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District chief to present turnaround plan for schools on Monday

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 4, 2013 11:11 AM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

Four months after William Hite took the helm of one of the most troubled big-city school districts in the nation, the new Philadelphia superintendent is set to release his blueprint for turning the system around on Monday.

Hite is facing a grim reality. He is already committed to closing 37 schools -- nearly one in six -- and needs to stave off what will turn into a $1 billion annual shortfall by 2018 if austerity measures aren’t taken now.

Already, many District schools lack amenities that are taken for granted elsewhere, including full-time nurses, librarians, and art and music instruction.

Hite’s plan is likely to call for more efficient spending of the money now available to expand such proven strategies as high-quality early-childhood education, classroom-based teacher professional development, and the recruitment of top talent.

In an interview, Hite said that he agrees that the District needs more funds to help its students compete in the global economy -- not to mention with students in surrounding districts that have double the amount to spend per capita.

Hite also said that he wants very much for the District to offer all students a “holistic” education that includes the promotion of good nutrition, availability of social services, and an array of extra-curricular activities beyond sports.

But he said he worked to make his plan “revenue-neutral,” because there is no scenario on the horizon that would lead to a windfall of additional funds. Hite has fully endorsed a five-year financial plan to close the projected gap through severe labor concessions, school closings, and other efficiencies.

“We have to live within our fiscal means,” Hite said.

“We’re utilizing resources in a different way.”

He also has strategies to make the District more accountable for results, more responsive to parents, more able to intervene early when students fall off track, and more willing and able to replicate successful ideas and programs.

“It’s really important for us to do what works and do it well,” Hite said.

He said the accountability extends to both District-run and charter schools.

“We want higher student outcomes for the schools we manage and the charters we authorize,” he said.

Competing plans are out there. One of them, developed by a coalition that includes the teachers' union and education advocacy groups, primarily calls for Hite and the School Reform Commission to halt school closings and fight harder for more funds.

Hite and the SRC have said that the closings are necessary because millions of dollars are being spent to maintain vacant seats in half-empty buildings. But many critics say that the amount of projected savings -- $28 million before transition costs are factored in -- does not warrant the upheaval to families and neighborhoods that the massive closings will cause.

“We hope there is recognition [in Hite’s plan] that the District needs more resources in schools,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan.

“We need to do everything we can to make sure all children are successful readers by third grade. When we know that kids are poor attenders and having trouble with numeracy or literacy in 6th grade and on track to drop out, we need to be able to intervene.”

But most important, Jordan said, all schools need the basics, such as a nurse, librarian, art, music, more than one foreign language, and access to extra-curricular activities like school newspapers and drama.

Jordan said that if the PFT contract didn’t require a counselor in every school, he is sure that most of them would have been cut.

“We have become so accustomed to the annual cuts that we’ve got to start looking at what do the children need and what’s fair,” Jordan said.    

Hite said that his focus on fiscal sustainability includes advocacy for additional funds. But he is adamant that the District must be “right-sized,” because the money spent on heating and otherwise maintaining mostly vacant buildings can then be “repurposed” for academic programs.

“We have to ensure that all the remaining seats that are available are effective seats that represent what some students may not have access to now, including music, art, language, more science, technology, media specialists, and resources in schools,” he said.

Hite also said he plans to revamp high school courses to get rid of watered-down classes and listen more closely to the needs of teachers.

“It means making sure that teacher voice is a part of how we make decisions, ensuring that teachers have opportunity to learn and grow from each other,” he said.

“The progress we've made is because of them and not in spite of them.”

