisburg and by the SRC which impact thousands of families with limited and cooked data.

Submitted by tom-104 on October 6, 2012 1:13 pm

You are so right! Look at the article they posted yesterday:

State changed PSSA testing rules for charter schools without federal approval
Rules change appears to have inflated success rate of some charter schools.
from the Morning Call of October 5th.

"Gov. Tom Corbett's education chief changed the PSSA testing rules in a way that makes it easier for charter schools to meet federal benchmarks than traditional public schools.

Education Secretary Ron Tomalis' change, made without federal approval, might have skewed the results of the 2011-12 PSSA scores to make it appear charter schools were outperforming traditional public schools, according to a Morning Call review of publicly available test score data."

The Reading Eagle also had this editorial:
School evaluation system can paint misleading picture
from the Reading Eagle - 10/3/12

“The Issue: Six local districts receive warnings for failing to meet student performance benchmarks.
Our Opinion: Complex regulations built around standardized tests can make good schools seem like failures.
Two recent stories concerning standardized test results in Berks County school districts reinforce our belief that this is no way to judge an education system.”

Who says central Pa. is the backward part of the state?

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on October 6, 2012 1:34 pm

I am not able to fathom why we are paying Mr. Knudsen 5 figures a month when we have a superintendent, a deputy superintendent, and all those other suits down at 440.

Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on October 6, 2012 1:04 pm

Hite stated Knudson will become the CFO - now he'll also get benefits...

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