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Commentary: Parents deserve a better measure of school quality

By Helen Gym on Nov 2, 2012 04:03 PM

by Helen Gym

Every once in a while, it becomes apparent just how differently parents view high-quality education than do the reformers out there who are defining it purportedly for our own good. The GreatPhillySchools website (GPS) is just one example of this difference in viewpoints. 

GreatPhillySchools launched Oct. 15, touting its “groundbreaking” schools database for parents and caregivers. The database is a project of the Philadelphia School Partnership with collaboration from groups like the Notebook. The database says it ranks schools according to five metrics -- academics, safety, attendance, achievement-gap gains, and college-bound numbers.

According to those metrics, only 13 of the 400-plus schools in the database earn a rating of 10/10 (10 out of 10) in overall excellence. And according to such metrics, Masterman is a 10 and Alcorn is a 1, but do we ever learn why?

I can’t deny that I am a bit weary of yet another ranking system for our schools. We have AYP, SPI, and a slew of websites from to Philadelphia Magazine already ranking schools. But because the Philadelphia School Partnership has described itself as a promoter and identifier of “great” Philadelphia schools, I was willing to give its database a try.

The site suffers from technical glitches, an unattractive design, and a too-soon-for-prime-time feel. But setting aside these issues, my most striking realization was how un-excellent a standard the folks behind GPS use to define greatness.

Take academics. As a parent I would define academics at a great Philly school as a rich course of curriculum including science and social studies, vibrant arts and music programs, academic supports and programs for struggling students, and an array of services for new immigrants learning English or special education classes for those with IEPs. I would expect to see small class sizes, a well-stocked school library, and teachers with specialized degrees and certification in their content areas.

But don’t expect such an analysis. At GPS, academics is solely defined as the 2012 PSSA test data. That’s it. Even the District’s School Performance Index (SPI) shows a school’s growth over time. Don't expect to see graduation rates listed for high school either. Here, I guess you’re only as good as your last test score.

Safety is another metric that GPS ranks. As a parent, I care deeply about the climate of my child’s school. I want to know what the suspension rates are and how disciplinary situations are handled. I’d like to know whether the school has a relationship with professional counselors, victim service agencies, and trauma specialists if the need arises. I define safety in terms of school nurses, well-trained safety personnel, clear disciplinary protocols, and a principal who greets students by name.

The GPS database won’t give you a parent’s perspective on climate and safety. Instead, safety is defined solely by how a school ranks in terms of the number of serious incidents reported to the state -- assaults, weapons violations, etc.

Not surprisingly, this simplistic definition can actually obscure critical information that most parents would find pretty important. Take Mastery Pickett, which GPS ranked an outstanding 9/10 on safety. I would think most parents would also want to know that last year, Pickett issued 597 suspensions for a population of 617 students -- but you won’t find any mention of it in Pickett’s profile.

Simplistic measures have a skewed impact when looking at a school like Green Woods Charter. The District has singled out Green Woods Charter for setting up outrageous obstacles in its admissions process. Not surprisingly, Green Woods' student body is unusually homogeneous in terms of race and income, but because of that, GPS doesn't assess Green Woods for its achievement gap.

GPS ranks Green Woods a 9/10 -- certainly qualifying it as a “great” Philadelphia school -- but it makes no mention of the fact that it’s almost impossible to get into the school unless you have an inside track. Meanwhile, Cook-Wissahickon, whose PSSAs rank among the top scores in the city and whose student body is diverse, ranks lower than Green Woods, with an 8/10 ranking.

In a city like Philadelphia, where poverty and inequity are massive obstacles for our children, a great school values diversity, serves all students, and doesn’t set up ridiculous barriers to entry. A great school is one where people figure out the services students need -- not the students they want to serve.

There are other important aspects of great schools that you won’t see valued on the GPS database. For example, a great school has an effective principal leader and an experienced and stable staff, including mentors and support personnel, who work as a collaborative team. But there’s no effort to measure stability in school staffing, even using something basic such as teacher turnover or average years of teaching experience.

A great school would be up-front with me about the age and condition of its building -- whether it has functioning science labs, modern electricity and air conditioning, a full-service kitchen serving freshly cooked food, and a playground or greenspace. After all, we’re getting ready to close schools based on building conditions. Isn’t this information parents would want to know and don’t have access to?

A great Philly school shows growth over time, a deep commitment to equity, and an engagement with the participatory process of learning. A great school anchors itself in the possibilities of our communities and our neighborhoods. Who wouldn’t welcome a database that embraces and quantifies such values?

Instead we get a stripped-down, lowest-common-denominator version of crude definitions of school functionality: primarily attendance, test scores, violence. I understand that this is a work in progress, but I can’t help but feel that for some reformers, it’s OK to spin this stuff in Philadelphia when they wouldn’t imagine doing it, say, in Lower Merion or other successful school districts. Only here can you find an influx of reformers who treat parents as clueless consumers of random information and expect that to pass as quality.

At the GreatPhillySchools website, a definition of quality is revealed as little more than a simplistic interpretation of limited vision and even more limiting data. As parents, we deserve more from those who promise greatness.

Helen Gym is a Notebook board member and regular contributor. The ideas expressed are solely the opinions of the author.

READ: GreatPhillySchools is about empowering families


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Comments (147)

