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Philadelphia School Partnership pushes for private management of student placement

By Helen Gym on Oct 24, 2013 02:07 PM

For months, the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) has been working to put in place a new citywide process for placing students in schools. Most troubling is that PSP wants this process to be run by an outside, private entity that is created by PSP and could eventually charge a per-pupil fee from participating systems.

“Universal enrollment,” as it is called, would match students to either a District, charter, or parochial school whenever they decide to transfer, move, or transition to another school level.

The PSP proposal would not only take the current student-placement program out of the District’s hands -- unprecedented in any other city -- it would also include parochial schools and coordinate the selection process with the availability of scholarships, which are now often provided through two controversial, voucher-like business tax subsidy programs in Pennsylvania.

PSP’s audacious plans were unveiled at a briefing before City Council last month. I spoke with several attendees at the briefing, including a member of Parents United for Public Education, and received a copy of PSP's PowerPoint presentation.

PSP, which describes itself as a philanthropic organization interested in the movement of students into "high performing" seats, had aimed to launch a pilot universal enrollment effort this year with parochial schools and some charters. Since the briefing, PSP has now decided to delay the program until next year, when it proposes to assume enrollment responsibilities for all District schools, including special admission schools as well as charter and parochial schools. 

The program raises serious questions about students' privacy rights, church-and-state separation, and public disclosure issues. It also potentially weakens the guarantee of a neighborhood school option and removes from District control a central mission and function – all without any meaningful public disclosure, discussion, or oversight. 

District officials are distancing themselves from PSP’s independent effort. Spokesperson Fernando Gallard told me the District is using its own enrollment process this year.

“There has been no decision made regarding the high school selection process for future years,” Gallard wrote in an email. “The use of a third party and the per pupil fee is a question that should be answered by PSP since we are not part of that effort.”

Lobbying council on universal enrollment

PSP introduced its independent universal enrollment program in a briefing before City Council on Sept. 18. According to attendees, the presentation sparked controversy, leading to a pointed back-and-forth between a number of Council staff and PSP leadership.

The briefing was led by PSP’s executive director Mark Gleason, a one-time publishing entrepreneur and former South Orange-Maplewood, N.J., school board member. Gleason identified PSP’s chief consultant in the project as Ramsey Green, a real estate investor and consultant from New Orleans, where a similar program has been criticized by a number of public education advocates.

Sources told me that Gleason promoted the new process as a way to “outsource the enrollment and placement” of all students in the city’s District, charter, and, in a surprising twist, Catholic schools. In most cities with a universal enrollment plan, the effort has focused on the public sector, presumably to avoid First Amendment conflicts.

At the Council briefing, Gleason announced that the District in August had pulled out of the universal enrollment process for this year, saying officials have "a lot on their plate right now.” As a result, he said, PSP would take on the effort unilaterally by setting up a separate nonprofit called PhillySchoolApp.

PhillySchoolApp will be overseen by a private entity, the Compact Working Group, whose members represent the Great Schools Compact, a body that includes District and charter school leaders, and which PSP also staffs. Gleason said PSP was already interviewing applicants for the executive director position of PhillySchoolApp.

Private philanthropy would cover the effort for the first three years, after which PhillySchoolApp would charge a per-pupil fee for participating schools. When asked about the potential cost by a Council aide, Gleason said it could be in the range of $10 per student, according to several people who were at the briefing.

According to the PowerPoint presentation made at the briefing, PhillySchoolApp would run a “centralized lottery and school matching service” that would assign each student only one option for a school.

Under the current system, students at the high school level are assured a neighborhood school option, can be admitted to as many as five District schools, and can apply to as many charter and private schools as they want. Under PSP’s proposed system, students would be matched to a single school. Students would have a right to refuse that school, but would lose their opportunity in the selective first round, then bump down to a second- and third-match round, where fewer schools are offered.

The PowerPoint said PSP had intended to secure the participation of “50-plus charter and Catholic schools” this year. Students assigned to Catholic schools would be matched "only if it was determined that scholarship assistance would be available." The tax-credit programs, Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) -- often deemed similar to vouchers -- are increasingly the most common means of scholarship assistance.

Attendees at the briefing said at least one staff aide asked a question about potential church-and-state conflicts.

“The question was asked, but it felt like it wasn’t taken seriously,” said one attendee. “They [PSP] just shrugged it off. They said there was no real conflict and started talking about the nature of the process, and how involved they were, and so on.”

Kristen Forbriger, communications manager for PSP, told me last week that, although the effort has been delayed till next year, the Compact Committee has “developed a common application,” which has been made available to District, charter, and Catholic schools. District officials said they are using their own application that is completely separate from an application through the Compact.

“The goal is to introduce the full system [“PhillySchoolApp”] in the future, hopefully by next year,” Forbriger wrote in an email.

One attendee at the briefing said Gleason asked Council members and staff to support the effort by putting their name behind neighborhood meetings to promote PhillySchoolApp. Forbriger explained over email that the purpose of the Council briefing was to “ensure Council members and staff were fully briefed on the program should it have rolled out this year, so they could share information with families.”

Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters PA, said her organization had supported a common enrollment process, which could deal with inequities. For example, some charters have been flagged for complicated application processes that create "barriers to entry" for some students.

But Gobreski expressed surprise at PSP’s newly forged, independent role.

“While we support the implementation of some form of common enrollment for high school students with an eye on equity, I am very concerned about it being run by a private entity,” Gobreski said. “School placement for public education must be the function of a public entity and changes to our current process need to be thoroughly examined in a public manner with an opportunity to raise questions.”

An untested experiment in school choice

Universal enrollment is another untested reform initiative coming from the Gates Foundation, which has a history of funding experimental, and often controversial, ideas in K-12 education (requiring student test scores as a major part of teacher evaluations, for example) and higher education. The most established universal enrollment programs are in New Orleans and Denver. Newark and Washington, D.C., recently announced they intend to introduce universal enrollment in 2014-2015.

Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans parent advocate, shared her concerns with me this week about how the universal enrollment program has rolled out in her hometown. Harper Royal said that, in New Orleans, parents are handed a long list of school names with letter grades, which give little information about the quality of school services. Parents have raised concerns that universal enrollment actually limits choice options by directing families into a single computer-generated selection. Parents no longer have the guaranteed option of their nearby neighborhood school, even if it is a few blocks away and desired.

One mother, who lived on the West Bank of New Orleans, only listed schools on the West Bank, which were all full “according to the computer,” Harper Royal said. That parent was assigned to an “F”-rated school on the far east side of New Orleans slated for closure the following year.

“I’d be concerned that this is just another tool to segregate schools and steer some families to some schools and other families to other schools,” Harper Royal said. “This isn’t an informed choice that families are making.”

In New Orleans, where more than 70 percent of students are in charters, the “OneApp” (as it is dubbed) is a daunting 20-page package requiring two to four written pages per child. Notably, PSP’s PowerPoint presentation before City Council included a sample application form from the New Orleans OneApp. One report said that more than one in five families simply don’t participate in the process.

Tomika Anglin, a leadership member of Parents United for Public Education who attended the City Council briefing, said she was concerned that universal enrollment would “further starve already emaciated neighborhood schools.” 

“This is another way of telling people to get out of the public schools, and then blaming people if they don’t,” she said.

Anglin said she was most alarmed at the role of a private entity formed by PSP controlling the enrollment process. 

“How can parents be assured that this is about my child and not the agenda of PSP?” Anglin asked. “They are creating a process that, once implemented, will render the District and participating schools dependent – and then the bill will come. They have created their own source of profit, and the city’s schoolchildren will be held hostage.”

PhillySchoolApp will have unrestricted access to private student data in order to mine student information to facilitate their placement. A “central database can integrate with every school’s student data system,” one slide of the PSP PowerPoint shows.

Student data systems contain highly sensitive information, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, grades, test scores, race,  students' economic status, special-education status, disciplinary status, and much more. They can also contain information that is appropriate for a school but may not be appropriate for third-party vendors, such as reasons for leaving a school or parental status (custody rights, foster care, etc.). Granting access to such information to a third party outside the School District could violate the confidentiality of such information.

