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Gates gives Philly schools $2.5 million to work together

By the Notebook on Dec 5, 2012 07:27 PM
Photo: Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks

Philadelphia Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr and leaders from Philadelphia's district, charter and Catholic schools announce the grant at a press conference.

by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

Philadelphia's traditional public schools, charters and Catholic schools historically have been rivals.

Now they are receiving $2.5 million over the next three years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to foster greater collaboration.

The money will be used to:

  • Create a yearlong residency program for training urban principals;

  • Expand Mastery Charter Schools' existing program for training teacher coaches;

  • Develop new assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards in math and English.

Philadelphia was one of seven cities that received grants totaling $25 million.

The grantees "have moved beyond the question of whether charters or District schools are better and are working together to benefit all students in these communities." said Vicki Phillips, director of education, College Ready, for the Gates Foundation, while announcing the grant Wednesday.

Lori Shorr, the chief education officer to Mayor Nutter and the chair of Philadelphia's Great Schools Compact Committee, said leaders from the city's three educational sectors have been working to find common ground for almost a year.

"Initially it was, 'If we were to stop fighting each other and use that energy for something else, what could that look like? What could we learn from each other?'" Shorr said.

The overarching goal of the Great Schools Compact is to eliminate 50,000 so-called "low-performing seats" in Philadelphia by 2017.

The Philadelphia School Partnership convenes the Compact committee and will be the intermediary for the grant.  Executive director Mark Gleason said the group will look to an outside consultant to help develop the curriculum and structure of the principal-training effort.

"The crux of the program will be a full yearlong residency," Gleason said.  "The aspiring candidate will be in an assistant principal role, learning to be a principal."

Host schools and mentor principals could come from District, charter, or Catholic schools, Gleason said.

The teacher-training effort, meanwhile, aims to scale up Mastery's existing Teacher Effectiveness Institute, which uses a "train-the-trainers" model to prepare teacher coaches.

The goal is to involve 30 coaches in the effort in the first year, said Mastery CEO Scott Gordon.

"One of the assumptions we all share is that a great school means a great teacher in every single classroom," Gordon said.

He described the purpose of the institute, which is already funded by Gates, as "describing what good teaching is, then providing the resources and support to teachers and administrators to make sure that every teacher can rise to that standard."

That could include guidebooks, videos, coaches, and other materials and supports.

Officials have previously said that the compact will allow them to pool resources to jointly purchase benchmark test items aligned to the Common Core, rather than each party having to purchase or develop them separately.

Officials said they also remain committed to trying out a universal enrollment system for high schools next fall. That effort, however, will not be funded by the Gates grant.

The other cities receiving awards from the foundation are Boston; Denver; Hartford, Conn.; New Orleans; New York City; and Spring Branch, Texas.

Phillips, of the Gates Foundation, touted Nutter's leadership and the involvement of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as reasons that Philadelphia's compact stood out. Boston is the only other grantee where Catholic schools are involved.

"We think you have an opportunity here to set such an important example for the rest of the country," Phillips said.

Leaders from across the Philadelphia education community attended the event.

"We have a lot to gain through this collaboration, and we also have much that we feel we can contribute," said District Superintendent William Hite.  "We feel like we have great teachers and leaders across this District."

Charter school leaders Lawrence Jones (Richard Allen), Naomi Booker (Global Leadership), and David Rossi (Nueva Esperanza) were also on hand.

Even Nutter, who is traveling in China, made an appearance via a prerecorded video.

"The Great Schools Compact ... has been working tirelessly to improve the quality of education all across the city of Philadelphia," Nutter said.

"I know that this investment will bring all of us one step closer to our goal of building a system of great schools for the benefit of every Philadelphia student."

This story is the product of a partnership in education reporting between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.


