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Superintendent Hite reiterates plan to skeptics

By David Limm on Jan 15, 2013 11:45 AM

Follow the evidence. It was a common refrain from Superintendent William Hite at Monday’s School Reform Commission meeting, which was meant to clarify the community’s understanding of the nuts and bolts of Hite's school-reform blueprint.

Before a relatively small audience of 50 or so, Hite said he wanted to make crystal clear how the District plans to achieve the two-pronged goal of raising academic achievement at all schools while bringing the District back from the brink of insolvency. Each of the strategies and action points outlined in the plan, he said, would provide concrete and data-supported evidence for stakeholders to measure the District’s success.

“This is about doing what works and doing it well,” Hite said. “We are going to follow the evidence.”

Hite explained the breakdown of his plan. Going through each of six strategies ("identify and develop committed, capable people," for example), he showed how each strategy has its own set of actions ("implement principal, teacher, and specialist evaluations"), which are in turn tied to a metric. Those metrics will inform the District as to whether the prioritized actions were effective.

Lisa Haver, a retired teacher and education activist who attended, criticized the plan for the absence of an action for which she said there is abundant evidence: Lower class sizes. “To me, you can’t improve schools without lowering class size,” Haver said.

Hite disagreed. “What we know now by research is that the quality of the teacher -- and I don’t want people to misinterpret this -- the quality of the teacher has more of an impact on student outcomes than all of the other things combined.”

Class size, Hite said, also remains an issue of affordability. To reduce a classroom by even one student across the District, he said, would cost about $10 million, give or take a million.

“What's the best course of action -- take a class from 33 to 30 and it costs $30 million, or is it better to spend a portion of that to increase the quality of teachers in all classes?" asked Hite. “In our budget system, we can’t afford to lower by one.”

In a response to the superintendent's plan, Ira Harkavy of the University of Pennsylvania spoke of the need to create an Office of Strategic Partnerships that would connect schools to every segment of the community, most significantly the city's higher-education and medical institutions.

Harkavy, director of the university's Netter Center for Community Partnerships, said that the city's anchor institutions -- “eds and meds” -- are in it for the long haul. They should serve as the core partners in creating pipelines to career and college readiness, he said.

He cited Penn's own work with a health center and two West Philadelphia schools as model approaches to partnerships.

Mama Gail, unimpressed by Harkavy's presentation, said she was frustrated by the jargon of a speech she couldn't understand. Her own experience, she said, was that higher-education institutions had taken from communities more than they had given.

"I'm saying to you, sir, we can't just accept anything in our community anymore," she said. "I don't care if it's University of Penn. I'm saying we will not accept anything anymore."

Harkavy agreed that universities have been exploitative to communities. But he said that "there's a new day and possibility," and that this new action plan would galvanize all partners, those with resources and those without.

On the question of authorizing new charter schools, Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn addressed the administration's philosophy: "If parents wish to send their children to charter schools, we want to ensure the options they have are for very good, high-quality charter schools.”

Although the District's financial straits would not allow any new charters to be authorized this year, he said, next year, the question is open.