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on November 2, 2012 5:15 pm
Thank you for starting this discussion. The Great School data base, just like the School District's performance index or SIP, is very limited and all but one set of data (test scores) is self reported by schools. I don't trust any school, especially a charter operator like Mastery or Universal, to provide accurate data. That said, there are Philadelphia magnet schools with high ratings which also don't have what I, as a parent, would like to know about my children's schools. For example, do all teachers use an on-line grade book that is accessible to students/families? Is after school tutoring available? How is the curriculum enriched beyond the SDP's Planning and Scheduling Timeline? What types of pedagogy are prioritized? (e.g. Are most assessments multiple choice tests? Do teachers in all content area teach writing? What type of real world / project based assessments are included? ) What extra curricular activities are available? Do teachers respond to parents' emails and phone calls in a timeline manner? (Yes - there are teachers at magnet schools who do not answer emails.) How are the needs of ALL students - not just the "high achievers" - met in the school? In a few weeks the SDP will announce potential school closings and, I assume, schools to be handed over to more charter operators. Now that the SIP has been scrapped, what criteria will the School District use? If it is an aging building, that is blatantly biased against schools in particular neighborhoods and who were not put on a list by Vallas to get a new building. If it is PSSA scores from 2012, there are many schools, especially charters, whose scores dropped but because of the PA Dept. of Ed manipulating AYP reporting, many charters appear to be making progress that are not. (There are also charters like World Communications which apparently don't have to meet any standards to be renewed.) I fear the "Great School" data base will be used to justify decisions which are biased toward particular schools/organizations rather than a holistic assessment of schools.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 2, 2012 6:31 pm
For anyone interested in measures of school quality, I would strongly encourage you to read the current issue of Educational Leadership (See I looked through the issue at my university's library and I will probably end up buying it because it is such an excellent and timely issues on measuring what matters in education. A one-size-fits-all measure of school excellence cannot exist because every school is different. The critical question to ask is, Do school reformers such as Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and others promote school improvement measures that they would want for their own children? Would they want their child's school to be measured based on test scores? What about how the adults at the school treat his or her child? If the school has really high test scores but uses corporal punishment, would education reformers be okay with that? What do school reformers want for other people's children? Do reformers want these children to be educated, critically thinking citizens who are actively engaged in the democratic process? Or do school reformers want other people's children to receive education/schooling that prepares them to be obedient workers and materialistic consumers? As Helen mentions, would the SPI fly in Lower Merion?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2012 10:40 pm
Lol. No pol in The Philly machine wants 'educated critically thinking citizens.' Their third world style kleptocracy and incompetence works best with uneducated poor voters. I think most good private schools are judged heavily on college admissions track record, something of a test score derivative.
Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on November 3, 2012 7:22 am
Given your love for Mastery, it is hardly surprising that you didn't include Scott Gordon in your list of reformers who pose educational options that they would never have for their own children.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 2, 2012 8:29 pm
Helen, I want to respond to your comment about Mastery Pickett and the number of suspensions. I did a lengthy field experience at a Mastery school. This school is an elementary school. I don't know about Pickett's policies specifically and whether they are school specific or largely set by Mastery. The Mastery school where I did my field experience had its own school culture handbook, not a systemwide one. At the Mastery school where I spent time, it took a lot to trigger a suspension. Students were not suspended for poor attendance or little nit-picky things like the wrong uniform. Even throwing a demerit card at the teacher or property destruction did not result in a suspension. An automatic trigger for a suspension would be something like physical fighting or bringing a weapon to school. Usually, suspensions involved a relatively small number of students who were "high fliers." In my experience, these students typically had serious anger management issues or displayed regular, chronic oppositional/defiant behaviors or insubordination. For example, one student would frequently make farting noises, run his mouth to other students in order to instigate them or gain the teacher's attention, touch other students for no apparent reason on the wrists or go behind his classmates and put his hands on their shoulders, leave the classroom without asking, play in the bathroom, crawl on the classroom floor, crawl up the stairs while the class was lined up, and so on. In a classroom, these types of students are extremely disruptive to learning. The touching of other students made these students feel uncomfortable because they felt that this student was violating their personal space. This student's teacher did everything to try and help him, including using praise, having extraordinary patience, giving him responsibilities, giving him a desk away from other students, and meeting with his parents. The deans and other administrators also treated this boy with respect and did everything to try and help him. When he refused to follow directions, one particular administrator would slowly count from 10 to 1 to give him time to follow directions. She would suggest better choices for him to make. She kept her cool and spoke to him respectfully. Other administrators or deans were actually a bit too accommodating of this particular child. They were sometimes too quick to return him to class. They may not have fully grasped how disruptive this child was because they were not the actual teacher. The school provided this student with counseling from the guidance counselor. In another case at this Mastery school, there were 2 students in a class with a direct peer-to-peer conflict. The school moved one of these students to a different class in the grade order to reduce the conflict. Student B had a temper that could flare due to a simple reprimand (e.g. sit down and do your work). The teacher allowed student B to go to the cool down corner to take a break for a few minutes and gave him a stress ball to use. Also, a suspension could be in-school or out-of-school. Typically, this Mastery school tried to do in-school suspensions as much as possible. The administrators (principals, assistant principals, dean) would usually send the child to a classroom on another floor of the building or the child would be in the dean's office doing school work. This school had a full time social worker, guidance counselor, and school nurse. I found that most of the adults in the school were very caring and did their best to be authoritative. The school was very safe. Administrators took physical aggression, fighting words, inappropriate touching, and other inappropriate/disruptive behaviors seriously. This Mastery school had very clear disciplinary procedures. There was a color chart for younger students and a color chart and demerits for older students. Uniforms policies, procedures for walking in the halls, timeouts in class and out of class were very clear. Signs were posted in each classroom about behavioral procedures and teachers went over the disciplinary procedures on the first days of school. Children recited the code of conduct every day before school (as long as its not raining outside). Mastery's system works because there are clear expectations and a lot of adults. They could afford more adults, including social workers and nurses, because most of the teachers at this school were young (under 40) and because Mastery does a lot of fundraising. However, they make school safety a priority. 95% of the students never received suspension. Although the Mastery uniforms say "Excellence. No excuses," I never heard teachers or administrators use this in the building. They would refer much more often to the Code of Conduct. It wasn't 3 strikes you're in suspension. No, like I said before, it takes either a serious incident (e.g. fighting) or chronic disruptive/defiant/oppositional/insubordinate behavior in order for a student to receive a suspension. There are many criticisms I have of Mastery and this particular school. No school is perfect. There was a lot of emphasis on benchmarks and the PSSAs. The kids never said the Pledge of Allegiance. Students don't have the opportunity for unstructured play at recess. The responsibilities on the teachers were enormous. However, this Mastery school had a very caring, yet strict school culture. The adults were expected to speak respectfully to students, keep their cool, and watch their tone of voice with students. The school provided social work services to students when concerns arose. I hope I was able to offer a nuanced perspective about my experience at Mastery. Again, I can't speak about Pickett first hand. However, I think some people have the idea that Mastery will suspend kids at the drop of a hat and that is just not the case.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 2, 2012 8:50 pm
Has anybody read Jordan's new blog?? I would love to hear some reactions to it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2012 9:30 pm
OK--I'm confused. Are you for or against Mastery? Pick 1.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 3, 2012 1:26 am
I'm on the fence about Mastery. I have mixed feelings. I don't think it's necessary to pick one position. What is more important is to look at the Mastery school where I spent time and REFLECT (as good teachers and future teachers do) about the strengths and weaknesses of the school. As a future teacher, I found that this Mastery school had an excellent school-wide positive behavioral support system. They made a concerted effort to teach students personal and social skills, e.g. Second Step, non-violent conflict resolution. The teachers were caring and hard working, albeit frequently sleep deprived and held to very high expectations. The principal was great. For the work they were doing, the teachers should have been paid more, even though Mastery pays pretty well compared to other charters. The parents were generally pleased with the school. The environment among the staff was very friendly and collaborative. On the other hand, I tend to be very suspicious of the privatization/school choice agenda because it is anti-democratic. Voters, not millionaires and billionaires, should be driving the public education agenda. One thing about Mastery is that they really brand their schools. Everything is always Mastery Charter (School) - x campus. Students can receive prizes with Mastery's logo on it (e.g., dog tag necklaces). The uniforms are supposed to have the logo (although the logo requirement was not always enforced). Staff had t-shirts, sweaters, and jackets with the Mastery logo and slogan. Also, I wonder how sustainable their schools are in terms of staffing. Will they actually keep older teachers or will teachers burn out and Mastery just hires younger teachers who cost less? To really thrive as a teacher or administrator at a Mastery school, you have to really buy into their system, including the benchmarks, emphasis on the PSSA, their behavior management system, and their values. I bought into some of it, but not all of it. I learned a lot of valuable knowledge and skills there but I probably wouldn't want to teach there.
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:34 am
You wrote that you "probably wouldn't want to teach" at a Mastery school. Would you want your child to go to a Mastery school? In the short term, Mastery's focus on benchmarks / PSSA / test prep will bump up their scores. In the long run, what type of "educated person" is this creating? As you wrote, it is someone who is very compliant and not prepared for leadership or challenging "the system." You example of the difficult student is not that rare in neighborhood schools. Mastery's advantage is they have a top heavy administrative team and support staff like social workers who can assist. (I assume some administrator return the student to class too quickly, as you wrote, because most Mastery administrators spent very limited time as a teacher. It is a TFA style fast track to administration.) Why don't all Philadelphia schools have a full time social worker, psychologist, nurse, deans, etc.? Many of our schools don't even have a full time teaching staff (e.g. music, art, etc.). Based on your description, Mastery will burn out teachers quickly which might be the goal. Once burned out, they can get another TFA type recruit, mold them into their "brand," and put the script in their hand. This is not the type of teacher at the many private schools in the Philadelphia area. It is an education to keep the "underclass" in the "underclass."
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 3, 2012 12:44 pm
Their GOAL is to make lots of easy money at the expense of the poor. What else is new? Yes, keep them stupid so the cycle can continue unabated. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
Submitted by southphillyparent (not verified) on November 3, 2012 3:07 pm
Um, you know who DOES want to send their kids to Mastery... the thousands of families of kids who are enrolled. Not to mention hundreds more on the waitlist. Or do their perspectives just not count?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 1:40 am
They want to because the school preps for the PSSA like crazy and the students are likely to do better on the test with the additional drill and kill test prep. Additionally, Mastery schools can be safer than neighborhood schools because they do not need to keep students for anything short of hitting a teacher. Wouldn't you rather have an impartial way to compare schools? Wouldn't you want a school for your child that the principal/managing officer would send their own child to?
Submitted by Pam (not verified) on November 4, 2012 9:50 am
Lets check real data about Mastery schools. Mastery prides it self on the number of students who "walk down the aisle" not graduate - often the students have to report to summer school to complete courses for graduation. The organization always talks about the number of students going to college - no the students that apply. How many actually set foot on campus? How many complete college? Mastery plays with data it reads well however is it true. I was employed by Mastery however I resigned because I had a first hand look at how they were destroying the lives of our children. Do they do some great things? Absolutely, but don't believe everything you see on paper. Be aware of wolves in sheep clothing!!! I pray that we get it right soon, our children are suffering.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 4, 2012 12:38 pm
If you want to "get it right," it won't happen unless THE PEOPLE make it happen and it might get less than quiet. The politicians and the pretenders, I mean providers have a nice hook up with money going in both directions. They're NOT going to "get it right" on their own without our involvement in a big way. In their eyes, they already have it right and they like it this way.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:08 pm
Concerned Phila, I will answer your questions. I'm going to be lengthy. I feel like one really has to spend time at a school in order to fully grasp the way instruction is presented, so my words are going to be an incomplete description. I think people are interested in what Mastery schools are really like because Mastery is Philadelphia's largest charter operator. That said, here goes. I don't have kids, but I thought about this very question ("Would I want my child to go to a Mastery school?") during my time there. I always ask that when I visit a school It wouldn't be the end of the world if my child went to this particular school although it wouldn't be my first choice either. My opinion is nuanced, so I include a lot of details. My own education (parochial school) was different in many ways to what I saw at Mastery from what I've seen at all of the schools at which I have done field experiences/practica. I did one practicum at a parochial school. This school was the most similar out of all the schools at which I have visited to the one I attended as a child probably because of the religious aspect. However, even this parochial school was very different from the one I attended. More than anything, I would be wary about my own child having exposure to some of the behaviorally challenging students at this Mastery school or other neighborhood schools in Philly and elsewhere. However, several of the teachers at this school sent their own children to this Mastery school; all of these teachers were Black though. None of the administrators sent their kids to the school. No White teachers sent their kids to the school. At this Mastery school, the teachers liked the principal. The principal understood the issues in the classroom because the principal was a teacher and and actually taught a couple of classes at the school. There was at least 1 TFA alum at the school, but no TFA members currently doing TFA teaching. Academics I found the quality of instruction in reading, writing, and math at the Mastery school to be generally of high quality. Of course, there was variation based on the teacher. Instruction was pretty rigorous in reading, math, and writing. Yes, they put a lot of emphasis on preparing for benchmarks, but the content wasn't wildly different from public schools. At this Mastery school, they use enVision Math, Words Their Way, Lucy Calkins' Writing Workshop, and children's books (e.g. Charlotte's Web, Cynthia Rylant). The curriculum is pretty standard across schools (See the handbook In most subjects, reading, writing, math, social studies, the teachers supplement the curriculum provided as well. Everything is linked to state standards. I learned about Lucy Calkins in one of my grad school courses. I know from posts on this sight that many SDP teachers hate Everyday Math. Many of these teachers said they'd prefer a more traditional program like Saxon Math. enVision Math is a more traditional program. When teachers make the problems for guided and independent practice, many of the problems are like the ones on the PSSA. I heard teachers mention how such and such concept, e.g. elapsed time or counting money, was all over the PSSA. Although students do learn important math concepts, often times the way the content is presented is tailored toward helping students know how to answer questions on the benchmarks or PSSAs. I don't know how much of this practice happens in other schools. Mastery doesn't use a comprehensive basal reading program like Harcourt Trophies in Philadelphia. Instead, real children's literature is in use. Kids who are way behind in reading or are in special ed receive Wilson Fundations instruction, not Reading Mastery like in the District. From talking to people who use these curricula and based on my observations