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Amid financial crisis, Pearson a winner

By Helen Gym on May 17, 2013 02:56 PM

Are we in a financial crisis? For the thousands of students who organized a massive walk-out today, yes. But not for a certain sector of contractors who are benefiting from the School Reform Commission’s decisions lately.

The same day that elementary school parents flooded City Council to rally for school funding and a sizeable crowd attended a panel on the destructive impact of high-stakes testing, the SRC on Wednesday approved nearly $1.3 million in contracts related to assessment and accountability, including a million-dollar contract to Pearson for high-stakes teacher and principal evaluations.

It doesn’t matter that educators in New York City are considering ending their Pearson contract for gross incompetence. District officials here have embraced Pearson amid the worst financial crisis in recent memory, lavishing the company in the last month with an $11 million contract for Schoolnet, the poorly used learning management system, and now a new contract for teacher and principal evaluation. 

The funds this time came out of categorical grants intended for specific uses, such as one from the Dell Foundation for "aligning accountability systems." But here's where the concerns lie. Grants from controversial foundations like the Dell Foundation and others drive District priorities and energy away from the classroom and scatter them off chasing the obsessions and fetishes of what many label the corporate education reform movement. 

Though it was not the fault of the current administration, it seemed a perfect juxtaposition that the District announced the $2.5 million repayment of grant funds wasted from the National Science Foundation during the Vallas years.

Race to the Top and Dell Foundation? Winners. National Science Foundation? Ignored. As City University of New York professor Michelle Fine said in the earlier panel on high-stakes testing, districts are now investing enormous amounts in the surveillance of children and teachers and so little in the teaching and learning process.

The contracts follow on the heels of a series of SRC decisions showing a troubling direction for the District. A $15 million contract to outsource a cyber school. New Renaissance charters. The New Teacher Project claims $800,000 in federal grant money that could have gone toward counselors and lower class size.

When I’ve raised questions in the past, I’ve often gotten the reaction: We have a $304 million problem and you’re worried about a measly million?

Well, I don’t count to $304 million. When you go after our children’s counselors, teachers, librarians, sports, extracurriculars, and the people who make our schools function, like our assistant principals and secretaries, I’m not counting to $304 million. I count to $4 million for librarians. I count to $7 million for instrumental music, $7 million for sports, $38 million for counselors.

Any dime that’s not going toward those fundamentals needs a better explanation than it’s a drop in the bucket. Librarians are a drop in the bucket. Music and Public League sports are a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of joy and purpose they bring to children’s school lives.

Pearson’s high-stakes teacher evaluations? Not so much.

One small spot of transparency glimmers. Parents United for Public Education requested the list of annual contracts by vendor and amount over $50,000. The District informed us this week that they will publish the list on their website by Monday.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from the years spent looking at the District is that even in the worst crises, we still have important and conscientious choices to make every single day. When there’s money in the pot, we can afford to make a few mistakes here and there, pacify this political operative, or cater to some foundation’s pet project and interest. But when we’re in deep financial crisis, we can’t afford those games. Every dollar driving in and out either goes toward the classroom and toward improving the quality of teaching and learning or it doesn’t.

The District’s attention to this issue, though, feels less and less like ineptitude. Instead, it's becoming more clear that we're taking purposeful and deliberate steps away from the essence of teaching and learning and toward the outer fringes of the homegenized, nationalized fads of the corporate education reform movement.

What New York City rejects, Philadelphia picks up. It's called "the market" -- and education is the biggest one out there.