New York City parents, for example, have launched a major battle around privacy rights against a private contractor, which collects student data and has the right to sell that information, recently highlighted in a New York Times article.

Privacy and First Amendment concerns aside, providing meaningful choices to Philadelphia’s families will take more than a clever computer algorithm. Choice advocates make a mistake in presuming that parents have real options when there is a dysfunctional school system that reformers largely refuse to improve.

Harper Royal, in New Orleans, said: “They’re not talking about leveling the playing field. They’re not talking about providing transportation, or dealing with school fees, or addressing quality of services, especially for students with special needs."

“They have hijacked the word choice. This is not choice. It’s the illusion of choice.”

Part 2 coming soon: “Public money, private gain: Philadelphia School Partnership's expanding role in political lobbying”

Helen Gym is a founder of Parents United for Public Education and a Notebook blogger.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author

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Comments (108)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 24, 2013 3:58 pm
Thank you Helen Gym. The corporate raid on our public schools is in full force and effect.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 3:59 pm
You have members?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 3:34 pm
Phila. School Dictatorship - another power and money grab. I will join any other parents in suing before my children's records are given to a private entity - especially an entity determined to destroy public education.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on January 9, 2014 9:49 am
There will be an SRC meeting Monday, 1/13 at 6pm at 440 N. Broad St. on the topic of Universal Enrollment. I hope many people attend. Please share among your networks.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on October 24, 2013 4:14 pm
The handwriting has been on the wall for quite some time. Truth be told, our inner city schools have been failing students for decades with generation after generation to the point that our public education system is now ranked with third world countries. The response has always been more money, more money and more money. School budgets have doubled in the past 10 years with no effect on outcomes. How many more billions will it take, even to make our inner city schools comparable to their suburban counter-parts? Education was simple a long time ago. Today, it's more complex and has become big business. We had OBE and NCLB. We now have Common Core. Throw it up on the wall to see if it sticks. Will we wake up 10 years from now and find out that did or didn't work? SDP was in financial chaos 15 years ago. So much for the benefits of local control. Changes in the funding formula. Nah. It wont work. The future looks bleak. It's time for real change. Time to put the power back in the parents hands. Give them the money and let them make the decisions instead of some politician or bureaucrat in Harrisburg or city hall. R's and D's don't mean anything here. I guess that's why they have their kids in private schools. Do you trust any of them? Take it out of the hands of the reformers like PSP. Sorry folks, what we have now is not working. You know the definition of insanity.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 7:02 pm
Please support your blanket statements with sources.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 1:55 pm
Excuse me, what does that mean give the parents money? To me that suggests vouchers and they've been correctly ruled unconstitutional in several areas of the country already. I'm a taxpayer and a parent, so let's get a funding formula started and get rid of this SRC which as put the District on a downward spiral. You cannnot say "nothinng works," yet expect taxpayers to hand over money to something nebulous.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 4:03 pm
Helen - As always, I appreciate your stories, but please stop embellishing. It doesn't help your case & just makes you look unreliable: 1) Daunting 20 page app: It's mostly a list of schools and FAQs 2) 2-4 pages per child: It's better than the current state, and it's mostly checking boxes. It's harder to buy a phone. 3) Sneaky Algorithm: The presentation and NOLA app is pretty clear - it's random lottery with preference to student choice, sibling enrollment, and geography. 4) No guarantee of neighborhood school: Can you explain this? Isn't this pretty easy to solve for? 5) Church & State: How? If someone can explain how this could possibly be a conflict, a gold star to you. Also, the NOLA anecdote would be far more compelling if you could present some kind of actual data. A single anecdote and a link to an anti-charter blog post aren't really convincing. I can find more evidence that "breathing air is bad for you" than you just found on the terrible NOLA app system.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 5:48 pm
Far too much tax money already is given to parochial/religious schools (e.g. Title 1, busing, etc.) PSP has a clear agenda of propping up parochial / religious schools. This will enable them to further dismantle public education.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 10:32 pm
According to their website, of the $29 million or so psp has given out, 3 million of it has been to private schools with 26 million to public schools. in fact almost 10 million of it has been to the district. But let's not let facts get in the way of a good story... Helen sure doesn't.
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 24, 2013 11:23 pm

Guess you  don't even read PSP's own website do you?

Since 2011, PSP has awarded $29.5 million in 24 grants. Seven of those, totalling $9.4 million, have gone to District-run schools. The rest have gone to Catholic and charter schools.

But let's not let real facts get in the way of a good story. Anonymous armchair commenters surely don't.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 1:01 am
Charters ARE public schools. Insisting that public must mean union staffed schools controlled by the district bureaucracy is your ideology. The inability to distinguish between opinion and fact does not inspire confidence in school advocates.
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 25, 2013 2:24 am

The inability to distinguish between District run schools and charters is the hallmark of the corporate ed reform movement.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 7:38 am
If you resist distinguishing between charter and district schools, should you at least distinguish between stand alone charter schools and Renaissance charter schools (catchment area, etc.)? As their website shows, the majority of charter investments have gone to support the Renaissance initiative.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 25, 2013 8:03 am
I do distinguish the two and believe there are very significant differences between schools operated by "charter operators" and schools operated as stand alone charters. I call the stand alones "true charter schools." If they were "actually operated" as public schools, they could legitimately be argued to be public schools. I support that concept -- I really do. The Renaissance charters are actually "reconstituted schools" which, in actuality, are private entities operating those schools pursuant to a "contractual agreement" with the SRC. I submit, those operating renaissance charters are not friends of the true charter schools.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 25, 2013 7:36 am
Charters, by every legal definition of "public" which are used by federal courts are not public schools at all. No federal forum has ever found a charter school to be a public entity. The test used by federal forums is known as the "Hawkins County test." Under that test, for any school district to qualify as a local educational agency its board of trustees must be "elected by the general electorate" or "appointed by someone who is elected by the general electorate." The minority opinion test is known as the "actual operations test." Under that test a school can be found to be a public school if the school is "actually operated" as a public school. All federal courts have held that it does not matter whether a state says a school is a public school, or even whether their attorney general says they are public schools. It only matters how, in reality, they are governed and operated. Which of our charter schools would pass either of those tests? Charter schools are private entities paid for with public dollars. Children, parents and teachers have less rights in charter schools than they do in public schools. Charter schools, and especially charter operators are part and parcel of the privatization game. The game is to create dominos and then the "monster of privatization" comes along and eats up the little dominos one by one by one. Then we will have Walmart schools, McDonalds schools, McMastery schools and McKIPP schools. Why do you think there are so many hedge fund operators hiding behind the curtains and giving money to candidates who will be shills for the privatizers? My theme for this year is -- It is time for us to be honest about "all of this."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 26, 2013 11:48 am
What do federal courts have to do with it? PA law designates charters as LEAs. I thought he was an attorney. You should know better.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 26, 2013 2:31 pm
Nowhere does it say in the Charter School Law that charter schools are LEA's. The only reference to that is found in Section 11-1727 -A on Tort Liability. The exact language is: "For purposes of tort liability, employes of the charter school shall be considered public employes and the board of trustees in the same manner as political subdivisions and local agencies." That is the only reference to LEA's in the entire Charter School Law.That language does not make them LEA's at all for any other purpose. It just means that, for tort liability purposes, they are to be treated in a similar manner. That gives them qualified immunity from certain law suits. No PA Court case has declared charter schools to be LEA's either. Also, Federal Courts have everything to do with it. There is a "Supremacy Clause" in the U.S. Constitution which makes federal law supersede state law. State courts are Constitutionally required to follow the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Courts and the Circuit Courts of Appeals applicable to their jurisdiction. The NLRB explains all of that in their Opinion in the Chicago Mathemetics and Science Academy case which can be found here: When you get there, hit the "board decision" link. Our common assumption that charter schools are independent LEA's is, quite respectfully, not accurate. They are private corporations paid for with public dollars.
Submitted by tom-104 on January 12, 2014 2:07 pm
On December 12, 2013 a Washington state court ruled that charter schools are not "common" (i.e. public) schools. "A charter school cannot be defined as a common school because it is not under the control of the voters of the school district. The statute places control under a private non-profit organization, a local charter board and/or the Charter Commission." The National Labor Relations Board last year ruled that charters are not public schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 7:30 am
Wait, wait: Is your argument that because PSP has invested only $9.5 MILLION in District schools they are out to destroy public education? That argument rebukes itself.
Submitted by tom-104 on January 12, 2014 2:47 pm
Article III, Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution: "No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school."
Submitted by Frank Murphy on October 24, 2013 5:40 pm

When you start your comment by deriding the author of a well-articulated commentary, you lose credibility.  All of the points you make only serve to distract from the main idea of this post.  

