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Letter: Explaining Education Law Center's role in the universal enrollment effort

by thenotebook on Oct 31 2013 Posted in Letters

The following letter from a staff attorney at the Education Law Center was sent in response to a commentary by Helen Gym that appeared last week regarding the creation of a universal enrollment system being spearheaded by the Philadelphia School Partnership. The Education Law Center is a member of the working group involved in developing the universal enrollment system.

Dear Helen,

Thank you for offering the chance to explain our role on the universal enrollment working group of the Great Schools Compact. As you know, before the District, various charter schools, the Mayor’s Office, and Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the Archdiocese entered into the Great Schools Compact in 2011, there was very little chance for public comment. ELC supported the general notion of a Compact as a space to collaborate, particularly for the District and charter operators. We also supported the intent to pursue a system of universal public school enrollment, as reflected in the Compact agreement.

Through the hundreds of parents we have represented, we have seen all too well that the current system of more than 80 separate enrollment processes and 80 different deadlines for all the charter schools, in addition to the District’s process for its own schools, has become burdensomely complicated. It has also served to self-select many parents and students out of the charter system and to permit many improper and illegal enrollment policies and practices to go unchecked.

Recently, we documented that, while many individual charter schools do an excellent job welcoming and serving all kinds of students, the charter system in Philadelphia, taken as a whole, is underserving various vulnerable student populations – particularly students with severe disabilities, English language learning students, and students in deep poverty. Meanwhile, barriers to enrollment and practices that serve to push out students who are often perceived as more challenging to serve are not isolated to charter schools. Improving public school enrollment is essential.

At the time of the signing of the Compact, we were concerned about the inclusion of private sectarian schools as members of the Compact. We initially raised these concerns via testimony to the SRC in November 2011, just before the Compact was first signed.

In late 2012, we learned that a “working group” was being formed by the Compact to explore and make recommendations about a possible system of universal enrollment (UE). We contacted the Compact and requested a seat on the working group as longtime advocates for fair and legally compliant public school enrollment practices. We were subsequently invited to join the working group. However, ELC is not a member of the actual Great Schools Compact, and we have not been involved in discussions regarding universal enrollment that occur in that setting.

Upon joining the working group, we signed an agreement to respect the confidentiality of the discussions. It is our understanding that this agreement was designed to ensure that the working group itself was a safe place for candid conversation, but does not prevent us from discussing publicly any of the issues being explored by the working group or expressing our opinions about UE. In February, we hosted a public forum at Temple University with Education Voters and the Philadelphia School Partnership to explain the basic concepts of UE, what the working group was working on, and to solicit feedback. We have also independently reached out to advocates in New Orleans and Denver who have shared with us that, although their systems are far from perfect, they have been an improvement on the free-for-all system that preceded it and that we currently have in Philadelphia.

ELC’s role on the working group is similar to other participants. We have all been working to learn about systems of universal enrollment, discuss what might work best in Philadelphia, and reach a joint set of recommendations for members of the Compact to consider. In addition, as legal advocates and representatives of the class of students established in the LeGare settlement, which mandates the rules the District must follow with respect to students with disabilities and English language learners who seek enrollment in the School District’s special admission schools, ELC has also viewed our role as advocating for a system that protects vulnerable student populations. Our perception has been that creating a system that is simple and more equitable is a priority for all members of the working group.

Within the working group, we have frequently expressed our strong opposition to the possibility of this system being privately operated, as well as to possible inclusion of the Archdiocesan schools. In addition to explaining the numerous legal obstacles to such a system, we have expressed our concern that both of these approaches would unnecessarily complicate the system and erode the public’s trust in its validity. These issues are still undecided, and we look forward to continued discussions both within the working group and in the public sphere. ELC continues to believe that a universal public school enrollment system maintained and controlled by a publicly accountable entity could help to ensure that all public schools in Philadelphia are welcoming to all kinds of students.

We do not always agree, but the working group has been collaborative and welcoming of divergent perspectives. It has been encouraging to see cooperation and collaboration between charters and the District on how to improve access. As we progress toward making recommendations to the Compact, greater transparency and public input is absolutely essential for ensuring that changes to school enrollment will increase equity and access. For this reason we welcome the Notebook’s exploration of both the issues and the process.

David Lapp
Staff Attorney, Education Law Center

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Comments (45)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 13:07.

Gag me with a spoon !! What a total bunch of crap !!

Submitted by Dave M. (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 13:30.

Another step toward privitization.

More private firms making money off the backs of our city's students.

Submitted by Helen Gym on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 14:36.

This is an important letter that frames up many of the critical issues around the role of PSP, the confidential discussions being raised, and the fundamental tension that exists between choice and equity.

I am disappointed with the signing of confidentiality agreements. I do not think anyone publicly was aware of the intent of PSP to take the system independent, to privately control and manage it, and to include Catholic schools in the mix. Because this was part of a conversation I assume was covered by confidentiality, it raises questions about the role of other members of the working group (who I hope come forward) who have also failed to indicate the troubling direction the internal conversations were headed.