Helen Gym is co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, an editor at "Rethinking Schools," and a contributor to and former board member of the Notebook.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (34)

Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 17, 2013 8:06 pm
Helen, You've hit the nail on the head with this poignant piece. Instead of that SchoolNet contract, there are far better ways for spending that $11 million that the District supposedly doesn't have. How about writing contracts for the following: - Purchasing tens of thousands of reams of copy paper. - Purchasing consumable workbooks for students. - Purchasing new teacher's manuals for Harcourt Trophies and Everyday Math. Some of those Trophies manuals are 10+ years old and falling apart. - Making sure that every special education teacher has full kits for DISTAR, Reading Mastery, Corrective Reading, Corrective Math, and so on. - Repairing light fixtures, floors, heaters, and so on, since these are items that need to be maintained and repaired from time to time. My suggestions aren't rocket science. I'm confident that many other District employees would find these suggestions I've made to be more useful to students, teachers, and others than the money that the District is spending on SchoolNet and other wasteful contracts. EGS
Submitted by anon (not verified) on May 19, 2013 7:21 pm
nix to the corrective math books thank you.
Submitted by matt (not verified) on May 20, 2013 9:05 pm
I would very much prefer that central offices not purchase anything for my classroom (no paper, no pencils, no manipulatives, no technology). Instead, give me the money that would otherwise be "spent on my behalf" so that I can buy what works for my students and I in the quantities that work for us. We have so much dusty junk filling cabinets in schools because central offices thought every teacher would want a set of this or that. On the flip side, most teachers already spend between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars out of pocket annually to get what they consider to be classroom essentials.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 21, 2013 10:58 pm
matt, You make a very good point. I do think there are advantages for the District to buy certain things, such as paper and pencils, because they can buy in bulk. However, wouldn't it make sense if the District asked teachers to fill out a request or purchase order for supplies and then the District orders these supplies? That way, teachers receive what they want while the District's money goes further. I agree, I have seen junk sitting in empty classrooms at the school where I work. A lot of it is old stuff (textbooks, overheads, furniture, non-working computers), but I have seen materials for Corrective Reading and Corrective Math just sitting on shelves collecting dust. EGS
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on May 17, 2013 8:26 pm
Nothing disgusts me more than seeing a contract for millions of dollars spent on IT data gathering while small children sit in a classroom that has mice running across the floor during the day. Or no toilet paper, soap, or paper towels in the bathroom. It is clear where the districts priorities are and it's not the children. I still can't believe the superintendent had a driver? In a poor school district, the spent money on a driver? Thank you for this blog Ms Gym.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 18, 2013 8:33 am
Great Post and does anybody past the age of 6 really think the charters are in this "crisis mode" with us?? It's nothing more than abuse of the first order and it won't stop because some kids walk down Broad St. as noble and heartwarming as that is. These folks don't care and when you don't care, you have nothing to lose.
Submitted by Dan Fitzsimmons (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:18 pm
I have six lights out in my classroom. I'm thinking by the end of the year we will be sitting in the dark. I ran out of school supplied paper months ago. Good thing I decided to buy my own at the beginning of the year. I paid for my students to go the Franklin Institute this week. And yet they can spend millions on schoolnet and assessments that we don't need. How about spending money on teaching and learning?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:12 pm
FYI- if you go before a certain date, any city school gets free admission into the Franklin institute
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 11:26 pm