The Philadelphia School Partnership is proposing that it should decide where a child would go to school in our city.   I find it most disturbing that a private organization would presume that it should be given the right to decide how a public service is allocated.  

I didn’t participate in electing this organization to represent me nor do I pay my taxes to them.   There is obviously no limit to how far The Philadelphia School Partnership will go in imposing its agenda.  To counter assaults such as this on our democracy, we need to have an elected school board.  

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on October 24, 2013 5:25 pm
Yes, of course, the person accusing Helen Gym, isn't a serious person. Having said that and being Master of the Obvious, we're still left without a strategy to fight back. At least, not one that is recognized nor working. We're currently playing doormat to this clear abuse of all things democratic. Maybe, the PFT is playing possum but it sure feels like mouse.
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 24, 2013 10:14 pm

Joe: Why do you not think exposing and asking some of these questions is not a strategy? Being in the dark is? I think its clear that PSP hasn't thought through a host of questions and concerns. The District is today at least distancing itself from the effort and parents have more information if and when universal enrollment rolls out. Moreover, I do think that PSP is clearly overreaching in ways which begin to alarm more than just the usual crowd as evidenced by the back and forth at the Council briefing. You seem to think that there is some magical strategy out there when what we need is some collective effort to understand and think things through as a community.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 24, 2013 8:58 pm
Frank, I completely agree with all of your points. This proposal is so ridiculous. There are so many legal barriers to it, it's laughable. The presence of legal hurdles just highlights how little the PSP DOES NOT know about public education. As a special education teacher, I know that this PhillySchoolApp system would never stand up legally. Even if Pennsylvania's governor and legislature were to make an exemption that would legalize this private enrollment system, there is no way it could ever hold up under federal law. For special education students (students with IEPs), only the LEA can place students. The PSP is not an LEA and, therefore, has no standing to assign any student with an IEP. There are too many legal issues involved with special education for this idea to work. That said, people need to start opposing this proposal. It won't be hard to defeat if people are well-informed. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 12:04 pm
I don't understand why you think there are legal barriers to this common app process. This will be a contract like all of the other district contracts. One that they won't even have to pay for initially. The process only outsources this "lottery" process. So I'm sure they would argue that they are not actually enrolling the students. The schools will be presented with a list of available students desiring to enroll in their "chosen" school. They have conducted this process in more places and have not been hindered. They are bulldozing their way through this district.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 8:05 pm
Schools won't receive a list of students desiring to go to their schools. They will receive a list of students ASSIGNED to their schools by a computer. With this proposed roll out for next year and the planning of two new model high schools plus the eventual use of UE for middle and elementary school enrollment , you're looking at the eventual collapse of Philadelphia. People who can move - WILL. And we will be worse off then ever before.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 25, 2013 9:32 pm
Anonymous, The outsourcing of the "lottery" or enrollment process is itself a legal issue because of the issue of parental/guardian consent. For students in special education, the Local Education Agency (LEA) must be coordinating all of the services in the IEP, including transportation. A school district or charter school is an LEA. However, a private organization such as the PSP is not an LEA, and therefore, has no legal authority to implement or provide services to the child. If a private provider were to take on such responsibilities, the LEA, in this case the District, would have to obtain parental/guardian consent in order to delegate/outsource such functions because the parent/guardian has to consent to the release of a child's information to the private enrollment system. At the same time, the District couldn't force the parent/guardian to consent to such delegation as a condition of the District providing special education services. School choice generally doesn't apply to students attending Complex Support Needs (CSN) (formerly Low Incidence) programs. Because of the relatively small number of students attending these programs and the severity of disabilities, the SDP buses most students attending Life Skills Support, Autistic Support, Multiple Disabilities Support on yellow buses. Many students in Emotional Support, which the District considers to be a High Incidence program, are also bused. I am a teacher of students in one of the District's CSN classrooms; I don't know as much about ES. For CSN programs, here is a rough outline of how the District goes about placing a student. The District, namely the Office of Specialized Services and Office of Transportation, takes into account a number of factors when placing a child including: - Does the child's neighborhood school have the appropriate program (e.g. Life Skills Support, Autistic Support, Multiple Disabilities Support, Emotional Support) based on what is in the IEP? - If the neighborhood school doesn't have the appropriate program, what is the closest school with the appropriate program? - Does the nearest school with the appropriate program have available space in that program for the child? - What is the most efficient bus route for picking up students who go to the school? - Is there space on a certain bus route for the child? The legal barriers exist also because the lottery process or algorithm of PSP's proposed universal enrollment system could not properly account for the steps in the process which I have outlined above. The lottery system as described does not properly account for the individualized nature of each child's IEP. For example, some children require restraints or one to ones on the bus. Also, the District has to be sensitive to the amount of time that a child spends on the school bus. What if a lottery or universal enrollment process leads to a child spending 2 hours each way on the bus because the school that the UE selected was so far away from the child's home? A parent could sue over something like this, and for good reason. THE IMPLEMENTATION OF A CHILD'S IEP CANNOT BE LEFT TO AN ALGORITHM OR LOTTERY. The implementation requires the professional judgement of qualified professionals both in schools and in the central office. My description is verbose, but I hope I've provided sound reasoning and enough concrete examples to address your question about legal barriers. EGS
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 24, 2013 8:23 pm
Anonymous, I agree with your points. I am a big fan of Helen's and she is a wonderful advocate for public education. However, data does matter and it is more reliable and generalizable than anecdotes. EGS
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 25, 2013 1:30 pm

1) Daunting app: Explain the 22% of parents who refuse to participate in it. Whether you call it daunting or check the boxes the fact of the matter is that a significant number of parents don't do it. 

3) I didn't say the algorithm was sneaky. I said it's impossible to understand. In New Orleans, parents are assigned to "F" rated schools. How does that work exactly? And no, it's not a lottery. A lottery is chance. An algorithm that weighs plenty of student data is not a lottery.

4) New Orleans and Newark do not guarantee neighborhood schools. Before he left, Pedro Ramos made pretty clear that he was moving away from a system of neighborhood schools, esp. at the high school level. Rather than asking me to explain his rationale for this, perhaps this is an area for you to get more engaged in?