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Comments (88)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 4, 2013 11:16 am
The most important task of Dr. Hite is to build trust in him as our leader. "Trust formation" has been identified in study after study as the most important element of effective leadership. Because of the negative leadership of the past ten years, trust has completely broken down within our school community and has to be rebuilt if we are ever to have a system of Great schools which truly serve the best interests of our children and their community. I have high hopes that Dr. Hite will provide us with the moral leadership we have been so desperately lacking in the past few years. This is the first chance he really has to show us the character of his leadership, and I certainly hope his plan is both student and community centered. There are no easy answers and the community is very skeptical about the macro political pressures which are controlling the public policy of education in Philadelphia. It is one thing to say that our leadership is interested in listening to the voices of the teachers, parents, students and the community. It is yet another thing to give the community and teachers a "true voice" in what happens in our schools and school district. We all know that Dr. Hite's greatest challenge is to rebuild the community of our schools and earn our trust. I wish him success.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 4, 2013 7:36 pm
Rich, Your comments are right on target. One of the aspects of school reform that bothers me is that foundations like the Gates Foundation -- which is based in the state of Washington -- has more impact on the School District of Philadelphia than ordinary citizens, students, teachers, and principals do. This is WRONG. Foundations know that the SDP needs money, and that the SDP will take pretty much any money dangled in front of them. So foundations attach conditions to the money to further their own agendas. Some schools need to close, but not 37. If public schools are going to close, then charter schools also need to close or consolidate. One advantage of neighborhood schools is that they allow for better community involvement in the school. Children can walk to and from school. Parents and caregivers can volunteer and come to PTA meetings. Non-neighborhood schools put less mobile families at a disadvantage. It is common for uncles, aunts, and grandparents to care for school-age children. I know from personal experience that it is common for many Philadelphia seniors not to have a car. They rely on walking or SEPTA. Presently, most of the sought-after and "high-performing" charters are located in South Philly, NE Philly, NW Philly, and Center City. There needs to be more EQUITABLE access to the best schools. Socioeconomic status (SES) matters! It's the elephant in the room. Schools with more students from low SES families should receive more money. There also need to be financial incentives to encourage the best teachers to teach at schools with the neediest students. Currently, the resources in the SDP are not allocated equitably. Now, the BCG plan wants to close those schools that are in, typically, the poorest neighborhoods. Another aspect of the school closings is that they disproportionately affect Black and Latino/a students. This is a civil rights issue. Rich, do you have any thoughts about the civil rights legal aspects of the school closings? EGS
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 4, 2013 8:42 pm
Your question puts a sparkle in my eye as it is one of my favorite topics. Yes, there are a myriad of serious civil rights issues emerging and most are relevant to school closings. The issue in school closings is whether a community and its citizens has a right to have a public school in his or her neighborhood within a reasonable distance from a child's home? Another is, of course, the rights of parents, students and teachers in privatized schools. Another is of course, the 14th Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause. Another is the applicability of the Civil Rights Act to charter schools and charter school management organizations. These are just a few. We could all brainstorm a large number of civil rights issues. Some are being litigated at this present time. The recent Ethics complaint filed by Parents United for Public Education is a prime example. There is a great article which discusses the issue of whether 14th Amendment protections apply to students, parents and teachers in charter schools and schools run by charter management organizations. The issue is whether charter school operators are "state actors."I recommend that everyone read it. Tom pointed to it in one of his newsletters:
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 4, 2013 9:32 pm
Rich, I loved that article. It brought to mind issues concerning special education students and charter schools. Many charter schools have philosophies and practices that put them in a poor position to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for special education students. Technically, any student should be able to attend any charter school. But what about a student who has a severe disability and is expensive to educate? Many charters are not set up to educate these kinds of students. Some schools that are very focused on high test scores don't want students with disabilities, especially children with moderate and severe disabilities. Closing so many District schools will affect many special education students. Many special education students already do not attend their neighborhood school. In addition, some have to switch schools every 3 years or so. I am concerned about how the school closings affect the civil rights of special education students also, just as I am concerned with how the closings affect students of color. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 4, 2013 9:24 pm
How about a special education student's right of inclusion in charter schools?
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 5, 2013 3:58 am
The right for inclusion in charter schools was basically my point int the first paragraph. There needs to be more scrutiny put on many of the charters in regards to including special needs students. At the Mastery school in which I spent time, inclusion of special education students was very good. However, not all charters are so inclusive. Last year, even Mastery was negotiating with the district how to handle students with multiple disabilities at Mastery Clymer.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on January 4, 2013 10:02 pm
Trust formation? Character? Leadership? Democracy? Rich, you sound soooo "old school"!!! If Hite decides to concern himself with any of the above he will go the way of Lorene Carey. I am being intentionally provocative here because I really wish we could return to the kind of world you describe. I do agree with you. But I think you are being hopelessly naive. And at present Hite is following the BCG script to the letter.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 5, 2013 11:30 am
Your comment also makes my eye sparkle and brings a smile to my face. I assure you I am not naive at all about anything that is going on in education or politics today. I choose to couch my comments in positivity and idealism because I believe effective leadership is positive in nature. But I assure you I can level a blistering attack on what is going on in Philadelphia and the corporate raid on public education which would make my good friend Joe's comments pale in comparison. I have been around the block more than a few times. I have lived and fought battles in the trenches of public education for close to forty years now and I continue to do so. The battle for our rights as students, parents, teachers and administrators is worth all of our whiles. Almost every issue we debate today was discussed in my book on school governance and effective leadership, Whose School Is It? the Democratic Imperative for Our Schools. You agree with me because you know what I say is right about what effective leadership is. It is also what the research points to about what effective leadership is in both the private and public sectors. I also agree with you, too. I love your being "provocative." Yes, what I say may be old school in a sense, but the "imperative of democracy" is what will emerge in the future and is emerging around us. My favorite article on leadership is "Leadership in the Eye of the Follower" by Kouzes and Posner, two of the leading researchers on leadership. If I may take the time to quote them: "It seems there are several essential tests a leader must pass before we are willing to grant him or her the title of 'leader.' Is that person truthful? Ethical? Principled? Have high integrity? The 'leader's behavior' provided the evidence. Regardless of what leaders say about their integrity, followers wait to be shown." They also state in another book on effective leadership, Encouraging the Heart, that "credibility is the foundation of leadership." If Dr. Hite merely walks the chalk line of the BCG, the Broad Foundation and the "privatization agenda," he will quickly lose his credibility with the school community of Philadelphia. He will then lose his power to lead. However, if he has the courage to be his own leader and lead inclusively, collaboratively, collegially, and ultimately -- democratically, for the best interests of our students and their total school communities, he will become a hero. The followers have their eyes open, I can assure you of that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 12:11 pm
Rich---Don't be too quick to call me a friend. Be careful what you wish for. Seriously, I always both love and disdain your idealism. I believe the ship of goodness has sailed at least for this time in space. Hopefully, grace and kindness will return but not likely any time soon----------------------------------Not unless "The folks" force it to happen, and not through pandering, singing, discussion and compromise either. These varmints just laugh at and/or ignore those strategies. Hite is exhibit A.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 5, 2013 2:07 pm
Joe, you're my man Joe. I always enjoy reading your comments and look forward to reading them as I enjoy my morning coffee. I enjoy your honesty and candor along with your courage to stand and speak. Just remember as you read what I say: I actually went on strike to gain and protect the rights that you and many teachers enjoy today. I understand the power of the sword and the need to sacrifice for a greater good. Like thousands of others who came before, my family, my wife and my children have sacrificed for those rights. Back in the day we called ourselves brother and sister and stood up for ourselves and each other. It was a wonderful time in our history. We all need to understand the urgency of our times and stand up for public education or there will be no public education. And what that means to us and American democracy is a question for our deepest thought.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 5, 2013 2:02 pm
