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School closures as a civil rights struggle

By Ron Whitehorne on Feb 5, 2013 03:49 PM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

Students and activists joined a rally at School District headquarters on the announcement of the school closings plan in December.

Across the country and here in Philadelphia, schools are being closed, schools that are disproportionally concentrated in poor communities of color and that serve urban students with the greatest needs.

Chicago is the most dramatic example. African American students make up 42 percent of the school population but nearly all of the enrollment at schools that are being closed or phased out.  

In Philadelphia, both last year’s school closings and the current planned closures reflect this pattern. While 55 percent of the overall student population is African American, 79 percent of the students in schools projected to close are African American.

This has not gone unnoticed. In September, students from Youth United for Change, Philadelphia Student Union, and their allies rallied on the steps of School District headquarters with coffins for closed schools. They were part of an eight-city Journey for Justice that traveled to Washington to press their case that school closings are a violation of civil rights law. The demonstration was organized by members of the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), a labor community alliance that is fighting school closings here.

ACTION United, a PCAPS member that advocates for low-income residents, filed a complaint under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, citing data that closing the targeted schools would hit poor African American and Latino families, as well as special needs students, the hardest. The Justice Department has agreed to investigate.

It’s not only organized groups who are raising this issue. At a huge rally at Dobbins High School in North Philadelphia, parents and students charged the District with singling out their community. Twelve schools in North Philadelphia are targeted for closing. Why, speakers wanted to know, were their schools being shuttered? For some, this was a rhetorical question. Unequal treatment in education is not exactly unheard of in a community that has never known anything but segregated, under-resourced schools.  

Is the verdict in on neighborhood schools?

Superintendent William Hite had an answer of sorts. Enrollment has declined, he has said, because parents have voted with their feet, leaving neighborhood schools to attend charters. The District has no money and can’t keep open schools that are, in some cases, more than half empty and in poor condition.   

There is no question that many parents have pulled up stakes and moved to charter schools. But, as the response to closures demonstrates, this does not mean that the community wants to do away with neighborhood schools. Rather, it reflects popular frustration with the quality of education at these schools.

Charters have marketed themselves as alternatives and have created a perception that they are, at the very least, safer. But the surveys and listening sessions conducted by PCAPS suggest that, all things being equal, most parents would rather send their children to traditional neighborhood public schools. Treating the choices that parents make as education consumers as political choices is misleading.

Charter schools' gains, many suggest, depend on an uneven playing field with policies that allow for selective admission and retention. The present system of school choice has drained social capital from neighborhood schools and increased social segregation, with the children who have the greatest needs concentrated in these traditional, neighborhood schools. Meanwhile, magnet and charter schools skim off large numbers of engaged parents and motivated students.

Although the charter school lobby trumpets school choice as a civil rights slogan, the fact of the matter is that urban school systems, charters included, continue to fail the same children, the same families and the same communities that have been historically disenfranchised by Jim Crow segregation and institutional racism as it has evolved in the post-Brown decision school world.    

While poverty and institutional racism drive educational outcomes in America, corporate school reformers, like Michelle Rhee, instead focus on an agenda of eliminating tenure and weakening teacher unions.

Education apartheid

School closures exacerbate the problem, but they are only the tip of the race and class iceberg. Virtually every measure of school quality reveals a gulf between the White and affluent, on the one hand, and poor, working-class people who are disproportionately Black or brown on the other. Schools serving this population are typically under-resourced and lack things like art, music, certified librarians, full-time nurses, security staff, state of the art technology. Buildings are, typically, old, lack air conditioning, and often have serious safety issues. Instructional staff is overburdened by large classes and minimal support. Teacher turnover is high, and there are fewer experienced teachers, a problem that is fueled by lower salaries and a management style that discourages innovation and collaboration. And while schools in affluent communities are governed by locally elected school boards, urban communities are more often than not shut out of governance by mayoral or state-appointed bodies. It is a homegrown version of education apartheid.

To some, like the Daily News, the notion that African American or Latino elected officials or school leaders could pursue policies that have a negative impact on families of color is unworthy of serious consideration. This ignores the whole post-civil rights movement experience in this country, which demonstrates that institutional racism is not ameliorated simply by replacing white faces with black ones. Surely, it is not news that some black leaders, like Adrian Fenty, former mayor of Washington, D.C., and Mayor Michael Nutter here, are more responsive to big business interests and White middle-class voters than working-class African Americans. 

