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Parents angered, frustrated over new school report card

By the Notebook on Jul 30, 2013 11:24 AM

by Paul Jablow

The folded-paper signs sprouted on tables across the meeting room, and the messages were anything but subtle:

"Resources for classrooms before report cards." "Report cards are a distraction from real efforts to improve." "Data can be shaped to any political purpose." "Support schools, don't shame them." "Evaluating climate minus counselors and aides? Crazy." "Invest in teachers, not tallies."

About 75 people came Monday night to the first of six District meetings seeking public input on a new school report card to replace both the School Performance Index (SPI) and the school annual reports. The District has used these performance measures in decisions such as which schools to close and which to convert into charters. 

But the sentiment in the meeting room at District headquarters was overwhelming: Please. Just forget about it.

The District suspended the SPI last year, three years after its development, due to concerns that it was overly complicated and based on bad data.

A preliminary design for the new report card is due in late August from Tembo Consulting, whose founder and CEO, David Stewart, struggled to explain the process over a chorus of cross-examination and catcalls.

"You don't need to be condescending in your comments," Stewart told Alison McDowell, parent of a child at Masterman High School.

"We are being condescended to constantly," replied Rebecca Poyourow, who has two children in Cook-Wissahickon Elementary.

Stewart said that no District funds will be used for the report card. The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation of Austin, Texas, is footing the bill. But this appeared to make the parents even angrier.

"We're using consultants to grade schools instead of spending more time fixing them," said school activist Helen Gym.

Several saw the report card as little more than a thinly veiled effort to use consultants to justify closing more schools or turning them over to charter operators. 

"They rely on our schools closing," one man shouted angrily from the back.

Other parents expressed concern about report card data being manipulated for political ends. One noted a recent story about the Indiana education secretary ordering the overhaul of the state's report card to raise the grade of a charter school operated by a major Republican campaign contributor.

Some parents said that with resources cut to the bone in the coming school year, many schools were almost destined to flunk on any new report card. Poyourow said that if schools are stripped of noontime aides, violent incidents would be more likely to occur and that this could be used against schools in any new evaluation.

"You need to provide adequate resources before you start measuring outcomes," said McDowell.  "We're producing evaluations of schools that are struggling to open."

"People are pushing back against report cards ... schools are communities," she said. "You can't force them into an algorithm."

This isn't the idea, Stewart said: "We don't want to use a score or a number. That's much too simplistic."

He said that a new report card might, for example, include data on students who leave a charter school in midyear to return to the District. Some public school advocates have said charter schools try to shed students who might score poorly on statewide standardized tests.

Sabrina Yusuf, who is coordinating the report card effort in the District's Office of Strategic Analytics, said, "We want fair, goal-oriented improvement plans, not A-F report cards. ... What we're trying to do is fill the gaps in what [data] is available and help you make better choices."

But several in the audience said that they already had sufficient information available.

Some parents also expressed concern that funding charter schools based on the previous year's District budget would skew the results if the report card is rolled out this year: They would have, in effect, a one-year grace period before the severe cutbacks hit them.

McDowell suggested that the District "use the charters as a guinea pig" to phase in any new report card.

Asked whether the School Reform Commission would decide on whether to adopt the report card, the District's chief of family and community engagement, Evelyn Sample-Oates, said that they would be briefed on it but that the decision would be made administratively.

She said the District would increase its efforts to publicize the remaining five meetings

Toward the end of the two-hour meeting, Tembo officials passed out a questionnaire requesting suggestions about what should be included in any new report card and asked audience members to take a few minutes to fill it out. It appeared that no one did.