Rich---I don't believe I know you personally but like yourself, I am an old head--64 years old. I fought the fight in Catholic Schools as an administrator before coming "Public" 25 years ago. I agree with your sentiments about a sense of urgency which does not exist today. These are scary times for the good, ole U.S, of A. Our younger brothers and sisters have a far more limited frame of reference so they need to read more and believe LESS of what they are told. I still believe "the folks" will wake up and demand better just as our ancestors did many moon ago. After they become punished enough, they'll fight back-------------------I hope. If not, our Democracy will be gone at some point in the reasonably near future. You and I know that but the young heads don't. Freedom is not free.
Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on January 4, 2013 12:59 pm
I am quite interested in what he say to say. Despite the media hyperbole about all the protests, etc most parents agree that something needs to be done to cut costs and closing underutilized and decrepit buildings is one way to do that. Yes, cuts need to be made at the administrative level too. However for the union and others to "demand" that they go ask for more money is ridiculous. There is no more money! Close the schools that aren't anywhere near capacity and that would cost more to repair and refurbish and consolidate those resources into the remaining schools. That is just common sense.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on January 4, 2013 1:13 pm
Actually, there is more money. Corbett decided to use it as tax breaks for businesses, so there was less funding for public education. Then he denied Philadelphia a fair share of what was available. It was a deliberate choice, reflecting the deeply held values of a man and a legislature who have combined forces to turn a blind eye to the well-established needs of our children. Truly, there is more money. We have to stop using that as an excuse for Corbett et al's contempt of the poor and working class and for the racism that underlies much of this contempt.
Submitted by tom-104 on January 4, 2013 3:54 pm
You are correct! There is more money because of all of the tax loopholes to real estate interest, absentee landlords, landlords who get away without paying their taxes, tax loopholes for corporations and banks, etc, the list goes on and on. From the state, Corbett cut the education budget in 2011-2012 by $1billion dollars ($300 million dollars cut for Philadelphia). At the same time he increased the prison budget including the building of three privately owned, for profit prisons. Despite reaping windfall profits the natural gas companies pay NO taxes. Just like the city, corporations and banks have tax loopholes which means they contribute little or nothing to the state. The state just allocated money for "Safe Schools". Abington School district, which has 9 schools, received $15,000. The School District of Philadelphia received nothing!‘safe-schools’.html
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 4, 2013 7:36 pm
ConcernedRoxParent, Tom Corbett is a conservative Republican who doesn't believe in raising taxes on the rich. This is his view even though the rich pay fewer taxes now than they have in the last 60 or 70 years. Corbett also doesn't give a rat's behind about Philadelphia because most people in this city don't vote for Republicans. If the state raised taxes on high earners and didn't allow schools like Chester Community Charter School and cyber charter schools to squander so much money, there would be more money for public education. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous on January 7, 2013 5:56 pm
When it come time to vote for the next governor we need to vote him out. I hope that the people of Pennsylvania see that he has done nothing for education through out the state, He just don't believe that education is important on any level of education. We need to VOTE him out of office.
Submitted by Kia P. (not verified) on January 4, 2013 7:23 pm
Hi ConcernedRoxParent, I agree with some of what you've posted here that something needs to be done but I disagree with you on closing schools. There are alternatives which should be considered before we even think about closing schools. Community members are already in arms about crime in the city and our ever growing population of delinquent youth. What do you think will happen if our city continues on this path and close schools? I'll tell you, more crime and more blight. We should turn to some of the examples in other cities and create community schools in our under utilized schools as opposed to closing them. Let's try implementing ideas and solutions that doesn't cause more problems down the pike. In fact the closing of the schools will save the district a minuscule amount of money. Additionally, Mayor Nutter could enforce the Good Neighbor's policy and push for these mega non-profits like Penn and Jefferson, that use property for profit to pay their share of property taxes. But no as always, when it comes to funding issues the poor and disenfranchised are always at the forefront to feel the brunt of it all.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 5, 2013 8:08 am
Kia P.--------------------------I hear the pain in your voice through your post. The trouble is, you don't "get it." The agenda is money and Nutter etc. are all part of the problem, not the solution. Corporate America is always trying to make money from the poor and charters are just the newest vehicle to that end. Hite wouldn't be here if he was interested in the best interests of the city youth. THEY DON'T CARE. Just follow the money and in Hite's case---and Nutter's too--look at the FACTS, not your feelings. Nutter refuses in any real way to go after Corbett for the blatant racism of his actions. In Hite's case, D.C. used the words, "Good Riddance" when you left. Did you vote for Corbett?? Lots of people did so here we are !!. IF we make it through this, we shall have hopefully learned a hard lesson, elections matter and if you don't vote, don't complain. Obviously, I am not speaking about you personally but rather all of us collectively.
Submitted by Kia P. (not verified) on January 5, 2013 10:00 pm
Joe-----On the contrary, I do get it and I know that money is what this is all about. When I read that there were hedge funders springing for the tab for the hired consulting group, BCG and when I read about the plans for the old West Phila. High. However, it's sad that the poor and disenfranchised suffer as a result. When talking with the superintendent and the SRC its apparent they aren't serious about fixing education.
Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on January 4, 2013 1:16 pm
I believer that businesses that provide jobs to our communities should be given tax breaks so that those businesses stay in the area, so we will agree to disagree.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on January 4, 2013 1:31 pm
Taxes are a cost businesses can work around. They are a planned expense and any business unable to remain open is not in that position because of taxes. They were businesses that were tanking to begin with. What businesses need is an economy that keeps people working, and tax breaks for businesses have proven ineffective at stimulating the economy.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 5, 2013 12:29 pm
I disagree that taxes are not a significant consideration for a business, especially a "start-up" or "small" one. There is a reason that "610" is the place where IT and other businesses locate/migrate to. We have not worked IT in the City now 10 out of 13 years. City Council and Mayor Nutter need to be more visibly in on this conversation. Tax breaks obviously entice real estate development. How about considering this to get businesses to share in the investment in our school buildings. There is potential with all the grants being considered for vocational education and innovative real world experience to get a "start-up" or other office based business involved in sharing these facilities. The creation of "start-up" loans for IT is not enough. Besides the potential for jobs, Philly could lead in advancing technical education.
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on January 4, 2013 6:40 pm
There is also nearly $500 million in unpaid property taxes that needs to be collected. Add to that pot everyone with a 10 year tax abatement. Most of the people who could afford the houses that get a 10 year free ride can afford the taxes if they can afford the house. There are more resources available than some people want to admit.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 4, 2013 1:28 pm
In the Rendell years, when there was no racism or contempt for the poor, and the money flow was like a tidal wave, the District made progress every year on the PSSAs. Now it turns out that there was massive cheating going on, so what did that money buy the taxpayer?
Submitted by tom-104 on January 4, 2013 3:06 pm
Ackerman threw that money away on Promise Academies, Renaissance Schools, and charter. During this time and since the public schools have been systematically and deliberately starved of funds by the SRC.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 4, 2013 4:04 pm
You are right to a degree but WE elected the bigotry, insensitivity and racism you suggest. It didn't happen on its own. WE did it and now WE'RE paying for it. Corbett has blatantly disrespected and abused our children and their education but as Vincent Hughes likes to say, "Elections matter." It should come as no surprise that he's putting huge money into the prison system while starving the real schools in Phila. When you elect shameless people, expect shameless behavior.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on January 5, 2013 9:26 am
Racism and contempt for the poor are an old sad song. We've been singing it for years...probably centuries. Rendell was not primarily a champion of the poor. Who in politics has been? And genuinely meant it?
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 4, 2013 6:05 pm
If you read between the lines, Hite is going to just ignore the intramural plans being proposed and is going with the Boston Consulting Group recommendations which, of course, destroy neighborhood schools while propping up the business charter model for which he was hired. IF we let this happen, then we deserve it.
Submitted by tom-104 on January 4, 2013 10:25 pm