To realize the promise of the Brown decision and insure real equality in schools is now, as then, a massive challenge that will require a political mobilization on both a local and national scale. It will require linking the fight for decent schools to the fight for jobs and against income inequality. It surely will not come out of closing schools, cutting budgets, and promoting privatization in the form of charter schools. 

Yes, demographic changes will require some school closings, but this must be done transparently with the participation of impacted communities and must ensure, at the very least, no harm is done to students and their families. That is not the case with the current plan, which is why the call for a one-year moratorium on closing schools makes good sense.

Ron Whitehorne is a retired Philadlephia teacher and is on the steering committee of the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS).

The opinions expressed in this guest post are solely those of the author. The Notebook invites readers to submit posts on current topics in education. Send submissions to

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Comments (40)

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 5, 2013 4:26 pm
now we are concerned with the educational plight of black children? you're late, but welcomed to the fray. But, if you wish to join the fight, make sure you're fighting for the right thing. you are fighting for jobs. you're defending a union that doesn't look like the children in the seats. you're fighting for schools that haven't worked for their communities for years. you operate as a shill for those deeply involved in the erosion of public education. you spew the party line, "the charters have an uneven playing field. you're a propaganda machine. so, mr. whitehorn, stop with the dredging up of old battles. aparthied is not the issue. to paraphrase bill clinton, "it's the schools, stupid." your attempt at misdirection are provocative, but not compelling. If you're fighting for children, fight for better schools. if you do that, good teachers will always be needed. what we have now is a system is chaos and people like you pleading to retain it. thanks, but no thanks.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 5, 2013 4:28 pm
"A union that doesn't look like the children in the seats?" Shame on you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 5, 2013 4:05 pm
Reformer--Yikes--you are pathetic. Unions protect all workers. Actually, forget it.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 5, 2013 4:07 pm
What is the demographic of the union membership? Until we find out otherwise, "Good for you, reformer".
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 5, 2013 4:39 pm
If you want to play that card, what's the demographic of the charter management companies, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, of the Broad Foundation, of the Walton Foundation (owned by the family that owns Walmart.)?
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 6, 2013 7:17 am
Perhaps you're suggesting that these Foundations and our labor unions here in Philly have something in common?
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 5, 2013 6:20 pm

Reformer,  readers can judge for themselves my record as an advocate for equity in our public schools.   We can't make that assessment about you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2013 3:18 am
Without knowing your precise record advocating for "equity", I would point out the irony of you claiming this as some qualification. The goal of schools is not "equity" but providing an education. Then again, I am only a parent not an ed bureaucrat. Equity is a matter of judgement. The Ed establishment view of equity is perverse- it is more concerned about the rights of the disruptive, violent and anti-social than it is about the rights of the majority of kids to learn in a safe supportive environment. "Equity" advocates' commitment to mainstreaming creates disruptive learning environments that harm kids who want to learn in the name of equity. Equity would prefer that 10 kids not receive something if 1 kid couldn't have it also. And quite obviously, equity also harms the anti-social problem kids who need strong discipline, not validation of anti-social behavior. This is especially true for kids coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and broken families who don't have strong role models showing them how to behave (simple common sense that an "equity advocate" would consider racist heresy), and probably have a lot of bad role models. These kids may turn out to be brilliant, but they won't acheive that until their most urgent need is how to behave. So when given a choice after decades of "equity advocates" controlling their schools and destiny, most poor minority parents flee at the first opportunity. Parents, minority disadvantaged or not, want schools that apply common sense standards instead of ideologically motivated goals of "equity". This is why these schools are operating at 25% in poorer minority neighbourhoods. Because most other minority parents have left for better schools. So the equity advocates response to this rejection? Sue the school district. Even though the majority of parents in these poor minority neighborhoods are better off with their choice than they were before. The bitter irony is the "equity" advocates solution is to take away that choice. They are more than happy to force the majority of the poor minority parents back into their poorly-run, undisciplined, failing schools- that is the indirect and often unspoken request of this suit and "equity" advocates. The problem is that "equity" by definition does not care for maximizing educational outcomes. "Equity" is just as happy if everyone receives rubbish as long as it is equal. Though I didn't grow up poor, I was a disruptive maladjusted behavioral problem who needed a change of environment and firm discipline. When I got this, I excelled. The last thing I needed was some "equity" advocate for my rights claiming I was disabled and therefore was entitled to cause problems for others without consequence.
Submitted by Timothy Boyle on February 5, 2013 8:41 pm