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Comments (76)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 12:45 pm
It would have been good to have some larger context to this article. For example, what does NCLB (as currently written) require states and districts/LEAs to do with regard to ranking schools? NCLB requires states and districts/LEAs to "turnaround" their lowest performing schools, but how much is said about how they are to be chosen? It is probably the case that the community needs to make the case locally as well as nationally.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 30, 2013 2:09 pm
They already have a SPI (school performance index) in place for all schools. I understand that system has many flaws, but there seemed to be no interest in identifying them and fixing them. Instead they are starting from scratch, doing a cheap, rush job. Also the state is in the process of developing it's own report card, so the redundancy and confusion continues. Public confidence in the report card system is falling nationally--see the recent controversy that broke in Indiana just yesterday. Florida and Oklahoma have report card systems that are falling apart. Even after several meetings with principals, no one has settled on a good way to do these measurements because schools are not algorithms--despite the insistent of the business community. Interesting that the client for this project is not actually the school district.The funding for this report card is coming from ed-reform venture-philanthropy Dell Foundation who gave the money to the Philadelphia School Partnership last month--to the tune of $4.5 million. $4.3 million to fund the first year of school expansions Dworetsky was concerned about in last week's SRC meeting (hence the "emergency July meeting," plus $200,000 for tools like the report cards and a "Universal Application System." That topic was only briefly touched upon, but I sense it's going to be a doozy, too. I understand PSP had someone in the room last night, but they never stepped up to identify themselves or explain their motivations to "help" us. There is no need for this new tool. SPI isn't great, but hey neither is the "tool" their $82,000 is going to buy. Plus PSP and their adjunct the Great Schools Compact are top heavy with folks that would love to see more neighborhood schools handed over to outside operators. And they are even less accountable to parents than the SRC! The report card contract has four deliverables due by December--so you can tell how much care they are putting into this piece. If they were really concerned about parents, kids, and teachers, don't you think they could have done better on community outreach. They planned six meetings (only one of which was scheduled after work hours) over the summer, with a short email and note on the district website--not even a robocall (they can't afford it right now) or outreach to School Councils, Home and School Associations, or any students or teachers. It's shameful. I hope the Notebook will do some further investigation into PSP, Dell, Great Schools Compact, and Dell's spin off Ed-Fi that supports the Gates funded student data juggernaut inBloom--also imploding as we speak. This little "report card" is really just the tip of the iceberg. Parents who care about quality education, please come to one of the follow up meetings (if you can spare time away from work) and speak your piece. The best thing you can do is ask questions and follow the money.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on July 30, 2013 3:45 pm
thank you for your involvement as a parent. unfortunately no one in the district has bothered to listen to teachers' opinions for years. we have too much of a vested interest i suppose. when enough parents start pushing back though, they'll begin to worry and take notice.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 2:32 pm
close all the public schools and no report will be needed..
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 3:26 pm
28% of the way there...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 10:56 pm
Because the charters are doing such a sterling job?
Submitted by Ken Derstine on July 30, 2013 2:48 pm
For those of us who attended the school closing community meetings, these "school report card" conferences are deja vu. At the school closing community meetings, Superintendent Hite and school district officials followed the script of the Broad School Closings Handbook and gave the appearance of listening to the community while actually gathering information for defeating community opposition to the closings. People should attend these school report card meetings to see the attempted corporate takeover of public education in action. They want to do many more school closings over the next year.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on July 30, 2013 2:04 pm
How else are the charter schools going to compare themselves with schools that cannot get rid if children who are troublesome. Without this Apple to oranges system designed by stragetacilly placed 440 administrators paid by the taxpayers (how Wall Street Loves that) on the take to the Charter operators they would loose their l Without this unfair comparison system, Charter schools would look about the same as the the Publics and that would be bad for profits because people might ask where all the money not spent on good teacher salaries are going. That would reduce Hites marketability when he moves to the next city and destroys its public schools for the profit of his charter overlords. These parents should mind their own damn business Hite is entitled to some of the bonanza Wall Street is reaping from privatization!!! Do not be a Haters!!
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 30, 2013 3:52 pm
The other element that relates to the rush to implement this tool during the next school year is that the cuts that have crippled neighborhood schools will not truly hit the charters until next year. They are hoping to use this apples to oranges comparison to the charter's advantage, figuring most people won't realize the comparison is flawed an inaccurate. If they go through with this I fear we can expect another round of closures and turnovers to outside operators next summer.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on July 30, 2013 5:46 pm
Alison---There's NO reason to do anymore research or investigation into this ongoing abuse and corruption. That ship has sailed. What's needed now is for the people to refuse to go along with this nonsense anymore and so far, it ain't happening. The agenda, if anything, is picking up speed and they'll close MANY more schools next year.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on July 30, 2013 9:56 pm
To say we need no investigation or research into the abuse and corruption is to say we should allow the corporate ed reform forces to operate in the dark. If people do not understand what they these corporate ed reform is doing and what their agenda is then they cannot fight against what they are doing. Alison is doing a great job in ferreting out what the school report card foolishness is all about and she should be encouraged.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on July 31, 2013 8:21 am