At the same time, I also think this letter and the questions about the current system vs. single match common enrollment system highlights the fundamental problem of choice vs. equity. The two do not co-exist. The free for all system IS a choice system based largely on market principles. A single match enrollment system restrains and limits choices in order to provide more opportunity to a wider group. But it is not a choice based system. Moreover, if parents are limited to increasingly poor and low-quality choices, it also begs the question of the meaning of such "choices."

This is the reason why the overall system and rhetoric of choice has earned deserved skepticism as new problems are created in place of others.


Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 00:49.


You make very important points. School choice is NOT a democratic system nor is it EQUALLY ACCESSIBLE. Although legally speaking, charter schools must serve all children, the reality is that by and large they don't serve the children who are in the District's Complex Support Needs programs: Multiple Disabilities Support, Autistic Support, and Life Skills Support.

By design, lottery-based enrollment makes it almost impossible to support the Complex Support Needs programs. THE PARENTS OF MY STUDENTS DON'T HAVE MUCH OF A CHOICE! The District must coordinate so many services for children in the Complex Support Needs programs: transportation, professional development for teachers and classroom assistants, PASA testing, related services such as occupational therapy which have high utilization in the Complex Support Needs, transition services for kids who are graduating, vocational programs, hiring classroom assistants, ordering reading and math intervention materials, and so on. And to top it all off, the curriculum for children in CSN programs is different than kids with learning disabilities and regular education students.

By and large, lottery based charters also don't serve many students who qualify for Emotional Support because many students in ES don't meet the behavior standards that many charters, particularly lottery-based ones, have. Then District schools like mine are left with little crumbs of money to handle these students with severe behavior problems who are completely out of control.

Choice versus equity involves a lot of philosophical issues and a lot of opinions. These are important issues to debate, but the question is, do these issues have the ammunition behind them to hold weight versus the school choice/privatization efforts and a Republican dominated legislature and Republican governor who want to see the District fail.

Bringing the issues of special education to the fore is one of the best ways to combat the privatization and excessive school choice. PSP and other school choice advocates CANNOT win when talking about special education issues because many of these parties are not well informed about special ed issues. And even if they are, their ideas are at odds fundamentally with special education law in many areas. For example, privately operated universal enrollment is fundamentally at odds with principles of special education law, such as Zero Reject, parental rights, and confidentiality.

Educator of Great Students.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 13:57.

As long as issues related the to the inclusion of archdiocesan schools remain undecided, as long as we continue to move forward in this "collaboration", the erosion of the public's trust in the validity of the universal enrollment continues.
It is disheartening to hear an ELC attorney dancing around this issue. Separation of church and state is at issue here, but MONEY is really the only issue- and the erosion of public education continues.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 14:37.

Of course this whole issue raises questions of who gets the most benefit, including the profit motive. The inclusion of Catholic schools, presumably those schools already under the management of private entities like Independence Mission Schools, also brings up concerns about separation of church and state as well as our state constitution's strict prohibition against using tax money to fund sectarian education.

The blurring of public and private, sectarian and secular is a red flag for those concerned with the integrity of public education and the encroachment of private enterprise.

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 14:44.

we seem to be expending way too much energy on this universal enrollment nonsense. ue is a red herring. the problem is there are too few good schools. ue is every getting a fair chance to get a bologna sandwich. why not make more sandwiches? managing the fraction of desirable schools, especially when you subtract the magnets which have admissions requirements, is fair, but futile. quickening the pace of closure/replacement beats computerized fight over scraps.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 15:11.

Hi David, I read your commentary with deep interest, since as you know, I keep myself well abreast of the legal and ethical issues at play in -- all of this.

A point I believe that we can all agree on is that there needs to be much "collegial discussion" about this and it must be done in an open, honest, and very transparent manner.

That has not happened, and that is very concerning to me as both a life long educator and attorney who has dedicated the last 40 years to our district and its children and families.

As you may know, I have spent much of the last decade writing about school governance and the "imperative of democracy" in the governance and leadership of our supposedly "public schools."

Open, public and ultimately democratic processes are not only the "best practices" of school governance and leadership, but it is required by law in the public domain. For example, the Sunshine Act requires open, democratic and public processes.

The role of the Gates Compact Committee, and its members which includes Mark Gleason of PSP, is much in controversy and is very concerning to many concerned citizens of Philadelphia and beyond.

We would be less than honest if we did not acknowledge and recognize that reality.

Many of us, including myself, believe that the Gates Compact Committee and PSP have set themselves up as a "shadow governance body" for the district and have undue influence on what is rolled out to the public at SRC meetings.

I also believe they and many others have an Agenda of privatization of the American schoolhouse. The secrecy by which the Compact Committee works is concerning to me as someone who deeply believes in public education.

The civil rights of us all, especially the children and their parents, is also deeply concerning to me. I was thinking just this morning about the Civil Rights Act and what it means in today's world of education.

There is no place for secrecy and compacts of secrecy in the public domain. That is alarming at the least. I am glad you and your organization are involved, but I ask you to think deeply about "all of this" and put it in historical and political perspective.

The welfare of our children and our community is at stake, and if we can not get it together for them, then what does it say about us -- as a community?

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 15:25.