at different schools, Wilson Fundations is superior to Reading Mastery. Teachers at Mastery push students in reading to making inferences and connections and understand story elements. The administrator who was most knowledgeable about reading was interested in helping teachers make instruction that would help kids be able to infer and understand their reading. Her interest in reading instruction wasn't just about preparing for the PSSAs. It was about making sure kids were developing reading comprehension skills and fluency skills. These are core reading skills. So instruction at this Mastery school was focused on helping kids have academic skills they needed, but also on preparing them for tests. At the same time, all kids, even those below grade level, are required to partake Text Study, which is grade level reading instruction. The teacher and/or students reading on grade level would read aloud each text. The teacher would stop and encourage students to make connections, inferences, and think about the setting, characters, problem, solution, and other story elements. Teachers ask kids to think about the themes of stories and on the action in stories building up to the climax. So all the content and skills that students learned at this Mastery school were standard reading skills that kids learn. At the same time, Text Study involved grade level children's literature. However, some students were so behind that they couldn't access the text or independently complete writing activities. Although teachers differentiated instruction, all students were still expected to partake in Text Study. Although Text Study was good reading instruction for kids on grade level, it was also preparing students for the benchmarks and PSSA. The students at the lowest reading levels probably should have been pulled out and be reading texts more at their instructional levels than partaking in Text Study. Maybe someone with more knowledge in teaching reading can talk more about if all students should receive instruction in grade-level texts and if lower readers should be reading from alternative texts.... There were guided reading groups and independent reading time. Students received word study instruction to help build vocabulary using Words Their Way. Classroom teachers would differentiate instruction for students based on special needs or instructional level. Thus, not all students were receiving the same exact activities even though the activities may have had the same objectives. Mastery provides specials (art, music, Spanish, PE). They do teach social studies and science, but these subjects are a lower priority than reading, writing, and math. I didn't particularly care for the social studies instruction because it, like other subjects, was direct instruction. There wasn't much in the way of discussion or debate about issues. I think discussions are a really important part of social studies. At the same time, since so many kids were below grade level in reading and writing, more creative social studies instruction might have been more difficult. For example, I saw that so many of the kids could not even differentiate between cities, states, and countries. I remember witnessing a teacher asking kids if they had been in another country and one child said she had been to Texas. Some kids didn't know that they lived in the state of Pennsylvania. So the background knowledge of many students at the Mastery school made teaching about other parts of the U.S. and the world difficult. At the parochial school where I did a field experience, the social studies was also direct instruction, pretty much straight from the book. However, this school devoted more time to social studies than Mastery did. Comparing a neighborhood charter to a parochial school is not really a fair comparison though, but it's the best one I can give for social studies. One teacher at Mastery told me that ideally, there would be more inquiry-based instruction. However, at the present time, most kids were below grade level so everything was direct instruction. And even with direct instruction, many kids still weren't mastering the material. There's a lot of evidence supporting the use of DI. There's a great article about DI/fully guided instruction in American Educator ( So the use of direct instruction - guided practice/aligned scaffolded practice - independent practice at Mastery isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, pretty much every lesson was in that format. (The only time there is deviation is right before and right after the benchmarks because teachers don't have to turn in lesson plans that adhere strictly to Mastery's DI - GP/ASP - IP format.) I think about my own experience of doing literature circles in elementary school and then doing a project or making an alphabet book. Of course, most of the kids in my class growing up were reading at or above grade level. Because so many kids were below grade level and there were so many kids who had behavioral problems at this Mastery school, the literature circles approach would not have been practical. So, while my philosophy about instruction is different, I also understand why Mastery puts such an emphasis on direct instruction; so many of the students are behind. Overall, I felt that academically, the instruction at this Mastery school was of fairly high quality IN READING, WRITING, AND MATH GIVEN THE STUDENT POPULATION. So many students lack the background knowledge or grade-level knowledge to do more inquiry based activities. However, in a more affluent district or a private school, Mastery's model wouldn't be appropriate because kids have more background knowledge and there is more consistent support at home. At the same time, Concerned Phila., your point about an educated citizen is important. Mastery is so focused on reading, writing, and math, that the time social studies and science is pretty short. Specials, including art and music, are structured most of the time and include direct instruction. However, I didn't spend a lot of time in the specials classes so I won't go into more depth about them. School Culture Mastery expects children to be responsible, safe, respectful. The core values are respect, responsibility, hard work, teamwork, and kindness. ( These are great values and consistent with what I've seen at other schools. However, there was more explicit emphasis at the Mastery school where I spent time on the Code of Conduct than on the core values. (See Code of Conduct on p. 4 of On one hand, the Code of Conduct and Mastery policies create a cultue of high expectations and safety. There is also an expectation that staff members speak in a respectful tone and be authoritative with students. On the other hand, in practice, the school culture really "feels" like compliance. At every school, adults want the students to exhibit compliance because it helps keep the school orderly. In my experience, the Mastery school FELT more compliant than other schools in which I have spent time. Some of the procedures at Mastery really do help promote learning. The procedure for walking in the halls was very good because it's important to be quiet in the halls so students in other classes can learn. I've been at schools where there is not clear enforcement or expectations about behavior in the halls and so kids are loud in the halls, teachers are shouting and constantly telling students how to behave, and it's disruptive to teachers who are trying to teach and students who are trying to learn. However, students are expected to sit in STARs (sit on you bottom, track the speaker, actively participate, resting hands). Students aren't supposed to get out of their seats without asking. The school was very strict about students folding their hands and sitting up straight. I think that some kids learn better when they are able to place their hands in a different position, and they can still be resting their hands and not playing with objects like a pencil or banging the desk. For some students, STARs is good because otherwise they play with pencils, books in their desks, etc. Personally, I think that STARs is restrictive and at times, unrealistic to expect of all students. Not everyone has the same attention span. Some kids don't sit up straight well because they may not have the best muscle tone in their shoulders. Mastery is very strict about the uniform, but Catholic schools are also very strict. As I mentioned, all kids were supposed to wear a shirt/sweater/sweatshirt with the Mastery logo. However, I saw that in practice, as long as the shirt or sweatshirt was the right color, the child did not get in trouble for having the wrong uniform. In a lot of ways, I think that things like the uniform and walking in the halls set the tone in any school. At another charter school and one of the District schools in which I spent time, the schools weren't strict about the uniforms and there wasn't a common procedure for walking in the halls. So kids can run up and down the halls and this was disruptive to classes that were in session. At other schools, I've seen kids walk around with shirts untucked, and it looks sloppy. Overall, kids were never encouraged to question the policies of sitting in STARs or walking in the halls. I think most teachers would agree that a policy about being quiet and keeping hands to yourself in the halls is important. However, the strict posture of sitting in STARs i, in my opinion, overkill. Kids were not encouraged to question authority. I know that at many schools, certainly not just Mastery, teachers and administrators promote compliance and don't encourage kids, especially elementary age kids, to question authority. (I don't remember learning to question authority when I was young either.) Mastery is big on chanting. Each class had a chant related to the teacher's college. Kids chanted the Code of Conduct in the morning and a few other chants (For example: Who are we? Mastery Charter! And where are we going? To college!). Personally, the chanting got old after a while. As I mentioned in another post, Mastery really brands their schools. Students wear lanyards which say Mastery Charter School - x school. The students usually have uniforms with the Mastery logo although I saw kids who were wearing the proper colored shirt with no logo, but these kids never got in trouble. So many things--lesson plans, lanyards, uniforms, t-shirts that teachers wear, prizes kids receive--have the Mastery logo. At other schools, students and teachers wear shirts and uniforms with the school's name, but kids don't usually wear uniforms with the logo of the school district. A chant like "Who are we? Mastery Charter! And where are we going? To college!" is about Mastery as a whole, not the individual school's name, x elementary school, x high school. The branding comes more from the top (the headquarters, administrators) than from the teachers, so it seemed to more of an overall Mastery marketing practice. The emphasis on branding, especially when extended to students, is very much a business practice and I find it troubling. I don't think schools should be teaching brand loyalty to kids. Mastery creates a college going culture. In the lunchroom, their were banners of Ivy League schools, Penn State, Drexel, Howard, etc. Outside of each classroom, the sign for the teacher or administrator also says where he or she went to college. Teachers call their classes by the name of their college, e.g. Temple Owls. The message to students is that if you work hard and get good grades, you can go to college. We all know it's not that simple though. There was never any mention to students at this Mastery school that college costs money. There was never any mention of vocational schools or community college. It was all about 4 year colleges and universities. I feel that pushing college is great, but I know that just working hard isn't enough. Families have to have money to pay for college. My parents started saving for college when I was in elementary school if not before them. So why weren't there any events to teach parents about saving for college? You can't wait for middle school or high school to start telling parents about saving for college. There are only so many scholarships to go around. And why not put more banners of HBCUs or local colleges (Temple, Kutztown) instead of the Ivy League Schools like Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth. Also, Mastery is very clear and explicit that kids don't put their hands on other students. The adults tell the kids to come tell an adult. This policy about no physical aggression was really important because some of the parents--a minority--did teach their kids to fight and ask questions later. Kids came with a street mindset about solving problems, so the explicit policy of non-violence was very good. The school was very safe for students and adults. At the same time, enforcing this kind of non-violent policy requires that there are a lot of adults. Somehow, Mastery can afford to do this. The teachers are mostly younger than 40. Just looking at the teachers at a Mastery school vs. a District school is like night and day because there are actually teachers in their 50s and 60s at District schools! Although Mastery pays better than most charters, teachers don't cost as much at Mastery because teachers are younger. So this frees up money for other personnel. Also, Mastey does a lot of fundraising. This helps support having more adults. So having more adults is often a great thing, especially when it comes to keeping the school safe. However, these adults cost money and the SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA IS CUT TO THE BONE. Teachers at SDP schools have to bring their own paper to the copier. A lot of teachers at Mastery buy supplies and things for their classroom, but they don't have to buy standard white paper for the copier. I've seen how there's a principal, vice principal, and that's it for the administrators at a District school. With just a principal and a VP, the behavioral management system that Mastery uses just wouldn't work. It's not fair or democratic that foundations will fund all of these extra adults at charter schools but won't give money for extra adults at District Schools. Since when was it okay for rich people to pick and choose which children in Philadelphia get a school with more money or less money? Staff/Mastery Values The 9 Mastery values for staff are posted in the copy rooms and lounges. (See Staff are evaluated partially on how well they live up to the Mastery values. A lot of these are great values. The culture among the staff was very warm and collaborative. I felt very safe at the school and liked most of the people who worked there. They treated me with respect and were helpful and supportive. The policy about anyone being able to talk to anyone is true in my experience. However, the first value is Student Achievement - Above all. What does this mean? Typically, achievement is a word that means test scores or grades. What about critically thinking citizens? What about democracy? I think I've been clear throughout this and other posts about what I like about Mastery and my criticisms of Mastery. Overall, these are my main criticisms. - More funding than most SDP schools allowing Mastery to have more adults and support services. - Branding, - A feeling of compliance, - Emphasis on benchmarks and PSSAs (although this isn't unique to Mastery), - Emphasis on going to college, but no mention of vocational schools or that college costs money, - The restrictiveness of STARs - More emphasis on test scores (achievement) than preparing democratic citizens. I know this is a very long post, but I think that it's important to provide context and evidence for my criticisms and what I like about Mastery. Mastery has a lot of strengths and nice qualities, but I think there are some serious issues with their model that are not consistent with the democratic purposes of public schools.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:21 pm
Clarification: I always ask that **question** when I visit a school. It wouldn't be the end of the world if my child went to this particular **Mastery** school **at which I spent time** although it wouldn't be my first choice either.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on November 3, 2012 6:13 pm
Thank you for your thoughtful - and very detailed response. Mastery appears to be a lot like KIPP. Here are a few comments: I am a parent of a child with ADHD and I've had a number of students with ADHD. I can't imagine them sitting still for an hour, not having something to help them focus (e.g. stress ball, etc.), and being told repeatedly to sit up , etc. I've read a lot about ADHD - this goes against "best practices" for supporting students with ADHD / ADD. For example, sometimes a student with ADHD does better standing and leaning against a table to take a test. This "pressure" on the body helps him/her focus. Mastery's attempt to make student sit so uniformly does not consider how students with "differences" might benefit from a program other than STAR. ("STAR" also implies that those who can't comply 24/y are not "stars." That is a loaded message for a child.) The chanting and "message" appear to be another example of demanding compliance versus creating a culture where students are encouraged to think, create and question. While I understand students may not have specific "prior knowledge" (e.g. state versus country), that DOES NOT mean students don't have a lot of "prior knowledge." Their knowledge is just not what is being asked by the teacher. I have a lot of students who don't have the "prior knowledge" in science and social studies, but they bring a wealth of other knowledge, skills, etc. We have to find ways to build on that "other knowledge" and make connections. One author you may know who looks at many types of knowledge and ways of knowing is Mike Rose - When I started school, I may not have had a lot of "book knowledge" but I knew some things about my world. It is ironic, at least to me, that Mastery is promoting Ivy League universities while using such a minimalist curricula. I went to a state university so I don't know the "Ivy League" scene but I assume they expect thinking, engaged, and active students. Does Mastery expect something "magically" to happen after K-12 that will prepare their students for the "Ivy League?"
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 6:18 pm
Mastery wants the least amount of expended energy for their profit. Keeping kids quiet is the goal, not education in any serious sense. It's a business model period.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 9:32 am
EGS, I am curious what Mastery Charter elementary school you visited and how you were able to do so? I am interested in visiting, but have had very little luck at getting into one. Any help would be appreciated. I am curious to see it for myself.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 6, 2012 12:17 am
Anonymous, The person in charge of setting up field experiences at my university set up my placement at Mastery. This was the same process that took place with other schools at which I did field experiences (except for one school; for this one, I set up my field experience through a classmate of mine who was a teacher there). I'm interested to know how you have gone about trying to visit one of their schools. If I can give any suggestion, it would be to try and set up a visit through a teacher or other employee at Mastery, if you know any. If you know any students that attend one of the school, you could also visit that way. I found that the Mastery school where I spent time welcomed parent volunteers and sought to really involve and engage parents in the school and their child's/children's education. EGS
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Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on November 6, 2012 2:59 pm