You are correct Joe. Hite is following the BCG plan to the letter. Even the Transformation Corps the District is creating comes from the BCG. This was spelled out in a Notebook article which detailed the BCG initiated Transformation Management Office plan in July. In this article there are links to two letters to Jeremy Nowak, at the time head of the William Penn Foundation, outlining the BCG plans. In the article see the BCG Phase III Statement of Work, Item 2: "Establishment of Transformation Management Office...." on page 1. There is a whole section about the "Transformation Management Office" on Page 2. Note Item 5 in the Phase III Statement of Work: "5. Analysis and support for implementation of charter expansion strategy..." on Page 1 and details on pages 4 and 5 where they spell out their goal of expansion of charter schools. This is Hite's agenda no matter how he sugar coats it. As we learned from Ackerman, anyone who is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy (Hite was in the Class of 2005) is trained in how to try to force communities to accept privatization.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 5, 2013 8:39 am
Tom-104----Of course, your are right too but isn't it stunning that they are just "bitch slapping" the other plans as though they don't even exist ? They could at least pretend to value those plans but familiarity breeds contempt. Speaking about contempt, I continue to have plenty for Jerry Jordan whom I consider complicit too though I hope I am wrong. I have no faith in Randi Weingarten though Jerry "seems" to.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 4:44 am
if they're closing buildings, where are the layoffs associated with less capacity? current employees cost more than already paid for buildings.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 8:04 am
According to the district, fewer than 40 teacher will be laid off. I can't imagine how that could be true but 40 is 40 too many.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 7:09 pm
When and where did the district share the information that 40 teachers will be laid off?
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 5, 2013 8:35 pm
I saw it too, either on this site or in the paper. Like the other poster, I don't know how that squares with the proposed closings but that's what it said.
Submitted by Jack (not verified) on January 5, 2013 10:13 pm
The PSD hires around 1000 teachers each year due to retirements and/or resignations. This year with all of the changes, everyone expects more teachers to resign or retire. I have already spoken with teachers who will resign because they are just tired of this mess. Not totally unreasonable.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 10:15 pm
They'll also probably offer the old heads an insurance package to leave the way they did a year or 2 ago.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 10:21 pm
The teachers will have to go with the students, won't they? If the schools around mine are closing, I will need more teachers to teach those children coming in. Classes will be packed to as many children allowable by contract. That is my biggest concern. Whoever thought it is possible to teach 33 children effectively? If you think about it, loosing 40 teachers comes out to about one per closed school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 12:03 pm
The alternative plans talk about improving education, increasing teacher quality, adding arts and music, and getting more money from the state. All good ideas, but how? Where is the money at the state? Also, for years the Rendell administration increased funding to Philadelphia with little or no real improvements or sustained fiscal stability. Face it, everyone says that better teachers, better arts, better buildings and more money are good things. So are fairy tales, apple pie and baseball, but those won't fix the district any more than the surface pipe dreams being passed off as alternative plans. Education is changing, time to get with change or be left behind.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 5, 2013 1:19 pm
I agree. It is good to have the goals of highly qualified teachers, increased arts in education, more resources, and smaller class size; however, the PSD needs to respond more appropriately to the challenges it faces in getting these. New approaches are needed. For instance, how about using technology? In the schools where enrollment is falling, and some classes contain only 10 or even less students, why not have a few teachers split their days between two schools so that they can keep the small class size; and have computer/cyber instruction for the students for the other half/part of the time using an instructional aide? Cyber schools seem to have more than enough money to meet State requirements...
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 5, 2013 2:33 pm
Ms. Cheng---You ALREADY know the answer to your questions. There's no money or certainly far less money to be made by doing the right things to help kids. It ain't about, as you know. Money, big and easy, is the goal.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 5, 2013 11:35 pm
Sadly I have seen this happen. Still we know that when the kids win, we all win. We have no choice but to keep pushing for them.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on January 5, 2013 2:40 pm
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. How many more superintendents do we have to go through until we are back to the Ackerman plan and then the Vallas plan????
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 5, 2013 3:39 pm
Poogie---At some point, after LOTS of angst and LOTS of up close and personal pressure, the tide will turn back but not soon enough to help a whole generation of kids who will be used a collateral damage so corporate America can rip off the inner city folks. Hey Corbett is doing his part by opening 3 new 'Charter" Type Prisons. Hite and Nutter are doing theirs too.
Submitted by Darnelx (not verified) on January 5, 2013 2:43 pm
I said it before and I'll say it again and again. The School District of Philadelphia's new low is our man Hite.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 5, 2013 3:53 pm
As they say in Ireland, "He's so low, he has an uphill climb to the bottom." I may have butchered that quote a bit but you get the point.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 3:41 pm
Go the the SDP home page and find the schedule of community meetings for the Facilities Master Plan. Then go to at least one of these meetings and express the concerns and ideas for alternatives you have expressed here. We know that it is an uphill battle to fight the SRC and their new frontperson. But it can be done. Look how we stopped Edison from taking over in 200. It can be done. Talk to your City Councilperson. Talk to your state reps. Come to the SRC meeting on Jan 17th and speak (call the day before to sign up). If we are united we can save public education in our city. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Mister Tibbs (not verified) on January 5, 2013 7:02 pm
We would all like to believe that adults employed by the school district enter schools everyday filled with hope and enthusiasm for making a difference in the world by touching the lives of students in some positive way. Nonetheless, those of us on the inside know this is not a reality. Adults can bring baggage to work that steal the focus away from teaching and learning, make school climate and culture almost unbearable, causing students suffer in lasting ways. A majority of schools and classrooms are filled with administrators and teachers who care deeply about the work at hand. They care enough about students to go the extra mile everyday even when it feels like teaching is a thankless job in a no win situation. They are enthusiastic and eager about teaching and learning. However, too many schools and classrooms in lower economic areas are poorly managed by administrators, teachers, and support staff who have given up. They have long forgotten the “high” associated with being effective, responsible employees who add value to the educational setting. This small but toxic group spanning across race, ethnicity, and gender no longer bring hope or enthusiasm to the table. They complain about everything, hide behind their union, refuse to be accountable, blame students for their lack of ability to teach and/or manage, are easily irritated, and feel negative about everyone around them including the children they are supposed to help educate. They suck the life out of a positive school climate and have drained academic potential from thousands of children once eager to learn. This is a sad situation. Even sadder are unions’ leadership with a loss of a moral compass, which perpetuates longstanding ineffectiveness in people who have lost their purposes. Singlehandedly, ineffectual educators and support staff have not created the problems we face, but they give reason for finger pointing causing educators to become scapegoats for failing schools, notwithstanding a lack of resources, funding, poverty, and a long, slow movement toward privatization that is now gaining speed. While most of us dread the Renaissance concept, we recognize that something must be done to reset the purposes for educators and support staff in schools, where the masses happen to be in poor communities. Students need teachers, administrators, and other school employees who continually hone their craft, embrace accountability, and willing to do right by them. When a school has a small group of inefficient adults who lack purpose the conditions for effective teaching and learning are not present. We end up with the collateral damage of generations of low performing students never afforded a consistent opportunity to reach high academic levels, who act out, read and write below grade level, and will not be able to compete in a global society. As we move into the new era of Renaissance Schools organizational structures and supports will be needed to address ineffectual employees, without delay, in order to maintain a bona fide focus on teaching and learning.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 10:40 pm
I have little idea what your post even means overall but ALL people have baggage in ALL walks of life. The rest of your post is impossible to follow.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 5, 2013 10:01 pm