Let's be frank here. School choice is by definition a form of eliteism. One of the main reasons for creating special admissions schools like Masterman, Central or GAMP was to keep middle class families from fleeing the city. And for a long time it worked. Other schools became de facto magnets like Meredith in Queen Village, which attracted a whole community and a very active parent association - likewise, Anne Frank in the NE or A.S. Jenks in South Philly. Using the free market model created by NCLB many regular neighborhood schools were declared "failing" and turned over to charter operators who promised better "outcomes" while attracting families from all sectors. This further eroded community based schools including cash strapped parochial schools - with the result of massive school closings in both systems. Thanks to two tax credit laws in Pennsylvania, private corporations can get 90% write-offs dor donations to "opportunity scholarships" that are being used to fund privately managed sectarian schools. "UE" sounds like a perfect way to simplify the creation of a tax supported multitierd system that has almost zero transparency and accountability.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 17:00.

Thanks Gloria for clarifying this. To add insult to injury, those left behind are declared failing. The question I ask myself is this, "Once citizens understand the underhanded, manipulative way our public schools are being taken from us, will they care?"
Those of us who recognize the crippling effects this system is having on democracy will continue to speak up.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 19:18.

You said a mouthful. There is an existential threat to democracy if the privatization movement continues to deconstruct the universal and democratic public school system.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/01/2013 - 02:13.

It is not school choice that concerns you but human nature.

Wealthier better educated parents want the best schools for their children and don't want them in an environment dominated by children of parents who don't share the same values.

The notion that the public system's primary goal should must be to reverse human nature is a big part of the reason it fails, except in wealthy suburban communities where parents share the same value and high housing prices can keep out others.

This choice has always been exercised by the wealthier and better educated. What is different now is that choice is more democratically available without leaving the city. It is odd to see that as somehow an injustice.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 00:25.


I understand your point about "parents who don't share the same values." At the same time, these parents may not share the same "values" because they live in very different circumstances. Life is much different in poor neighborhoods in North Philly and West Philly than in suburbs like Lower Merion, Marple Township, Cheltenham, and so on.

School choice is NOT a democratic system. I am a Special Education Teacher for the District. I teach in one of the Complex Support Needs programs. Although legally speaking, charter schools must serve all children, the reality is that by and large they don't serve the children who are in the District's CSN programs: Multiple Disabilities Support, Autistic Support, and Life Skills Support.

By design, lottery-based enrollment makes it almost impossible to support the Complex Support Needs programs. THE PARENTS OF MY STUDENTS DON'T HAVE MUCH OF A CHOICE! The District must coordinate so many services for children in the Complex Support Needs programs: transportation, professional development for teachers and classroom assistants, PASA testing, related services such as occupational therapy which have high utilization in the Complex Support Needs, transition services for kids who are graduating, vocational programs, hiring classroom assistants, ordering reading and math intervention materials, and so on. And to top it all off, the curriculum for children in CSN programs is different than kids with learning disabilities and regular education students.

I look forward to your responses to the points I just made. Remember, ALL children must receive an education and the School District of Philadelphia is the only educational entity in the city which is set up to serve all children. I'm a District employee, so I know that the District has its issues. But the District can take almost every student while many charter schools wouldn't know what to do with a kid who has a significant disability.

Educator of Great Students.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 01:22.

Thank you, Educator, for the excellent reply to anonymous. The confusion of "choice" with anything like a democratic process is a complete illusion. That is the reality we face here. Drawn to its logical conclusion, "choice" will create a completely new kind of segregation, where children with disabilities of any kind will be separated from all others. The "choice" will always, always remain with the admitting school.

I understand fully anonymous's point about human nature. People buy more expensive homes in order to obtain what they consider a better (elite) education for their children. But there are also parents who do not have the means to remove their families or in fact choose to remain in a vibrant multi-cultural urban setting. They also want the best for their children. As I said earlier, the district has special admissions schools to attract and keep those families.

But there are also vibrant schools in blue collar neighborhoods which attract a diverse population and where young families of all backgrounds want to send their children for a secular education. They should not have to fight every year to keep their teachers from being transferred for budgetary reasons or to have services and resources that their suburban peers take for granted.

That concept of winners and losers is the ultimate disgrace of all this choice.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 17:57.

Frodo: [holding out the Ring] Take it Gandalf!
[Gandalf backs away]
Frodo: Take it!
Gandalf: No, Frodo.
Frodo: You must take it!
Gandalf: You cannot offer me this ring!
Frodo: I'm giving it to you!
Gandalf: Don't... tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo. I would use this ring from a desire to do good... But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.

You took the ring.

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 18:22.

It never ceases to amaze me why the archdiocese would want to get involved with UE, which would allow the secularists open season on catholic schools. If you want to find a catholic school, go to the archdiocese website or private school review website for information and visit one through an open house.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 19:28.

The answer is simple. It is about the money. Archbishop Chaput was sent here as a hatchet man to straighten out the finances of the archdiocese. They are still settling lawsuits, plus trying to support a dwindling system due to attrition.

High tuition discourages attendance at diocesan schools. Charters offer an attractive (well marketed) free alternative. That causes a cycle of lower and lower population to support the existing schools.