I found it interesting that Mastery, according tothe teacher quoted in this account, believes that inquiry based instruction is only appropriate for students performing at grade level and that until that is the case a steady diet of direct instruction is necessary.  Since when does project based learning and inquiry dependent on grade level reading or math skills.   In my experience an inquiry based approach can motivate under performing students who are turned off by direct instruction.   Simply pouring more of it on is hardly the answer.   Effective teaching requires a variety of approaches because not all students are the same.   But this simple truth seems to elude the Mastery folks.   Not a surprise that every body has to sit in a chair the same way....kind of a metaphor for what the school is all about.




Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on November 6, 2012 2:12 pm
This suggests that Mastery operates on the neo-coloniliast premise that intelligence and ability can be neatly quantified. Most good teachers find that many students with "lower levels" excel in project-based scenarios. I would like to know if Mastery has teachers who are qualified to develop and implement meaningful projects.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 6, 2012 6:57 pm
Exactly right--Monkey see, monkey do, a watered down but similar Valley Forge Military Academy. Pretty scary stuff all the way around. in a free society.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 6, 2012 7:33 pm
I taught high school reading to the most disabled and lowest level readers at Uni. We used high interest/low level books, short stories and articles from every subject area. I also taught English and Law to students with high reading levels. The reading materials we used were often classic literature written in lower levels. My reading students could understand every concept that my high level readers could understand. From The Odyssey to How Much Land Does a Man Need, to The Underground Railroad, to Brown v. Board of Education, and to Animal Farm, they read them all in some form and in most cases their original form. Their street-wiseness enabled them to understand those literary classics better than many of us really understand them. We had some really deep discussions in my class. When students are deeply interested in what they read, their comprehension ability rises. I agree with you, Ron. 1,000.00%
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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 1:35 pm
What the #$*! are you smoking? School choice is anti-democratic!?? Maybe when you grow up and have a job, kids, and pay taxes you'll understand. You need to stop listening to PFT drivel. Democracy is all ABOUT choice.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 4:26 pm
School choice, as it is being played out, is all about eliminating democracy and eliminating parents, the public and teachers from having any voice or democratic control over our schools. Choice itself is not anti-democratic. The way it is being implemented is. The schools are being turned into private little businesses for those who seek only profit. And these little businesses are being paid for by the public tax dollar while eliminating all public voice and control over what happens in our supposedly public schools. The next thing PSP and BCG will want to do is run the mayor's office for him. After all, they can do it better.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 4:07 pm
Exactly !!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 4:11 pm
Exactly !!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 10:44 pm
I have the choice to send my kids to a great charter school...Thank you!!!
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on November 5, 2012 3:00 pm
Really? I hope there is an open seat in the charter school you choose in the grade your child is in and you don't have to wait in a lottery with hundreds of other parents who have chosen to send their child to that one seat available. I really do wish school choice was any easy thing when your neighborhood school fails your child, but it wasn't for me.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:34 pm
Neighborhood schools DON"T fail kids. Parents and kids fail the kids. Teachers work their tails off for the very most part, replete with blood, sweat and tears but they meet with resistance from families to an incredible degree.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 8:07 pm
That's a scary attitude. I taught in a neighborhood school. There was a fair amount of indifference from some parents, and some parents weren't the most pleasant to work with. But "resistance from families to an incredible degree"? If that's how you perceive your relationship with families, then you might want to take a look in the mirror. And neighborhood schools do fail kids. I've seen it. Many times. I think there can be extensive debate about the best solution to the issue. But the argument that the neighborhood schools in Philly are doing a generally acceptable job is really hard to take seriously. I firmly believe in a quality system of public schools for all children. That's why the SDP saddens me. It gives a really bad name to public education.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on November 5, 2012 10:45 pm
Neighborhood schools are made up of more than teachers, it's organization made up of a lot more than that. I know the difference between what a public school can be like and what I see in Philadelphia, and little kids aren't the cause of this broken district. Parents have no say in how the school is run, so how are they accountable for the abuses that cause parents to pull their children out of their neighborhood school?. I don't see teachers sending their kids to their neighborhood school if they live in Philadelphia, do you? I would love to see a survey of where the public school (not charter school) teachers who live in Philadelphia with elementary aged children actually send their kids to school. I would bet 99% of those teachers send their children to a charter or private school, not their neighborhood school.
Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on November 6, 2012 12:09 am
It all depends on the neighborhood. There are "high demand" neighborhood elementary schools and there are "low demand" neighborhood schools. Public schools will never be able to provide the individual attention and particular services some parents want for their "gifted child." Some parents want a lot of discipline, control, etc. that addresses the "small stuff." Other parent don't think their child should be pampered. Private schools cater to parents and children. While I have no idea how many Phila. teachers send their children to their neighborhood school, again, it depends on where they live. A larger issues is why so many Phila. teachers do not live in Phila.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 10:51 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 12:48 pm
Choice? How much? Can you name one school in Philly that is run by teachers, not outside operators who contribute to particular politicians' coffers? The SRC has seen to it that not one school is teacher lead in the city of Philadelphia. How can you pretend that there is any real choice until Philadelphia offers that choice to parents?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 1:09 pm
See that's the problem. You are talking about teachers not having a choice and you're right. They are going to be close to 50 schools closing in the next year and the district predicts that charter enrollment will approach 40% (up from 20%) by around 2017. That's why you're really so upset. However, that happens to mean MORE CHOICE for parents. I couldn't be happier!!!
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on November 4, 2012 2:29 pm
How does this scenario mean "more choice" when so many schools will close? It will mean longer travel for student to and from school and a sharp increase in the School District's transportation budget. Even the Boston Consulting Group admitted their "plan" was revenue neutral. While I understand some schools need to close, the rapid expansion of charter "seats" is not an economic nor educational solution. There isn't a clear way to evaluate schools so just by increasing the number of charter "seats" does not mean any improvement.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 3:02 pm
I said nothing about "teachers not having a choice", but parents do not have a choice of schools where teachers run the school instead of whoyouknow principals and an administration that buys supplies based on how much it will put into their own wallets. The majority of charter operators in Philadelphia have little or no education experience. Politicial connections count more than educational experience when it comes to who gets picked to open a charter. Charlatans like yourself aren't really interested in true choice. If you were you would support all kinds of charters, not just the moneymaking carpetbagger ventures. Charters do hire public school teachers . . . every public teacher I know that got fired has ended up working in a charter.
Submitted by Helen Gym on November 4, 2012 7:30 pm

What is the "choice" you are celebrating for parents? Do you think an unguaranteed lottery is a choice? Do you really think parents get to pick their schools or are schools picking their parents? Moreover, what about a society's central mission to educate all children especially ones that may not be able to exercise their choice - immigrant students, students with special needs, students with past disciplinary records, students who arrive in Philadelphia mid-year.

