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Students aching for a spot in top charters sweat out lottery season

By the Notebook on Feb 20, 2014 10:48 PM
Photo: Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Anastasia Ratkova (center) becomes emotional as her daughter, Nicole, 14, is named first on the 9th-grade waiting list at MaST Community Charter School. 

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

Anastasia Ratkova draped an anxious arm around her 14-year-old daughter.  That arm was wrapped in a blood-pressure monitor.

It was the night of the MaST charter school enrollment lottery, and people were anxious. Really anxious.

Mother and daughter sat on folding chairs in MaST's auditorium on Tuesday, listening as the school administrators randomly pulled 96 of the more than 5,000 names of students who had applied for admission to the popular and successful charter school in the Somerton section of Philadelphia.

In the state's new School Performance Profile scoring, MaST (short for Math and Science Technology) earned an excellent rating of 90.0 – the highest score of any city public schools other than the selective-admission magnets.

As Anastasia heard her daughter's name – Nicole Ratkova – called over the speakers, her heart pounded and tears welled in her eyes.

Nicole had been selected for the top spot on the 9th-grade waiting list – an outcome tied in part to the fact that her younger brother attends kindergarten at the school. Siblings of MaST students get a boost in the lottery.

The waiting list was the best news for which the pair could hope. The only new students that MaST admitted in the lottery were those applying for kindergarten. For the 4,219 students hoping to get into grades 1-12, the ride on the waiting list was predetermined. The parents were there to jockey only for order.

Anastasia, a native of Belarus and a chemist by trade, later said her blood pressure spiked as she awaited her daughter's fate.

Afterwards, Nicole, who hopes someday to become a lawyer, flushed with excitement.

"I'm actually really happy. I was really nervous at first, but I'm really, really happy," she said. "If one person comes out, I'll be in the school."

Nicole now attends another charter school. She spent seven years at St. Christopher's Catholic elementary school. If MaST doesn't work out, Anastasia hopes Nicole will be selected in the lottery of another city charter school. The Ratkova family doesn't consider traditional public schools operated by the Philadelphia School District to be an option.

"No Philadelphia school district," said Anastasia in a thick Russian accent, "She will go to Catholic school."

That decision is driven in large part based – rightly or wrongly – on perception.

"She's afraid I might change because I was a little reckless when I was small," said Nicole. "So she's a little afraid of the kids there."