I didn't say that. I said no more is needed. We know the deally deal so that ship has sailed. WE NEED TO ACT is my point. How many more instances of abuse do we need to see to convince all thinking people what the agenda is? Alison IS to be commended and 10 more people will list other examples of abuse today on this site and 10 others tomorrow and so on. WE GET IT and NOW we need to stop it by any means necessary. I understand your point too but "Paralysis through too much Analysis" sets in if we're not careful. Lincoln accused McClellan of having "The Slows" and replaced him with Grant. We need to fight back now.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 7:00 pm
Well said Poogie.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 4:33 pm
The government worker bureaucrats can't even figure out how to make a report card. What a joke. God help us just privatize all the schools as quickly as possible.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on July 30, 2013 6:37 pm
Agree. This is a prime example of why people have lost faith in the public school system and want to hand it over to privateers. How many people work at 440? Yet, they bring in consultants to due the work and they get paid 7 figures. I Googled "school report card examples" and found a plethora of examples. Take your pick. Here is one from the State of Wisconsin.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 2, 2013 3:52 pm
The so-called "repoort cards" are being developed by highly paid private consultants, not "government worker bureaucrats."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 5:29 pm
Thank you parents. Unfortunately for our children and our city, it looks to me like the district has already been sold.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 7:49 pm
The question is not if it will happen but when... I never thought I'd see the day when Philly handed over the city to big business. I thought we always had a chance to turn it around but there was never any momentum. So sad.... I thought parents would have had more outrage but so many don't even realize what's going on. The charters are sold as a shiny new package and e drone is just buying the wrapping. Is New York next? Chicago is going. When they run out of urban areas to suck dry and fill their coffers who is next on the list?? When is enough going to be enough?!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 7:25 pm
Enough should not BE down the line, I see nothing wrong with what ppl are objecting to about more data. The minute people stop speaking up and out that's when we're doomed. Look at his article, most of my progressive freinds won't respond, they clam up.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 9:29 pm
How about an SRC Performance Index for the last 10 years!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2013 9:22 pm
I would rate them an "F," or a "10" (the lowest), or DISGRACE.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 30, 2013 9:03 pm
This is not about more data. It is about using data for political purposes. They are not using the data to improve the educational environment for our children. They are using it to close down neighborhood schools. Do you honestly think that judging our children during a dire funding crisis would yield accurate data? How do you deprive our students and teachers of all but the most meager resources and then expect them to improve at rates equal to charter schools that are not experiencing these cuts. You are a callous person my friend.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on July 31, 2013 8:57 am
Alison--You're making MY POINTS. The abuse is astounding. They don't care about the kids. They don't care about Justice. They DON"T expect the kids to achieve. They don't care about the inequity of comparisons. They don't care about the Teachers. So, what do we do with that information?? I say, fight back by any means necessary not uncover more instances of abuse. To what end?
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 31, 2013 8:44 am
Ms. McDowell what is closing neighborhood schools is simply families not choosing them. If a school is nearly full, there is no justification for closing it. I do admire your dedication to this cause, but (to spare some undue sacrifice on your part) here's the scenario: 1. You give up your time to fight this report card. The result is whether they use it or not, test scores will be used to rate schools. 2. You do nothing (and spend more time with your own family). The result is whether they use it or not, test scores will be used to rate schools. I know this is not a popular opinion, but what if (just what if) there is no conspiracy? If so, you are alienating many who could help. The SPI's did try to add factors other than test scores, so in that case, it was a move for the better. It was not the leading factor in deciding whether to close a school or not; enrollment and projected maintenance costs of school facilities were.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on July 31, 2013 9:02 am
Ms. Cheng & Ms. McDowell - We can all agree that report cards are vital to provide data to parents about a school. I live in a school district with 5 primary schools. Of course, there are good and bad schools and that includes charter schools. School districts are image conscious and are media savvy. They don't like to air the dirty laundry of a bad school(s). I don't buy into a conspiracy theory here. I do buy into Ms. Cheng's point that it will boil down to test scores. If I was you, I would direct my energies elsewhere.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on July 31, 2013 9:24 am
If you have documentation and verification that coordination is going on in corporate education reform it is not a figment of your imagination. Some parents have moved their children to charters because Philadelphia schools have been starved of resources since the state takeover over ten years ago. The state failed to turn over the School District to Edison Schools, as was the original plan, soon after the state takeover and the privatizers learned the lessons of that privatization failure and have been working ever since to get around community opposition to privatization.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:18 am
Ken - You can go back in time 10 years ago. SDP was facing a huge budget deficit that led the state to take over the school district. Take a good look at Chicago Public Schools and the Detroit Public Schools. DPS was in the same situation as SDP. The state of Michigan had to take over DPS and has been running the district for years. Detroit doesn't have the issues with charters to the extent of SDP. The city of Detroit just filed chapter 9. Why is privatization such a bad thing? Because somebody actually runs a charter school efficiently to make money. The gall of it. Have you (or anybody else here) ever thought that privatization has allowed money to flow to SDP, which has saved SDP? Don't believe me, if the state had not acted, SDP would have been the next CPS, DPS, etc. You'd be in worse shape now, just like you were 10 years ago.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on July 31, 2013 10:25 am