Merely saying there are more schools doesn't mean parents are choosing our schools. Research for Action indicates that a significant percentage of high school students do not attend a school of their "choice."

So in a system with finite resources, what then are our priorities?



Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on November 5, 2012 4:06 pm
Very well said! I loved this commentary!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 7:22 pm
I think the parents of around 40,000 students had the choice to send their kids to a better school than the one they were stuck with. Don't you? That's a lot of parents that would disagree with you.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on November 5, 2012 7:04 pm
Wow, good point!!!
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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 6, 2012 5:33 pm
Remember, INFORMED knowledge, not Elmer Gantry stuff like Gordon and even worse, Kenny Gamble.
Submitted by Helen Gym on November 7, 2012 4:34 pm

Define "better school." Because the national studies and local studies show that for the most part these schools don't outperform the district-managed school. Ask the parents at the former Truebright Academy or MLK High run for years by Foundations Inc. Just because there were 100s of students there, do you think they got the best "choice?" Or say you go into definitions of "better" like June Brown's charters. Are they "better" even though there are corruption investigations into the school?

Moreover, I didn't say that there weren't students in choice options. I question whether those parents actually made the choice of the school AND if they had the data they needed to make an informed choice. If you think a lottery = school choice, I have a jackpot of scratch off tickets I'd be glad to sell you at your "choice."

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 7, 2012 4:35 pm
You're the best, Helen.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on November 7, 2012 6:21 pm
She is isn't she!! K
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 3:00 am
Funny. The inside operators, the PFT and status quo complex have contributed MUCH more to politicians pockets than the "outside" operator strawmen you mention. Charter teachers do not have their pay automatically docked to make political contributions like the PFT does. I guess paying politicians is only OK when it furthers your self-interest or ideology. But everyone else should roll over and let an unaccountable monopoly manipulate the political process to eliminate parental choice.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on November 5, 2012 4:06 am
PFT dues do not go to political PACs or campaigns. There is a separate, voluntary fund teachers may donate to (non tax deductible) for political contributions. If you think unions are the major funders of 504c (Citizens United v. FEC decision) or even PACs, you are mistaken. Just look at the ads on TV this election season. Many are funded by the so-called "non profit" 504c.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 12:05 pm
Actually, the law that was struck down in Citizens United was originally written to block unions from using their general funds on politics. Times have changed a bit. But unions still put enormous amounts of money into the political system--far out of proportion to the number of workers they actually represent.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on November 5, 2012 12:22 pm
One of the biggest contributors to this years ads is Seldon Adelson. He doesn't represent anyone but has billions to try to influence / buy votes.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:25 pm
Sheldon Adelson is a corporate GIANT.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 12:18 pm
That is a completely outrageous misinterpretation of Citizens United. The goal of that law was to allow corporations to give unlimited contributions without necessarily identifying the source of those contributions. It IS true that unions like SEIU are among the top 10 political contributors but if you look at the list of donors, its less about union contributions than it is about corporate donors who dominate the political influence peddling at the top levels. Unions do play a role. Thank goodness in my opinion that they somewhat represent their workers. Corporations at the top of the list represent little more than their own profit-minded interests.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 3:09 pm
First, Citizens United is a court case, not a "law." Second, it therefore doesn't have a "goal." The the actual issue in the case (corporations' first amendment speech rights v. some type of equality interest) is very complex and that it is hard to come up with a principle that would ban expenditures by corporations, but not also by other forms of association like unions, or other interest groups. The actual decision itself simply removed the restriction on corporations spending general funds on election expenditures in the weeks before an election. This isn't some outrageous misinterpretation. Ira Glasser, the former executive director of the ACLU and a major critic of the decision itself, said "I’d go so far as to call it a liberal delusion" to use Citizens United as an explanation for all the money flowing into elections. (N.Y Times Magazine, How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game?, July 17, 2012). In other words, he thinks it's a bad decision, but it doesn't actually make that much difference. And this is from a former leader of the ACLU, which about the most liberal organization in the country, published in a fairly liberal (though usually very well-researched and documented) publication. If you want to read more about the actual effects of Citizens United, I've linked below to the full article form the New York Times Magazine. The gist, though, is that CItizens United made a slight incremental change in the legal structure of campaign financing that has probably had very little effect on actual campaign spending. Huge campaign spending is a big problem. But the issues are a lot more complicated, and related to issues of wealth inequality, political capital, and voter information gaps. Congress has been trying to do something about it for over 100 years, but there's really not a whole lot you can do without substantially restricting individuals' or associations' rights to make political statements, which starts getting very scary.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:35 pm
We could have public financing of elections. We could also dramatically shorten the election cycle. The presidential campaign goes on for two years ; 3 - 4 months is sufficient. Read more: "Super PACs and nonprofits unleashed by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision have spent more than $840 million on the 2012 election, with the overwhelming majority favoring Republicans, particularly GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. An estimated $577 million, or roughly 69 percent, was spent by conservative groups, compared with $237 million spent by liberal groups, or about 28 percent, with the remainder expended by other organizations."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:35 pm
Gee, I wonder why corporations, of which charters are a member, want Romney to win. In any case, Obama has been a punk and a major disappointment but he'll win again--320 Electoral Votes because Romney is even worse for the 90%--the poor and Middle Class.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:23 pm
Agreed - Obama is a major disappointment for progressives. Just look at Duncan and the Dept. of Ed, drones droppings, immigration / massive deportations, etc. . Obama also refused public financing in 2008. But, as usual, Romney is worse so progressives can either vote Green or hold our noses and vote against Romney by voting for Obama... As Tom Hayden wrote recently in The Nation, "Most progressives I meet believe the challenge is clear; get Obama's back through November, then get in his face." and in each other's as well!!
Submitted by anónima (not verified) on November 5, 2012 7:31 pm
Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala!!!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 7:42 pm
YES! Why reward Obama for totally forgetting about Unions and for Arne Duncan and "Race to the Top?" Obama has done nothing beneficial for Public School teachers or Unions. Enough of this rewarding people who take us for granted and totally ignore us
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 6, 2012 5:31 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 6, 2012 7:03 pm
agree! Obama has done nothing for Unions or Public Schools (Race to the Top, Arnie Duncan anyone) Then showed up to the first debate like we were wasting his time or something. Let's not forget how he caved to Republican on Health Care and let them water down his proposals because he wanted to try and work with the people who flat out told him they would not work with him. Four years of him kissing Republican's "you know what" and deserting Unions and Public Schools is enough. Concentrate on giving the Democrats control of both Houses of Congress!
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 6, 2012 8:32 pm
You're preaching to the choir. Obama has been a punk but Romney would be a disaster to all working people and the poor.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 8:37 pm
The problem is that this money wasn't really "unleashed" by Citizens United. As a matter of legal doctrine, all Citizens United did was allow unions and corporations to give directly from their general funds. Another case ruled that unions and corporations could give money to super PACs. And a lot of the money was getting into the elections anyway through various other methods. At the end of the day, if someone has billions of dollars and things it would be a good idea to support a candidate, it's pretty hard to stop them without blatantly restricting their rights to political speech. The difficult with campaign reform is that it comes very close to free speech issues. What is a "campaign"? Would that mean that it would be illegal to publicly voice support for a presidential candidate more than 3-4 months before an election? That seems to be a blatant violation of free speech rights.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:09 pm
And that's why UNIONS are so necessary. They at least try to level the playing field for the working men and women. People who don't understand need to READ what America was like 120 years ago before unions when people wore DIAPERS to work because there were no bathroom breaks etc. Read it and weep and then count your blessings.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:19 pm
Don't even try to communicate with this person. Either he is beyond help or trolling.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 6, 2012 5:40 am
Sorry for the error. Compulsory dues only only go to get out the vote initatives and issues advertising. Just like American crossroads. Pretending that the union is not a big money player in politics, that it does not own its own legions of paid-for legislators, school board members, is simply a lie & a fraud... No billionaire has the full time lobbying organization of the teachers unions in every 50 states. Obama will win. Sheldon Adelson's money can't buy love, or change facts. And your union money isn't any different. Parents deserve choice more than union members deserve complete unaccountability of this failed bureaucracy/ monopoly system you defend. Obama is for ed reform, not a paid for stooge of the teachers unions. That is why he'll win.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:33 pm
You dunce--Read the history of UNIONS. They are necessary to stop the corporations from making all workers peons. Can you say, WALMART. Please read up on what you think you know that just ain't so.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 6, 2012 6:02 am
Dunce? Unions can be OK. Public sector unions are exploitave. They didn't even exist until the 60's. Instead, we had civil service laws to defend workers rights. FDR did not believe in public sector unions. The era of growth in government, and general confidence in government was the era before public sector unionization. I do not think this is coincidence. If you want a more active government, government should work well and efficiently. It should serve the public, not itself. Looking at a big union dominated city like Philly, government is run mainly for the benefit of the employees and political insiders instead of the taxpaying citizens.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 6, 2012 5:01 pm
Employees?? You mean workers, right??? Be careful what you wish for !! Again, READ the facts from back in the day and PLEASE don't say, it can't happen today.
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Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 3, 2012 1:36 pm
Sounds like your answer is NO since you wouldn't want to work there nor, I bet, want your kids to go there either. Sounds like a very watered down Valley Forge Military Academy. In any case, I'm glad you saw through the structure and didn't like what you saw. This is the USA, not North Korea. Democracy better be the basis on which all things spring. I enjoy your posts.
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Submitted by Helen Gym on November 2, 2012 11:00 pm

I appreciate the insight into your experiences at Mastery. To be clear Mastery Pickett was one of many examples I found. I wasn't trying to single them out. 