5) Read the first amendment. And if that doesn't work:

Sorry I can't provide you with the satisfying NOLA "data" you desire. For the record, some of the NOLA info I had was edited out because this isn't a story about NOLA. I suspect you''ll have issues no matter what I post, but here are a few more:


Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on October 26, 2013 11:11 am
I think this data on NOLA underscores the degree to which the public sector has just abdicated responsibility for working to improve schools and puts parents into a passive position of just accepting a "choice" made for them. The role of parents as having the right and responsibility to demand and participate in improving schools (exercising voice) is quickly becoming a faint memory, except in affluent suburbs.
Submitted by tom-104 on October 25, 2013 12:41 am
Mark Gleason is not a disinterested accomplice engaged in eroding the separation of church and state. As Helen Gym says in a comment: "Since 2011, PSP has awarded $29.5 million in 24 grants. Seven of those, totaling $9.4 million, have gone to District-run schools. The rest have gone to Catholic and charter schools." Before heading the Philadelphia School Partnership Gleason led partnership development at Christ the King Prep School, a Cristo Rey Network high school in Newark, N.J. This is a network of 26 Catholic high schools (one of them in Philadelphia). The Pennsylvania State Constitution, Article III, Section 15 says: "Public School Money Not Available to Sectarian Schools Section 15. No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school." The Philadelphia School Partnership is in violation of the state constitution. Mark Gleason isn't from Pennsylvania so maybe he doesn't know that!
Submitted by Christine Carlson (not verified) on October 25, 2013 10:38 am
With regard to church and state, if religious schools were to be included in a system like this...suppose the purportedly unerring algorithm assigned my child to a Catholic school. No worried about tuition because there is state funded scholarship money (already a church/state violation). But if the system is consistent, then if I chose not to send my child to the Catholic school I was assigned to, I would be penalized by being left out of the first round of school selection and be bumped to the next round? If this isn't a violation of church/state separation, then we'd better start teaching creationism as an alternative to natural selection. Do I get a gold star?
Submitted by Kristen Forbriger (not verified) on October 25, 2013 11:57 am
Hi Christine - as it works in other cities (and could work here in theory), the system doesn't assign students to random schools. A student/family selects choices, so if you don't want to go to a certain school or type, you just don't list it among your choices. Does that make sense? Kristen
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 25, 2013 12:14 pm

And I think this demonstrates the question of whose choice this is. It should be the right of parents to go private. It should not be a choice that is in lieu of access to District public schools. But that is essentially how the program will run. If you do not  want to go to a Catholic school instead of a District school then don't list it, but then don't blame PSP if you don't get your District choice and you're therefore bumped down a round. It's now the parent's fault for not exercising "all" the choices. It's a central problem with the inclusion of non-public schools, and specifically religious schools, in this effort. 

Submitted by Kristen Forbriger (not verified) on October 25, 2013 4:30 pm
Helen - The fact that there is a shortage of spots in high-quality schools is not the fault of the universal enrollment system. It is always the right of the parent/student to decide if they want to choose a private option. I honestly don't understand your argument here?
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 25, 2013 4:51 pm

My point is that if a parent would rather go to a District school over a Catholic school then they should only list their top District schools. If they do not receive their top District choice they will bump down to a secondary round where their top Catholic school may not be available any more. Under the current system, a parent could apply simultaneously to the District school process (which they may or may not gain) AND to Catholic schools and make the choice at that time. If you control enrollment to both District and Catholic then it is a question of one or the other. 

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 26, 2013 2:57 pm
Kristen, In order to really have "school choice," a parent should be able to simultaneously apply and have the possibility of acceptance to more than one school, including a public, charter, and/or private school simultaneously. The current charter school selection process is somewhat like the college application process in that a parent/student can compare offers of enrollment or acceptance AFTER acceptance has been guaranteed. As I understand it, this side to side comparison process could not happen with the universal enrollment system that PSP proposes. If the PSP is about school choice, how does the universal enrollment allow parents to have the choice of doing side by side comparison of multiple offers? Educator of Great Students
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 26, 2013 11:37 am
It is disingenuous of you to talk about parents "choosing" what you call "high-quality" schools when you know the deck is stacked. Philadelphia public schools have been starved for funds since the state takeover even as the charters schools were built up. What we now have is a two-tier education system with charter schools given advantages that public schools, which serve low income families, do not have. It is a return to separate and unequal schools. This is not progress, it is a return to a segregated system many thought we had left behind!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 27, 2013 5:01 pm
Funding per pupil in district schools has DOUBLED since the state takeover. How is that starving the district? During that same time, admin headcount has actually declined.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 27, 2013 5:24 pm
Money went to charter schools who have tons of admins, but we cannot quantify that data because the charter school law says they don't have to report it. I would appreciate your citing a source for your claims that the district has doubled the money it spends on openly public school students.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 25, 2013 9:57 pm
Kristen, How does the PSP's proposed universal enrollment system account for the rights of students with IEPs? How does the system account for placing students in the District's Complex Support Needs programs: Multiple Disabilities Support, Autistic Support, and Life Skills Support? How would the system account for providing transportation to students, especially for students who require curbside to curbside transportation? How would the operator of the universal enrollment system involve itself with selecting schools for students with IEPs when the private operator doesn't have the status of a Local Education Agency? What would happen if a parent/guardian refused to release a child's information to the operator of the universal enrollment system? I look forward to reading detailed answers to my questions. Educator of Great Students
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 25, 2013 10:35 pm
What does the PSP's proposed process do to account for the LeGare consent decree, and how will it make sure the legalities of that are met?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 25, 2013 10:11 pm
Kristin, Great question! I forgot about the LeGare Consent Decree (probably because I don't teach high school), and the PSP's proposed process doesn't appear to account for the LeGare Consent Decree at all. For those who don't know about the LeGare Consent Decree, the District's LeGare Consent Decree page ( says the following: The LeGare Consent Decree mandates that each student with a disability have an equal opportunity to participate in the high schools and high school programs that are available to students generally. Students with disabilities and their families are entitled to: 1. Timely information and guidance regarding the program, admission procedures and available supports 2. Reasonable accommodations that do not alter the program substantially 3. A range of choices among programs and the right to be included with non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible. All decisions concerning the accommodations and supports needed by a student with disabilities are to be made by a team of knowledgeable persons, based on the Multidisciplinary Evaluation (MDE) of the student's needs and abilities. The District must make the public aware of these rights and must include these rights in written materials describing high school options for all seventh and eighth grade students with disabilities and their parents. The family will be assisted by persons knowledgeable about high schools and high school programs in considering a range of programs, in identifying the accommodations and supports needed for the student to be successful, and in recommending modifications and waivers of admission criteria. Students may not be excluded on the basis of admission criteria if they can participate successfully, given reasonable accommodations. The District must establish a procedure for an impartial review of any individual decision not to admit a student with disabilities when the decision is based on a reason other than racial balance or space. Information regarding the impartial review and hearing procedures will be provided to parents when they are notified of the decision not to admit. The District must collect data each year to identify the numbers and categories of students with disabilities who are participating in each high school and program, the nature and degree of that participation, and the performance of students with disabilities as compared to other students. The District will take corrective action as may be necessary to comply with the consent decree. The District must review all high schools and high school programs at least annually to determine: 1) the extent and nature of participation by students with disabilities, 2) if accommodations and support services must be strengthened, and 3) whether existing admission criteria should be revised or eliminated. Each proposal for the establishment of a program with admissions criteria, and each program already in existence, must provide for equitable participation by students with disabilities. The District will provide ongoing professional development for all the relevant staff regarding the availability of accommodations and support service for students with disabilities within high schools and high school programs. If you have specific questions related to LeGare, please contact our office. --- Based on my own knowledge of special education law, here are portions of this LeGare summary that seem to directly conflict with a privately-operated UE system: The family will be assisted by PERSONS knowledgeable about high schools and high school programs in considering a range of programs, in identifying the accommodations and supports needed for the student to be successful, and in recommending modifications and waivers of ADMISSION CRITERIA. PROBLEMS: A UE system uses an algorithm and software, not a person's judgement. How will the UE system factor in waivers of admission criteria? The District must establish a procedure for an impartial review of any individual decision not to admit a student with disabilities when the decision is based on a reason other than racial balance or space. Information regarding the impartial review and hearing procedures will be provided to parents when they are notified of the decision not to admit. PROBLEMS: The operator of the UE system would have to reveal the criteria that the software/algorithm uses. Given the secrecy surrounding the Compact Working Group and PSP in general, who is going to be able to do the "impartial review"? The District? The private operator of the UE system? The District must collect data each year to identify the numbers and categories of students with disabilities who are participating in each high school and program, the nature and degree of that participation, and the performance of students with disabilities as compared to other students. The District will take CORRECTIVE ACTION as may be necessary to comply with the consent decree. PROBLEM: How would a privately operated UE system factor in corrective action from the District? The District must review all high schools and high school programs at least annually to determine: 1) the extent and nature of participation by students with disabilities, 2) if accommodations and support services must be strengthened, and 3) whether existing ADMISSION CRITERIA should be revised or eliminated. PROBLEMS: If a privately operated UE system exists, who sets admission criteria? What are the admission criteria? How would the District be able to revise or eliminate admission criteria if the District doesn't operate the UE system? Each proposal for the establishment of a program with ADMISSIONS CRITERIA, and each program already in existence, must provide for EQUITABLE PARTICIPATION by students with disabilities. PROBLEM: How can an algorithm/software-based UE system guarantee equitable participation of students with disabilities? EGS
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 24, 2013 8:30 pm
The idea of a privatized placement system is not only incredibly disturbing, but raises complex legal issues as well. The people at the PSP who devised this privatization of school assignment CLEARLY don't know much about special education law. There is absolutely no way that the PSP would be able to place students with special needs, especially those students who attend Complex Support Needs programs, Multiple Disabilities Support, Life Skills Support, and Autistic Support. Also, because many students in Emotional Support programs are bused and/or don't attend their neighborhood school, there would also be issues with placing them using a privatized placement system. Legally, the placement of students with special needs is under the authority of the Local Education Agency, the LEA. BECAUSE PSP IS NOT AN LEA, THEY HAVE NO STANDING TO PLACE STUDENTS WITH IEPs!!! If the PSP were to become involved in the process of assigning students, they would have no legal authority to place special education students. And the exclusion of special education students from this private assignment system would be a legal issue unto itself due to exclusion. In addition, the PSP could not access the IEP or other records of a student without the parent's consent. Any parent of a child with an IEP would have the legal right to prevent the PSP or any private enrollment provider from accessing their child's information or having anything to do with the child's placement whatsoever. So that's the special education piece. From the standpoint of special education law, the PSP's proposal is completely absurd. From another standpoint, that of "school choice," the PSP's desire to take over the assignment process is also absurd. The PSP says that they're all about empowering parents and students to have choices. This PSP-facilitated universal assignment process is taking the "choice" OUT of the hands of parents and putting it into the hands of a bureaucracy. Yes, bureaucracy exists in the private sector too. So the PSP is contradicting itself, at least on the surface. The PSP bureaucracy, unlike the SDP, has no accountability to the public. There is no public oversight, no right to open records. The proposal does make sense in light of privatization and money making. The PSP can't even obscure their own motives anymore. This isn't about school choice. This proposal is ridiculous on so many levels. Mark Gleason and the PSP are too big for their own britches and sooner or later, their rhetoric will come crashing down on top of them. Karma is a witch, especially when special education law comes into play. Educator of Great Students
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on October 24, 2013 9:51 pm
EGS-------------------The "reformers" and what a joke that description is, have been able to avoid or ignore laws and statutes as though they don't exist. It's like playing tennis without the net. Hopefully, you are right about Karma kickin their collective butt and the sooner, the better.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 25, 2013 12:41 am
Joe, I expect the special education advocates, parents, and lawyers come out in droves about this. PSP is digging their own hole here. Like I said, they've gotten too big for their britches and the arrogance shows. If the District were to ever approve a privately-operated enrollment system, I can just see it now, Michael Basch files a suit versus the District the next day! EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 9:14 pm
When asked about how the system would work for kids with IEPs/disabilities, PSP said that it would be up to the parents to do their "due diligence." Their system would not have any information about whether the school could serve or accommodate the student's particular needs. The families would just have to try to figure that out on their own. While the very real problem of some charter schools screening out or being inaccessible to kids with more serious disabilities or language needs was cited as a defense of such a 'blind' system, PSP said that if a disabled student was matched with a school that couldn't or wouldn't take them, that child would just have to be bumped to a second or third round pick, and would lose their chance at the first round when the most desirable schools are available. It was unbelievable.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 25, 2013 12:45 am
Anonymous, Were you at the City Council hearing? If you correctly represent what Gleason and other PSP representatives said, then the PSP-run universal enrollment system is dead on arrival. PSP shows a GLARING ignorance of basic special education laws and principles, such as Zero Reject. The "due diligence" statement is ridiculous. The District currently does all of the placement of students in MDS, LSS, and AS programs, including placing students who are transitioning to a high school. Parents and students always have the option to exercise their voice and indicate preferences in the process of choosing high schools, but it's not a requirement. So if a student was in eighth grade in an MDS class and neither he/she nor his/her parent exercised any preference with regard to high schools, the Office of Specialized Services would automatically place the student in a high school MDS classroom. I know this because I have attended PDs on these issues. There is far more expertise at 440 when it comes to handling special education issues than there is at PSP, it's plain and simple. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 4:54 am
Yes. Councilman O'Brien's staff asked several questions on disability issues, and staff from a number of offices were pretty shocked by PSP's answers. It seemed like a system couldn't possibly work how they were describing, but that seemed to be their understanding - like they hadn't thought it through, or anticipated almost any of the legal or privacy issues that would be raised by doing enrollement through a private contractor.
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 25, 2013 12:50 pm