Under the SRC's mismanagement we now have a deficit of over $1 billion over the next five years. This has never been about mismanagement in any urban district (though there certainly is plenty of that) but about opening up the $600 billion in national education spending, which is taxpayer funded, to corporate profit. As to the conditions in Philadelphia public schools, you could take the staff of a school in Philadelphia and exchange them with the staff of a school in Lower Merion or some other wealthy school district, and the results would be basically the same in both districts. There is nothing magical about the staff in Lower Merion, it is the social conditions. Of course with the Philadelphia school staff you would have a staff that has willingly accepted lower pay and awful working conditions and at least started off with a belief that teaching in Philadelphia is more than a job, it is a calling. As to the charters being run "more efficiently" this is corporate ed disinformation. ( ) Their students are picked more selectively. What we are doing is going back to separate and unequal (this time based on family income), an education system where a select group gets better resourced and funded schools while all other children are left behind to be warehoused in underfunded schools preparing their students for low paying jobs, unemployment, or for the prisons Corbett is building.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:46 am
Mr. Derstine, from my experience as a parent talking to other parents and some students, parents haven't been basing their choices simply on available resources. They don't mention the issue of supplies for example; instead it is things such as the responsiveness of the administration, or the sense of order. I spoke with one student who said things were a lot better in his school when a charter operator took over. In another instance the parent expressed her preference for that charter's curriculum for her daughter. Some of these selected charters don't even have their own instrumental music programs (I volunteer at an organization that provides lessons to those who might not be able to afford them). Even if there were a bona fide conspiracy, the best way to fight it would be to care a little more about/respond better, to the parents. There are some things that can be done without more resources. True, there are difficult parents, but there is a lot of disrespect given to parents as a whole. I was not a difficult parent, but apparently I "crossed the line" when I tried to find school stats in order to help the school. The hostility and disregard I was shown was pretty discouraging.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 9:19 am
We have data. Maybe it's not the best data, but I don't need someone telling me I need a new "tool" to make school decisions for my child. The folks who came out Monday are doing just fine without this new and improved "tool." You can use numbers in any configuration to create the perception of failure. What is actually failing is our leadership. The folks in positions of power who just keep our kids in the classroom as a means to make money off them through testing, et al are the ones that are failing. But they are the few who aren't being held accountable. Do you really think it fair to take everything away from a school and then judge it. Inputs count. I take it your child is not in a Philadelphia public school. In a month our schools will open with NO couselors, NO aides, No librarians, No Assistant Principals, one Secretary (only through January), Art, Music and Sports funded at minimals levels and only through January, no money for books, etc. What would you say to my child. Now is a great time to grade you? Really is that what you would say, or would you have the humanity to reach out and try to help their dire situation first? Resources count. Invest in classrooms not consultants. Let parents and educators take a turn. Outside interests like the Philadelphia Schools Partnerships and the Great Schools Compact are doing our children no favors.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on July 31, 2013 3:49 pm
Alison - Would YOU put your child in a school with NO counselors, NO aides, No librarians, No Assistant Principals, one Secretary (only through January), Art, Music and Sports funded at minimals levels and only through January, no money for books, etc.? You have to answer that question yourself. I'm not faced with that situation. If I was, I would not cut off my nose in spite of my face. I would say no. Right now, I would not be arguing with SDP over school report cards. I would be looking at all options including charter, private or parochial schools. Your only regress would be with the court system. I wish you the best.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on July 31, 2013 3:50 pm
Most people have no choice. One of the goals of the privateers - including the Phila. School "Partnership" and the SRC/Hite/Khin - is to dismantle District schools. They will pick and choose schools that follow their mantra (I'm being polite) and encourage as many students as possible to fill charters. In general, charters are doing no better than other schools - especially high schools. Hite, like Vallas, is expanding magnets apparently because he assumes there is nothing worth while happening in neighborhood schools. Charters, private, parochial and magnet schools will NOT accept all students. All students deserve a quality free, public education - running won't make that happen. You may save your child but unless you live on an island, you have to live with, interact with and depend on others.
Submitted by J.J. McHabe (not verified) on July 31, 2013 4:03 pm
Allison, You said ." In a month our schools will open with NO couselors, NO aides, No librarians, No Assistant Principals, one Secretary (only through January)". How do you know this? Do you have inside information? Both Hite and Jordan have said publicly that they can't open schools without counselors and aids. Jordan said it would be "immoral". Who is your inside source?
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on August 4, 2013 11:38 am
Not sure if this is being reported widely, but as you can see the whole legitimacy of grading schools is brought into question by actions like Bennett's.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 9:28 am
No, we are not choosing to leave our neighborhood schools. Leaders elected and not are choosing to starve our schools of the basic resources they need to operate and then subjecting them to pseudo-scientific algorithms that can be tweaked in various ways to prove they are failing. Were you in the room that night? If not, let me tell you that parents there love their neighborhood schools and decry the strategies outside forces like the Philadelphia School Partnership and Great Schools Compact are applying in conjunction with venture philanthropists like the Dell Foundation to disembowel our public schools. I am willing to sacrifice here. This is too important not to. The time is now and if we don't speak up, PUBLIC education in Philadelphia as I knew it when my child entered the district seven years ago will vanish. You know what? This scares people. The very people who sit in the room and pull strings and sign up for grants that parents don't want are getting nervous. Maybe they were counting on parents not caring. Or counting on them not showing up for contrived community meetings over summer breaks. Or counting on them not being able to take off work (5 of 6 meetings were during work hours). Or counting on them not being able to find out about the meetings because....drum roll... the School District pulled a banner about the report card meetings off their home page. Take a look. Last night someone pulled all of the information about the meetings off the district website--even though five remain. Anyone with a computer and a bit of anger over the injustice that is being perpetrated in an organized and systematic way against our children and their teachers can easily see that parents nationwide are organizing. They are pushing back against forced privatization. They are pushing back against so called reforms that don't put resources in classrooms. They are pushing back against high stakes testing. They are pushing back against ill constructed accountability standards. The hedge fund managers and private charter operators may be in denial, but we are definitely pushing back. This is just the beginning.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:55 am