At the same time,the suspension numbers at Pickett are a relevant contrast to the 9/10 safety rating granted the school by PSP. Both are singular numbers that show dramatic differences in illuminating what a safe school environment may look like. Personally, I would like to see disciplinary actions broken down around gender, ethnicity and language. After all you could have a safe school where specific student populations are treated differently than others. That's information parents need to know.

Nothing on the Great Philly Schools site remotely addresses the complexity and nuance of issues you raise above. Its why crude data like this is more likely to sow distrust, confusion and a need to label rather than help parents and others better understand and provide insight into our schools. 

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:41 pm
I agree, Helen. I think breaking down the statistics is very important. At a lot of Mastery schools, most or all of the students are Black and/or Latino/a. But a breakdown of disciplinary actions by sex would be relevant. I didn't see any disproportionately unfair treatment at the Mastery school where I spent time based on sex. Both boys and girls received consistent discipline. I never felt that that boys were treated unfairly. I did see that boys were more likely to receive special education services and be below grade level academically.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 10:00 pm
There are thousands of kids in his city going to Mastery schools. What do you think their education would be like without it?
Submitted by meladerm (not verified) on June 16, 2013 6:37 am
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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 2:03 am
ok, you want safe safe schools, but you don't want rules enforced? what's the ethnicity, gender breakdowns for suspensions? It's the same as any philly school! I wonder why people buy your pablum as fact. you are here to represent the union and that's it. mastery may not be perfect, but it does more for low-income students than most district schools. there's a lot to be said about clean, safe, and engaged. try it at southern or mlk.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on November 4, 2012 3:25 am
I assume people of good will want rules to be enforced equitably. I would not want my child to be treated unfairly because of his/her ethnicity, gender, first language, academic abilities, etc. There are many School District schools which are "clean, safe and (students are) engaged." My question for Mastery is what is student engagement? Based on what I've read, and heard from Mastery teachers, engagement is "direct instruction" 24/7 which is teacher directed/drive instruction which focuses on skill acquisition versus critical/creative thinking engagement. This was also the pedagogy of Arlene Ackerman. If there is little beyond drilling of skills, there isn't much true engagement. Active engagement, student centered instruction doesn't have to lead to chaos.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on November 5, 2012 3:12 pm
STAR does not work in inclusionary classrooms where students learn using various intelligiences (kinesthetic, auditory, etc) and does not allow for differientation. It is way to restrictive. Please note that just because we are low income doesn't mean we don't deserve a decent education. A safe environment where you don't learn to read, get introduced to physics and calculus is not suffiecient, and I expect more from public education regardless of my income.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 12, 2012 5:39 pm
"mastery may not be perfect, but it does more for low-income students than most district schools. there's a lot to be said about clean, safe, and engaged." Add prior to Mastery turnarounds, far fewer children in those same schools were even given the goal to attend college. Far fewer children were given the tools to prepare to even apply. Since the turnaround, a much larger number of children apply and are accepted to college - many with financial aid or scholarships already in hand. When I attended Overbrook, for example, unless you stood out or found the favor of a counselor whose job it is to help ALL the seniors prepare for secondary education, you had no idea where to start. I even had one counselor tell me not to bother because I probably couldn't wouldn't get accepted anyway. So much for encouragement.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 12:38 pm
Surely you joke, suspension over attendance and no uniforms? What Philly school EVER did that to a student? We can't even get principals to suspend troublemakers who get in outright fistfights in class. Principals are so bent on artificially lowering suspensions they look the other way constantly. It takes a child directly mouthing off to a principal to get them suspended. Say whatever you want to your teacher because the principal will make every excuse under the sun to not suspend you. Just make sure you don't show the same level of disrespect to the principal because THEN you will get suspended.
Submitted by Involved Teacher (not verified) on November 4, 2012 1:13 pm
I work at Beeber and our Principal reports EVERY single incident and gets into trouble for doing it. Another example of being punished for doing the job correctly. I've also worked at 2 Charter "Schools" and both of them report next to nothing and are told to keep it that way. The whole charter fiasco just makes money for the owners of the charters while teaching nothing to anybody, at least, that's what I saw over and over again.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 3:00 pm
I agree that principals like yours need to be supported, not belittled. However, too many principals don't report what they should because it reflects on them. It's just easier to lie and let the teachers have to deal with the consequences in the classroom, out of sight.
Submitted by Helen Gym on November 4, 2012 7:00 pm

Thanks for posting. We had the same issue at South Philadelphia High School where getting incidents reported was a huge step forward at the school, but the consequence was that the school had difficulty showing what "progress" therefore meant. Its a problem when numbers become singular definers.

Submitted by Marc brasof (not verified) on November 3, 2012 10:27 am
I love this post. So smart.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 3:24 pm
The Notebook's continued agenda against Green Woods is comical. You reference a previous article that was biased and inaccurate when it was first posted, and had a public meeting decision to create an online application process so as to allow Green Woods Charter to be one of the most accessible in Philadelphia. The SRC stated concerns as to the transportation hurdles their previous location presented families who required public transportation (a mode of transportation that would also be required for kindergarten families because the SDP does not bus them). Your comments suggesting there needs to be "an in" at the school is irresponsible at best and slanderous at worst. If the SDP were at all interested in creating a less homogenous environment, they would have perhaps not handcuffed the school as to the lottery application catchment areas (requiring Green Woods to fill 75% of open enrollment from three school catchment areas in Roxborough/Manayunk's already predominantly blue collar white neighborhoods). Green Woods Charter provides an enriched curriculum that includes science, social studies, technology, art, and music. They integrate learning lessons amongst all subjects, and then utilize their outside environment so as to create responsible stewards of the world around them. Instead of beating the same inaccurate drum of exclusion and "in's", why doesn't the Notebook scream from the roof tops for the SDP to use Green Woods' successful model elsewhere in the city?? Now that would be a worthwhile effort. In the meantime, your arguments against Green Woods is old and tiring. They've tripled K thru 2 this year, they've moved out of the challenging location, and your historical references are now inaccurate. We should be so lucky as to have several Green Woods Charter's throughout our city. Let's fight FOR something that can benefit our city rather than lamenting it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 3:20 pm
WOW--After reading your cloudburst of a post, I needed several Tylenols. Use periods sooner, please. Run on sentences ruin your argument, assuming you had one. Geez !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:17 pm
I'm sorry. I will try. Small sentences are good. Be careful with the Tylenol. Those long sentences in the directions may confuse you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:29 pm
Long sentences are a necessary part of communication. They are appropriate. Run on sentences destroy the message you are trying to communicate. Thanks for the advice about Tylenol but it's too late. I took too many after trying to get through your post. I don't feel so welllllllllllllllll.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:38 pm
I just read your post too and that dude was right. SLOW DOWN. Hopefully, nobody's chasing you. If you run as fast as you write, nobody can catch you anyway.
Submitted by Helen Gym on November 3, 2012 3:14 pm

Slanderous AND comical eh?  Instead of attacking the Notebook or myself, why not point out what Green Woods HAS done to address the situation as you waited until the end of your tirade to do so. Clearly there were problems with Green Woods application process. These are now being addressed whether through forced scrutiny or internal revelation. It is of concern when there are barriers to entry into schools. It's the fundamental difference between District-managed public and all other options, including charters.

The only thing I'd add is that Green Woods like Mastery Pickett above is one of many examples I could have cited. With regard to Green Woods specifically, I would hardly call it a crusade. The Notebook's pointing out serious problems, and the more that charter supporters (of which I consider myself) recognize the limitation in addition to the possibilities of the model, the more likely we avoid vying systems of hostility and entitlement.

Finally, as a supporter of Green Woods why stay anonymous? 



Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 4:31 pm
Helen--did you just say that you are supportive of charter schools?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:55 pm
I read the article by Helen very carefully and I find it to be right on point. I visited the website, too, and found it lacking in the very same facets. It is a very credible analysis of what the website provides and does not provide. What we need most in the School District is honesty and integrity in what we do and what we say. Helen has always been a supporter of good charter schools run for the right reasons and the best interests of children and in an open, honest and transparent way. She also was one of the first to found or help found a charter school. I too, may be misread as a non charter school advocate, but that would be far from the truth. I love the good charter schools run for the right reasons. I can well argue that every school should be a charter school as long as they are governed democratically and led democratically -- as public schools. I believe the teachers and parents of charter schools should elect their boards of trustees. How many charter schools are governed that way? We need to come into the 21st century in our notions of school governance. .
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 3, 2012 10:23 pm
Rich, I totally agree with you about supporting charter schools that are run for the right reasons and for the best interests of children. I think that initially, many of the charter schools fit this mold because the founders were parents and members of the community whose children may not have fit in well or learned well at traditional public schools. What has happened is that people who want to make money and people with an agenda, such as weakening teacher's unions, have hijacked the charter school movement. So when people ask me am I for or against charters, I have a mixed reaction. I'm not against charters in principle. However, most charter schools do not reflect the original principles that people had when charter schools first came into existence. It's hard to regulate right reasons and best interests of children. EGS
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 4, 2012 4:24 am
Good Morning EGS and Concerned Parent: The only way to regulate charter schools so the guiding principle is, in reality, the best interests of the children and their community is to govern them democratically. That means elected boards of trustees, elected by the parents and teachers of the school, with the strict legal mandate for complete transparency and strict requirements to report all data and budgets to the parents, teachers, local school boards, the city and the state. Otherwise schools will always be run for the best interests of those who operate them. You see what is happening. So do I. So does Helen and so does Joe, etc. We all see. This stuff isn't just happening in Philadelphia. It is happening in every urban district in America. Tom is the leading expert in our community about what is going on with the privatization of the American schoolhouse. Ron Whitehorn is the most articulate reporter on the issue of democracy in education and its moral imperative. What are the ideals and values we send our children to war to defend and die for? What ideals do we need to protect as American citizens? What ideals are embodied by our Constitution? What are we about as educators?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 7:38 am
There are around 80 charter schools in this this. I doubt you have that level of intimate knowledge of 10% of those let alone most. Broad, sweeping, unsupported accusations!!!
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 4, 2012 8:55 am
I suggest you read Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, for a history of the charter school movement, how it has evolved and the myriad of issues which have emerged. She presents a research based inquiry into the issues of which EGS speaks. There is more than enough research and documented evidence in that book alone to support EGS's comment. None of us have intimate knowledge of any charter school unless we work in one on a daily basis or attend one. Even then we may not know of the workings of the board of trustees and their motivations. We all make generalizations from what we read, hear and study. That is why transparency is so important in our public schools.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 3, 2012 10:24 pm
Rich, I totally agree with you about supporting charter schools that are run for the right reasons and for the best interests of children. I think that initially, many of the charter schools fit this mold because the founders were parents and members of the community whose children may not have fit in well or learned well at traditional public schools. What has happened is that people who want to make money and people with an agenda, such as weakening teacher's unions, have hijacked the charter school movement. So when people ask me am I for or against charters, I have a mixed reaction. I'm not against charters in principle. However, most charter schools do not reflect the original principles that people had when charter schools first came into existence. It's hard to regulate right reasons and best interests of children. EGS
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 4, 2012 11:15 am
It's MUCH easier to regulate and monitor anything if you're NOT in on the take which is of course the problem. The Pols and the Providers are tripping over one another in their grab for money, easy and abundant. Take a look at Corbett and his buddy in Chester County for exhibit A. Look at Kenny Gamble and Nutter. Look at Pedro and his charter affiliations. It goes on and on like a bad dream. You are right about lessening of Teacher Union's Power especially here where we have no PFT Leadership. The Chicago Teacher's Union stood up to the challenge. We, on the other hand, are playing the part of The Washington Generals who have NEVER won a game against The Globetrotters.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on November 5, 2012 3:41 pm
Don't groan when I say this but I really do believe that by applying some of the quality controls that corporations use in manufacturing and financial system implementations to our school district would improve our schools. Before I started analyzing urban education business model, I was mistakenly under the impression that the public sector had more controls, more visability and less allowed conflicts of interest (especially fiduciary conflicts of interest) because school districts answered to the public. To have the district run more effectively and with better quality, you really would have to just apply and implement something similar to ISO standards, and when those standards aren't met, the district there are remedies in place to correct them. Any accountant who has had to ensure GAAP is being adhered to, or prepared for a Sarbanes Oxley Audit knows how to ensure things that should be done, ARE being done. Would people who are getting away with things like those controls to be implemented? No, but they are there for a reason and it is to prevent fraud, theft and conflict of interests and to promote quality. As I have quite a lot of experience in the corporate financial world of implementing systems with those types of controls, I constantly find it lacking in the schools I am in.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 5:02 pm
Helen, because it is my right to remain as such. Could you cite any instances where lottery applicants were given preferential consideration due to having an "in"? If so, I believe the school should most definitely be brought before the SRC as that behavior is completely against the spirit of the Charter Law. Otherwise, yes, your comments are irresponsible and slanderous. A more accurate portrayal would have been that previous years saw over 400 families vying for 15 open spots. I'm not clear on how or why this is Green Woods' fault exactly. Additionally, it wasn't a tirade. There were plenty of facts in the first paragraph to support what they HAVE done, and done well before the SRC's recommendation of 2014 school year. The online application process opens the school up to every citizen with access to the Internet. Time will only tell whether this changes the "homogenous" population, or merely supports the decade of data that charter schools typically draw 80% of their lottery applicants from within a 1.5 mile catchment. My apologies for that long sentence...
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on November 3, 2012 7:36 pm
Many charter elementary schools appear to attract students from their geographic area. That may be one reason many are ethnically segregated. Others, attract students from particular ethnic backgrounds because of their program (e.g. Afrocentric schools like Harambee Institute, Imhotep, Imani Education Circle, Sankofa Freedom Academy; Spanish/English schools like Antonia Pantoja Charter School, Eugenio Maria DeHostos Community Bilingual Charter School, Nueva Esperanza, Pam American Charter; Asian immigrants (with a few others) like Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School, etc.) There are also some charter high schools which are predominantly of one ethnic background (e.g. Franklin Towne Charter, MAST, World Communications, Boys Latin, etc.) To be fair, many Phila. neighborhood public schools are also ethnically segregated because many Phila. neighborhoods are segregated. This is changing - South Philly, lower Northeast Philly, etc. are more integrated. (Mount Airy, despite its reputation, neighborhood elementary schools are nearly 90% African American which means white parents send their children elsewhere.) Magnet schools, by definition, are suppose to be ethnically diverse. Many are but not all - the Parkways, Comm Tech, Carver, etc. Some charters like Freire appear to be trying to be more ethnically integrated - I assume their location of their middle school on 12th and Market is an attempt to "diversify." While Greenwoods previous admission procedures are suspect, other schools like Franklin Towne Charter, MAST, Phila. Performing Arts, Phila. Academy, etc. should also be questioned for having predominantly white student bodies since they don't claim to be for a particular ethnic group (e.g. Afrocentric, bilingual Spanish/English, etc.) I assume Afrocentric and bilingual schools would argue they are providing a more appropriate education to students of color so their demographics aren't questioned. I don't know if a Euro-American students would feel accepted at an Afrocentric or bilingual Spanish/English school for Latino/a students. The larger issue is the equity of the admission process in charter schools - some schools like Eastern HS, CHAD, Prep Charter, Boys Latin, etc. have far too detailed admission procedures. I assume it is to discourage families from going through the process. The issues of whether integrated schools is the goal is also another larger issue. Since the SRC favors charters - so they don't have to deal with unions - they have to look at admission procedures to ensure there are schools for students who "don't fit," "don't comply," etc. Public education is still required K-12.
Submitted by Marc Brasof (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:22 pm
Its not about who is on the list in terms of getting in, its how those that want to get in are denied based on features such as grades, ELL, and special needs. Traditional public schools do not have this option to deny entrance whereas charter (some) have practiced this. Or, after student gets in removing them due to their test scores. This is what is undemocratic about it.
Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on November 5, 2012 6:06 pm
What about special admit schools? Philly now has more schools with admission requirements than neighborhood high schools. (This does not include Renaissance charter and traditional charter). Special admit schools also exclude students based on grades, test scores, special needs, etc. Special admit also kick students out. I work at a neighborhood schools - we get students who have been kicked out of special admit schools. How is that any different from a charter?
Submitted by Marc brasof (not verified) on November 5, 2012 7:10 pm
There are not alot of special admit schools. There are more city wide than admit. And, expanding charter schools at the expense of public schools is not only been a general failure but it does not expand substantially better options. Furthermore, where exactly will this voucher be taken? This type of reform just shuffles money and children around without addressing the problems.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 3, 2012 11:21 pm
There are a lot of great things about Green Woods CS and their approach. However, they are a publicly funded school and should not have the kind of barriers to entry that they do. Charter schools have to be accessible to all in the district or in their catchment area. Prior to action from the SDP, applicants were required to pick up an application in person and deliver it in person during school/business hours. Their school was hard to access via SEPTA. These are barriers to entry. This is the 21st century. At least make the application available via the internet, at least to print. And what's so bad with mailing the application? People used to mail their college applications. Now colleges receive applications online. Go to Look at the Annual Reports recently. GW had 18% or something like that of its students being economically disadvantaged. That's super low for Philly. So their policies had resulting of excluding kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. If parents want an exclusive school, pay tuition for it.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on November 3, 2012 11:17 pm
**had the result of excluding**
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 12:35 pm
Green Woods set themselves up for criticism when they offered their enrollment application ONCE a year and only on line. Don't tell me that they were ever serious about educating ALL Philadelphia children with a policy like that. The changes they have made were ONLY after constant cricitism and exposure in the media. Only THEN did they made the changes that should have been in place starting DAY ONE.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 10:32 pm
Not only that but let's see what new obstacles they develop to keep it a segregated program, framed for a very particular group of students.
Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on November 5, 2012 9:07 am
No, let's keep going after Green Woods. They STILL are 90% white, have 0 economically disadvantaged students, 1/2 of 1% of the IEP students that a public school has and expect the citizens of this city to pay to build them a school, that will be purchased by "the Green Woods Foundation" and "Leased" to the school. Yeah, they aren't ripping of the city, the district or the state.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 3:55 pm
No, they wouldn't do that---except all the time !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 4:29 pm
Every single statement in that paragraph is completely false. If you are so concerned about the school and its business dealings then I might suggest attending a board meeting or SRC meeting to state those concerns. 90% White is FALSE Zero (0) economically disadvantaged students is FALSE 1/2 of 1% of the IEP students of apublic school is FALSE The purchase of the building by way of bond issuances were handled entirely by the school itself (although a foundation was created to further provide assurances for such bond holders, but was in the end not needed). The board did not consumate any such purchase or lease back to the school. Ripping (off) the city, district, or state. This is not only FALSE, but also a joke. The school operates on 82% of the per student funding that the SDP receives for the same children. The building of a new school allows for them to educate triple the number of families. If that is not enough, then take that up with the SDP and the SRC. Sounds like a horrifying rip off indeed...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 5, 2012 9:35 pm
OK, I'll bite 73% White 17% Economically disadvantaged (as reported to the SRC, mysteriously jumped to 24% on Great Philly Schools, still one of the lowest in the district, especially for a technically city-wide admission school) 15% Special Education 2012 PSSAs 0% Below Basic in Math grades 3-6 and 0% Below Basic in Reading is grades 5, 6 and 8. The only other schools in the district with similar streaks of no students Below Basic are Dorothy June Brown founded charters: Laboratory, Planet Abacus and Ad Prima. It is known that Brown basically operated her charters as private admission schools and others on here can detail. Do schools like Green Woods not allow students to fall below Basic or do they not allow students who would test below Basic to attend?
Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on November 6, 2012 12:32 am
There are other charters with a higher % of white students (This is similar to Performing Arts Charter in South Philly - STring Theory was given another school to run...). Their special ed. numbers are in line with most Phila. neighborhood elementary schools. (High schools have a higher percentage.) What is lower is the SES - it s more in line with Masterman.
Submitted by southphillyparent (not verified) on November 3, 2012 3:41 pm
So let's be clear: Helen, sure there is always more information we parents could benefit from, but your view is that we ought to go back to the days when the information on this site was only accessible to policymakers? Or to parents willing to make a dozen phone calls to get it? Your argument is is that because the information available isn't perfect, we ought to hide the ball from parents? No thanks. I trust parents to make their own judgments.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 3, 2012 4:26 pm
Is this you, again, Scotty 2 shoes ?? Helen didn't say that !! Making stuff up is what charters do best....................but you already know that !!
Submitted by Helen Gym on November 3, 2012 4:51 pm