When schools got Renaissanced, the teaching staffs got whiter, and less likely to be certified. So if the the teachers of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers don't look like the children in the seats, those who you wish to take over the schools are doing a worse job. 

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Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 5, 2013 9:23 pm
pardon me, good friends. I seem to have inadvertently struck a nerve. the writer is the one who brought up race and institutional racism. the racial makeup of the administration and the teachers is about the same. why are the mangers more likely to be a rascist? I thought it ironic, but i should have left it alone. what I seem to started is a game of "our white guys are better than your white guys." what you can't admit is the community has spoken already. they sent their children to private or religious schools, chose a magnet or citywide school, selected a charter school, or moved out of town. that's why these schools are empty. and one last thing, if all of you believe economic status is the major predictor of academic success, you will always be right.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 5, 2013 10:16 pm
Interesting company you keep deformer!
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2013 8:12 am
aaah, the age old strategy of: "the facts are not on my side, so I will try guilt by association"
Submitted by fb ads cracked review (not verified) on March 25, 2014 6:13 pm
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Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 6, 2013 7:21 am
reformer you made a good comment, and as the replies show, it hit the mark. Don't retract it. In person, I saw good/competent respectable teachers shrug their shoulders and "walk away" because the pension was much more important than doing what was right. A principal that fawned to everything that came out of 440, hoping for that next promo instead of making it to a community meeting. Can't blame them, but they won't admit it; Instead they get vicious and self righteous and hide under the cover that the kids, and now "racial equity" both are more important than money. Sure, as long as it's not their money. How many don't even live in the City? It would be "just desserts" if they get this moratorium - some of these replies you've received make me hope they do, because the PSD will have to default on its obligations, essentially have to declare bankruptcy -Close that Hostess plant down, and they would still blame Hostess. They are hoping that the State or a lawsuit will force money from somewhere/taxpayers, but without taking action to downsize, they have no case.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 6, 2013 8:08 am
this is te lastest version of the twinkie defense.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 5, 2013 4:40 pm
Some facts: 1) In schools slated to close, just 35% of African American students are proficient in math compared with 50% for African American students in schools not scheduled to close 2) In schools slated to close, just 29% of African American students are proficient in reading compared with 45% of African American students in schools not scheduled to close 3) The high school graduation rate in closing schools is just 54% compared with 69% in schools not scheduled to close 4) Schools slated to close experienced 6.89 serious incidents/100 students vs. 2.54 serious incidents/100 students in schools not closing. These figures include data on assaults, sexual assaults, possession of weapons, drugs, and fighting; in other words, it is over three times more likely to experience violence in these schools that are closing than in the schools staying open. An overwhelming majority of African American students in the schools slated to close are already being denied the basic literacy and math skills necessary for post-secondary success. This has been true for these schools before the Corbett budget cuts, before the advent of charter schools, and before standardized testing. If you believe that being able to read and do math is necessary for equal opportunity, the real crime is how long these schools have been permitted to stay open.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 5, 2013 4:45 pm
It's been true since the state took over management of the School District in 2001. They failed with the attempt to turn over 64 schools to Edison Schools then and successive SRC's have been laying the groundwork for the present siege ever since, including under Rendell when she who shall remain nameless poured money into charters and starved the public schools..
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 5, 2013 6:37 pm