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Comments (36)

Submitted by tom-104 on December 5, 2012 8:34 pm
No parents? No teachers? No one from the community? An invading army is taking over our schools!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 5, 2012 9:38 pm
Mr. Herald: This is another "fluff" piece for the "Great Schools" machine. There is no mention, whatsoever, of anyone who is questioning this so called alliance. Even the Inquirer mentioned a bit of opposition - "Though the officials at Wednesday's City Hall event said the announcement meant great things for the city, some local education watchers have expressed concerns about the implications of accepting Gates money and worry that the Great Schools Compact shortchanges district schools." Start reporting instead of spilling propaganda!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 5, 2012 9:11 pm
Wow. Don't we all see the danger in what is happening here? The shadow government is now taking over the district, and again, circumventing the Sunshine Act, which of course, is state law. This is all about the privatization of the public schoolhouse. Now Gleason, et al are seizing control of the choice of future leaders and the training of future leaders. PSP and Mastery have a clear agenda of the privatization of American schools for their own personal profit. This is all about the the corporate takeover of our public schools under the veil of and the psychobabble of "high performing seats."
Submitted by Brian Cohen (not verified) on December 5, 2012 9:10 pm
As a teacher myself I don't understand why the emphasis is being placed on Mastery's model of training. I've heard it is a very proscriptive program that restricts certain creative process. Why not talk to teachers who are currently working and get them to develop one that can work for different situations and neighborhoods? Why rely on a charter model only? That doesn't seem very fair.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 5, 2012 9:00 pm
It is not about being fair, democratic or for the best interests of students and the school community of Philadelphia. It is all about the self dealing of the insiders.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on December 5, 2012 9:44 pm
Mastery has a very narrow curriculum and defines "good instruction" as direct instruction flavored by Madeline Hunter, Harry Wong, Jon Saphier, Teach For America, and Doug Lemov. As you wrote, we have plenty of teachers who do not need a Mastery "coach" to command the classroom nor give us a "tool kit" prescription. The magnets will be left alone while neighborhood schools, once again, will be put under the tight glove of the "Mastery model." The powers that be apparently think good instruction can be "bottled" and sold. Mastery's obsession - according to their web site - is "student achievement" which is synonymous with test scores. Scott Gordon doesn't send his children to Mastery Schools. Why are they "good" for urban students but not his children?
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 6, 2012 6:37 pm
When I did my field experience at Mastery, the teachers with whom I spoke all had overwhelmingly positive comments about the teacher coaches. The teacher coaches typically coached each first-year teacher once per week in person following an observation of a lesson/lessons. In addition, coaching could take the form of feedback on lesson plans and in-class support. There was one first year teacher at the Mastery school where I did my practicum (this teacher had teaching experience, but not at Mastery) who had a few students with significant behavior problems and this affected the whole class. There were major issues with transitions in the halls and classroom management. For a week or two, this teacher's teacher coach actually came in and stayed in the classroom for most or all of the day in order to help with classroom management issues. For this teacher, the coaching went above and beyond coaching. It was actual in-class support. The teacher coaches were pretty young, probably in their thirties. Each had taught, but I don't know how much teaching experience each had. I think that at Mastery, the teacher coaches are really necessary because Mastery schools want all of the adults to be on the same page with regard to expectations about culture and instruction. In any school, the consistency and enforcement of expectations and behavior management really influences student behavior. This is not to disregard what you are saying Brian. In fact, I would be interested in hearing you elaborate on what you mean by "proscriptive."
Submitted by Christina Puntel (not verified) on December 6, 2012 8:36 pm
In any school, Ed Grad, imaginative curriculum and pedagogies of cooperation, hope, creativity, and awe REALLY influence student behavior. And small class size. And counselors. Amen.
Submitted by Rabbi (not verified) on December 6, 2012 9:44 pm
Who are you: Paulo Fairy?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2012 7:14 pm
Submitted by George Clinton (not verified) on December 6, 2012 9:17 pm
Think: it ain't illegal yet
Submitted by Brian Cohen (not verified) on December 6, 2012 11:34 pm
I have heard that the methodology in Mastery schools is very tight - leaving little in the area of creativity. For example, what if I want my class to be entirely devoted to a lab without having a "do now" or "guided instruction" - I would potentially be marked down in my evaluation, even if the lesson was truly engaging. That's what I mean by "proscriptive."
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on December 7, 2012 8:14 am
My assumption is the Gates money is going for "Masterizing" the School District because Nowak/William Penn, Lori Shorr, "Great Schools" / Scott Gordon hatched the plan. There was NO attempt to look at what is going on in schools, meet with teachers, etc. Why not consult with teachers who have National Certification? Why not ask teacher organizations like the Philadelphia Writing Project? Why not have teachers from neighborhood schools meet with teachers from magnet schools to collaborate? This would be bottom up reform which is contrary to "Masterization" of the School District.
Submitted by Veteran of WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on December 7, 2012 3:55 pm
Interestingly, the Gates money is supposed to be about "cooperation" between public and charter/other schools -- but what you are suggesting sounds like public schools being "disciplined" to be more like Mastery. That doesn't sound much like cooperation. Indeed, if there were a model that tried to learn from innovative, successful, motivating teachers in all settings, that might be more like what I would consider cooperation. But, let's face it, that is not what the Great Schools Compact is all about. It is holding up Mastery as the model. Very top down. There may be positives in creating coherence within schools about the approach to teaching and certainly the best teachers are all about ongoing improvement of their instruction.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on December 7, 2012 4:20 pm