You still have to pay for the bus.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 18, 2013 7:20 am
May I relate a little story to underscore the magnitude of the Pearson deal? I was driving down the New Jersey turnpike last Sunday after attending my great nephew's first holy communion. I was noticing the enormous factories along the highway and I thought about the thousands of people the companies must employ. Then I suddenly saw this huge, and I mean huge, sprawling factory building with no windows to let sunlight in or out. Then I saw the name of the company on its sign. It just had the word PEARSON on the wall. Talking about a picture being as good as a thousand words! It was like a revelation. It was shocking to realize just how huge that company has become. Seeing the size of their building just was like a sudden "gestalt" of all this high stakes testing lunacy. It was especially poignant because it is my professional opinion that, in my 34 years as a high school reading diagnostician and high school administrator, the PSSA exams and the benchmark tests used in our schools are the worst and most invalid tests I had ever been forced to use in my 34 years with the district. It is all just so shocking when our children are not provided with the basic necessities of proper schooling, Yet these people are making millions with their fraudulent products and practices.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 18, 2013 8:59 am
And yet, it continue like a runaway train going backward. Why?? Because the big money folks and their crooked pol friends, want it that way. So, how do we adults, combat it?? We send some kids down Broad St. That'll learn em good !! It's FAR beyond time for the adults to step up and demand better and force this cancer to stop and yes, by any means necessary. To make matters worse, it's all manufactured and orchestrated to kill unions and worker rights in the inner cities and since they have no conscience,they'll use the kids IN THE TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS as collateral damage. Nobody with sense really believes the charter folks are in the same "crisis" as we. The point is we, the people, haven't done anything of consequence to stop this and Yes, again, folks in Chicago are both laughing and crying at our cowardess and apathy. Jerry, any thoughts??????
Submitted by tom-104 on May 18, 2013 8:03 am
The folks in Chicago like what their union is doing! Chicago Teachers Union | President Karen Lewis Re-elected http://wp.me/p3nQdj-17m
Submitted by Tymir (not verified) on May 20, 2013 7:47 pm
Well, we reelected Jerry Jordan. Of course, we didn't know that there was an election - they told us after the fact. It's good that the union keeps us informed!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2013 7:50 pm
- the election was well publicized throughout the Union. If you didn't know about it, then that falls in the lap of your Building Representative for not doing their part in informing the members at your school. It was also in the PFT Reporter, on the PFT website and a mailing went out.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2013 8:38 pm
Really?!!! It escaped my notice as well, and I'm pretty good about keeping up with things
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 20, 2013 9:28 pm
Yes, I am too. However my memory is pretty poor. I did ask several people at my school and nary a one knew about the election though. Jerry, it's time for you to lead not play mouse or act as a bystander watching golf.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2013 9:21 pm
The only mailing I ever received was a notice that Jerry Jordan had been reelected because his secretary cast a single vote for him. It was never explained how this was possible or why. Another PFT scam.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 18, 2013 8:35 am
Tom 104---That's what I was trying to say in my clumsy, expletive deleted, roundabout way. We are the clowns they think we are.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 18, 2013 8:12 am
Karen Lewis is lucky our Jerry wasn't running against her especially in nice weather.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on May 19, 2013 7:32 pm
if jerry was running against her, she wouldn't have known there was an upcoming election.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 19, 2013 7:41 pm
Bingo !! Very Good.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on May 18, 2013 10:04 am
