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Most students from closing schools would move to schools of similar caliber

By the Notebook on Feb 26, 2013 05:23 PM

by Julie Mazziotta

Most of the 29 Philadelphia schools slated to close performed similarly in measures of academic achievement to those of the schools that would absorb them, according to a recent analysis.

Research for Action, a research group focused on educational reform, conducted the study, which compared state test scores and yearly progress benchmarks of the 29 schools slated for closure with those of the 48 receiving schools. Of the receiving schools, 44 exhibited similar scores in reading, and 36 in math on last year's state exam known as the PSSA. 

The findings echo Superintendent William Hite’s recent claim that the District's proposal worked to place students at better-performing or similarly achieving schools. Proponents of the closings plan say that its goal, ultimately, is to have all students in higher-performing schools.

Looking at schools’ PSSA scores in math and reading from last school year, RFA found that the majority of the schools had similar scores. Just one school, South Philadelphia High, performed worse than its sending school, in this case Bok. None performed significantly worse in math. Only nine schools performed better in reading. In math, 19 receiving schools had better scores than the designated closing schools.

The study also looked at the “adequate yearly progress” results of the schools, which considers test scores, attendance records, and graduation rates. The AYP calculations, however, reflect PSSA scores during a period when adults apparently cheated in some District schools before tighter security measures were put in place last year.

A similar comparison of test scores at closing and receiving schools performed by the Notebook earlier this month, before the District's revision of its closure list, focused only on reading proficiency rates. In that comparison, which was not a rigorous statistical analysis like Research for Action's study, a greater number of schools assigned to receive students were found to be lower-performing. 


Julie Mazziotta is an intern at the Notebook.

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Comments (19)

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on February 26, 2013 5:45 pm
I think the point of closing schools isn't to move them to schools that are already doing better. It is, supposedly, to consolidate schools so that they can focus resources on them. The claim is that once there are fewer schools, they will be able to afford to increase achievement. They haven't bothered to let us know how they plan to increase student learning-- just that it's too expensive to do it in too many schools. But, the people deciding which schools should close don't know anything about us, our city, or our neighborhoods. The only voice of reason comes from someone who lives in California. The changes that have been made have been insane (Strawberry Mansion was supposed to close, and now it's a Promise academy?!) The fact that they are continuing the Promise Academy BS tells me everything I need to know about Hite. He claimed we can't afford to make all our schools good- we have to sacrifice some for the greater good. Then he turns around and allocates millions to just a select few schools (Promise Academies) and somehow we still have to close schools. And in watching the SRC hearings, it has become obvious he doesn't have a clue and doesn't have any answers for us.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on February 26, 2013 6:00 pm

This report is a more sophisticated version of the test score comparison that the Notebook did earlier this month. It's worth noting that everyone doing these comparisons between closing and receiving schools is hampered by the lack of a performance index for schools that incorporates measures besides test scores. The District is in the process of revising its school performance index, which previously had been weighted heavily toward PSSA performance (and corrupted by test scores that were apparently inflated by adult cheating at many schools).