To the rescue is a PSP sponsored company called Independence Mission Schools, with funding coming from grants from billionaires like Dell and also "opportunity scholarships" paid for through the two tax credit acts in Pennsylvania that allow businesses to get back 90% of their donations to middle men organizations like Business Leaders Organized for Catholic Schools.

Independence Mission School admit as many as 80% non-Catholic students. They try to admit students with access to those tax supported scholarships.

In the end, is it any wonder that our state education fund is inadequate for the needs of the regular public schools?

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 20:26.

Your logic is somewhat off. I know that many cheer when a catholic grade school closes, particularly from the folks that hate the catholic church. The students either move over to the public school system, but I've found most of them headed over to the charter school system.

In essence, the system gets burdened more. Here is the real rub. Many of these charter schools get stacked with former catholic grade school kids. I've seen it. In effect, you are giving them a quasi private education with public tax dollars.

Be careful what you wish for here. Either way, you end up paying for it.

I'm against those "opportunity scholarships" and I sent my kids to catholic school. The program is capped at $50 million, which is nothing with billion dollar budgets. To put it into perspective, we just found out that $45 million buys you 60 counselors. No offense, I don't want folks like the government or yourself poking noses into my school.

Submitted by tom-104 on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 21:20.

Were do you get the information about how the $45 million was spent? I have seen no breakdown of how this money is being spent.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Fri, 11/01/2013 - 05:00.

Go-Eagles, you need to read more carefully. I see no difference at all in our opinions. I describe essentially the same situation with charter schools draining both public and parochial schools causing both systems to shut down. This has been going on for years.

I certainly do not wish for it.

The last I heard, the 2011 budget signed by Corbett increased the opportunity scholarship money (backdoor vouchers) to $100 million.

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on Fri, 11/01/2013 - 11:45.

I'm sorry. I apologize. Parochial schools have been hit hardest by the charter schools. It's a key point.

I've been reading on many blogs with posters blaming parochial schools for the demise of public school by cherry picking their students, busing or whatever. I thought the program was capped at $50 million, but it could very well be $100 million.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 01:43.

Well, Go-E, that is all true. My own parish school was one of those axed because of declining enrollment. Parents were attracted by the nearby charter school because of the tuition they could no longer afford, thus creating a vicious cycle.

The problem with all this, besides being undemocratic, is that education has entered the realm of Big Business. The Milton Friedman school of economics favors "school choice" because it can be used to make a profit. The Broad Superintendents Academy trains school leaders to deconstruct public education wherever they are assigned. Vallas, Ackerman and Hite were all graduates of their training program.

Politicians from both parties contributed to this revolution by passing charter school laws and state takeover laws. Using NCLB and Race to the Top driven high stakes testing, another lucrative enterprise by the way, they can systematically destroy any public school system and turn the process over to private entrepreneurs, often leaving the door open to unscrupulous operators who use every trick in the book to milk this unaccountable new system.

The new kid on the block is the Common Core with a continuation of more high stakes tests. Add to that the specter of "merit pay" and other forms of competition and you see how education becomes one big market driven enterprise with children turned into commodities and the rule of thumb becoming Do More With Less.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 12:59.


You are right about the effect of charter schools on parochial schools. I too belonged to a parish which had its parish school closed because of declining enrollment, largely attributable to charter schools. Catholic schools in the city have been closing long before charter schools came into being. However, the current mass closings and consolidations of Catholic schools in the City were in large part due to the proliferation of charter schools.


Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 13:15.

EGS - exactly right. Parents switched because of the high cost of tuition and not because they were getting an inferior education in the parochial schools.

Also similar closings and mergers of public schools have been attributed to the transfer of students to the charter school system which uses some of their money to advertize and market their programs.

We have about 90 charter schools in the city. And no end in sight.

The problem with charters is their lack of oversight. They are paid for out of tax money but they act like independent private schools. They can and do discriminate in admissions and in who can stay. They have a habit of admitting slightly disabled students, collecting the money and then dismissing them.

All this activity is part of the privatization plan. Thanks to Katrina, for example, Paul Vallas entered New Orleans and allowed 88% of its reconstructed schools to become charters.

Mission accomplished.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 14:46.


Your points about charter schools are spot on. Your point about schools in New Orleans is very important. There are HUGE problems with the proliferation of charter schools in New Orleans, especially when it comes to special education:

Unrelenting New Orleans special education problems alleged in new court filings

P.B., et al. v. Pastorek Popular Name: New Orleans Special Education

Special education enrollment numbers show Orleans Parish School Board charters lagging

Philadelphia is a ticking time bomb when it comes to issues involving special education and charter schools.

I teach for the District, in one of its Complex Support Needs programs (formerly Low Incidence programs). Charter schools by and large cannot serve and do not serve students with significant autism, intellectual disability, and multiple disabilities. School reformers criticize bureaucracy, but bureaucracy is necessary for public education, especially special education. Lottery based charter schools, BY DESIGN, do not have the economies of scale or bureaucracy necessary to provide FAPE to students with significant disabilities.