some of us are old enough to remember the pre-takeover district and it wasn't much bettering most of the schools they're proposing to close. rather than taking us on a trip down a memory lane that, for most of these schools, never was, you should present reasonable alternatives to the plan on the table. during the televised community meetings i heard several good ideas. many were lost in the din of the discontented. help me out here, what would you do if you lived in these neighborhoods and had school-aged children? anybody willing to tell the truth?
Submitted by g (not verified) on February 5, 2013 5:43 pm
No child is being"denied"basic math and literacy skills. In the schools with the lowest stats-we see a very high concentration of poverty.It may not be politically correct to say this-but- this correlates with a high concentration of disruptive behavior, emotional disturbance, lower levels of school readiness, tardiness and frequent absences. If you were to look closely at the individuals who ARE proficient at those "failing" schools, you would see well cared for children with interested parents. If , for an experiment, we just switched the student bodies of a high-poverty and a low-poverty school,giving them equal resources and leaving the staffs in place-suddenly-the "failing" label would jump to the other school and the formerly "failing" school would be "high performing". (Even the "seats" would perform better!!!!!!!) We need to have ECONOMIC diversity in our schools. If this is not realistic-then we MUST put REAL resources in the schools with the most needy students. I DO NOT mean BUY NEW PROGRAMS. I mean provide more ADULTS to nurture children so they can better learn. Jamming 30 plus kids into a room with one teacher,especially if many of them have serious needs-means that the classroom must be run in a way that is less than ideal for the other children and would never be acceptable in a more affluent community.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 5, 2013 6:28 pm
This has always been my thought. Let's switch suburban teachers into the inner city schools and send the inner-city teachers to the suburban schools. Do you really think that inner city kids will do any better with the suburban teachers? The issues are much more complex than "bad teachers". Look at the disparity between schools, families and lifestyles. Sorry to be politically incorrect, but it DOES make a difference. I am not saying that all kids can't learn, they can....but other issues need to be addressed for many of the kids who are hindered due to additional issues that affect their learning.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 6, 2013 11:39 pm
g, You are not being politically incorrect. What you are saying has a lot of merit in the scientific literature. Here are some resources: Bradley, R.H., Corwyn, R.F., McAdoo, H.P., Garcia Coll, C. (2001). The home environments of children in the United States: Part 1, Variations by Ethnic and Income Group. Child Development, 72, 1844-1867. Bradley, R.H., Corwyn, R.F., Burchinal, M., McAdoo, H.P., Garcia Coll, C.(2001). The home environments of children in the United States: Part 2, Relations with behavioral development from birth through age 13. Child Development, 72, 1868-1886. In my experience being in schools in the inner city, a school social worker is essential. While some of the children come from stable families, a large number of the children come from stressed or fragile families, due to various issues including unemployment, poverty, drug/alcohol abuse, foster care, etc. Ensuring that at least one school social worker is required at every high-needs school is very important.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 5, 2013 5:44 pm
A year's moratorium might be reasonable except for the dire financial (that 300 million is a real loan) situation that the District is in. With the inefficiency in the District's budget right now, it is costing it $7000 for lost utilization for every student that transfers to a charter. It is paying about $8000 per student to the charters for every student in its catchment that attends a charter. Waiting a year to "right size" will not only push the District into greater debt, but will continue to provide windfall funding for the charters. In short, it will hasten the demise of the District as quickly as the feared continued flight of students to charters. If this conspiracy by the Broad and Gates foundations is real, I can only imagine that it would wholeheartedly back this moratorium. The real issue is the silence of Council on how these neighborhoods were quietly allowed to decline. Another issue is the billions of Title I money that was given to schools to "level the playing field". Didn't happen did it?
Submitted by Timothy Boyle on February 5, 2013 8:10 pm