Mister Tibbs, Are you a parent, a teacher...? I think that some of your points have merit. I like the following point that you make: "Singlehandedly, ineffectual educators and support staff have not created the problems we face, but they give reason for finger pointing causing educators to become scapegoats for failing schools, notwithstanding a lack of resources, funding, poverty, and a long, slow movement toward privatization that is now gaining speed." When school reformers blame unions, it's always important to point out that teachers in high performing suburban school districts in this state are also unionized. When I think about teaching, I keep in mind, "Would I be happy with this teacher if my child was in his/her class?" At the school where I student taught, most of the teachers were proficient or excellent. There were 2 to 3 teachers who were below average or poor. One of these teachers taught in a classroom near to the one where I was student teaching. Almost every day, I had to step into the hall and ask some of her students to lower their voices because they were interrupting my lesson. This teacher's classroom management was terrible. She yelled at and berated her students on a regular basis. When I passed by her classroom, it was common to see students totally off-task, talking with classmates, in the corner, or in fist fights. Yes, her class was difficult, but there were other teachers in the same school who had difficult classes and did a much better job of managing the classroom. Several other teachers have opinions of this teacher that are very similar to mine. According to other teachers, year after year, this teacher did an extremely poor job in the area of classroom management. One day during dismissal time, a parent came and spoke to a teacher who was also the PFT building rep. The parent made some legitimate remarks about the teacher, expressing her (the parent's) displeasure with this teacher. The response of the teacher/PFT rep to this parent was (I quote), "I can't say anything. I'm the PFT rep." The teacher/PFT rep is someone who I like very much personally as she was very helpful to me, sharing her materials with me, among other things. But I found the response, "I can't say anything. I'm the PFT rep," to be disturbing. I'll probably receive criticism from teachers and others on here that I'm naive, that I haven't spent enough time as a teacher, etc, etc. At the same time, I feel that it is important to recognize that there are some teachers who are not cutting it. How can schools and districts recognize, protect, and motivate the great teachers AND weed out the teachers who just can't do their job? I know that there is due process, but it does take a while, from what I understand. There is also the issue of the principal actually documenting . The principal can refer a teacher to professional development, but if the teacher doesn't APPLY the knowledge from PD, what good is it? Education Grad Student
Submitted by Another English Teacher (not verified) on January 6, 2013 10:50 pm
I'm a PFT building rep. And I've often had to use that line. Part of that is that my job as the rep is to support teachers through the Contract, and the system works much better if I do so. If a Parent has a complaint about another teacher, they have (or should have) avenues to express that. Going to another teacher for this is a terrible idea, with or without a Union. However, the unconditional "PFT settles things within the PFT" mantra can seem dangerous. Let me tell you a story: Only once in my (short) career, I worked with "that" teacher. We couldn't tell if she was cagey or insane, but she was quite destructive. Whether it was taking extended leave on her 3rd injury in 5 years or spending the first day of class talking about Indiana Jones as it relates to US History, she was consistently horrible. But she was just not-horrible enough to be sick on EVERY one of her observations. Again, crazy like a really terrible fox. Now, there were a round of layoffs coming, and I was quite concerned that my friend in her department would be laid off. I wrote the PFT a strongly worded letter detailing my consternation. The next day, our regional rep came for a meeting about this teacher. She's a good one. I asked how, in good conscience, could she represent a teacher who claimed to unable to navigate a building with 13 classrooms. "Everyone gets a meeting," she said. "And, by the contract, I have to be in the room." Before PSSAs of that year, the teacher in question had agreed to resign at the end of the year. How had she stayed in the system for so long? There wasn't a Principal who was willing to follow through with everything. Granted, "everything" may be too much, but it can happen and does happen, either officially or unofficially. Remember that there are a lot of good people trying to do their best and, as any good teacher would tell you, by focusing on the worst people you'll inherently neglect the best.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 7, 2013 12:30 am
Another English Teacher, Thank you for sharing. I understand that as PFT rep, you are supposed to defend the other teachers. My issue was more with the response itself. I think that it's fine not to respond to or agree with a parent's complaints. But instead of saying, "I'm the PFT rep. I can't say anything," isn't it more productive to say something like, "I understand that you have concerns. The best person to talk to about your concerns is the principal." In this situation, everyone wins. The teacher/PFT rep doesn't have to say anything about the other teacher and the parent can talk with the principal. From an outsider's perspective, the line "I'm the PFT rep. I can't say anything," makes it seem like the PFT rep is turning a blind eye to the parent's concerns. It also puts the PFT in a bad light because the parent comes away thinking, "He/she cares more about PFT policies than my kid." It seems as if the rep is putting his or her position as PFT rep before his/her job as teacher. That's how I felt when I saw this interaction between the parent and the teacher/PFT rep. The other benefit of referring the parent to the principal is that it FORCES the principal to hear concerns. Principals might actually do their job and try to get rid of the unsatisfactory teacher if there are enough parent complaints. Parents don't always know to whom it is appropriate to express their concerns. They may also be intimidated to go speak directly to the principal. Of course, I recognize that most teachers do a great job and I pointed that out in my post. It can be a thorny balance of trying to do what is best for kids and what is best for adults. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 5, 2013 10:31 pm
His plan is out. Sent to District employees through District email late this afternoon
Submitted by tom-104 on January 5, 2013 11:04 pm
Just as Michelle Rhee is coming under scrutiny for possible coverup of cheating on tests during the time she was Chancellor of D.C. schools to give her corporate reform agenda the appearance of working, will Arlene Ackerman come under scrutiny for the cheating that happened during her time as Superintendent? From yesterday's Washington Post: ‘Frontline’ raises questions about test-score tampering under Rhee "Student standardized-test scores at an award-winning D.C. school dropped dramatically in 2011 after the principal tightened security out of concern about possible cheating, according to a new “Frontline” television documentary to be broadcast Tuesday. The hour-long program raises questions about whether District officials have adequately investigated persistent suspicions that public school employees may have tampered with tests during the tenure of former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee." from PBS The Education of Michelle Rhee "FRONTLINE examines the legacy of one of America’s most admired & reviled school reformers. FRONTLINE correspondent John Merrow was granted unprecedented access to Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, DC public schools as she attempted to fix a broken school system." Watch the trailer:
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on January 6, 2013 12:20 am
There is a process for trying to develop and then "getting rid of" poor teachers. But, here's the caveat: administrators have to DO THEIR JOBS! The contract between the PFT and the SDP provides for a well-respected system called PARS in which teachers who are struggling can receive help, AND, if they DO NOT IMPROVE within a set period of time, they can be fired. I am curious why the teacher you mentioned was not given unsatisfactory evaluations by the principal--that is the principal's job, and those evals can trigger the PARS process. If principals cannot or will not do what they are supposed to do, they can hardly whine about incompetent teachers keeping their jobs. The SDP MUST hold administrators to account for their sometimes lax supervision of teachers.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 6, 2013 5:33 am
Every year, I've had a principal that refuses to follow through with the process and sends the teacher to another school by cutting a position. This is easier at the high school level. (e.g. cut a science teacher by requiring dual certification). And, every year we receive a teacher who has been "pushed" from another school. The teacher is in a "revolving door" and does not improve. Far too many principals don't want to do what it takes to consistently monitor teachers that are struggling - which means students are struggling. The other major problems is the lack of quality teaching experience / ability of principals. If a principal has a bland track record in the classroom, or little experience, then she or he has little to offer a struggling teacher. Third, some inadequate teachers are friends of the principal. I also have experience this every year. Very little goes on the classroom but the "friend" of the principal is an athletic coach, socializes with the principal, etc. and the students learn nothing. Or, the principal "rewards" the "friend" by giving him or her a roster with either few classes to teach (they come up with some interesting "duties") or fluff courses.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 6, 2013 10:39 am
Indeed, as a past volunteer parent in my neighborhood school (in nearly every day) I have seen this happen. Until this is fixed, those parents who care about education will continue to "jump ship". As unhappy as a lot are with the BCG proposal, at least it might have broken the "old boys" network. Now we have a return to the old ineffectual Regional Office structure to fill the supervisory role for principals. I have no hope that this suggestion will make any difference; but if those teachers who have 10 or less students as a result of declining enrollment could be shared with more than one school (rather than moving and cramming students into fewer buildings), it might also help to break up this "buddy" network.
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on January 6, 2013 10:11 am