The importance of Friday's student demonstration should not be minimized. They showed that the SRC and Hite have failed spectacularly in trying to spin their corporate education reform agenda as progressive. No one with any contact with the public schools is buying into the SRC and Hite's game. Everyone knows that the schools have been underfunded by the state for decades, they have been systematically starved for resources and support staff since the state takeover in 2002, that No Child Left Behind has been used to vilify teachers and schools for conditions over which they have no control, and that the bottom line is we are being set up for the privatization of our public schools. The students get it and know their future depends on fighting this assault on public education! Click here to see how impressive the march was: http://wp.me/p3nQdj-16q
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on May 18, 2013 11:13 am
Thanks Ken, as always you make an excellent point. And, as always Joe (in his inimitable "Joe" style) does too. The students have done well. They have superseded any other public rally in calling attention to the crisis. Although manufactured, it IS a crisis as Hite and all are momentarily having their way. To the students I say, now multiply your ranks by 10 and keep you message clear. Others may try and co-opt you for their agendas. Be aware of this. To the PFT- leadership and members-you need to step up a bit- I say that kindly. Informational pickets. Good. Now- where is the righteous rage that is indicated by the actions? Ramp it up. Leaflets should invite passing cars to a specific action. To the churches. Coalitions like POWER aren't willing to say anything of import at this point in their evolution although all will suffer if the current budget holds and the plan goes forward. Individual churches with high probability of congregants and families to suffer need to mobilize and stand ready to attend public rallies. Whatever happened to Enon? This city has much work to do. Lets continue in earnest NOW
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 18, 2013 12:16 pm
Thanks, Helen. Anyone who still believes the "we don't have any money" excuse should look at the resolutions voted on every month by the SRC. I cannot wait to see that list Monday. Would everyone reading this article please take the time to read it, and at the next SRC meeting, demand that they explain what they spend their--sorry, our--money on. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 18, 2013 1:17 pm
I visited the Broad Foundation's website to see if I could find more examples of their ridiculos "reform" measures. Sure enough, I found something. The Broad Center runs the residency program from which Dr. Hite, Dr. Ackerman, and others graduated. Here's what I saw on the bottom of one of the pages on their site, "The Difference We are Trying to Make," http://www.broadcenter.org/who-we-are/the-difference-were-trying-to-make : "A 1928 Ford Model A won’t run effectively on today’s highways. Likewise, we can’t expect our present-day system of public schools—designed in the 1800s when our society was agrarian and industrial—to meet modern student and teacher needs. Just as a 1920s car would need to be completely overhauled to keep pace with today’s advances, public schools can’t be simply tweaked and expected to function. They need to be rebuilt to today’s student and teacher needs." This quotation is so ridiculous that it's laughable. This quotation assumes that public education hasn’t changed since the time it came into being. That children still learn to write in cursive first before they learn to print. That children eat lunch at home instead of at school. That schooling still takes place in a one-room school house. No, public education, like other institutions has evolved and changed over time just as cars have evolved over time. If one looks at a Model A, today's cars still have many of the same features: - 4 wheels - windows - lights - bumpers - a steering wheel - seats There are other common features that I didn't name, but I mentioned some obvious ones in order to point out how fallacious this comparison of public education to a Model A is. Many parts of cars are the same as they were 85 years ago and the same is true with schools. But many aspects of education and of cars have changed. This is another example of how the Broad Foundation is trying to "manufacture" an education crisis. EGS
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on May 18, 2013 1:39 pm