Large school districts that have undergone school closure plans of this magnitude have not recouped savings anticipated, and sometimes lost significant amounts of money in the process. If Philadelphia goes the way of D.C (spent 40mil) and 37 schools are gone, what will you say then? We tried and failed? Closing schools is not a viable budget plan. Closing schools is a viable FMP, when the metrics are ,which buildings no longer suit the needs of our children, not "have we hit 28mil yet?".

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 5, 2013 9:08 pm
I agree that good decisions are only as good as the information that they are based on; however, if closing schools is not the answer, then what is? Even if the savings are not what is hoped, something must be done asap. Politically, there is greater lobbying clout to get more funding from Harrisburg if something is done rather than nothing. Per this article in, " The bond sale the SRC unanimously authorized at the Wednesday special meeting comes with a hefty price tag - an additional $22 million in debt service annually for 20 years, beginning in 2014". If we do nothing for a year, it would mean another bond sale, and likely another $22 million (more if there are even interested buyers/lenders as it would be a bigger credit risk) annual added. Even if none of the buildings are sold, (I can see putting a one year moratorium on selling the buildings or putting requirements of community consensus on these sales), the programs need to be consolidated in some way. I will use our neighborhood school as an example, though other schools might not be the same. The capacity was for 600, and enrollment had fallen to under 200. During the few years that it dropped dramatically, academic achievement changed very little. Despite the fact that there were the same number of staff, and class size had dropped to 10 in many grades, exceptions being 1st and 8th, 20 and 30 respectively, these smaller classes did no better. It would be very hard to ask for more funding to support underutilized capacity when it does not produce better achievement. In the case of our school, the FMP, in my opinion, did a fair assessment. Underutilized capacity creates a greater per child expenditure which then requires a larger per child payment to charter schools which increases the financial burden even more on the District. This only underscores the urgency of immediate action to "right size".
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2013 11:48 pm
It defies reason that closing a school with 25% occupancy and consolidating it with a 60% occupied school does not save significant money in the short run and long run. The only way this doesn't save money is through mismanagement. For example, we know (by virtue of their vote this summer) that city council's main goal is not education but to protect the employment levels at the SEIU and every other interest group that butters their bread. So if the decision were up to council, you are probably right that closings would not save much money as it would quickly be squandered on pay-outs and pay-offs. The SRC is less sensitive to these interest group pressures.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2013 11:42 pm
The SRC is less sensitive to these interest group pressures. Boy, what a dream world you live in. The SRC does Corbet and Nutter's biding. You don't think there is any "interest group pressure" from them??
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2013 8:54 am
The bigger issue in all of this is that a building does not a school make. It is unfathomable to me how you can argue you are for serving children in one breath and then push to keep open a building in which 80% of kids aren't getting what they need to have equal opportunity in life. ...And I'm sure this will cue the "more resources, more resources!" response. More resources absolutely make a difference... when in the right hands. But if we don't hold adults accountable -- last year 99% of teachers in Philadelphia were rate effective even though only half of kids can read and do math and to my knowledge, next to no principals lost their jobs for performance -- all the money in the world won't make a bit of difference - tired of the same old
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 6, 2013 9:13 am

For some time there has been a debate about how to evaluate teachers in ways that are both fair and improve instruction and learning.   Unfortunately this debate has been hijacked by the corporate education reformers who want us to believe that if only we would judge teachers by their students test scores and weed out the under performers all would be well.   How is that working out?   Michelle Rhee fired hundreds of teachers in   D.C. but there has been no turn around of the system.   There, as here, test score gains now appear highly questionable.   

Upgrading the quality of teaching certainly needs to be part of an overall strategy for improving inner city schools.   But to think this can succeed in isolation from strategic investment of major resources in our schools is utopian. 


Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2013 2:33 pm
I know of no credible reformer who thinks test scores alone determine a teacher's worth. None. It's common for defenders of the status quo to make this spurious claim in order to discredit the idea of any evaluation. In fact, most reformers call for a combination of elements, including test scores... which are in fact important if you believe kids should be ale to read and do math on grade level. In no other professional job are results off the table when it comes to evaluating performance. Is it your serious contention Ron, that in fact 99%+ of teachers in Philadelphia are effective? Wow.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2013 4:27 pm
I find it ridiculous that you think Ron meant 100% based on test scores. I have, however, seen many proposals that put half of the teacher rating on student test scores. A student I have that has missed more days than she has attended proves why that won't work. No matter what I or my counselor do, she isn't coming to school consistently. What do the "reformers" suggest about chronically truant students or students who have a major, life-altering tragedy, like the murder of a family member (another thing that has happened to one of my students this year)? If their scores drop, no matter what, it is my fault, regardless of the rest of the factors, which, believe it or not, have a much larger impact than people want to admit. You say that in no other job are results off the table. I would like to know how many other jobs require the use of results from people as young as 8 or 9 years old who come to school hungry and don't go to bed until midnight. I welcome anyone into my classroom who thinks student test scores are the way to rate half, or even 30% of a teacher. I just taught a lesson to my students and watched all but three of them easily understand the material, showing me in small groups how to do it. Two days later, they took a quiz and the class average was in the 40s. It was the same material and even some of the same exact questions they had in their classwork. When asked how many of them studied, only 5 hands went up out of 24. Explain to me how it is my fault that the children understood the material when I taught it but didn't bother to review it at home. If I could go home with each student to make sure they study, I would. However, things like grad school get in the way of that (which, by the way, I don't know of too many professional jobs that require the continued taking of college credits just to stay employed).
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 7, 2013 8:48 am
We need to hear more about these children. They need to be the focus of our City's public education, not "brushed over" and avoided. Blaming teachers or simply adding on "more of the same" is just another way to avoid seeing their reality. Art is often a good healer; does the school where you teach try to increase this experience for these kids? I think the responsibility lies with the leadership and teamwork of a school, rather than solely an individual teacher. (In this case, there is Title I money that the principal has a good deal of freedom with - despite what he/she may say.) Test scores are imperfect, but the only standardized method right now. A better way to rate would be to attribute a good percentage improvement or lack of, to the leadership at the school. I wouldn't be so sure about other jobs not requiring constant investment in education. IT is pretty ruthless.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 6, 2013 4:18 pm

First, I made no claim or inference about 99% of teachers being effective.   Nor do I oppose evaluation of teachers.   This is what I wrote several years ago about evaluation.   As this makes clear I favor multiple measurements and, if used appropriately, would include standardized test results.  Certainly evaluation is needed and should be used to improve instruction.   I also am on record as favoring reforms that expedite removing incompetent teachers from the classroom, provided there is due process.   So let’s not create strawmen.


There are two questions where I think we would divide.   One is the role of standardized test results in evaluation.    Yes, no reformer says test scores alone determine a teacher’s worth.   But in most schemes they are the central element.   For example in New York the District is pushing for them to count for half the evaluation.   The question here is broader than teacher evaluation and encompasses how student learning is measured.     Having a critique of the role of standardized testing in education is hardly synonymous with defending the educational status quo.


Secondly there is the question is the relative importance of teaching versus the weight of social and economic factors.   I think good teaching surely makes a difference and we should do everything we can to improve the quality of our teachers, but I don’t think it can overcome the deeply entrenched inequality in our society.   The single minded focus on teachers to the exclusion of the impact of poverty and racism on student achievement is wrong headed and, when wedded to an agenda of privatization and weakening unions, is dangerous.  


Teachers should be held accountable for what they control.   Doctors and other health professionals are not found wanting because the United States has a high infant mortality rate.   It is recognized that this problem is an outcome rooted in social and political choices that have been made about health care.   Yet somehow this logic is not extended to teaching and schooling.    

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2013 10:09 pm
And therein lies the fundamental difference between you and the reformers. You believe that poverty, which is outside the control of teachers, limits what we can and should expect of students whereas I believe -- as do most reformers -- that the only way to solve poverty is through education. It is the job of educators teaching poor children to figure out how to overcome the very real and difficult barriers poverty represents. If your core mission as a teacher isn't to figure out how to help kids achieve, even despite overwhelming odds when it comes to children from low-income backgrounds, you just should not be teaching those kids. If you believe hunger, violence, homelessness, and all the other realities of poverty means kids can't be expected to achieve at the same levels as kids who don't bring that baggage, you shouldn't teach in Philadelphia. Finally let's not forget that many, many educators and schools succeed. There are instances throughout the city where educators defy the odds and kids from low-income backgrounds succeed. If some adults are managing to do it for some kids, we ought to hold all adults accountable for all kids.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 6, 2013 11:45 pm