Unfortunately, the "old boys" network is still at 440 and many principals are still in leadership. Until adults realize they are professionals and "awarding" their friends is not professional - and certainly detrimental to students - nothing will change. There are teachers who float between schools - ESOL, music, arts, etc. - so sharing a teacher is possible. It might be a logical nightmare but it is possible is schools are near each other.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 6:21 pm
K. R., I agree with your point about the principal. The principal at the school where I did student teaching is, overall, a great principal...respectful of teachers, supports teachers, treats students well, knows a lot about special ed issues, to name a few reasons. Are principals allowed to evaluate teachers unannounced? Teachers at this school always knew in advance about the date of their formal observation as well as walk throughs. Thus, a teacher can prepare for an observation. An unannounced observation would be more authentic, I think. Of course, everyone has not-so-good days, so there should be several, if not weekly, informal or unannounced observations. Education Grad Student
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on January 6, 2013 8:18 pm
Principals and APs are allowed to visit any class, any day , any time they want. Yes, they do tell you about your formal, but if they see or hear about a problem they may pop-in whenever they want and stay as long as they want. If something concerning, incompetent, or downright horrifying is seen, they simply write it up a a formal or informal memo and either recommend or require the mentoring/PARS process to start. The problem (as admins see it) is they have to go on record and do some work to get the inadequate teacher help or get her/him out.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 10:31 pm
What does the PFT contract say about unannounced informal or short evaluations? What does the PFT contract say about walk throughs? Any provisions in the CASA contract about principal evaluations and what these entail? (The CASA contract isn't online to my knowledge. The PFT contract is easy to find on the PFT's website.)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 6, 2013 6:18 am
Hite is quoted in the Phila. Inquirer 1/6/13 regarding SAT score ranking in Pennsylvania: "Philadelphia dominates the bottom of the list with 25 of the 27 lowest-ranking schools, and that is something Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. intends to address in the action plan he will announce Monday. Among its goals is getting more students to achieve SAT scores of at least 1550 out of 2400 and 21 points out of 36 on the ACT, another college-assessment test. Hite is calling for increased academic rigor and said he wanted to create a culture characterized by lofty goals. "That's what Masterman does very well," Hite said. "Everybody who goes to that school is exposed to high expectations." Dr. Hite - Get real! Masterman is an elite school that only accepts students with very high test scores. Of course, the outcomes are different from neighborhood schools where 30% of the students have an IEP. IT is more than teacher expectation. It takes MORE than expectations. Dr. Hite, are you going to provide the resources to ensure ALL students come as prepared as Masterman students? (And remember, Dr. Hite, members of the SRC, the mayor, and other power people send their children to Masterman. These students are prepared at birth "to succeed." )
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on January 6, 2013 8:07 am
Hite's remark about Masteman is the most ludicrous comment I have heard from leadership recently. I hope it is not forgotten. It is very revealing about the dangerous state we are in. I don't think there is much of a chance that Hite is going to "get real" an time soon.
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on January 6, 2013 8:18 am
Ramos has been clear that he wants to get rid of School District run neighborhood high schools. Some will stay open (Northeast, Lincoln, Washington) because they are packed. Each region will need one to put all the students magnets, like Masterman to Central to SLA to Carver to FLC, etc. and charters will not accept. (How many students from Mastery Gratz Aspira Olney are now at Edison?) So, there will be "token" neighborhood schools which will continue to have a disproportionate number of students with learning, behavioral and social/emotional needs that impact learning. Instead, Hite blames it on teachers' low expectations.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 7:50 pm
Do you have any evidence that Mastery Gratz kicks out students? I ask this because at the Mastery school where I did numerous practicum hours, I saw clearly that Mastery did not turn away kids because of behavior problems or test scores. One kid in a class where I spent time was 3 grade levels below reading and had a learning disability. This child transferred from a traditional public school. I saw children with severe behavior problems -- touching other students, insubordination, fighting, property destruction -- who were not kicked out. The staff at Mastery worked with these kids. Maybe things are different at the high school level, but can you provide concrete examples of evidence that Mastery Gratz kicks out kids?
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on January 6, 2013 7:23 pm
Ask Edison teachers / counselors. They have received students from Gratz and Olney since they were "Renaissanced." Mastery Thomas also has sent students to Southern. Remember, Mastery requires students to score 76% to pass a class. If a student / family does not want the student to repeat the class, or be a 5th year senior, sometimes the student chooses to leave. Other times, they are "counseled" out." I have had a few students from Mastery Thomas - far below grade level in reading. We've also had Mastery students who were in a fight. School District high schools can't require more than 65% for a pass - and we are often told to pass students with far lower averages - and we can't expel students for fighting. No matter how much you love Mastery, the playing field is not level.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 8:52 pm
I can't speak about a Mastery high school, but I can speak about a Mastery elementary school. I was able to observe a teacher as she graded students. There were numerous students in her class who did not have 76% and she was able to override this mastery average and pass them. She could not fail special ed students. I observed this during the beginning of the school year. I don't know if this took place in the same way each grading period, but I suspect it did because some of here students were clearly passed to her grade without mastering material from previous grade levels. Just because Mastery says students have to have a 76% doesn't always mean that they automatically have to fail/repeat if they don't have a 76%. The teacher could override for various reasons, be it attendance, attention issues, or being below grade level. Also, some of these students about which you speak may have moved schools because of a change in residence. Just because a student went to Mastery and transferred doesn't mean they were kicked out. Again, I don't know what happens at the high school level, but in the Mastery elementary school where I spent time, kids were not expelled for fighting. They could go on in-school suspension, but it wasn't one fight and you're out. My point in using these Mastery examples is to give a first hand perspective. I think that some people feel Mastery kicks out any kids they want, but in my experience, that is not the case. I have plenty of criticism of Mastery as well, but I will give them credit where credit is due. One more thing, how on EARTH does the District justify allowing students to pass with a 65? Isn't a 70 a C-? If a student has a 65, he/she should repeat. Also, are high school teachers allowed to fail special ed students?
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on January 6, 2013 8:40 pm
I've had Mastery students who were kicked out for a fight. Yes, this is the high school level which may be different from elementary schools. I've also had two Mastery students who were transferred out in time for the PSSA. They did not move. (While neighborhood high schools have a catchment, students do not have to go to school in their catchment. They can apply to schools outside their catchment and many do.) I've also had a Mastery student who would transferred in the second semester of his senior year so he could graduate in 4 instead of 5 years. The School District policy is 65% is passing. If a student has a 62 - 63% average, most administrators will tell the teacher to give the student a 65%. Special Ed. students may fail a course because of attendance, doing nothing, etc. If they aren't meeting their IEP goals, they may fail. Just warming a seat is not an IEP goal. ELLs are not suppose to be failed because of language but far too many are failed in comparison to students with an IEP. There is legal muscle behind the IEP - there isn't that threat with ELLs.Sometimes for students with an IEP the principal will "allow" an F for a marking period but it is nearly impossible for the student to fail for the year unless they do not attend school. (We've had students who missed more than 1/2 the year passed because the principal's bottom line is pass rate / graduation rate.) So, when Dr. Hite blames teachers for low expectations, the low expectations are built into the system. It is worse with athletes. They can fail repeatedly and still play. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Keystones. By 2017, students will have to score "proficient" or do some kind of project. It will be interesting to see who evaluates the projects. Will they be subject specific? interdisciplinary? developed in Harrisburg, 440 or school based?
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 11:39 pm
Concerned Phila., I suspected that the policies were different for high school students; thank you for your details. I like the following point you made: We've had students who missed more than 1/2 the year passed because the principal's bottom line is pass rate / graduation rate. This points illustrates one of the key problems with education being very data-driven: Principals and teachers will do what they have to do to meet the bottom line. We need to treat students as individuals, not as numbers. But with NCLB and AYP, data is the bottom line.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 6, 2013 8:10 am
Hite's statement about Masterman is absurd but HE KNOWS IT TOO. No matter how he tries to sugarcoat or manipulate the dialogue, his goal is to privatize the school system here to whatever degree possible to make money for corporate America. He's following the same script as Rhee and Ackerman. He ran into problems in DC playing the same games. As with Nutter et al, he's banking on the inner city people to give him a pass and then another pass and............... A snake by any other name is still a snake.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on January 6, 2013 4:57 pm