Sorry, but I have to ask: Is your child in a neighborhood school, and if not, why?
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:25 am
Yes, my child attended a neighborhood public school K-5, where I was active in the Home and School Association and School Council, and is now in a magnet middle school.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:12 am
Then you understand that parents have good reasons to choose schools based on their children's needs. I doubt you chose the magnet school because the other choices were "starved" for resources.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 11:46 am
All of our schools this fall will be starved for resources. This is an equal-opportunity condition. Of course it won't hit the charters till next year. So it really makes sense to create a report card that compares starving schools to charters for next year.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on July 31, 2013 10:47 am
No parent should be judged for where they place their child in school. Children grow up fast. They are not aware of the political wars raging about their future. If a parent decides to put their child in a charter because of conditions in their neighborhood public school which have been created by starving the public schools for the last ten years, they are only looking out for their child's interests. One of the ways that corporate ed reform is bringing about privatization is the classic divide and conquer tactic that ruling elites have always used. Setting up charters divided the community and gets people fighting each other for resources rather than the politicians who are underfunding education. If you look at a charter as one tree it may be healthy. But if you look at the School District as the forest, if that forest is hit by a forest fire, all the schools, including the healthy ones, are being caught up in the conflagration.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2013 8:25 pm
Funding per pupil has more than doubled since 2001. Inflation is up 30%. Sorry if the schools are starved its because the district's employees ate all the food.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 4, 2013 2:19 pm
And just what "district employees" are you referring to in your post? Teachers or administrators? The Philly teachers have forgone raises for several years since 2001 even though they are among the lowest paid public school teachers in the state. Meanwhile we see carpetbaggers and their politically appointed handmaidens come and go with no penalties for their actions. Ackerman getting nearly a million to leave was a textbook example of how public school corruption works here in Philly. If you're gonna post a claim then assign it to the proper culprits.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2013 9:57 am
"It was not the leading factor in deciding whether to close a school or not; enrollment and projected maintenance costs of the school facilities were." Right now Camelot wants to bring roughly the same number of students to shuttered Germantown High School- to the same building which has maintenance needs- in September. I find it ironic that on this site devoted to education persons exercising critical thinking and a willingness to dig a bit deeper to understand for profit interest in a public entity-earn the moniker "conspiracy theorists". I consider this a not so subtle attempt to suppress the voice of dissenters. Ms. Cheng, don't worry about Alison McDowell. I've known and respected her for years. She is well able to decide how to spend her time. We "conspiracy theorists" are delighted to have her on board.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:52 am
No, you have the right to express dissent. I also have the right to express skepticism. If there are only so many people with "big money", chances are they probably know each other. Regardless of a corporate takeover attempt or not, there is action that can be taken to bring students back to traditional District schools. For starters, you can fix the relationships with parents. Why does respect have to cost money? Next you can actually take the time to build relationships with community organizations. This is the groundwork required to build community schools. FYI, I am against Camelot locating to GHS, but they are offering to pay rent, which is much needed income the District would not otherwise have. Would this rent be enough to offset the additional maintenance cost? This should be disclosed to the public. Hopefully "someone" is actively looking for a better alternative.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:26 am
In my seven years as a parent of a child in the school district I have found that district leadership and really most eleted officials do not respect parents. My child's teachers, yes; but leadership no. I am appalled that last night the district removed all information about upcoming report card meetings from it's website. Front page banner--gone, poof!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2013 12:22 pm
apparently, the District has heard enough logic, common sense and fiscal responsibility from the community and cancelled the remaining meetings.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on July 31, 2013 3:11 pm
Alison - You are not alone. I've been to my fair share of school board meetings. I find the SRC and SDP are like any other school district administrators and or school boards. They can do what they want, when they want, including revising board agendas and will go against what every parents says to the contrary. They have voting blocs and they are very political.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on August 4, 2013 11:43 am
No conspiracy....don't waste my does that advice look to you this week after SDP cancels all open-ended public input in favor of hand-picked focus group members and Bennett's actions totally discredit school report cards nationally? Actually I think it was a totally worthwhile investment of time.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on August 4, 2013 3:54 pm
It was an opportunity to voice a valid opinion, but as you and Ms. Poyourow point out, very few parents (probably none) based their decisions on which school to send their child to, based on a school report card, currently the SPI, School Performance Index. Ultimately it is the parents' decisions on where to send their children to school that is responsible for closing neighborhood schools, not any numerical rating. The overwhelming anger shown by those who went to the first meeting, though understandable, really served no good end. If there is a conspiracy, then all it needs to continue is to keep rating schools based on test scores. No new report card is needed. If there is no conspiracy, then the prejudgment and anger cut off any chance (there's always a chance) for meaningful dialogue as shown by the cancelling of the other scheduled forums. An opportunity to move forward by suggesting accounting for important factors was lost. Why isn't there some way to rate the principal for example? How much community involvement there is in a school? How about teacher experience; wouldn't it be good to see the average years of experience, and the teacher turnover rate? I agree that a report card is not what is needed right now; however parents need to have access to more information such as