Basically, what we can say from the RFA report is that displaced students are for the most part being moved to schools with test scores that are comparable to the generally low-scoring schools targeted for closing. A minority of students are being moved to schools that have significantly better scores.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 26, 2013 10:02 pm
District wants up to 13% salary cut, other big changes POSTED: Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 8:24 PM Kristen Graham It's going to be a long summer. The Philadelphia School District wants its teachers to lengthen their workdays, give back up to 13 perent of their salaries, and forego pay raises at least until 2017. It wants to reduce the money paid out to departing employees, weaken seniority and give principals full authority over hiring and firing teachers. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers officials on Tuesday confirmed some details of the district’s initial contract proposal, which the Inquirer has obtained. School officials have been saying for months that they need up to $180 million in labor givebacks annually to avert a five-year deficit of more than $1 billion. The teachers' contract expires in August. “These are not demands that my members would support, nor would they ratify them,” Jordan said in an interview. “And these demands clearly indicate that the district does not have an interest in attracting and retaining teachers. Teachers who have experience will certainly leave to go to other districts, where they will be compensated fairly for what they do.” Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said he could not comment on ongoing labor talks, but said that the school system “actually values teachers as the most important resource in our district. We are committed to providing teachers with a set of working conditions…that will actually in the long run make Philadelphia a place that people will want to come and work.” Under the district’s opening proposal, issued Friday, the PFT’s 15,000 members — 10,000 teachers, plus nurses, counselors, secretaries, aides and others — would take pay cuts ranging from 5 percent for those who make under $25,000 to 13 percent for those who make over $55,000. On top of the smaller paychecks, employees would also have longer workdays. Teachers, whose current official workday is just over seven hours, would be required to be at work for eight hours. The district is also seeking massive changes to how teachers are assigned and to the strict rules that govern the work they’re asked to perform outside of their regular classroom duties. Seniority now determines how many teachers get jobs; under the district’s new proposal, principals would have the authority to hire and move teachers. (Teachers would still be eligible for due process in firings.) Principals would also be able to assign teachers to tasks like hall monitoring and lunch duty at will. Currently, teachers’ time is carefully governed by union rules. Now, the top-paid tier of educators are considered “senior career teachers” — those with 10 years of experience or more, plus other qualifications. That category would disappear. (A senior career teacher makes about $90,000.) Instead of being paid at their daily rate for unused personal leave, employees who retire or leave for another job would earn a flat $160 per day. And the district would retain the right to outsource any job. When he first heard the district’s demands, PFT President Jerry Jordan, said he was incredulous. “I thought it was a joke,” Jordan said. His members’ household bills have been getting bigger, and they are already earning less and working in more challenging circumstances than their counterparts in suburban districts, he said. Jordan also scorned the attempt to give principals more say in assigning teachers. “Another example of the district’s overall plan to command and control teachers and other employees — you see nothing that addresses teaching and learning and making schools better for kids.” Kihn said the district’s aim was actually to treat teachers as professionals, and to “make sure that we have the right teachers with the right sets of students, and make sure that we’re rewarding and retaining our most effective teachers.” Though the contract is important, “we are overall and in parallel working on a set of initiatives to try to improve the quality of teachers’ experiences,” Kihn said. Kihn stressed that the fiscal situation is grim, and pointed to concessions by other unions and pay cuts recently taken by non-unionized employees. Those cuts, however, were less than what the district is asking from the PFT. “This is an incredibly challenging set of circumstances,” Kihn said. The financial part of the district’s request “should come as no surprise.” Talks are in the earliest stages. But the demands are huge, and could spur a flurry of retirements and departures from the PFT’s ranks. That’s crucial to a system preparing to close 29 schools and hand three more over to charters. District officials have said they don’t believe they’ll need to lay off teachers — though other employees will be let go — and high numbers of retirements and other departures are key to that calculus.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on February 26, 2013 7:45 pm

Also worth noting that the RFA study did not include the schools that the District categorizes as "program mergers/relocations." So it does not include comparisons of Robeson to Sayre, Comm Tech to Bartram, or the two military academies to one another. The Robeson community in particular has been vocal that they don't want to be transferred to a school that they see as lower-performing. This report does not include an analysis of that.

Submitted by tom-104 on February 26, 2013 8:30 pm
Listen to this and then think about being judged by how students growing up in these conditions do on high stakes testing and AYP. This is about Chicago. The last 15 minutes is about violence and schools nationally.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 26, 2013 8:30 pm
Tom 104-----This is your last warning--Stop reporting facts for all to read. Facts, pesky little rascals that they are, just get in the way of the agenda being perpetrated on the citizens of Phila. Pretty soon, the folks will see the truth and then what?
Submitted by Paul Socolar on March 1, 2013 10:02 am

Research for Action has updated their analysis to include the schools that are being merged into other schools - Robeson, the Military Academy at Leeds, and Comm Tech.  In the case of the first two, there is a statistically significant difference between the closing school and the lower-performing receiving school.