The School though its current Messiah William Hite has released its turnaround plan. One of our goals is for all our students to score 1550 or better on the SAT. Remember all our students have to go to college It is our job to will them into Ivy covered halls. At present exactly two (2) high schools in the Philly SD meet that goal. Those schools are named Masterman and Central and they have a plan to accomplish this goal. Their plan is to exclude 98% of the students in the Philadelphia school district from ever entering their doors. Now that is a workable plan to meet Hite's goal. But Hite is not going to let your school or my school exclude 98% of our customers. Yet we are compared to two schools who compete by doing that very thing. Yet they are good and you are bad because you deal with great 98% of the unwashed and they get to cherry pick whatever student they want in a city of 1.2 millon. OK right now my school and probably yours gets around 1000 on the 3 sections. You get 600 for signing your name and our kids manage to pick the other hundred thirty-three per section somehow. To have every high school score 1550 or better every high school in Philadelphia has to score better than the top 69 out of 691 High Schools score in the entire state. Schools in Philadelphia that now get to pick their students and exclude the great unwashed DO NOT CURRENTLY MEET THIS TARGET. Is this a reasonable goal or fantasy??? So Hite wants us to will our students to increase the score by like 50%+ in four or so years. Aye Aye Sir no Problem. Is that reasonable????
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on January 6, 2013 10:54 am
Hite's Action Plan Page 6: 1550 total on SATs or 21 on ACT 3 on AP exams and 4 on IB exams 9th graders passing geometry with a C and English 1 with a b 8th graders passing Alg. 1 with a B 3rd - 8th graders Advanced on PSSA in reading and math (Hite doesn't mention the Keystone exam - maybe Boston Consulting Group wasn't aware of it when they wrote their report) Hite apparently doesn't realize AP scores are low across the District - about 50% of a score of 3 or better at Central and 72% at Masterman. Some schools have no 3's on an AP test. High pass rates on the AP test are generally for language tests - that is because nearly all of the students taking AP Chinese and AP Spanish speak these language as their first language. Does Hite expect this miracle in 5 years? Why put out unrealistic numbers - even Masterman students aren't all scoring "Advanced" on the PSSA. How many K-8 schools offer Algebra 1 in 8th grade? High expectations are fine but they must be realistic goals - not nice numbers on paper that aren't being achieved anywhere. It is reminiscent of NCLB's all students will be proficient by 2014. We need to develop progressive goals which are measured by more than test scores and prepare students to not only take the tests but, more importantly, prepare them for life. Will the School District back us up and do something for students who are repeatedly truant, late, etc.? (Too many charters kick students out for 10 absences.) Will the School District ensure there is a required "homework hours or two" after school for all students? Will athletes be required to have a GPA higher than a D average? (If it is even that high - we have many athletes failing 2 - 3 courses and they still play.) There has to be a "career and college going" culture in a school to make the change. (We live in a city where people do not pay their PGW bill and property taxes and there are no consequences. This culture of "I'll get mine" without any effort / consequences also has to change.) Without administrative support and the political will, it won't happen.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 6, 2013 10:06 am
As we look at today's article in the Inky on SAT scores and who has the highest and lowest scores, may I just point out a couple of points and make a suggestion. Lower Merion School District has both of its high schools in the top five of SAT scores. They are the only two high schools in Lower Merion and they are "comprehensive high schools" which take every student in their catchment areas. They are not "select schools" at all. Perhaps it would help us if we were to study what they do in their school district and replicate what they do. What reading and math programs do they use in their elementary schools? What is their class size in elementary school? Do they have reading and math specialists for every students who falls behind? How do they handle "interventions?" What are their grade configurations? Do they use homogeneous grouping or heterogeneous grouping or both? What textbooks and challenging programs do they use? What remedial programs do they use? Etc., etc., etc. What is their governance structure and leadership structure? How do they choose their school leaders. How do they attract and keep their best teachers? How do they remove ineffective administrators? They are obviously one of the most successful school districts in the State if not the most effective school district. It is just incredulous to me that the Gates foundation would fly a contingency of our leaders to Denver to show us what to replicate, when we have a far superior school district with far superior educational programs within a bus ride of where we live. Don't we think we can learn anything from studying the best school district's we know?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 6, 2013 12:55 pm
Poverty matters. Lower Merion is a very wealthy school district. Not only do they far outspend Philly (including teacher salaries) but they very few students in poverty. People live in Lower Merion for their schools. The social, political and economic capital of the parents does matter. That said, it would be interesting to see how Lower Merion and Radnor provide for their students. What is affordable for Philadelphia and what is not? What supports are provided for students with an IEP, ELLs, etc? What extra curricular and electives are provided?
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 7:26 pm
Rich, I agree with your premise about looking at what LMSD does well. The problem is that Lower Merion and Philadelphia have very different populations and very different resources. It is impossible to do an apples to apples comparison because there is not way to control for variables such as socioeconomic status. As someone who is applying for jobs right now, I know that LMSD wants teachers to have 3 to 5 years of teaching experience. Experience isn't everything, but hiring teachers with experience means that there is a track record that LMSD can check. Given that LMSD pays well and is highly regarded, they probably have a lot of applicants for a small number of jobs, giving them the leverage when it comes to hiring. Since many people move to Lower Merion for the schools, I suspect that if there were a principal or teacher who was not doing his/her job well, there would be more pressure from parents for this employee to either improve or be dismissed than there is in Philadelphia. It's not that parents in Philadelphia don't care, but parents in Lower Merion are more likely to be well educated, have health insurance, have stable employment. Of course there are problems there, just as there are in Philadelphia, but living in Lower Merion is not cheap, so this limits who attends school in LMSD. EGS
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 6, 2013 8:19 pm
Yes, socioeconomic status and resources are two prime issues in academic achievement and standardized test scores. They are also issues in how we determine and assess what is a successful school. But that is not the only reason that I raised the comparative questions. What are the similarities and differences in how they address instruction and how we address instruction K-12? What is it that they do that we do not do? Do we use the same methodology? The same materials? Etc. What services do they provide for their students? I assure you they have students with disabilities. How do they provide special services? Is their success purely because of socioeconomic status or is it more because of the quality of their instructional practices? Do they use inexperienced TFA teachers? And of course, the real question, Why do we not have equal education? And why is the SRC not asking those questions? But the issue I really want to hold up is the issue of "basic honesty" in our discussion of public education in Philadelphia, in our state and In America.
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on January 6, 2013 9:38 pm
Again, funding matters. For example, we are suppose to implement Response to Intervention and Instruction (RtII) - it is in Hite's plan and is replacing CSAP. So, there are a lot of reading (and eventually) math interventions but most are not available in schools. (We were told what we do in class to provide supports do not count. The interventions have to be "out of a box" - a purchased program). It is much more problematic in high schools. In order to offer the interventions, students have to be re-rostered. Then, we have to have teachers to teach the students in the intervention classes/ groups. (Even if the intervention is on-line, it at least has to be monitored.) Will high school students lose electives to be rostered for an intervention? Will Read 180 or Corrective Reading trump music or art or even a CTE shop? I assume in wealthy districts like Lower Merion and Radnor, these issues are addressed before teachers are told "just do it" like we are told in Philadelphia. They probably also have enough staff to carry out the RtII plan. We don't have enough teachers for high school students to have enough electives.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 10:32 pm
I think that the SDP does some good things in terms of curriculum. The Harcourt Trophies curriculum is a well regarded curriculum. I know of a couple of Catholic schools in the city that use Trophies. Suburban districts use Trophies, including Upper Dublin uses Trophies ( and Mt. Lebanon SD (near Pittsburgh) ( In my experience, many teachers in Philly liked the old Planning and Scheduling Timelines. The new PST based on Common Core are much less user friendly. I've heard that Everyday Math is very difficult to use because it skips around instead of focusing on one concept. In terms of basic honesty, I think that public officials and school district officials should ask themselves, "What do I want for my own child?" and then use that answer to guide what our society provides for ALL CHILDREN, not just OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 6, 2013 1:29 pm