a school's School Improvement Plan. Parents need also to have access to curriculum methodology. None of this would be to judge a school, but to help parents find the best fit for their child. Yes, $80k is not enough to develop anything of significance anyway. All in all, whether it was sincere or not, it will likely not change much, but the public "tarring and feathering" did nothing but alienate those that might actually be able to make constructive change. The universal application to schools is much needed right now. This would give those of us who believe that District schools are in greater demand than charter schools, data to support our opinion. It would also show that some of those waitlists for charters are not actually as great as they would appear. This is of vital importance to stem the financial bleeding from a flawed charter funding formula. The concern should be the possible corruption of the data. What safeguards would be in place for that? Telling the developers that they are hated corporate reformers - well how does that help? So long as there is no universal application data, the charters can't be denied debilitating expansion because they have their uncontested waitlists. So by blocking or hindering this, you are helping charters/corporate privatization.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on August 4, 2013 3:57 pm
Can you clarify? Who's pre-judgement/anger? Do you think it was OK that the district cancelled all meetings? Closing off open-ended dialogue shows they were only looking for a rubber stamp. We didn't offer, so they slammed the door. "If there is no conspiracy, then the prejudgment and anger cut off any chance (there's always a chance) for meaningful dialogue as shown by the cancelling of the other scheduled forums." You seem to want lots of parental involvement around school choice, but it should be becoming more and more obvious with each SDP action that parent involvement is only when it's convenient to SDP interests, not the interests of parents, children, or teachers.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on August 4, 2013 4:26 pm
"Corporate privatization lackeys" is prejudgment and demeaning. Once you've got them labeled, there's no chance for dialogue. Yes, if they were not going to get suggestions about what to include in their "report card", it was absolutely o.k. for them to cancel further meetings which were set up to get suggestions about what to include in their itsy bitsy $80k project. Was the voiced opinion going to change had there been subsequent meetings? I doubt it, because the opinion was pre-made. What did you want them to say, "Oh yes you're absolutely right, we will cancel this project right away. We'll just use what we have right now. No need for further meetings."? I understand the frustration with the District. I went to a FMP community meeting way back. Nevertheless, the District is made of many individuals, and though many are not sincere, some are. If you lump them all together, then you will always arrive at a foregone conclusion. If you don't, even if you arrive at the same conclusion, there was at least a chance that you won't.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on August 4, 2013 5:01 pm
That meeting was not about dialogue--and if it had been truly about hearing us out, the other meetings would not have been cancelled so abruptly. If you had been in the room, it would have been clear that they were lying to us from the beginning. They were caught in lies about outside interests being involved in the project in the first 10 minutes. It's hard to turn the other cheek when the folks standing up front take you for a chump. You don't seem terribly informed about the misuse of school report cards nationally. Very convenient that the Tony Bennett scandal broke on the day of the meeting. I suggest you look it up. At least that way you'll be informed when they take their stacks of report cards and come after more schools (your child's, too perhaps--no one is immune) next May. That itsy bitsy $80,000 project is going to yield a big payoff for the privatization interests. Of that I am sure. Glad you think it's ok to close up and walk away when confronted with a difference of opinion--is that how you run things in your personal/professional life? Always good to stop the conversation before it can get really interesting? One of the parents who showed up at the locked door where Wednesday's meeting was supposed to be had about a dozen follow up questions. But I guess those answers aren't really important to you. Better to just let them go about doing what they were going to do anyway.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on August 4, 2013 5:18 pm
Again, what were you hoping they would say/do? Who asked about the outside interests? I would hope that the discussion was about the project itself first. How much did participants say about it, or was the conversation solely about the outside interests? If you wanted to make sure that this project would not be used to unjustly close schools, then you would have asked about the variables they were thinking of using, and how they planned to measure them. From reports of the meeting, it sounds like the public filled it with accusations about the outside interests rather than questions about the project itself. Repeat, here in Philly, schools are closed because they are more than half empty. A few charters are being denied renewal of their charters because of questionable academic achievement, but I have not seen District schools that were at capacity targeted for closure because of the SPI. If anything, having something more meaningful than test scores, which are used to measure AYP, will help the District schools more than hurt them. Can we rate the principal, the years of experience of the staff? These ratings shouldn't depend on the resourcing of the school itself. The safety rating that is currently used for the SPI would definitely be affected by the understaffing at a school, very true; however, the feedback asked for was about new variables, not the current ones. When was the discussion about the report itself, and not its suspected uses?
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on August 4, 2013 6:19 pm
I guess we will never know, because guess what--the rest of the meetings were CANCELLED. End of story, no chance for further comment or discussion. Hite's folks took their toys and went HOME because we didn't play by their rules. I'm surprised you didn't advocate for more meetings so you could get a chance to share your really well developed opinion--oh, but maybe are on the focus group list. Mmmm, now that would make sense. Also, maybe you should have attended the emergency July SRC meeting when Mastery and Universal were both given new schools to operate, despite serious unresolved management issues (special ed with Mastery, and rent/facilities arrangements with Universal). There is no accountability with charters. Universal had a kindergarden class unbeknownst to anyone at the district at Vare for an entire school year--that was not authorized. Rather than holding off on giving them a new school until it was looked into further (this issue just arouse 10 days prior), the SRC just gave them a pass. There are standards that community schools are held to (extreme) and standards that charters are held to (non-existent). Have your read the April audit by PCCY-Ed Law Center? Many charters are putting in barriers to access to inflate their scores. Many charters are gaming the system and our leaders are letting them. Take some time to look into it Ms. Cheng. The information is all there.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on August 4, 2013 6:18 pm