Where does it say that I should withhold information? I must be reading with different glasses than you. Also where in the work I've done or in any other area have i supported less information and making it only "accessible to policymakers."

My point is that limited information is misleading information. See examples cited above. I slightly prefer the Inquirer's Report Card on Schools which does have details like teacher salary, basic college prep curricula requirements offered, SAT/AP/PSSA tests. Its not comprehensive enough either though but its light years ahead of the Great Philly Schools website.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 1:29 am
Additionally, the information is outdated. My school has seen a huge improvement in scores and safety over the last 4 years, but because the data is from the 09-10 school year, this is hardly reflected. When I spoke with an intern for the website recently, I was told that the outdated info was due to wanting to make everything fair across the board. However, I believe it to be incredibly stupid to not use the most up-to-date information and label it as such. Philadelphia information from last year is all available. If a charter or parochial school takes forever to release their data, why should public schools suffer? Letting parents make an informed decision is the key here. Not handicapping the majority of schools because the minority cannot get their stuff together. If the same rankings are used for my school in the print edition of this list I am going to be very upset.
Submitted by Helen Gym on November 4, 2012 7:31 am

This is a central problem with the idea of "choice." Choice only becomes somewhat equitable if its informed choice. Most non-public/non-District managed schools are not obligated to reveal information, and traditionally have not. So we are stuck with outdated information, or limited information.

Its what happens when we throw everything to the wind and pretend like public and non public institutions are somehow equitable and have the same mission. They do not. 

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Submitted by Each of us uses the timetable for getting information about (not verified) on May 6, 2014 3:33 pm
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Submitted by Frank (not verified) on November 3, 2012 4:59 pm
I will be excited to see your better version of this, Helen. We have to choose high schools soon so when can we expect it? -FrankfordBill
Submitted by Helen Gym on November 4, 2012 7:00 am

I've said before that if I had the hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of work that went into this website, I would most assuredly have a different, and I hope, better perspective. But I'm like you "Bill" (or "Frank"), I'm looking for high school too. If your sole measure of choosing high schools is last year's PSSA test score and the number of violent incidents reported to the state - as Great Philly Schools does - you must have a pretty basic measure. I'm using the Inquirer Report Card on Schools, Notebook High School Guide (for multiple years), went to the high school fair, and am trying to talk to as many people as I can, particularly teachers and colleagues and friends with kids in high school.

I'd love a guide to "great Philly schools." Sadly this isn't it. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 1:48 pm
So you're out there raising money to build a better way to get this to parents right? O
Submitted by Helen Gym on November 4, 2012 7:04 pm

We're an organizing group, not a limited projects group. We are organizing parents to engage ourselves more deeply not in sorting and defining quality, but in building quality schools at the places our children attend - in whatever system that may be. Can you drop the sarcasm now?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 4, 2012 8:02 pm
Since you asked Helen what she is doing, what are you doing to help? I see an awful lot of "Helen Gym" articles, interviews, and other pieces.
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Submitted by g (not verified) on November 3, 2012 8:32 pm
Question? What would happen if someone proposed a Euro-centric charter school? Is it just as acceptable as an Afro-centric charter school? Just wondering................................
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on November 4, 2012 11:01 am
One could make a pretty convincing argument that most schools in the US were Euro-centric for all of the 19th and 20th centuries. So, perhaps Afro-centric is a reaction to that.
Submitted by g (not verified) on November 4, 2012 4:10 pm
Of course what you are saying is correct-but-please answer my question-Would it be acceptable for a charter school's theme be "Eurocentrism" ?
Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on November 4, 2012 6:29 pm
What school isn't Eurocentric? Are you really asking this question?
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on November 5, 2012 10:25 pm
Geoofrey...that person is just looking for a certain type of reaction and it is always disappointing to see these types of people appear on blogs...I would just ignore this completely, we have much more critical issues to discuss about this district and our kids in the city and their education than that nonsense... Best Karen
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Ridiculous story there. What occurred after? Thanks!
Submitted by Sir Frederick Mercury (not verified) on November 6, 2012 9:31 am
When is it OK to Cheat? I did not take a test with that woman. – Bill Clinton Announcer: Welcome back to another issue of “On The Fence,” the weekly television show that reveals what is happening and what isn’t in the School District of Philadelphia. Let’s welcome this week’s host, The Michelle Rhee Professor of Testing Integrity at Liberty University, Doug Lynch. Lynched: Welcome in everybody! We have a great show today with two great guests and a cadre of callers. So, let’s dive in. Today’s guests are new to Philadelphia, courtesy of a program known as Teach for America. Each teacher has personal experience with either cheating or not cheating on standardized tests, and each has plenty to say on this hot topic. Both guest have requested anonymity, so we’ll call them Single White Male and Single White Female. Ladies first. SWF, gives a bit of your personal background. SWF: Hi, Doug. Thanks for having me. I grew up in Utah and attended BYU. As you may know, BYU has very strict personal codes of conduct: no drinking, no premarital sex, no smoking. In other words, the raison d’etre for higher education was denied. This led to an existential crisis on my part. I realized I was going to graduate from college completely unqualified to lead an adult life, which only left me with three career options – the military, the clergy or teaching. Lynched: Very interesting. Though entirely undesirable, each of these careers has much in common. So let’s cut to the chase: How did you wind up cheating? SWF: I was an all girls school in North Philly. The principal was a relentless tyrant. She looked a bit like Qaddafi but lacked his innate charm and flair for fashion. I was going crazy worrying about lesson plans, Do Now’s, objectives, Exit Tickets, my big idea, my small ideas, my data analysis, how many candy wrappers were on my floor. It was a lot. I was constantly crying and feeling sorry for myself. I was getting memos left and right and the principal said that if I didn’t produce good test scores she was going to, and I quote, “ship your ass back to Salt Lake City quicker than Michael Nutter can learn to hate Arlene Ackerman.” Lynched: Wow! SWF: I really had no choice. It was easy. No one paid attention to test security, so I did it. Lo and behold I had the highest scores in the school and the principal rewarded me with her personal assistant’s job when the PA left to become a skiing instructor with TFA’s teacher camp in Boulder. Lynched: Wow! Now, I know you came to regret your decision. What happened? SWF: Well, my principal got a job at 440 and she actually thought I was a great teacher so she promptly removed me from the classroom and took me with her. My new job started out great. All I had to do was go on these walk-throughs, sit in different classrooms, text my boyfriend or buy stuff on the internet and then write three different reports. One teacher was described as terrible, one as meeting standards, and the other as the best teacher ever. What a sweet gig! Lynched: What went wrong? SWF: Well, basically since I was in charge of holding teachers accountable I was totally unaccountable myself. I stopped paying attention altogether and one day I assigned the bad review to my best friend and roommate. Her name was on the lease. She kicked me out and I wound up squatting in the Teacher Jail. The only good thing about it was that it was the same room where they kept Hope Moffett, so I felt like I was part of history. Lynched: That does sound kind of cool. Kind of like visiting Mandela’s cell on Robbins Island. SWF: You should have seen the graffiti. You’d be surprised by how many things rhyme with Ackerman. Lynched: Let’s turn to SWM. What’s your story. SWM: I was in my senior year at Harvard, and like my colleague, was experiencing an existential crisis. I started Harvard wanting to be a Hip Hop artist, so I majored in Black Studies. All of my friends were either in Harvard Business School or heading to Harvard Law school and they began to ostracize me. They felt that I was destined to be a loser or an employee at some lame non-profit. They stopped inviting me to play squash and summer at the Vineyard. I needed redemption and I needed it fast. TFA would help me get that urban street cred and then I could move on to bigger and better things. Lynched: What was the culture around testing at your school? SWM: At Harvard? Lynched: No, your school in Philly. SWM: Well, if you were in the Principal’s inner circle you didn’t even need to give the test. They gave all the goody two-shoes an answer sheet and had them fill in all the test books and put all the other kids in a separate room. They had Pizza Parties and watched this educational documentary called Lean on Me. Whatever. Me and one other teacher refused to capitulate.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on December 5, 2012 7:49 pm
awesome!!! you missed your calling.
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Submitted by Angel Cruz & Elaine Goetz (not verified) on December 5, 2012 4:09 pm
How about when a parent is denied their parental rights to support their children and insist that their child's grades not be altered as they were and then the school, its administration, its teaching staff and the entire SDP ignore your formal complaints of changing your child's grades. Then they ignore your formal complaint of your parental rights being violated. Then -your child falls from straight As all his life straight down to Fs because he has no support system whatsoever and no one cares?
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