Yes - "Masteryization" of the School District is the antithesis of cooperation and collaboration.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 8, 2012 4:51 pm
You are right, the methodology at Mastery is tight. Every lesson must be of the form direct instruction, aligned scaffolded practice (guided practice in phases, starting with more teacher assistance and gradually releasing students), and independent practice. As someone pointed out in their comment, this is Madeline Hunter's 7-step direct instruction format. However, if you spend enough time in a Mastery school, you see that there is a lot of flexibility in this model and room for a lot of creativity. Having spent time in SDP schools and a Mastery school, the restrictions are different. At Mastery, the instructional model (DI-ASP-IP) is set in stone. At the same time, Mastery does not have a set curriculum, such as a planning and instructional timeline or Harcourt Trophies or Everyday Math. Technically, the math curriculum was enVision math, but in the classroom where I spent time, the students never used the enVision math textbooks. How much a teacher uses the textbook/curriculum may depend on who plans mathematics. At the Mastery school where I spent time, one teacher planned the subject for each grade. So all of the teachers in a grade use the same basic lesson plan, although each teacher can make some modifications to the plans to fit the needs of their students. So at Mastery, there is more flexibility in terms of how much the teacher uses the curriculum, but less in terms of the instructional model. The content of the instruction has its basis in what content is on the scope and sequence and the benchmark tests. When it comes to reading, these are specific books that each grade uses for text study (grade level reading instruction). This is no different than at most other schools. It makes sense because the school doesn't have to buy new reading texts year after year. In addition, the week of the benchmarks and the week after the benchmarks, teachers do not have to submit formal lesson plans. Thus, they can be creative in this period of time when it comes to instruction. While people are critical of Mastery's approach, I've also heard plenty of criticism of Curriculum such as Everyday Math. In terms of guided instruction, there is a great article in the Spring 2012 article of American Educator called The Case for Fully Guided Instruction. (See The research is pretty clear that until students have mastered particular content, it's not best practice to have them do inquiry-based learning. Direct and guided instruction is simply more effective for most students than inquiry-based instruction. As far as the Do Now goes, I think at times it can be tedious, but most of the time, it's a great chance for review. It also serves as a good transition into the subject. And the Do Now can take a lot of forms. For example, a Do Now for Math could be as simple as having students practice orally skip counting. So, my main point is that both SDP and Mastery schools limit creativity and are proscriptive, but in different ways. The SDP does this by having a set curriculum. Mastery does this by having a set lesson format.
Submitted by Christina Puntel (not verified) on December 8, 2012 7:44 pm
When you say MOST STUDENTS, Ed Grad, WHO DO YOU MEAN? And did you use the word EFFECTIVE? The only times I've ever taught anything real, it's been through inquiry. And the only way I can ever dream of becoming an effective teacher is by engaging in inquiry into my practice. There is no way I can "master" teaching without engaging in inquiry. There is no way students can have genuine AHA moments without inquiry. A philosophy of education that disparages inquiry learning or project based learning as being ineffective or only for SOME students really has no place in schools in the year 2012.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on December 8, 2012 8:25 pm
Amen! Direct instruction has its place for teaching a skill. Modeling helps if students need to follow particular steps to get from point a to point b. But, if all we do is drill skills, students aren't learning and teachers aren't teaching. This week, for example, one of my classes AT A NEIGHBORHOOD HIGH SCHOOL did a role play that required a lot of content knowledge and speaking, listening and writing skills. I admit I was a but nervous. Could I "coach" the students through the process? The students rose to the challenge and their post role play blog posts show they not only know the content but were able to apply it in an abstract situation. (If I was observed in a walk through I would have received a "red" and failed.)
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 9, 2012 10:52 pm
Read the article from American Educator.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 9, 2012 10:52 pm
I didn't throw inquiry based methods under the bus. I was simply sharing what the research from articles like the American Educator one say: inquiry based methods work well for students who have learned and mastered material, but not for teaching new concepts and for novice learners.
Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on December 10, 2012 11:57 am
There are many teachers who research their own practices in order to improve instruction. Their knowledge is based on evidence derived from personal experience. It is a dangerous assumption to state that inquiry is only appropriate for certain types of learners, particularly when so many teaching practices are predicated on deficit models. For intense, I worked with a Mastery teacher who told me that Mastery places a heavy emphasis on so-called reading levels. There were many instances where students rejected assigned books, yet could read higher-level books because the content was more engaging. Additionally, any effective teacher knows that inquiry learning must be skillfully and carefully taught.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2012 10:02 am