Oh but I do understand the fraud that can happen with charters. The City Controller put out a very good study on just a few. Then those of us who have dug into our own neighborhood school's documents have to weigh the fact that charters can be caught, but the District can never be caught for the fraud of "bodies in suits" or padded or unnecessary, or no bid contracts. There is crime in using the bulk of your Title I grant money for an Instructional Reform Facilitator (that does administrative assistant work) when you could be actually enriching your poor children, but it will never prosecutable as the financial fraud that charters might do can be. I am not on the focus group list sorry to say; otherwise I'd bring you in as my buddy:)
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on August 4, 2013 6:05 pm
Truce--let's go to some meetings together. It could be fun.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on August 5, 2013 9:09 am
Very good then, you have a deal. Since money is the overriding issue, I think some time could be well spent pressuring our State reps to get the charter funding formula amended. At least the Republicans support this. If there are private parochial schools that charge about $6k to $7k per student for tuition, and the cost for just instruction for just regular ed in the District is $8.8k per student, then there is something amiss. The difference (multiplied by 55k charter students) alone makes up close to what the District is asking teachers to give up in pay and benefits. The charter funding formula should be amended such that utilization is a factor in what the home district must pay to the charter. If so, then the District would only owe per student to charters what it spends per student for instruction in schools that have 100% utilization, a difference of $2 to $2.8k per student right now for regular ed. The number of charters that exist might be something for our lawmakers to reflect on as well. Were charters meant in fact to replace the traditional public school? The proportion of them here in Philly threaten to bankrupt the entire system. It is probably this factor alone that has created the deep hole out of which the State, and even the City refuse to dig the SDP out of. Battle this battle, that can be fought, and perhaps the other threat will also be fought (against the Gates, Broad foundations) at the same time.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on August 4, 2013 6:09 pm
A final note. I have found, by having tried otherwise, that when one side of the conversation has prejudgments, it is indeed better to walk away. Racism is alive and well in my community, and the longer I stayed "in the conversation" the longer and deeper was my criminalization.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on August 4, 2013 4:45 pm
Alison - I love your compassion for this issue, but you are picking the wrong fight. School boards will hear you, but not necessarily listen to you. The only time they listen to you is with athletics. Go figure. I've found out that parents gather information about schools (and school districts for that matter) by actually visiting the school and talking to the administrators about curriculum and programs. The real interactions is parents talking to other parents in their neighborhood. Lets face it. There are bad schools and no administrator likes or wants to air dirty laundry in public. You can bet that there are parents who will fight tooth and nail to stop closing a bad school when the data supports it. Only a detail oriented parent will want to look at a school report card. Then, there are the test scores. Whether you like it or not, your actions were counter-productive. Like I said above, you need to pick a different fight.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on August 4, 2013 5:32 pm
Yes, your point was made by multiple parents that night. We have the data, we can talk to each other, we don't need this new "report card." At least our actions, and the terribly unprofessional reaction of the school district to them, reveals that they really aren't doing this for parents. They are trying to do it in our name, but we won't go along quietly. Yes, this is just a warm up for the larger battle. I think I probably need more training before taking on the big fight. I hear that Mr. Privatization himself, Gates, has just bought up a huge chunk of securities in GS4, one of the world's largest militarized for-profit prison and security companies. I'm really going to have to gear up for that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:37 am
How about a reort card for Hite and all the other"leaders" who have not done their job and put the district in the situation it is in now. I would love to see performance pay tied to how well they sustain and grow all the currently operating schools. No closing when things get rough.....but actually help them survive and succeed! Doubt there would be to many applicants.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:11 am
I would like to see some way to evaluate the administrators. That is sorely needed.
Submitted by Kim (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:14 am
For the record, there are still plenty of people left in this city who BELIEVE IN PUBLIC EDUCATION and do NOT want to send their children to charter schools. (All that glitters is NOT gold.) It's certainly not a level playing field out there, friends. All we are asking is that public schools be given the resources they need to provide our children with quality education and enrichment. We do NOT need more corporate take-overs of our neighborhood schools. We do NOT need more corruptible measuring sticks that result in EVEN MORE school closures. WE NEED ADEQUATE FUNDING FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION AND WE NEED IT NOW. The elected officials who are playing dangerous games with our children's future will see the impacts of their deeds come Election Day. In the meantime, I suggest that the Dell Foundation consider making a more meaningful charitable contribution to our children's future by restoring the salaries of a few more counselors and music teachers.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:50 am
The function of the Dell Foundation is to make sure their new spin off Ed-fi is put in place. Just look at their urban education grants nationally. They fund projects that will put in place the data tools they make. But hey, I'm sure there's no conflict of interest. Folks, Ed-fi is the platform for the controversial Gates Foundation funded data tool inBloom. Look it up if you're concerned about districts putting our children's confidential academic and health information up into the cloud where it can later be plucked for sale to for profit education companies. Art and music don't fit into their algorithm--so they are expendable.
Submitted by Kim (not verified) on July 31, 2013 10:05 am
For the record, there are still plenty of people left in this city who BELIEVE IN PUBLIC EDUCATION and do NOT want to send their children to charter schools. (All that glitters is NOT gold.) It's certainly not a level playing field out there, friends. All we are asking is that public schools be given the resources they need to provide our children with quality education and enrichment. We do NOT need more corporate take-overs of our neighborhood schools. We do NOT need more corruptible measuring sticks that result in EVEN MORE school closures. WE NEED ADEQUATE FUNDING FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION AND WE NEED IT NOW. The elected officials who are playing dangerous games with our children's future will see the impacts of their deeds come Election Day. In the meantime, I suggest that the Dell Foundation consider making a more meaningful charitable contribution to our children's future by restoring the salaries of a few more counselors and music teachers.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 11:14 am