Telling the parents of the children in my class--children with significant special needs--that they can choose a school is LYING to these parents. MOST OF MY STUDENTS DON'T EVEN HAVE THE CHOICE OF ATTENDING THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL!!! Rather, they must be bused to a District school which has the requisite Complex Support Needs program. Furthermore, the curriculum from which I teach is not the general education curriculum, but an alternative curriculum. My students take the PASA, not the PSSA.

With all of its problems and issues, The School District of Philadelphia is the ONLY educational entity in the city which has the structures in place to provide FAPE for all (or almost all) children in the city. Yet these budget cuts make it almost impossible to properly educate students with the most severe special needs.


Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 19:51.

Thank you, EGS, for all your excellent points and documentation. You have identified the problem - the hoax of "school choice".

And your use of the term "economies of scale" reminds me of one of the first education management companies - Edison Schools, Inc. Their founder Chris Whittle promised he could do education better and cheaper by applying the principles of "economies of scale". Essentially, he had a blueprint that he tried to duplicate in every school. Ordering the same books, even the same band instruments and tennis rackets in bulk was supposed to save money. Children were treated like identical assembly line materials.

Of course it was all nonsense. But he made a ton of money before he bailed out. One of his chief partners, Christopher Cerf, is now the Education Commissioner in the state of New Jersey. If Christie wins reelection, he will continue to promote school privatization.

It really is terrible what happened to New Orleans.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 23:03.

Hi Gloria. I have to laugh along with you. Your point about "economies of scale" is a great point and very true.

Every time I hear someone say can be "taken to scale' " it makes me cringe.That is the psychobabble of privatization.

Diane Ravitch talks about the language of the privatizers.

They are like talking parrots.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 03:48.

First of all, it is a pleasure to talk on a message board with people who GET the points we are making.

Before I ever heard of Diane Ravitch, I saw this trainwreck coming in the 80's with the flagship privatizer Chris Whittle. He started his company with capital he raised from selling his first big company that provided closed circuit television programming for all kinds of schools, supposedly "for free". IBM provided the televisions. They called the program "Channel One" or "Whittle". We were forced to turn the stupid thing on and the students were then subjected to "current events" programming laced with multiple commercials for candy and other child centered products. It was disgusting.

Edison Schools, Inc. obtained control of the schools in Chester Upland and it was a disaster. They have since morphed into other incarnations. But their former executives like Richard Barth, who is married to TFA founder Wendy Kopp, and is a founder of KIPP charter schools, and the above mentioned Cerf in NJ are powerhouses in the education racket.

We cannot let the philistines win!!!

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 09:52.


Due to its size, the District uses economies of scale and is able to buy in bulk when it orders textbooks and other materials. Yes, there are decentralized building-level processes for ordering materials, site-based purchasing. However, ordering also takes place at the central office level. I know first hand that this is the case with intervention materials for the Complex Support Needs programs. I don't know if it also applies for Learning Support and Emotional Support.

For CSN, teachers and SELs communicate what materials they need to representatives from Office of Specialized Services and then representatives from OSS order the materials and distribute them. OSS also has some intervention materials on hand that they can distribute to teachers and SELs when there is an immediate need for such materials. The central distribution of materials works with OSS because it's based on actual input from teachers and SELs. This prevents waste because not every child is on the same level of Reading Mastery, for example. Taking input allows ordering to reflect actual needs. Because some schools may have fewer than 20 students in CSN programs, it makes sense to coordinate intervention orders from the central office.

There's nothing wrong with buying in bulk. However, there has to be balance between using economies of scale to save money and ensuring that children have the right materials to fit their needs. Edison clearly was focused most on saving money, not making sure kids had what they needed or taking the input of teachers and other educators. How much experience does Mr. Cerf have as an educator? Is he an educator or a businessman?

Private entities don't own economies of scale. Public entities use economies of scale as well.


Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 10:15.

Thanks, EGS, for the clarification. I would not argue with the central office buying items that all schools use in bulk. As long as they do accept orders for individualized programs. What Edison did was try to homogenize and mass produce the delivery of instruction. It was a one size fits all factory model not an educational model.

That is the central flaw in standardized testing. All children are expected to reach the same level of achievement by a certain deadline, with no accounting for individual differences.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 10:15.

Thanks, EGS, for the clarification. I would not argue with the central office buying items that all schools use in bulk. As long as they do accept orders for individualized programs. What Edison did was try to homogenize and mass produce the delivery of instruction. It was a one size fits all factory model not an educational model.

That is the central flaw in standardized testing. All children are expected to reach the same level of achievement by a certain deadline, with no accounting for individual differences.

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 21:37.

Ummm, read the newspaper.

Submitted by tom-104 on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 21:44.

Would you link this phantom information please?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/01/2013 - 04:54.

According to the "newspapers," $10 million of the $45 million is going to charters. The remaining $35 million is bringing back 80 counselors and 320 other staff which includes teachers, administrators, support staff, etc.

Why is $10 million going to charters - on top of what they already receive? Charter enrollment in theory is capped. There shouldn't be additional students in charters. (Of course, in Philly, the give away to charters in the year before Hite arrived was huge under Darden / Ackerman / Knudson. Mastery opened a new elementary school in South Philly this year while South Philly public schools were closed. Yes, charters have huge marketing budgets - we see it on this site and around the city. What public school has an ad budget????)