As a current teacher at Mastery, I can tell you that there has been a shift with the current instructional model. After much debate and feedback from teachers and admin, there is now a focus on "logical flexibility", which pretty much gives teachers the ability to teach in any fashion that they would like (inquiry, direct instruction, etc) as long as students are mastering the material. At the end of the day it is and should have always been about student outcomes so it is nice to know that this transition is taking place. What many people fail to realize is that the direct instruction model was put into place at Mastery because it was and still is very easy to train teachers on and it has been proven to get immediate results especially with students who are years behind their suburban counterparts, unlike how inquiry takes years to master (and is difficult to train teacher on) and is often difficult to capture student learning outcomes (at least in the short term). Also, like some have already mentioned, the curriculum at Master is not prescriptive. Teachers get exposed to the benchmarks in advance and they are given the opportunity to provide feedback on the bar, mall-alignment, etc., and they get to determine the path to take with their students over the course of the 6 week report period.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 9, 2012 10:09 pm
Your comment is very consistent with what I saw when I spent time at Mastery. One teacher said that Mastery wants to use more student-centered/inquiry methods, but so many students are years behind that teachers need to focus on basic skills and content. Teachers use direct instruction because this is more efficient and effective at helping students master basic skills and play catch up.
Submitted by Christina Puntel (not verified) on December 10, 2012 5:22 pm
I would not keep disagreeing so vehemently with you, except that the future is really at stake because of this kind of thinking. Are we saying no one should go to the Franklin Institute and walk through the heart there unless they have MASTERED (no pun intended) the basics about the heart (whatever they are, according to whoever says these are the basics...)? That I can't go up to the observatory there and be in awe of everything until I know exactly what I'm in awe of? Ugh. Sounds boring. I am a language teacher and I do tons of practicing little skills since I work in a school where students are used to seeing practicing skills as work. However, role plays, cooking in target in language, making music videos in target language about a theme we are exploring, creating GoAnimates and using Voki and Blabberize and lots of other stuff that looks like messing around is actually inquiry into language. If I did not teach in this way, and I said, "Sorry, you can't conjugate a verb correctly so don't look at GoAnimate until you can do that," I would be a bad teacher. I would be holding back tools and methods and fun stuff that students could use to connect to the language in real ways. It may seem insignificant, but this thread of conversation is actually tied into everything right now... RTII, schools closing, test cheating, etc etc etc Without play and inquiry, an education that relies solely on basic skills instruction to catch kids up will not create engaged, active citizens who are ready to creatively lead us into tomorrow.
Submitted by Marc Brasof (not verified) on December 9, 2012 6:46 pm
Here is the issue: the Madeline Hunter model is a logistical approach to lesson planning informed by the principles of scaffolding. What is missing is a learning design/curriculum that values higher-order thinking skills. I've read research by National Research Council (2002) and Parker et al. (2011) in which scholars argue that project-based, inquiry learning helps to trigger student motivation and enagement with the "basics." So, any model of instruction that is not well supported with divergent thinking curriculum and assessments that help diagnose student learning beyond lower-order thinking is missing the mark. However, in reference to the article, the model of more teacher coaching should never be shunned if it is helping teachers improve their practices. I commend Mastery for this move and taking teacher development seriously. I question what the underlying assumptions of what that development is working towards, thats all.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 5, 2012 9:45 pm
Not a teacher training program, a teacher harassment program. Are they talking about the one with the earbuds and wrist buzzers? Lisa Haver
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2012 10:13 am
Pennsylvania Department of Education has a Educator Effectiveness Program that is tied to Race to the Top State funds and School Improvement Grants. It is founded on Madeline Hunter and partnered with Teachscape. Philadelphia having accepted those funds, is expected to operate via that model. Mastery is not required to use that model. PSD does not have to use Teachscape, but the formula of teacher evalations including 50% school-wide data remains in effect. Is Mastery's model going to adequately prepare them for those high stake standards for evaluations?
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 6, 2012 11:06 am
Madeline Hunter "founded" direct instruction/7 Step Model which is used by Mastery. The teacher evaluation system used by the School District is based on Charlotte Danielson's model - Danielson does not use test scores but I know the Race to the Top money is tied to test scores. Teachscape - based on their web site - is about teacher "effectiveness" so it is more akin to Danielson's work.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2012 1:24 pm
You are correct, thank-you for the correction. PDE's Educator Effectiveness is based on Charlotte Danielson's model. Which again makes me wonder how Mastery proposes to prepare Philadelphia District teachers for this high stakes evaluations, which their teachers are not required to participate in. Thanks for the correction!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2012 1:07 pm
High stakes evaluations that "Mastery Teachers" are not required to participate in.
Submitted by RogueTeacher (not verified) on December 6, 2012 10:25 am
It's interesting how the money is not allocated for educational resources in the classrooms. It's not for the kids at all. You can retrain, train, and retrain teachers and principals all you want, but if you do not have the resources that are necessary to teach the Common Core Standards ( or whatever curriculum du jour), what good is all of that training? It's as though we are watching a horror movie unfold before our eyes while sitting there screaming, "Don't do it! Don't go there!", but no one can hear us. They choose to not listen to us. This is criminal, yet teachers will be held most accountable for the businessman's wasteful spending.
Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on December 6, 2012 1:44 pm
In other words, they have moved beyond the question of who is more effective and declared Charters the winner. Mastery's teacher training is now the new model. I would really like to know why Mr. Herold did not bother to solicit the perspective of either teacher educators or proven profession development networks (e.g. The Philadelphia Writing Project) who might offer a different perspective. Sadly, this is yet another occasion when teacher expertise is completely ignored.
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on December 6, 2012 2:00 pm