Breaking news--District cancelled the West Philadelphia meeting at the last minute. Just got off the phone with a Mr. John Holland. No one in the office to talk to me about this. Where are they? They had a meeting scheduled in West Philly. Did they double-book their time? Mentioned the removal of the meeting information from the website was suspicious. Mentioned that the last minute cancellation of the meeting was suspicious. Response---mmmmmm. He couldn't confirm if any notice was given to parents who took off work to attend. Refused to connect me with Mr. Evelyn Sample-Oats the director of the Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement and Faith Base Partnerships. Only offered to take my name and say someone would get back to me. I sense we are having an effect, folks. Keep up the momentum. Said I could email Karen James at, but she is a director of Call Centers or something. Not sure how that would help. But hey, maybe shoot her an email to let her know how the community feels about being shut out of the discussion.
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on July 31, 2013 12:02 pm
Yes. I signed up to go to today's meeting after the rules were changed requiring participants to reserve prior to attending. I arrived at McMichael School along with about 8 other community members to be shown an email indicating the meeting had abruptly been cancelled. We members of the community are waiting for an explanation.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on July 31, 2013 12:52 pm
I would like an honest explanation, too. I took time off from my work to keep myself informed about the goings on. I did not know anything about signing up. I just gotta shake my head. The games that people play are just amazing.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 12:37 pm
A west Philadelphia public parent reports today's meeting at McMichael ES was cancelled at the last minute. Roughly 15 parents arrived, one reporting having taken two buses to attend, to find out there was no meeting. Tembo Consulting (the facilitators of this process) with whom I just spoke their staff did have advance notice that the meeting was cancelled. They did not show up at McMichael. She would not connect me with Mr. Stewart or Mr. Moore who attended Monday's meeting and refused further comment. She wouldn't give me her title or role in the company, though she did wish me to have a wonderful day. Sorry you had to be the one to pick up the phone Francesca. Please folks, let's keep the lines ringing. Maybe we can find out if all the other meetings are cancelled too. Tembo Consulting: 215-427-3608.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 1:43 pm
Evidently we have confirmation by email from Karen James today at 12:30pm that ALL community input groups for the report card process are cancelled. Makes you feel included doesn't it? Especially since this is a tool for parents. Please tweet and share so more parents don't have to take off work for a non-existent meeting. Curious approach to community outreach. Shut it down when you find out we forgot to bring the rubber stamps. Well-played! To Evelyn Sample Oats and Parent at 12:27pm today July 31, 2013 Our apologies, but all of the focus group meetings has been cancelled. Thank you Karen L. James Director, Call Center and Operations The School District of Philadelphia 440 N. Broad Street, Room 114 Philadelphia, PA 19130 Phone: (215) 400-6347 E-mail:
Submitted by Ken Derstine on July 31, 2013 2:24 pm
Besides not wanting to be confronted by parents who are not brainless lemmings ready to be lead over the cliff, could this be another reason the meetings with parents about school report cards have been cancelled? There is a national scandal related to school report card's which is raging on the internet and in various city newspapers. Tony Bennett, former Superintendent of Indiana's Department of Education and current head of Florida's Department of Education (and Graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy), has been found to have changed the school grade of the charter of a political friend (and maybe more charter grades) in Indiana to give the charter some free favorable publicity. Here are some sample articles: Dan Carpenter: Bennett takes care of his A-list | IndyStar Tony Bennett and the Folly Of A-F School Grades | Jersey Jazzman Tony Bennett's Own Staff Contradicts His Denials | Jersey Jazzman Bennett’s Indiana School Grade Changes Never Made Sense to Begin With | Scathing Purple Musings Bush Foundation’s Dangerous All-In Defense of Bennett’s Indiana Grade Changes | Scathing Purple Musings Bennet Engaged in “Pay to Play Tactics” | Scathing Purple Musings Indiana Mayor and Charter School Operator Livid Over Bennett's Grade Change Revelations
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 4:15 pm
And before Indiana, just a few weeks ago, Florida found itself in similarly difficult circumstances: Florida school grades drop sharply Florida releases padded school grades amid outcry over testing State Board Of Education Approves School Grade “Safety Net” Jeb Bush’s A-F school grading scheme: The facts
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on July 31, 2013 4:08 pm
And a more thorough email from the District this afternoon. Does this mean the project is dead? Or they are just taking it behind closed doors? I wonder if community outreach was part of the scope of the grant? If this is a tool for parents, how can they develop it without us? Dear Colleagues: Please be advised that in response to the concerns voiced by some of the Focus Group participants, the remaining Parent and Community Focus Groups to discuss the new School Report Card/ school performance metrics will be cancelled. I apologize to all of you who have shown support for the project. I also apologize to everyone who has changed their schedules and made special arrangements in order to participate. Let me say that I greatly value your commitment to making our schools better and hope that you are able to accept my apologies and will consider participating in other projects in the future. Sincerely, Julia Manokhina Program Manager The School District of Philadelphia, Office of Family & Community Engagement 440 N. Broad Street, Rm. 114 P: 215.400.6610 | F: 215.400.4181
Submitted by Concerned Phila (not verified) on July 31, 2013 5:19 pm
Who is Julia Manokhina? Has she ever been in a classroom other than as a student?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2013 5:49 pm
...the same way they develop educational policy without teacher/educator input
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on August 4, 2013 11:44 am
I just want to remind folks that this isn't the end of this conversation. Countdown to chaos continues. Hite is going forward on the report card, forcing principals to work on it even as our schools begin to implode. I anticipate many more opportunities for lively discussion on this topic. Schools need involved parents. Too bad the district only want parents they can hand pick for their cooperative views.

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