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 12:57.

Mr. Lapp makes many important points. His letter is a very measured response and that makes sense; this letter is, at least in part, a public relations move.

The ELC's involvement in the working groups' discussions on the UE process is important. At the same time,the confidentiality agreements are troubling. The PSP which administers the Great Schools Compact is not a public entity. The issues with which the GSC is dealing should take part in a public forum, not behind closed doors. This is not a Fortune 500 company's board room---this is public education.

The ELC's opposition to a privately operated universal enrollment system and inclusion of sectarian schools is important. However, the issues of public oversight and public input remain.


Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2013 - 22:02.

EGS, the only way to ensure "public oversight and public input" is to repeal the state takeover law (written specifically for Philadelphia) and restore local control and accountability for the schools to a separate PSD Board of Education, a group of non-partisan, elected officials with total transparency.

We also need to end the regime of high stakes testing. The only purpose for such tests is non-educational. They are designed as a quick and easy way to judge teachers for something called "value added assessment" followed by "merit pay".

There is absolutely no educational value in high stakes testing.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 10:16.


Even if standardized tests aren't high stakes, I still think they are of limited educational value. The limited value is due to the tests occurring at the end of the year. Scores are not available for use in a formative manner. With all the cheating that has occurred, teachers can't even look at test booklets to see what errors students made in reasoning, especially on the open-ended questions.


Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 10:35.

EGS - unless the results of the test are used for diagnostic purposes by the current teacher, the tests have no formative educational value for that class.

The standardized tests designed for NCLB and Race to the Top are there not to help the students but to grade the teachers.

It is a bean counter's tool, nothing more.

The best standardized test for assessing national trends in education is the National Assessment of Educational Progress. There is no prep for this test. It is given randomly. It gives a clear picture of national achievement in basic skills.

Decades ago, we also had standardized tests and the results did not come back until the following term. But we used them to determine what skills were weakest and what we needed to improve in general. But they were also useless to the teacher of the current class.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 15:31.


I took the Iowa Tests as a child and those tests did what you describe---gave a general overview of the areas of strength and weakness. But we didn't do much preparation for the ITBS in terms of practicing test questions. We just took the tests. (I went to Catholic school, not public school.)

Most students in the Complex Support Needs programs who are 3rd grade and older take the PASA, the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment. It is a standardized test, but PASA scores never counted toward AYP. Each test is administered individually and videotaped in most cases. There are 3 levels of the test, A, B, and C. The Assessor (teacher) and Test Coordinator (often the Special Education Liaison) decide which level each student should take. The PASA registration site provides a description of the content and skills that each level contains.

The Assessor or the Assessor and Test Coordinator can make an informed decision about which level is the best fit for the child. There are some limitations on whether a child can be moved down from a higher level to a lower level. But, the process is individualized. As a teacher, I was able to choose the levels that I felt would be a good fit for the students given what they will have learned by the spring.

There are adaptations available for students who have hearing impairments, visual impairments, and who are nonverbal. So it is individualized. The PASA is mandated by NCLB. It is a time consuming process. It holds us accountable for student learning. But it's individualized standardized test. Student needs are accounted for in the process. Also, teachers also score the PASA tests.

This will be the first year that I will administer the PASA, but I had some involvement in it last year as a Classroom Assistant. It's possible that results may be a part of my evaluation given the new value added system that the Commonwealth has. But because it's not high stakes for schools in general, I am able to choose the most appropriate levels for my students, not the levels that will raise scores. I won't have to do much teaching to the test or PASA practice tests every week the way I see regular ed teachers doing practice PSSA questions. Near the time of the PASA, I may do a little bit of preparation with the kids so that they don't go into testing "cold." I want them to be familiar with the language of the test and how it goes. Some students have taken the test before, but I have some students who will take the PASA for the first time this year.

The content on the PASA is content that I will be teaching. But I never have to frame academic success in terms of how they do on the PASA. I'm more interested in progress toward IEP goals and objectives. I'm not opposed to standardized testing. I want to and need to be held accountable for student learning. But at least with the PASA, the process is more authentic and respectful for both students and teachers.


Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 15:13.

I am enjoying your conversation with Gloria. Back when we had our Reading program at Uni in the 70's and 80's and early 90's, our Reading Department used the MAT6 -- the Metropolitan Achievement Test, as a pre and post test. It gave us an instructional level, a grade level equivalent (a useless score) and a percentile ranking. "

We had two forms A & B which were "equivalent measures." We gave them very informally and they could be completed in 40 minutes. They went from very simple passages (4th grade level) and increased through the high school levels. That way we could see their independent, instructional and frustrational levels, along with their 'instructional range."

We had two class sets of each form. We administered them within the first week of school, passed them along to each Reading teacher and scored them by hand with a template. We kept each student's score in our roll books and we aggregated and disaggregated the scores collectively.

We used them as a starting point and a formative diagnostic tool. All we needed to know is their instructional grade levels so we had a starting point. From then on in we used "informal assessment" techniques with the actual books and materials we used. It was called "authentic diagnosis."