An anonymous posting I can appreciate! Thanks so much for posting here and providing clarity on your first hand accounting of the briefing.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 25, 2013 9:46 pm
Anonymous, I'd be interested in hearing more details about the questions that Councilman O'Brien's staff asked and the responses that the PSP gave. I'd be interested in other details of the meeting that you can share. Thanks. EGS
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 26, 2013 12:07 am

I would suggest contacting O'Brien's office directly.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 26, 2013 2:54 pm
Thanks Helen. I would suggest that organizations like Parents United seriously consider looking at special education law as a way to fight the privately operated universal enrollment system. You should find that route to be very fruitful. As I have written in some of my comments, the special education related issues for a privately operated UE system are substantial. As a special education teacher, I don't understand how a privately operated universal enrollment system could work and be in compliance with special education laws. EGS
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 26, 2013 2:39 pm

We are working hand in hand with Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which is the foremost group on IEP/special ed law. 

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 26, 2013 5:10 pm
Helen, I figured that Parents United and other organizations were working with the PILCP. I can tell you with 100% certainty that there are Special Education Teachers who have caseloads above the state legal limits. I am most knowledgeable about Complex Support Needs programs (formerly Low Incidence programs). CSN programs are Autistic Support, Life Skills Support, and Multiple Disabilities Support. The state maximum caseload size for AS and MDS is 8 students. The state maximum caseload size for Life Skills Support is 20 students (which is ridiculously high, but that's another issue in and of itself.) I believe that Emotional Support also has a maximum caseload size of 20 students (again, ridiculously high). I'm pretty sure about ES, but not 100% sure. I don't blame the District for the large caseload sizes. Experienced Special Education Teachers will tell you that life much to be much better in the District. I rely on the expertise of many people in the Office of Specialized Services to help me do my job and these people have been so helpful to me in supporting the work that I do as a teacher. OSS wants to keep caseload sizes reasonable for teachers. If anything, lower caseload sizes are a preventative measure when it comes to lawsuits and the District is drowning in special education lawsuits. Ask any principal or special education teacher, especially the experienced ones, and they can tell you about the "legal cases." However, the budget is what it is. It is the Commonwealth that has put the District in the predicament of having caseload sizes above the legal maximum. Lowering caseload sizes would involve, at the very least, hiring more teachers. EGS
Submitted by Frank Murphy on October 24, 2013 9:21 pm

Lets put aside for a moment the issue of a private entity deciding what public school a child will attend.  This proposal also sounds as though the Philadelphia School Partnership will determine what catholic school a student will attend or in the case of charter schools what charter school a child will attend.   This is school choice?  It sounds more like a blatant attempt to monopolize the city’s educational market.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 25, 2013 10:33 pm
I cannot imagine that the Catholic schools will sign on to this. Does PSP understand that there are two kinds of Catholic High Schools--Archdiocesean and fully private? Each school runs its own admissions and scholarship process--I cannot believe they would give over this process to anyone else.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 25, 2013 10:17 pm
Kristin, I was also thinking about the parochial schools and how this universal enrollment system could interfere in the pastor's and/or principal's authority to select students based on criteria such as family involvement, Mass attendance, and so on. EGS
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 26, 2013 12:39 am