Thanks for the comment, Geoffrey.

Apologies for the wacky formatting on my previous attempt to respond.  Trying again.
For previous coverage and analysis of Mastery's approach to teaching and its Teacher Effectiveness Institute, interested readers can check out:

Mastery poised to expand its influence around teacher coaching


Teaching at Mastery

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 8, 2012 4:13 pm
I have issue with the Gates Foundation grant because it gives so much power to the Gates Foundation over what happens in the School District of Philadelphia. Bill and Melinda Gates live in Medina, WA. They are not citizens of Philadelphia or Pennsylvania. Yet, because they have money, they have more power to determine the direction of the SDP than just about anyone who lives in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the money comes with conditions. I am guessing that the SRC had to approve the Gates money. However, the SRC is not an elected school board. So there is no direct accountability to the citizens and taxpayers of the City of Philadelphia. Was there a hearing about this at City Council or an SRC meeting? Was there any public input. The SDP is so broke that they'll take any money they can receive, regardless of its source. Foundations and private interests can take advantage of the SDP's need for money by giving money to the SDP with strings attached. Many of the private interests have an interest in weakening unions because unions provide a barrier to corporations taking over the US political system. See
Submitted by Javier Maynard (not verified) on January 8, 2013 8:06 pm
hmm I like when a rich person gives fund to an education institution, it is one of the best tasks one can perform... really appreciable!
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Submitted by goma (not verified) on June 6, 2014 7:01 am
This is a good thing. Money always helps. But I'm not satisfied with the things they say the money will go too. I need more details, not just 3 bullet points that they could have thought of on the spot. jocuri gratis

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