No, I don't believe poverty limits what we can expect of students.   If I thought no children could overcome these circumstances I wouldn't have spent two decades teaching in the poorest neighborhood in the city.  I do believe it has a profound impact on educational outcomes which reformers like you insist on denying.   That some children defy the odds and succeed is undeniable but that so many do not, in spite of the efforts of caring educators, surely is significant.   And, yes, some schools do better than others and we should learn from them and try to replicate what they do well. But the notion that education will end poverty is a cruel hoax that has long been a foundation of class society.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 6, 2013 11:37 pm
Ron, I think that your final two paragraphs are very important. Our society should not expect teachers to be miracle workers. Our society should expect teachers to be professionals who do their best to teach children and provide a warm environment in which the teacher shows care and warmth toward the children. Teachers should be partners with parents, but recognize that parents will vary in their levels of engagement. Children coming from fragile families and poverty need more supports than children coming from stable, middle class families because poorer families have fewer resources. A family with good health insurance can make an appointment for their child to get counseling. For a child from a poor or working class family, the only option may be the social worker or counselor at school. I really liked your article about teacher evaluation. I really like the following paragraph that you wrote: "Personally I would like to see more rather than less observation. The best administrators in my experience were those who spent a lot of time in classrooms and by the time they made a formal observation had a pretty good handle on what you were doing and given you some informal feedback." When I spent time at one of the Mastery schools, a school with an excellent principal, an administrator dropped into each class almost every day. Teachers did receive a lot of informal feedback prior to a formal observation. One really positive aspect of the frequent informal observations was that children knew that there was a team of adults at the school, not just the child's teacher. It makes kids more aware that other adults are watching them, which may help keep some children in check behavior wise. In many workplaces, managers or administrators pop in to see how their employees or colleagues are doing, encouraging employees to be on task and share their work. Knowing that the boss comes around every now and then may prevent some employees from being complacent and drifting to Facebook or other distractions. This is the same with teachers. Having frequent visits from administrators encourages teachers to do their best and avoid being complacent. The same principle operates with students. When a student sees the teacher walking toward his/her desk, many children will go back on task or at least appear to be on task. Some will want approval from the teacher for being very diligent students. As a new teacher, I welcome the feedback and constructive criticism because it helps me improve. Even veteran teachers can improve in certain areas as well. This is especially true because every class is different so teachers have to adapt a bit each year in order to accommodate the unique students in their class. EGS
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2013 2:36 pm
And... evaluation is not about firing teachers, it's about determining who needs help and where and whether they're improving. If you don't evaluate students and determine where they are, you can't effectively instruct them. Same goes for teachers.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 7, 2013 10:36 am
evaluation is not about firing teachers, but there has to be a limit on poorly performing teachers who don't improve after interventions have been done. there should also be greater levels of responsibility ineach year of teaching. what galls me is when you have a 2nd grade teacher with 20 years of experience teaching one class at $85,000/year. or my favorite is the bucks county business teacher making $105,000/year. he couldn't make that salary if he worked in a business and none of the children he teaches will ever make that amount. this is the problem. the schools have been set up to meet the needs of adults and not the children. i think it's time for a house-cleaning in the district. it would validate the good teachers and eliminate the bad ones. i am hopeful that this will be a secondary result of the closures.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 6, 2013 10:03 pm
The best way to reduce capacity in the District is to close middle schools with excess capacity. People tend to be most attached to elementary schools, because these are the schools most closely tied to particular neighborhoods, as well as high schools. Given the option of sending their children to a middle school building for K-8 or making the neighborhood elementary school K-8, from what I have heard at community meetings, most people would opt for having their children attend K-8 at the neighborhood elementary school. If the elementary schools can't become K-8, then make the high schools 7-12 and make one wing or floor a middle school wing/floor to give the feeling of a separate middle school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2013 11:17 pm
A K-6 elementary school with a 7-12 middle/high school configuration feels better than a K-8 model. 7th and 8th graders should not be in the same building, using the same bathrooms, with K and 1st graders.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 6, 2013 11:12 pm
K-8 or 7-12, whatever works. It's possible to make a separate floor or wing for the older kids. I spent time at a couple of schools that did this and there wasn't much interaction among the K-5th graders and 6th-8th graders. Not every building could accommodate this kind of separation, but a lot of buildings can. Many of the Lewis Catharine-designed buildings in the District, especially those with additions, can accommodate K-8 and the middle school kids can be on a separate floor with their own bathrooms. The older kids can have lunch at a different time from the younger kids and dismiss 5 min after the younger kids. It can work, as long as the administration of a school has clear policies and and routines.

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