Submitted by Andrew Saltz (not verified) on March 3, 2013 6:07 am
Can you please update this? Paul Robeson High School is now moving to a school that is over one standard deviation worse in both categories; we are the only "double red" in the whole document.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on March 3, 2013 7:10 am
Robeson is a special admit school. Is the School District offering Robeson to be a "school within a school?" (Robeson keeps its special admission status while using the Sayer Building?) Northeast has a magnet program. Is this a viable alternative?
Submitted by Andrew Saltz (not verified) on March 3, 2013 7:38 am
That's the plan, but my understanding is that the other school in question (I thought it was Washington, but you are probably right) was not a merger of two schools but rather an established special admit program added to the building. The District has no history in re-locating schools in this area. Additionally, the northeast area is much more safe. Adding a special admit population to Sayre will increase tensions - if the students go. While Robeson/Comm Tech/Bok are all special admit, it's important to note that Dr. Hite has stated he doesn't want students going to lower performing schools (the Research for Action piece says the same). In these cases, especially in the case of Robeson, students will be shipped to a much lower performing school. We are to trust in the district that, despite one administration, we will retain both our special admit status and small school school culture.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on March 3, 2013 8:46 am
Northeast has had a special admit magnet program for decades. (Washington does too but with not the history/exclusion of Northeast's program. Northeast's program has the same admission requirements as Central. It certainly helps boost test scores.) Bok and Comm Tech will also be going to lower performing schools (Bartram and Southern) based on test scores. I understand wanting to maintain a special admit status - that makes the world of difference. I assume Bok and Comm Tech want to do the same. Has Robeson asked if they can move with Motivation to the former Turner Middle School? (I happen to live between Turner and Sayre - it may not be as "safe" as the Northeast but it is safe for Philly.) While I don't support mass school closings to just open the flood gates for charters (and parochial schools), there is a need to combine programs/buildings. Apparently, Robeson has a program which fits with Sayre. I assume next year other small schools will need to move into neighborhood schools. I have no problem with co-locating programs. If safety is an issue, that needs to be addressed, but co-location doesn't mean the "special admission" program has to be lost. It can co-locate and keep its "special admission" status.
Submitted by Andrew Saltz (not verified) on March 3, 2013 8:41 am
You make good, reasoned points. So I'm suspicious :) There's a very good discussion to be had about the role of special admit schools. That's not the discussion being had. This closing will open the flood gates for charters. The District also poses a false choice. Why is the Health wing of Sayre empty? Just to be clear, only 20% of our students are actually enrolled in the Health program. The rest are just kids. People come to use because we are small and safe. Sayre is neither of those things, and our students won't follow a "program" which means absolutely nothing to them. If my students can't go to a Parkway (already recruiting my kids) or other admit, they'll go to whatever charter has space. Like it or not, the parents believe a neighborhood school would not work for their child, and they do not trust the district to make this work (history supports them). What will result is: A small boost in enrollment in Sayre, not enough to create optimum occupancy; destruction of the Robeson program, despite the fact we own the building and our FCI is good; a lot of stranded kids leaving the system. We have suggested Turner and even 440 as possible alternatives. The Superintendent and this article suggest that schools that are moving are going somewhere similar or better. That's not true. If those kids are going to be collateral damage, let's at least let them know.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on March 3, 2013 10:24 am
Then why not combine Parkway West and Robeson. Both are very small - under 300 students each. So, combine and you still have a small school with special admission requirements. Parkway and Robeson are both connected to Phila Academies so combining programs shouldn't be difficult. While Robeson is in Univ. City, it isn't far from Parkway West.
Submitted by Andrew Saltz (not verified) on March 3, 2013 1:21 pm
Yes! Where do I send this? (Seriously, we're not trying to be obstinate. The current plan is bad for everyone except Sayre. We want them to have a health program, but it's not fair to do it on our backs.)
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on March 3, 2013 1:52 pm
I'm just a teacher like you except I have decades in the School District. When Vallas created the small schools it should have been obvious to everyone it would destroy neighborhood high schools. All school should have been treated like Northeast - allowed to have magnet programs within their schools. Northeast is allowed to have a "magnet wing" - students are not rostered together. They combine for sports, extra curricular, etc. This is healthy.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 3, 2013 2:33 pm
Paul Vallas destroyed what we had created to serve our children, their families, and their neighborhoods. What we see now is the mess Vallas bestowed upon us. I did not know what Broad meant at the time, but in hindsight, I see Vallas's intent to "create churn" and destroy our system and our neighborhood schools for his self centered political advancement. Talking about children being "Beneath the Wheel" of unethical politics -- Vallas is a prime example. The School District has been infected with the "Broad Virus." What we now see happening is all about the virus which has infected our school community and threatens to destroy our community. We have become so infected by "institutional illnesses" we have become an "unhealthy organization" which follows no rules and has lost its sense of ethics and moral compass.
Submitted by Andrew Saltz (not verified) on March 3, 2013 3:21 pm
I'm not brand new. But, to be clear, I think there's a good conversation to be had about the amalgam of special admit schools. This is *not* that's conversation. The FMP is not about improving neighborhoods or adding special admit programs to create new neighborhood schools. Again, the article in question and the point made Hite are wrong. That's my gripe.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 3, 2013 4:07 pm
Andrew, I understand that. I wish we were talking about how to improve schools for the best interests of children and their communities. The point I raise is that the closing of schools is an "outcome" of what Vallas and others have done and still do for their self serving agendas. What is happening here and now has to be read through the eyeglass of history and the macro and micro political realities of what is happening in America. Our dedicated colleague Tom spends hours upon hours of his time keeping us informed about all the issues at play here. We would be wise to read the world we live in. I went into education to serve children because I love to teach them to read and see and think and analyze the world around them. So did the vast majority of teachers and educators. And I will bet that you did, too.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 3, 2013 4:16 pm
Speaking of reading and learning about the macro political forces, read this: That is not to say that I am not for legitimate charter schools which are run as public schools for the best interests of children. I am for any school which legitimately serves children well and is run as a public school in a collaborative, inclusive manner. There are many fine educators who have moved to charter schools for the right reasons.

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