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Comments (22)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2013 2:48 pm
Jargon is right.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2013 2:07 pm
" While the District's financial straits would not allow any new charters to be authorized this year, he said, next year, the question is open." >>Hite So let 's get this straight with some non jargon reality. In order for us to open new charters next year, we have to close down a bunch of neigborhood Disrict schools this year. Crystal clear.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2013 3:40 pm
i'm good with that. which one of these schools do you think deserves a chance? they could easily close 30 more.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2013 4:21 pm
Public school advocates are not "good with that." This is a disgrace but it was purposeful as many of us know (who have been paying attention).
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2013 12:04 am
please correctly identify yourself, you're a public school jobs advocate. that certainly doesn't give you the moral high ground.
Submitted by KilgoreTrout (not verified) on January 15, 2013 4:35 pm
Shame on you. Excellent schools are being closed in favor of watered down corporate McEducational charter schools. Fix the schools we have and close these scam charters. They're more expensive, and the kids are not getting access to a high quality education. Only crooked politicians, lining their pockets with public money would advocate anything as asinine as these charter schools. Hite and the SRC are the problem, not the solution.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2013 6:51 pm
Dont you understand the concept of 0 money???? Who pays for all these empty seats? When people don't pay for things now, they cant understand nor do they care because their costs stay the same. My daughter goes to Greenwoods Charter School and the surrounding schools cant compete with the education she is receiving there.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2013 6:45 pm
Because the surrounding schools are starved for funds. I attended a presentation by Finance Director Masch in spring of 2011. He showed a spreadsheet which showed funding flowing to charters and public schools being starved. This has been going on for the last five year. I questioned him about this at the meeting because it seemed strange that he would so blatantly illustrate what was going on. He didn't answer and just had a look like the cat who ate the canary. Part of the cuts have included cutting of security personnel and assistants which is why safety becomes a major concern of parents and why they want them in charters. This is why there are "empty seats" in public schools. Charters can pick and choose who they want while public schools must take a keep students by law.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 15, 2013 8:23 pm
It is not true that the neighborhood schools are being "starved" - the money is following the children, and they are not there anymore. Speaking of money, Dr. Hite has just o.k.'d pretty substantial raises for many of his administrators while planning to ask for concessions from the PFT. He has totally lost my respect with this decision, and I'm not a teacher. I hope the PFT uses this fact to their advantage/in defense. Teachers (and its nearly always a teacher that does this) villainize the charters. But why? The real problem is the PSD administration, and charters are offering the only way right now to leave that administration. Sadly when they blame charters and a corporate conspiracy, they end up supporting the status quo administration, one that is, in my opinion, the real cause of the failure of our schools. When the PSD administration gives itself raises and expands charter schools, it is threatening its own existence in the future, but of course with the compartmentalized and short term thinking that it has, it doesn't see this. Though it may cause some pain of change, in the end this may work to the benefit of all, including the teachers. I feel that teachers that have the courage should start their own charter instead of waiting to be given more autonomy from the PSD administration. It will not likely be granted in many lifetimes.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2013 7:57 pm
I understand the concept of O money when Chakkah Fattah is there at the groundbreaking ceremony for Greenwoods Charter. Voila all of a sudden money appears.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2013 7:26 am
That's because Greenwoods cherry picks students. They could not do the same work if they pulled in a true representation of the students of Philadelphia. Not a chance.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 16, 2013 9:40 pm
Greenwoods also had admission practices that the SRC considered exclusionary. Not everyone is fortunate to be able to send their child to a school like Greenwoods. The education that your child receives should be available to EVERYONE.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2013 11:43 pm
how many district employes have children in greenwoods?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2013 7:43 pm
Well well look who is in the mix, Chaka Fattah. I 'm sure there are some here who get my meaning. District schools are being closed left and right and "empty seats" ma'am are what you get when you funnel District children into charters. Then what we do is check the boards of directors and the politicians involved.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on January 15, 2013 9:12 pm
Hite said, "or is it better to spend a portion of that to increase the quality of teachers in all classes?" What is he talking about. Philadelphia's teachers are in the lower half of what other SE Pennsylvania districts are paying. Hite has indicated that through givebacks the wages are going to shrink. What money are spending on teachers?? Nothing! It is Joke to make that statement. Or is the plan to employ Teach for America interns at beginning salary and turn them over every two years as some of the "better" Charters do. Guys like Hite claim they are waiting for Superman to teach each class; yet they are offering Three Stooges wages.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2013 6:26 pm
In his world "quality teachers" would be determined by the test scores of their students. Yes that 's the plan, get the newbies when they are young, eager and not union minded.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 16, 2013 10:00 pm
Poogie--Next contract will determine the fate of the PFT. The Chicago Teacher's Union hung tough and won. The same with New York overall. The PFT has basically become a doormat for The SRC for whatever reason. If that continues, The PFT will be history in 5 years. Unless Jordan steps up in a very big and for him, unusually forceful way, things look mighty bleak. Eventually, the charter travesty will have run its course but a whole generation of kids will have served as collateral damage for the privateers' greed. Hite would not even be here if he weren't following the same script as Ackerman. The folks down South were glad to see him go so he's our guy !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 17, 2013 6:13 am
You are correct Joe and it starts at the top. On Saturday Randi Weingarten shares the stage with the pro-corporate reform "leader" Al Sharpton. It appears they are preparing a historic sellout.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 17, 2013 7:32 am
Not much would surprise me at this time.
Submitted by Peg D (not verified) on January 15, 2013 9:39 pm
I would love for someone to do a study/presentation showing the number of students who leave charter schools and return to Philadelphia Public Schools. I work in a very large neighborhood high school and I am astounded at the number of our students who have previously attended Philadelphia Charter schools. I would love to see a breakdown of reasons why these numbers are so high. I would like to see a breakdown of the disciplinary and academic records of these students. When Philadelphia Public Schools are able to deny admission and/or dismiss students who are causing trouble, then we will have a level playing field for discussing schools' success.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2013 7:44 pm
I too have seen children return from charters and make a point of asking them why they came back. One such child looked around and said "it's hard to explain but the feeling is not like it is in this room." Old school has it 's place. Great post Peg D.
Submitted by Vera (not verified) on January 16, 2013 8:03 am
As an ex Simon Gratz teacher I have 6 former Gratz students on roster who were separated from that school because they could not follow the program. But at the district the policy is come on in no matter who disruptive you are.

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