Only one city with UE has 100% charter participation. If charters have an opt out but parents don't then the system is largely meaningless.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 26, 2013 8:46 am
I'm sure the more "competitive" charters will find a way to opt out when it is convenient. This is anecdotal but I have heard it happen twice this fall. The Performing Arts Charter, a K-8 school, has "interviewed" new students and allowed them to enroll. They were NOT on a so-called waiting list. (This is the same organization that was given a 9-12 high school with 1400 students enrollment. This school opened this year - the same time 24 District schools were closed.) There is no way to know if the "open enrollment" will be equitable especially when a charter may take a student without going through the lottery process. Call me cynical but I assume this is PSP way of further destroying neighborhood schools or the School District as a public institution.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 26, 2013 6:36 pm
Who's going to take the Performing Arts Charter to court over their shady enrollment practices?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 12:38 am
Helen, as always, you manage to ruin some good points by turning your outrage up to an "11", Spinal Tap style. Like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, it's hard to tell when we should pay attention to your valid points and what is exaggeration or even deliberate misunderstanding on your part. I know that your sycophants will shoot my comment down for daring to challenge their flawless leader, but oh well, what else could I be doing at midnight? I don't think this system is perfect and I'm not even sure it's a good idea. But let's please ground the conversation in some facts and not in conspiracy theory. Similar systems have been used in high schools in NYC for many years and are being tried in other cities as you know - there is little new or original about this proposal. I agree with you that including Catholic schools in this plan is problematic, but as you well know from being a parent in this city and being closely involved with a charter school, applying to schools is a mess and the complicated process serves to disproportionately hurt the families with the least time and resources. We would actually agree that many charter schools have intentionally made this challenging to ensure their student population is easier to serve than typical schools in the district. This centralized process serves to make all of this easier for parents and stop charters from playing games. You may disagree with the way this system goes about making that happen, but the intent is not about some grand conspiracy by Mark Gleason to take over 440, turn the building into condos (10 year tax abatement!), and use voided PSERS checks from fired teachers for toilet paper. The goals are actually items you would seemingly support, putting charter schools on an equal footing with the district so charters can't "cream" the best students and making it as easy as possible for all parents to access a great school for their child. It's actually interesting how this is playing out. As you mention, many charters (is FACTS?) are using a common, simple application this year to make it as easy and equitable for parents. Who is not participating in this basic step that has nothing to do with this central school lottery? The district. Is it possibly because they are getting cold feet about a plan that would make it easier for families to move from district schools to charters and show even more clearly that tens of thousands of parents have given up on the district? Or is it because they don't want to expose their own secret admissions games at places like Penn Alexander to scrutiny? Or maybe it's because this will remove a bullet point from their anti-charter talking points and they wouldn't want to show the public that maybe those big, bad charter CEOs aren't so evil after all? Whatever is going on, rest assured that they are just waiting for you to drop your guard and then BAM!, this plan will go into action and Gleason will be building himself a helipad on the top of 440 with the money he gets from selling student information to the highest bidder.
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 25, 2013 3:24 am

Right. Explain to me what facts you just brought to the conversation just now. NYC? Let's go through that one:

  1. District managed and run - NOT a private agency charging a per pupil fee 
  2. Includes district only schools except at kindergarten - not Catholic or other non-public options.
  3. Focuses on key transition areas - high school, pre-K/K and gifted and talented 
  4. Includes some neighborhood options
  5. Still leaves 10% of students unmatched

Incidentally, for NYC's system to work it has a District staff of over 200 helping work it out.

So no, NYC's system is nothing like what PSP is proposing here. Not even close. Pretending to say so is dishonest.

Furthermore, I did NOT mention that many charters are using the CommonApp. I'd like to know how many, except we never really will know right because you'd have to call up all 88+ charter schools to ask them.

Denver is the only city in the country where there's 100% charter participation, so the idea that charters are magically held accountable is a complete fabrication. In NOLA, the highest performing charters do not participate in the OneApp. 

And again, I just want to re-emphasize that it is the classic strategy of the corporate ed reformers to employ a narrative of failure to justify fantastical inventions that have no proven basis of effective and responsible implementation anywhere.

Submitted by West Philly Teacher (not verified) on October 25, 2013 10:08 am
I don't understand how anyone could classify this "failure" as simply a narrative. Does anyone who teaches in a neighborhood high school actually think their school is not failing a large number of its kids? I can think of such a significantly small number it's ridiculous. It's not just the teachers: even at Uni, I worked alongside some truly fantastic educators. And, real talk, I worked with people who had given up ages ago. We still had a graduation rate that keeps me up at night. It's not just the money: The district has had plenty of years with a surplus of money, and what did that change? I agree, we need more money-- anyone in our schools has to agree we need more money, but do you really thinking pouring more money in the system is the only change required? Pouring more money in a system that does not promote working conditions to engage more quality leadership, spread these resources equally, or even just simply ensure the money isn't lining the back pockets of administrative friends is not enough. At the end of the day, though, while I agree EVERY school in the district of Philadelphia, no matter the location, should be a place of learning for students, I don't think this can happen with our current system. I don't believe we should continue adding charters, but how do you tell a parent they need to just hold on while we wait for our ideology to reinvigorate schools by returning to the same system that we started with? As for the above article, I'll be honest, Helen: I used to look towards you as someone who generally got it right, and that respect will always be there, but I agree with a few responses above that wish you would dial down some of the conspiracy theory. It seems right out of the PFT handbook for creating the illusion of a vague and shadowy evil corporation. PSP's board may be filled with business leaders, but do we really think they are individuals trying to make money off of kids failing out of high school? Or is the truth somewhere closer to the middle: that we disagree on the approach, but agree on the premise that more kids and parents should be able to choose their schools without needing a diploma in education policy to understand the process? It doesn't look like PSP wants to "place" schools with no student/parent input, but has anyone else realized that this approach would do away with wait lists? Think about how much more efficient that system would be! At the end of the day, I think this discussion would be more productive (though warrant less page views, which appears to be the Notebook's driving motivation these days) if we were discussing about how we can improve our current system instead of just bashing proposals that are put out there. There are points here that I can agree with (and as a parent who exercised choice for your own kids, Helen, I would assume you can as well) and many that I have concerns about. As a social studies teacher, I spent a good section of the year incorporating media literacy into my lessons. I would encourage many of those reading the Notebook to exercise the same. If a story seems to unilaterally label a group of people as having completely greedy and, realistically, evil motivations... it is closer to propaganda than a credible news source. It should send up flags that instead of simply presenting facts, it also sneaks in an agenda.
Submitted by rob (not verified) on October 25, 2013 11:50 am
I agree with both Helen and WPT. The question has always been, what do we do with the 'problem' students? Problem students include those with disabilities (unable to score well on standardized testing), those who have no parental involvement, those who are chronically absent, those who have poor attitudes or blatant disrespect for authority, etc Charter schools have been able to sift those students out of the mix and minimize those distractions as well as save money and resources. comprehensive high schools have had to pick up that burden which is costly and inefficient. Until we answer the question 'what do we do with the 'problem' students there will be no answers. Playing hot potato is not a viable option
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 27, 2013 1:22 pm
This is really the nexus of the problem. All of these alternatives are ways of filtering out those problem students. None deal with the issue head on. As long as students, especially in high school, feel education is meaningless in terms of their future, they will scoff at tests, at teachers, at authority, and disrupt the process out of anger, frustration, boredom, or use whatever term you find appropriate. Blame teachers, blame parents, blame whoever, the truth is that most graduates from inner city high schools will not succeed as a direct result of schooling, no matter how hard we try. We all do play hot potato, hoping for a better school district in the suburbs, or a better roster, or ways to get out of the classroom into administration. After thirty years, my basic observations of the situation haven't changed all that much. Teachers are powerless, in the long run, to effect change. Teachers who figure that out, also resist, in their own way, so that schools play hot potato with teachers, too. Burn out implies heat and energy that find resistance so great that the circuit melts and opens. Go ahead and make fun of me, but the majority of you are not class room teachers with a full roster. The SRC or state will hand education tax money over to private interests and nothing positive will happen, as always, for the problem students and their teachers. The only constant in public education is "reform". Helen Gym, you will eventually burn out, too, or your kids will graduate and you will loose interest.
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 27, 2013 2:55 pm

It's not about making fun of you. It's about a failure to recognize that this isn't an issue of the moment and that most of us have also been at this for decades. It's too bad you miss the point of community struggle and all the victories - both small and large - and transformational moments that make this less about dabbling interests and burnout than it is about a society in a constant effort to re-make and re-envision itself. 