We gave our students their post tests during the last week of school as part of their informal final exams. I assure you our students did their best and no one ever cheated. They were anxious to see their improvement at the end.

In January of every year, every student in the district took the California Achievement Test in reading and math which gave us a local, state, and national percentile ranking for every student. We used that as a screening device. Every student who scored below the 25th percentile was sent to us for assessment and we advised the student, counselor, program coordinators and parents as to whether they should have a reading class in addition to regular English. Once a student reached the 7th grade level, we considered them "developmental" and they did not need us anymore, but we did start a developmental class for any student who wanted it.

We had that system for about fifteen years. We used the same tests from year to year, except when the company updated its norms, we bought new tests.

I assure you we looked very carefully at the types of questions they missed. We looked for "factual comprehension" and "inferential comprehension" errors.

We diagnosed word recognition skills, phonics and structural analysis, along with fluency, through informal diagnosis. We kept records.

I have not looked at the PSSA's in the past four years, but from 2002-2009, they were the worst and most useless tests I have ever seen.

Just a history lesson on the way we used to do it -- back in the day.

Similar systems could be very easily developed today which would give you true to life formative and evaluative measures.

But what most often is done now is -- "test and punish."

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 18:20.


I too am enjoying the conversation with Gloria. I appreciate your description of how diagnostic tests and authentic assessments for reading were used when you taught. It seems that the use of the MAT is similar to using the Developmental Reading Assessment. The point is to find the instructional level, pinpoint areas of strength and weakness, group students, and monitor progress.
What troubles me most about standardized testing is that they are such limited instruments for assessing learning. However, when schools buy into standardized testing, it really shapes the whole culture of the school. Based on spending time in a number of schools---traditional public, charter, approved private, and parochial---the emphasis on testing was most evident at the Mastery school.

For reading, the Mastery school used Fountas & Pinnell reading assessments, similar to the DRAs, which is a more authentic reading assessment and gives information about specific skills. The school really emphasized making sure every teacher knew his/her student’s instructional reading level. Students were matched with books at their instructional reading level. In the younger grades, Mastery uses Reading Mastery, which I use in my classroom, and I think it’s an excellent program. So Mastery does a lot of things well when it comes to reading.
At the same time, the emphasis on raising test scores was very high at this Mastery school. The staff encouraged children to take PSSAs and benchmarks seriously and see them as important. Children at the school took benchmark tests every 6 weeks. These were mini PSSA tests that people in Mastery's central office, the NeST, wrote using old PSSA questions or PSSA-like questions. Every 6 weeks, an entire week is set aside for benchmark testing and make-up testing. Mastery’s teachers looked over the benchmark tests results to see areas of weakness and strength for each student. So the tests do have a formative purpose.

For the students who can read, the benchmarks do provide valuable information. The biggest problem came with the lowest readers. Adults could read directions and test questions to students, but not actual reading passages (unless a child was specifically allowed this accommodation in his/her IEP). So a third grader who is reading at a kindergarten level would score below basic by virtue of not being able to read the passage. The child was basically told to look for key words and guess. Students were given little snacks during testing, e.g. goldfish, fruit snacks, candy, to help get them through taking the tests.

The emphasis on standardized testing was greater at this Mastery school than I’ve ever seen elsewhere, whether as a child, in employment, or as a grad student. Yes, the children are prepared to take the PSSAs, but for the lowest readers, all the benchmarks tell you are that these kids can't read well.
The approach toward benchmarks is different in the District than at Mastery. Mastery uses the benchmarks for its value added system and formative purposes. The District also uses benchmarks to help prepare students for PSSAs and for formative purposes, but not to evaluate teachers. The principal of the school at which I student taught was clear that the benchmarks were formative. Also, students in the District take benchmarks less often than students at Mastery Charter's schools.

Mastery has been successful at raising test scores, but I really question this approach because it assumes that the PSSAs or standardized tests are valid measures of learning. Not everyone learns or tests the same way.
Also, Mastery has so many more adults in their schools, even while District-run schools are hurting for adults. I don’t know how the budget cuts have affected Mastery’s staffing levels this year, but I know that they get a lot of money from private sources and “philanthropies” for them to grow and support their top heavy structure. Their teachers are by and large young, mostly in their 20s and 30s. Mastery schools have a lot more adults at the schools – 4 assistant principals at each school, a social worker, guidance counselor, at least one dean, Apprentice School Leaders.

THE USE OF PSSAs TO RATE SCHOOLS IS IN AND OF ITSELF INVALID. The reason is because there are no controls instituted to control for variables such as socioeconomic status, percentage of students with disabilities, resources available in the schools, experience or certifications of the teachers, and so on. In peer-reviewed studies, researchers may use tests scores, but is typically a statistical process for factoring in the aforementioned variables. Why isn't this the case with standardized tests?

The SDP has so many state-designated "failing schools" because the inputs and characteristics of students are vastly different from what we see in more affluent districts and some charter schools. It’s not right to judge everyone with the same measuring stick unless everyone is on a level playing field. Many members of the public don’t think about the importance of these different variables and how they influence test scores and ratings. However, those who want the traditional public schools to fail love to label these schools as failing even when these schools aren’t competing on a level playing field in terms of personnel, resources, student characteristics, and so on.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 18:30.