Hite makes nice with people who think we live in a cesspool

How do you extract funding from Harrisburg with its Republican dominated legislature and Governor?   One way would be to try to build alliances with rural areas, inner ring suburbs and small cities where schools have been devastated by the cuts to education funding enacted by the Corbett regime.   As polls indicate,  most Pennsylvanians are opposed to Corbett.   There is potential for a strategy that seeks to unite the victims of these cuts around a program that aims to fund human services by closing loopholes on taxing corporations, halts prison construction and restores a progressive formula for allocating education dollars to local Districts.   This strategy would be consistent with the interests and values of most Philadelphians.

 

Instead the SRC, the Mayor and Dr. Hite seek to cozy up to the people who regard Philadelphia as a cesspool and would love nothing better than to rid our state of unions.    Hite last week touted his own union busting program that seeks to eliminate seniority along with much of the rest of the union contract, hoping this would get him good face time with Republican legislators. 

 

Hite was quoted in the Inquirer as saying legislators are unlikely to support a system where "individuals get another increase just because they're remaining on the job another year."   The practice of step increases for additional experience is, this suggests, limited to the great cesspool Philadelphia.    But, in fact, this is practically universal in Pennsylvania School Districts.   In Prince George County, MD, where Dr. Hite was previously in charge, the teacher contract actually has 20 steps, almost twice as many as Philadelphia.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 18, 2013 2:52 pm
Thanks, Ron. I've written more times than I can remember that an alliance between urban, rural and inner ring suburbs is both strategical and necessary. Cyber and brick and mortar charters are draining money from many schools districts. School Districts like Allentown, Harrisburg, York and Erie are cutting to the bone. The schools of the "haves" in affluent suburbs versus the rest of the state are stark, inequitable and unjust. Other states have address the inequity. Why doesn't the SRC/Hite/Khin/Phila. School Partnership organize for more equitable funding instead of trashing on Philadelphia? The Partnership leads the way in trashing on Philly schools - its (whoever they are) goal is to dismantle the School District and be the privatization "model" for the U.S. The SRC is letting it make decisions. Now, Hite is calling us a cesspool in an article that trashes teachers for "step increases" that don't even happen after 10 years teaching. Guess Hite didn't teach long enough to realize that the only ones getting big increases are administrators and their staff in district offices.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 18, 2013 3:08 pm
Ron, Thank you for cogently expressing this alternate strategy! The approach of building alliances across the state is one that seeks to "build up" people instead of "tearing them down." Unfortunately, while most Philadelphians agree with this approach, those in power want the "tear down" approach. But what can we expect, since as Philadelphians, we can't even elect our own school board? Dr. Hite is also wrong that "individuals get another increase just because they're remaining on the job another year." This may have been true in the past, but starting next school year, 50% of evaluations of teachers will be based on test scores/value-added measures. So Dr. Hite's own argument doesn't hold water because his facts aren't correct. And as you point out, seniority is universal throughout the state and in most public school districts in the country. Instead of fighting for the students and employees of his District, Dr. Hite is giving into those who care nothing about Philadelphia, and would love to see it crash and burn, and its large population of voters to go with it. It's up to Philadelphians to fight for our School District! EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2013 10:20 am
Next year teacher evaluations will be 85% observation using the Danielson Framework and 15% SPP. The PVAAS attachment to specific teachers won't start for three years. Next year will be the first year of tracking that data. It requires three years for correlation.
Submitted by Tymir (not verified) on May 20, 2013 7:34 pm
This means that Hite and the SRC will decide it requires only three months.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 18, 2013 2:12 pm
Here in Florida, Pearson has screwed up over and over and over when it came to FCAT scoring. Their textbooks for history are good only for use in the bathroom, and they are a bunch of crooks.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 19, 2013 11:15 am
Philly, keep on rising up! Keep on pushing. Don't give up. It is too awful to imagine and we in NYC feel for you as we fight too. I am so sorry that Annenburg Ed School (as well as Teacher's College here in NYC) seems hellbent on promoting these policies that are hurting classrooms AND CHILDREN! EVERYONE'S future.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2013 11:32 pm
MARK MY WORDS, THE PFT SHOWS ABSOLUTELY NO LEADERSHIP AND ALL ABOUT INACTION. NAMELY, JORDAN, AS WELL AS MOST OF THE PFT EXECUTIVE BOARD OFFICIALS AND REPRESENTATIVES ARE AWFUL, DISCOURTEOUS,UNCARING,ACT SPINLESS,IMCOMPTENENT,BEEN THERE WAY TOO LONG, HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS LIKE TEACHING IN PHILA SCHOOLS NOWADAYS (HAVEN'T BEEN IN A CLASSROOM FOR MANY YRS.), INABILITY TO RESOLVE ISSUES, PREFERABLY BEFORE A HEARING OT ARBITRATION, REFUSE TO PURSUE MOST GRIEVANCES OR CORRECT MANY, MANY ISSUES PENDING AND CONTINUED THAT TACTIC OF INACTION FOR SUCH A LONG TIME OR AT LEAST SINCE JORDAN WAS PRESIDENT. THAT IS WHY THERE ARE SO MANY ISSUES, CONCERNS BETWEEN THE DISTRICT AND PFT.THE PFT SITS AND SAT THERE AND LET THE CONCERNS FLOURISH AND FESTER. OVERALL, THE PFT HAS NO ACCOUNTABILITY OR INTEREST IN MEMBERS. THE AFT NATIONAL, AND AFTPA IS JUST AS BAD. NO ONE WANTS TO DO ANYTHING AT ANY LEVEL, BUT PASS THE BUCK. NO WONDER THE MEMBERSHIP IS SO APATHETIC TOWARDS THE PFT AND AFT LEADERSHIP. THEY ALL NEED TO RESIGN AND GET SOME NEW LEADERSHIP THAT HAS SOME COURAGE, SOME SPUNK AND ACTUALLY WORK FOR MEMBERS.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2013 12:12 pm
Maybe you can run for a leadership position.

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