Submitted by tom-104 on October 25, 2013 12:56 pm
If you have documentation that coordination and collaboration is going on, as Helen does, it is not a figment if your imagination, i.e. a "conspiracy theory". Of course everyone has a paradigm with which they interpret the world. The difference is that corporate education reform is about profit, where those of us who oppose it are for putting human needs first.
Submitted by West Philly Teacher (not verified) on October 25, 2013 3:51 pm
You lost me at that last sentence as it's just another instance of attributing a good vs. evil narrative instead of actually discussing the nuances of the issue. I am not disagreeing that there has clearly been collaboration to create this system. Or even that, at some point, I would hope to see more stakeholder input- or at least know how stakeholders can get involved in these decisions. I think that's a pretty serious concern, though I will admit that at this point, it's hard to imagine how productive some of those focus groups would go given the political theater everyone seems to be participating in. The conspiracy theory aspect is exactly where public school advocates fall in the same pitfalls we claim the ed reformers fall for: telling a scary story that requires a mythical monster. Both sides are doing it; public school advocates have chosen Mark Gleason/PSP/TFA/private philanthropies to be entities who act solely for profit (through the selling of your child's data, the destruction of unionized labor, and the creation of more charters they will ultimately profit from). Ed reformers have chosen to present the PFT/older teachers/public school districts to be greedy, lazy, and unconcerned with the success of children and acting only on outdated models of teaching. Both sides are guilty of it, but I think that Helen and many others commenting on this article are capable of having a deeper discussion. Does this sound like the full story? Some of the wordings lead me to make assumptions I'm not finding as I look at the source data. I apologize if I'm a naive teacher in the district and just too trusting, but this is the same shit that seems to be keeping many of the younger teachers from PFT meetings. I applaud Helen for shining some light on this enrollment initiative, and it's hard to tell how much the district wants to be involved, but I just think there's more common ground to be had than at first glance... and if so, shouldn't we be talking about specifics instead of implying motives to either side? Isn't that the kind of feedback that's so invaluable from stakeholders? And while I know many people will just respond that PSP doesn't want to hear from stakeholders, I also don't think many of the comments even within this article bear any semblance of helpful or productive.
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on October 25, 2013 3:45 pm
It would be so much more helpful, in terms of shattering the perception that this conversation is a contrived manipulation, if you were willing to use your name.
Submitted by West Philly Teacher (not verified) on October 25, 2013 3:23 pm
I hold a large amount of respect for people (like yourself) who are comfortable posting under your own name. Unfortunately, with my new school's current staff dynamics, and the intensely political issue that this has become, I'm uncomfortable attaching my name to anything that seems to disagree with the union battle. I'm certain there may be people who shun my responses for not having been attributed to a verifiable name, but I also stand by what I said above and other than a few anecdotal mentions of my previous school, I don't believe my background is an essential requirement for my points to be heard.
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 25, 2013 12:32 pm

Fair concerns are raised. My only response is that I would hope that after 12 years, we're a little wiser than the wide eyed "what can go wrong" approach and reiterating narratives of failure which justify all manner of reckless experimentation. As for PSP, their board leadership has a long history in education activism as well. It would be good to learn about it. It's also not about intent. It's about consequences beyond intent. I know there are ed reformers out there full of good intent who wreak consequences they never intended. But that doesn't mean the consequences didn't happen and it doesn't mean that they are not responsible.

Submitted by (not verified) on February 22, 2014 4:42 am
Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic but I'd figured I'd ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My site discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you are interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog by the way!
Submitted by Kristen Forbriger (not verified) on October 25, 2013 3:59 pm
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Spot on.
Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on October 25, 2013 9:44 am
The point is Helen brought this proposal for outsourcing school placement to a private entity to light and now we can actually discuss it. Even though PSP made a presentation to Council, the press was not covering it as a story as far as I know. There should be debate about something as fundamental as telling parents and kids what school they will attend.
Submitted by Gtown_Teach (not verified) on October 25, 2013 10:32 am
This is horrible. This has to be stopped. The PSP's app should not determine where a child goes to school. Start writing city council to make sure that this is stopped in its tracks. I see tons of children being placed in charters, and parochial schools. I really want the PSP to go away. Their meddling is completely detrimental the concept of public education.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 25, 2013 10:02 am
I will say this again: It is my legal opinion that what PSP and Mark Gleason is doing, in conjunction with the Gates Compact committee, and the SRC, is an illegal circumvention of the democratic processes mandated by the Sunshine Act and the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It is not only an affront to the citizens of Philadelphia and the public, but it is illegal. PSP is not only attempting to, but is in reality, surreptitiously acting as a "shadow governance body" for the school district. What the SRC does month after month is "rubber stamp" and ratify resolutions which reflect those decisions and courses of conduct determined behind closed doors. It is "insider trading" 101. That is one reason why I now come to believe we need an elected school board which is elected through a non-partisan election process. It is the only way for the public to hold our school board accountable to 'the public." Not only are we being stripped of our right to participate meaningfully in the governance of our public schools -- we are being denied our rights as citizens in a democracy.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 25, 2013 9:25 pm
Rich, The special education legal issues are just as pertinent as the Due Process Clause and Sunshine Act. The legal issues involved with this are substantial, and I suspect these legal issues may be a reason why ithe District appears to have had little, if any, involvement in the universal enrollment proposal. EGS
Submitted by Gtown_Teach (not verified) on October 25, 2013 10:36 am
So the student would have one choice under this plan? Right now the student can apply to five schools, is guaranteed their neighborhood school, and can apply to charter schools? How would app provide choice??? Sounds like they're just trying to funnel students to particular schools.
Submitted by West Philly Teacher (not verified) on October 25, 2013 10:12 am
Students still have choices. They apply to multiple schools, but instead of having to fill out multiple applications (one per charter school, and a whole separate app for privates) they fill out one application with these choices. They are assigned to their highest qualifying choice (i.e. if you apply to magnets, you must fit their admission requirements) that is available. The positive in assigning kids to their highest selection instead of providing multiple options is that the kids juggling those multiple options often resign others to wait lists, making it difficult for high schools to reach their full enrollment... and a large number of kids stuck on a wait list until that first child finally gives up their unused seat.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 11:50 am
This is another attempt by Phila. School Dictatorship to close neighborhood schools and pump up charters and parochial schools. Do we need improvements in neighborhood schools? Sure but we also have to be realistic in an extremely stratified system where students are "sentenced" to neighborhood schools because they aren't accepted anywhere else - including charters. If we want a truly radical idea, get rid of charters and magnets and have all schools be neighborhood schools. Then there will be an academic (and in most cases for high schools) an economic mix in each school.
Submitted by Gtown_teach (not verified) on October 25, 2013 4:10 pm
No, they don't have choices. They will be placed in charters or parochial schools. Who would trust a private system set up by the foremost advocate of charter schools? This is a hijacking, plain and simple. With SB 1085 going up for a vote to change the rules for charters, and the PSP looking to funnel students to charters, I see a BIG, FAT conspiracy to empty the neighborhood schools. I wouldn't trust anything that came out of the PSP.
Submitted by West Philly Teacher (not verified) on November 8, 2013 1:39 pm
"No they don't have choices. They will be placed in charters or parochial schools." - Your comment is literally just a refusal of something that was stated as a fact. You can have an opinion, but understand that at this point, you're actively misstating facts to prove your point. This is an example of how our conversations are never productive.
Submitted by Lisa Haver (not verified) on October 25, 2013 10:25 am
Dr. Lori Shorr, Chief Education Officer, Mayor’s Office of Education (Chair) Casey Carter, CEO, Faith in the Future Foundation Joe Dworetzky, Commissioner, School Reform Commission Dr. Naomi Johnson-Booker, CEO of Global Leadership Academy Lawrence Jones, CEO of Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School Paul Kihn, Deputy Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia Wendell Pritchett, Commissioner, School Reform Commission David Rossi, CEO of Nueva Esperanza Academy David Volkman/Dale Hamby, Office of the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Nonvoting members include: Carol Cary, Superintendent of Secondary Schools Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Office of Catholic Education Mark Gleason, Executive Director of the Philadelphia School Partnership Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Charter Schools Above are the members of the Great Schools Committee as listed on the PSP website. Two are SRC commissioners, When you google "Great Schools Compact", you land on PSP''s website. Both PSP and the GSC Committee meet in private; members of the public, who are affected by all of their decisions, are excluded.. When APPS members requested admission, we were denied. That is also true of the Penn Foundation and all foundations (Dell and Gates, who are funders of the new Report Card included) whose growing control over school district policy is cause for great concern. Helen has gone into great detail about why this new project by PSP should be given the kibosh right now, but let's just look at one: possibly assigning students to schools according to their letter "grade". The school district has been holding community meetings about implementation of a new report card system. Parents and community members who have tried to attend have been thwarted by the cancellation of scheduled meetings last August; now they can't figure out when the news ones are because they have been announced only a day or two before and it is not possible to know how many there will be and in what parts of the city. This is part one of a two-part article. Helen's research is second to none. There may be some minor mistakes (although I can't find any), but the message is clear: private organizations with their own agendas should not be making--behind closed doors--the kinds of decisions which should be discussed in open, public meetings where parents, teachers, community members and students are able to have their concerns heard and taken seriously.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 11:25 am
Amen! (No sectarianism intended !)
Submitted by Headstart teacher (not verified) on October 25, 2013 11:48 am
Bingo! Public schools should NOT be run by private for profit entities. Church and state don't mix and neith do public and private.
Submitted by Clarification (not verified) on October 25, 2013 1:48 pm
I thought Helen was referring to the grades in terms of New Orleans' policy and saw no mention of assigning students to schools, let alone assigning by grades.
Submitted by tom-104 on October 25, 2013 12:38 pm
Helen quoted Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans parent advocate, for how the "reforms" are working out in New Orleans. Arne Duncan called Hurricane Katrina the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans because it allowed them to implement privatization. The crisis in Philadelphia is entirely man-made to get the same result. Perhaps we should look at New Orleans five years of experience with this experiment with a generation of children so we can understand what is planned for Philadelphia.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 1:53 pm
Gates's MO is if you can't get what you want one way then devise another way, a "user friendly" approach but with the same intent. Gates is not about public education, public school teachers, our children, teacher unions, or anything we commonly associate with public schools (which inherently are schools for everyone). The notion that "our schools are failing," has been carefully crafted and fine tuned over the years. If you consistently deny money, adequate staff, supplies and resources then quite naturally it's going to lead to failure, which *these* days unfortuanately leads to takeover. By hook or by crook Gates (and similar monied groups) want to steal the option from parents to have good quality neighborhood public schools. Public schools were not synomymous with failure when I was enrolled, quite the opposite.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 3:39 pm
Here's the point: Helen, a middle (or perhaps upper?) class center city mom, got her kids into highly selective application schools -- charter and district. It would make sense that she doesn't want to make it easier for black or hispanic families from north and west philly to be able to do the same -- that's increased competition against her kids. The best way to maintain an advantage for center city families are to force everyone else to have to apply individually to each school. Or even better, to stay docilely in their neighborhood schools. -northphilly
Submitted by please (not verified) on October 25, 2013 4:51 pm
The PSPers are woking overtime this weekend. Go to the website and decide which of the hedge fund board members cares so much about inner-city kids.
Submitted by Helen Gym on October 25, 2013 4:00 pm