Yes, let's examine closely the differences? And let's examine the differences in their practices and our practices? Let's put it all out on the table in an honest conversation. Is it all about demographics or not? After all, I do think the topic of honesty and integrity in what we do has surfaced recently. Hasn't it?
Submitted by tom-104 on January 6, 2013 2:14 pm
From the Inquirer article: "That's what Masterman does very well," Hite said. "Everybody who goes to that school is exposed to high expectations." This is the corporate reform mentality that says the problem in urban schools is the low expectations of teachers, that social/economic factors are not the most important factor in school achievement. If Hite really believes this, it shows he knows nothing about Masterman or the School District and his is the view of an uninformed outsider. Any rating based solely on test scores is fraught with error. See this article for instance: New College Board chief cites ‘problems’ with SAT
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 6, 2013 3:24 pm
Hite et al will continue to spew that nonsense about poverty not being important in a. child's development. Again, I am stunned by their insensitivity and callous view of inner city life.facts. That's the kind of remark Mitt Romney or Clarence Thomas makes not the head of an Urban School District. He pulled the same rhetoric down in DC and when he left, a writer said it all, "Good Riddance." If possible, Hite is even more reprehensible that Ackerman. Well, maybe not but even The Queen wouldn't say that.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 8:24 pm
It's not just high expectations in school, but also at home. It's also not just expectations, but ability. Not everyone does well on standardized tests. Colleges recognize this. Many don't even use test scores anymore. Applicants to college have to write a personal essay, submit grades, and have letters of recommendation. SAT/ACT scores are not the most important element. How about helping students learn to write a good personal essay? Masterman is a selective school. IT IS AN APPLES TO ORANGES COMPARISON TO COMPARE MASTERMAN OR CENTRAL WITH A NEIGHBORHOOD HIGH SCHOOL!!! Why? Just look at the demographics: Central: Students with disabilities - 0.9% Mentally gifted students - 32.1% Masterman: Students with disabilities - 1.7% Mentally gifted students - 57.4% Germantown HS: Students with disabilities - 30% Mentally gifted students - 0.7% Northeast HS: Students with disabilities - 12.6% Mentally gifted students - 4.8% West Philadelphia HS: Students with disabilities - 21.6% Mentally gifted students - 0.8% Based on students who meet the criteria for mentally gifted and special education/disability, there are drastic differences between neighborhood and selective high schools. By law, special education and mentally gifted students are supposed to have SPECIALLY DESIGNED INSTRUCTION. Assessment is a part of instruction. The District wants teachers to differentiate instruction for all students, but then it wants a one size fits all standardized test. It makes NO SENSE for standardized tests to be one size fits all. Yes, it is possible for a student to receive accommodations for a test from ETS (SAT, AP), but it takes a few months and usually means that a child needs to have a caring and involved parent/caregiver who is willing to fill out the paperwork that ETS requires. A child doesn't receive extra time just because he/she has an IEP. It's ridiculous for Dr. Hite to expect all high schools to have SAT passing rates as high as Masterman and Central have because the populations are different. In statistics, this is called controlling variables. It's not appropriate to make a comparison without controlling for variables such as special education/mentally gifted status, socioeconomic status, etc. People have to know when to draw the line between high expectations and unreasonable expectations. Dr. Hite has unreasonable expectations.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on January 6, 2013 8:47 pm
Exactly right!
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on January 6, 2013 9:02 pm
In addition, students with "disabilities" at Masterman and Central are not necessarily learning disabled and do not have behavioral issues. They still have to meet the school's criteria for very high test scores. One student I knew at Central had cerebral palsy - very bright. So, the student was "disabled" but the student certainly didn't lower test scores. Some schools also have a high percentage of ELLs - not in the magnets. Granted, some ELLs who have been learning English for awhile do not face as many difficulties with standardized tests but there are Ells who start school in the US in high school. They should not have to take an high school test in English in one year in the US.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 6, 2013 10:26 pm
Your points are all correct. Some kids with learning disabilities can be mentally gifted. My point was to show the huge demographic discrepancy. The numbers of SPED students is low at schools like Central and Masterman, but high at the neighborhood schools. The numbers of MG is high at the selective schools, but low at the neighborhood schools. My point is that comparing selective and neighborhood high schools is an APPLES TO ORANGES COMPARISON! It's not an appropriate comparison! It's like comparing Catholic high schools to neighborhood high schools!
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 7, 2013 9:47 am
Your point is well made. Hill Freedman is often missed among the high achieving schools. It is a middle school, but the scores are amazing. Their demographics per are worth noting too: Students with disabilities: 30% Mentally gifted: 18.3% But then they are also special admission. I agree with the comments about the special admission schools. If kids come in with high scores and the ability to learn in the traditional academic setting, what exactly is the school doing for them other than putting material in front of them to absorb? Central spends probably the least per child in the PSD, $5,500 (last FY per the stats on the PSD website), and offers the most "mass produced"/least individual attention for students. Not a good model to copy. It only provides evidence of the value of investing in enriching children early. This seems to be the common trait of the families whose children attend Central, not necessarily income: they have invested in their children. Sorry to keep repeating myself: Use Title I for what it was meant for, to enrich the poor/"at risk" children. Give it to the Social Services organizations NOT the Instructional organizations (it needs to precede instruction in formal settings and our Instructional institutions have failed miserably in using this money for what it was meant for). Masterman, Hill Freedman, and Central are indisputable proof of the value of these experiences for children. Experiences that came as a result of caring adults. Probably this is the most important factor: caring adults. When children have found early that adults aren't to be trusted, and have been betrayed or hurt by them; why should they trust any adult, let alone one whose job depends on their obedience? Social Services organization can best address this need. Educational institutions can only do this indirectly at best, and only those who are focused and flexible enough to build partnerships with community organizations (right now mostly charters) seem to be getting close.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 7, 2013 6:21 pm
Ms. Cheng, With regard to Hill Freedman, only 67% of its students are economically disadvantaged, which is pretty low for Philadelphia. Is this school entirely a special admission school or does it also have neighborhood students? It has the Middle Years IB program. Has the District tried placing some specialty programs in neighborhood schools to help diversify the schools by socioeconomic status? I agree that caring adults are very very important. Unfortunately, data doesn't measure who's a caring adult. EGS
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 8, 2013 12:47 pm
EGS, it is true income/economic status is related to how well children do; however, I have met parents, grandparents in many cases, who are "economically disadvantaged" but who, for example, take the time to apply (and easily qualify) for financial assistance at places like the YMCA or Settlement Music School. Their children make it to selective admission schools. Wouldn't the very fact that there are economically disadvantaged students at all at schools like Masterman, Hill Freedman, Central be enough data to show that this is not the overriding factor? Certainly the percentage of economically disadvantaged does not have a linear relationship to the percent of students scoring proficient/advanced. Finally, I love the detail and thought in your comments, but I think you should spend some time in a school like Germantown H.S. before suggesting that an IB or other academically rigorous specialty program would be helpful there, if even possible. Not because the kids aren't capable of handling the work, or the teachers aren't capable of running it, but because the school culture does not recognize the value, and in fact is threatened by it. You would find objections that would leave you incredulous. (I know, after "installing" and co-running a Chess club, and attempting to "install" a partnership literacy playwriting project with the Philadelphia Theatre Co., among other projects which were later pronounced "so called projects" in our neighborhood school, and ultimately fell through for sheer lack of support.) I like the idea of mixing the academically supportive families with those who aren't. It needs to be in the right proportions however so that those who are supportive aren't overwhelmed by those who aren't. Right now, selective admission schools have the negative affect of draining the supportive families away from the neighborhood schools... yes this is segregation of another kind; however, what choice do families that care about education have right now?
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on January 6, 2013 4:43 pm
Did anyone notice in the Inquirer SAT article that Simon Gratz has re-joined the school district since the SAT score was at the very bottom of the state. Olney which became charter at the same time was reported correctly as a charter. But since this is a bad number I guess Mastery has a clause in its Charter agreement that it can report the numbers as the School District so Public schools look even worse. I do not think anyone out there thinks this is a Typo???? Now if it were good news it would have been manufactured at Mastery Simon Gratz Campus.

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