Thanks, Rich, and E. This feels almost like a professional seminar. Here we are, educators from different generations, able to compare and contrast the trends in educational assessments over a long period of time.

We all agree that the current testing regime is a waste of time. It narrows the curriculum, threatens punishment, causes "winners and losers" and generally destroys collegiality while labeling children and their schools "failures". What a disgrace!!!

Rich, I am enjoying your classification of reading levels from independent to "frustrational". Besides all those levels, I always chose to do shared reading of books that were way above their reading levels but high on their interest level. Sure, we wanted the children to read independently and write book reports, etc. But I chose to read classical stuff to them like Frank Baum's original " The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". Then I suggested that instead of simply writing about the book that we BECOME the book, and so we produced a staged musical based on the story, with the help of the art and music teacher.

I did the same thing with "Mary Poppins" with another third grade class. One of the girls who played a forest tree in the show grew up and went to Harvard. The little girl who played Jane Banks is now a first grade teacher.

Children love to dramatize literature.

I also miss the nationally acclaimed Latin program in our schools that was one of the first things the SRC cut out, back in 2001. I still surreptitiously do pro bono Latin work with students where my practicum teaches. It opens the whole world of language to them.

But the philistines on the SRC have not a clue.

If it is not on the stupid test, fuhgetaboutit. 8-/

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 22:01.

That is what I miss about teaching and even being an administrator -- the collegial discussion. I taught during the golden years when we just created our own programs. We chose our own books and materials. We had our own budgets. We bought books for "our students." Not imaginary students.

I like the way you challenge your students. Interest increases ability to comprehend. Students also have a "hearing capacity" which is their comprehension ability when a selection is read to them. If a student's hearing capacity was significantly higher than his or her reading comprehension level, we considered that student as "remedial" meaning they would benefit from remediation.

Dyslexic students often have very high hearing capacities and some of them were the most intelligent students I ever taught.

One of the most brilliant statements I ever heard was from a "college board" professional development representative. He said, the only way to study for the SAT's was (1) Do a lot of broad based reading over time, and, (2) Provide students with "challenging reading activities commensurate with ability."

As EGS notes, test preparation may raise reading test scores somewhat, but it does not raise reading ability. Often times it teaches poor reading habits and limits authentic reading.

When we read to totally comprehend something, we do not read to find an answer to a question. We read to understand what the author is trying to say. We have to understand the train of thought.
Good readers think as they read and ask questions as they read. The questions arise in our minds as we read.

I remember twenty years ago after spending 15 minutes on an activity about "setting your purpose" for reading. I asked my students, "OK now what are we going to read this story to find out?" A girl looked at me like I was stupid and said, "Mr. Migliore, we are reading it to find out what it is about."

Kinda like simplifies it now doesn't it? So much for my purpose setting lesson.

Reading is "an ability." It is not a set of skills. It develops overtime and there are many factors which effect its growth.

In reality we coach it -- we do not really teach it so to speak.

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Mon, 11/04/2013 - 00:41.

Rich, indeed, this has been a wonderful exchange. Yes, we recall a time when teaching was about promoting critical and creative thinking, about making difficult content comprehensible to children and encouraging active learning. It was not about wasting days on "test taking strategies" or scripted lessons.

But to sum up this talk, we must not forget the topic. There are serious forces out there determined to capture a multi-billion dollar market by hook or by crook. They would reduce public education to its lowest common denominator, its cheapest, least creative, most formulaic component, the easiest to duplicate over a larger and larger market.

And if they can also capture the private school market under the same umbrella of "universal enrollment", while introducing such monstrous ideas as "blended learning" which allows class sizes to double as teachers split their class between oral instruction and computer programmed instruction, the more loot they can pocket.

School choice will simply boil down to segregating the hardest to teach from the rest, so that the rest can be "taught" by programmed, rote instruction, delivered by uncertified and perferably young and cheaply compensated staff or better yet by cyber models that put pupil teacher ratios into the hundreds to one.

Those who could not obtain any hope of an authentic education could of course be funneled into the military or prison pipelines. There is money in any of the end results.

Destroying collective bargaining, seniority, tenure and indeed the very profession that we remember so fondly is all part of the privatization plan. If you can program a child's entire school experience and put it all into a little box, who needs an expensive, highly trained professional teacher? Economies of scale run amok.

Did you know that the SRC was even comtemplating the hiring of uncertified medical personnel to take the place of school nurses?

If a foreign agent planned such an attack on our intellectual capital and with it our ability to think and govern ourselves, we would be making plans to go to war.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Mon, 11/04/2013 - 08:26.

Your understanding of "all of this" is inspirational. We all need to stand up and speak. We really do.

I watch all of this lunacy unfold before my eyes and am just amazed at the lack of integrity of it all. You have said it so well in this comment. May I quote you in the future?

I am still reading Diane Ravitch's new book, but it is amazingly accurate and really does explain the hoax of the privatization movement.

Thank you for your conversation.

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