Email me and let's meet about this. It's easy to inject class and race baiting stereotypes while anonymously and conveniently sidestepping the fact that the people cited from other cities come from diverse backgrounds. My history, not the labels that you foist, speaks for itself about who I stand with. I'll be waiting for your email.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 26, 2013 8:44 pm
Helen didn't "get" her children into high performing schools. Kids have to earn their way into these schools for the most part. A kid doesn't get into a magnet school unless he/ she has the grades and test scores needed to qualify. These are the kids who want to learn and these are the kids who make schools great.
Submitted by Headstart teacher (not verified) on October 25, 2013 5:29 pm
Once they get their greedy fingers into this pot public Ed in Philly is a goner. The reformers, headed up by Gleason, will have the monopoly they are so boldly grasping for. Legal or not, fair or not it will be over. We cannot allow private for profit entities to decide how to mold the future of public education in America! Do not try and excuse what this end run around the constitution is - it is a way to segregate families into those who deserve a chance and all the rest who are on a pipeline to prison. How can you give up on children without giving them a fighting chance??? ALL children deserve a fair and equal education, not just the ones PSP decides are worthy. Do you really trust these goons enough to give them the keys to philadelphia? I know I don't. Not even one little bit.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on October 26, 2013 10:43 pm
Noam Chomsky is saying this whole "Austerity" movement for the poor is exactly what happened in Germany prior to Nazi takeover. Removing rights and pitting citizens against one another, replete with blame and scorn, is another part of it.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on October 28, 2013 6:07 am
i thought you took your race-baiting and accusation-hurling into retirement? why am i not surprised that you didn't keep your word? i guess that means i can get back into the game.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 5:30 pm
Excellent, well researched examination of what is going on here. Keep up the great work. Must be turning up the heat b/c the bugs are coming out.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 8:07 pm
Helen- Thanks for bringing this to light. You are superb at leading the fight to preserve public education (and what that truly means). How arrogant can a group be that feels it should privatize student school selection. We all need to stand shoulder to shoulder and prevent this from happening...along with many of their other proposed "reforms". It's about time that educational improvement be lead by those of us who are (or have been) in the classrooms of the city! Over the years, we teachers have never been asked nor listened to when we offer suggestions as to how we could improve our schools. It's been top down demands from 440 or from "authorites" who generally are carpetbaggers who never spent more than a year or two (if any time at all) in a public school classroom.Enough!! It's time for all of us to band together and take up this fight for public ed.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on January 9, 2014 10:55 am
Ms. McDowell-----With all due respect, you're missing the whole point. The ship of justice and fairness has sailed. What is needed NOW is a far more aggressive reaction than attending an SCR Meeting where the agenda has been set. Carrying signs and jumping around at the meeting, will be useless and they'll continue to laugh hysterically at such antics.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2014 10:03 am
Are you working for the SRC? They would like nothing better than to not be disturbed by those pesty parents and teachers.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on January 9, 2014 1:25 pm
NO, they're happy to just see signs and folks jumping around. They need to feel "pressured." Just like all bullies and bought and paid for shills, they need to feel "upset" shall we say. How did last year or the last several years' SRC Meetings go with exactly that kind of response from the citizenry?? We need to step it up several hundred notches.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2014 1:17 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2014 2:28 pm
You have obviously never been to an SRC meeting. There are very few signs and NOBODY jumps around. What the lies and wheeling and dealing of the SRC needs to be is exposed which, when people learn what they are up to, will get people to "step up". They might even "jump around" they are so angry. Why are you trying to discourage that?
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on January 9, 2014 1:57 pm
Legal Civil Disobedience. That's why it exists. Read more, speak less.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2014 2:12 pm
There is no such thing as "Legal Civil Disobience". That is a contradiction.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on January 9, 2014 3:10 pm
I can't help you !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 29, 2015 2:49 am
There has been no choice created regarding the secondary university procedure for upcoming decades,” Gallard had written in an e-mail. “The use of a third celebration and the per student fee is a query that should be responded to by PSP since we are not aspect of that attempt.” varmepumpe nordjylland

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