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Comments (54)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 20, 2014 9:21 pm
This injustice of some kids receiving a top notch learning environment while others do not needs to be stopped. Equality requires district run schools for all.
Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on February 21, 2014 4:20 am
This is another example of "I got mine" so screw everyone else. When will people realize that everyone's education matters. MAST, unlike George Washington HS, does not have to accept everyone. Public schools have to accept all students. It is not a level playing field. The only thing "level" is the funding - charters get slightly more per pupil than public schools. Meanwhile, they have high paid CEOs and lower paid teachers. Charters are de-professionalizing teaching. Is this the goal? What other so-called "developed" country wants a de-professionalized teaching profession?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 21, 2014 11:40 am
Central doesn't have to accept everyone either. So what's your point? I think participating in a lottery is some indication of an educational opportunity appealing to those who want better outcomes for their offspring. Would you deny them this opportunity with the feeble excuse that they must suffer like the rest of poor Philadelphia children? Seems your sympathies are misplaced. Kudos for the parents for pursuing better alternatives for their children. When all parents advocate for their children on a deeply personal level as charter school parents have, we will begin to see progress in public education.
Submitted by Maisha (not verified) on February 21, 2014 11:06 am
Charters in Pennsylvania are public schools and they get less money per student then the Phila. School District, almost $2000 less. The school district takes some of the state allocation from Charters for their administrative cost for monitoring the Charters. So in reality they are operating with less funds per student.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 21, 2014 11:34 am
Ahhh...but what about the highly paid CEO's and numerous administrators?
Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on February 21, 2014 12:48 pm
Not really since they don't take kids with special needs and throw out kids that have behavioral diagnosis such as ADHD. When they accept ALL students, then they can be considered public schools.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 21, 2014 12:03 pm
Charter schools by any legal definition are not public schools at all. They are privately owned nonprofit organizations. They are private businesses paid for by the local taxpayers. That has been explained by both the NLRB and the federal courts. There is no such thing as a public charter school in Pennsylvania. That is part of the big lie which keeps being put forth by the charter school industry. They are all private businesses and their assets are not owned by "the public" at all.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 7:10 am
Rich,you are simply wrong on many levels. If I write a personal check to augment the budget of the Department of Motor Vehicles, that doesn't make DMV a private business. It is a public agency supported preponderantly by public tax dollars. If a charter school is 100% dependent on private funds, then it is no longer a public school nor a charter school - it is a private school. Think Friends Central. But it is still not a private business. Private schools, in most cases, are tax exempt organizations under the 501 c section of IRS. If I write a charitable check to Friends Central it is fully tax deductible. Try writing a personal check to General Motors and deduct it as a charitable expense. Do you see the difference? Would love to see your NLRB and federal court citations.
Submitted by tom-104 on February 22, 2014 8:37 am
Charter schools are 100% dependent on private funds? They are dependent on tax dollars but operate as private entities because until recently they were not subjected to any of the regulation that public schools are. They do get an influx of money from "philanthropies" and hedge funds for ideological reasons who want to turn education means of gaining access to tax dollars, but their basically dependent on tax dollars.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 22, 2014 8:33 am
There are two legal tests for a "public agency." One is known as the "Hawkins County test" which was set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under that test, an entity is not public unless the "board of directors or trustees is "elected by the general electorate" or appointed by a public official who is elected by the general electorate. The other test, which is the minority opinion in the NLRB decisions, is the "actual operations test." Under that test, how the school is "actually operated" is the decisive factor. The NLRB has never found any charter school to be a public entity. Neither have any federal courts. They have both said that it does not matter what a state says they are or calls them. I do not make this stuff up, I research those issues and analyze actual legal decisions. I have been doing so for well over a decade now. Everything I say, is supported by legitimate research. Here, you can find the decision of the NLRB which explains it: http://www.nlrb.gov/case/13-RM-001768 Here is the Caviness case which will explain it to you further: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/01/04/08-15245.pdf
Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on February 21, 2014 1:26 pm
Read the Notebook article by Michael Masch - Charters gets slightly more money AND they get the "double dip" from pensions. On top of that, privateers like the Phila. School Partnership and its corporate collaborators pass out money to charters. https://thenotebook.org/blog/146865/masch-claim-charters-get-less-per-st...
Submitted by Anonymous on February 21, 2014 10:56 pm
Name 5 public schools in Philadelphia where 5,000 people would line up every year to get in. Rather than doing a story on diversity and comparison, look at that school's environment. The programs are amazing. I hear people talking about moving out of the city if their child can't get in because there isn't a district school they want to attend. Anyone that enters that system should feel blessed and lucky.The only problem is it can't get community kids and even siblings in because it has no room left. It is amazing people on this board would talk badly about a school because it is charter. If MaST was a district school without the charter title, expanding it would be a no brainer. Welcome to Philadelphia where a school with 5,000 or 6,000 on the wait-list can't expand. Glad the parents have a voice in Philly! Some charters need to be shut down, but this one needs to have more seats.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 21, 2014 11:03 pm
If Mastery were a public school, it would be starved of resources as the public schools have been for ten years. This is by design. Teachers have to buy classroom paper at their own expense to teach. Charters were built up to make them attractive to parents who flee the resourced starved public schools. No libraries, part time counselors, part time nurses. Yet at the same time charters boastfully advertise all the resources they have as if by magic. A few weeks ago the High School for Creative and Performing Arts announced that they may not be able to put on the Spring Show again this year, like they were not able to last year, because they were short of funds. In one day, the community raised $10,000 so they could have their Spring Show this year. http://tinyurl.com/mlw5grh At the same time, the Performing Arts Charter School, a high school of the String Theory charter chain, was running full page color ads in community newspapers encouraging high school students to enroll in their school in September. http://tinyurl.com/kfqwmpw There is obviously no shortage of funds there. This school is part of a 2012 $2 million grant for the charter chain from the Philadelphia School Partnership. http://tinyurl.com/mny6mv3 Traditional schools cannot run ads because they do not have the funds. Teachers must spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars to have the supplies they need to give their students a bare bones education.
Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on February 22, 2014 4:02 am
Excellent post! Thank you for saying it loud and clear.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 7:45 am
You have, of course, made the argument for more charters, not less. Somehow charters have money and a high demand for their educational product and public schools don't. Let's stipulate that you are correct. Seems to me the more charters the better. The last thing you would want would be to make Mastery a public school subject to all the deficiencies that raise your ire. I agree. Why not more charter Masterys and replace public schools one at a time? Why continue to protect vested interests that fail children?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 22, 2014 8:33 am
Let's be honest here, the issue is that the public schools are being purposefully starved for the purpose of the privatization of the American schoolhouse and to force students into privatized versions of schools. Schools like Mastery are funded by "entrepreneurs" who want to turn public schools into private markets for profit. I will not denigrate anyone who works for Mastery, and certainly not their students, parents, teachers, and sincere people who do work hard for children. But what Mastery has become is an "educational management organization" which operates schools "by contract." It is a bastardization of the original intent of charter schools. But in all honesty they do not do anything that can not be done in any school in Philadelphia. We know what good schools are and do. What Mastery is, is a prime example of the "inequity" which is being institutionalized and sanctioned by the SRC members and our politicians. What Mastery does have is the resources to have small class size and every support person which is necessary for schools. That can be done in every school if we "choose" to do so. The issue is why are we not providing every school child in Philadelphia with such resources? We all know the answer to that question. It is because of the "corporate raid" on our public schools, and the public policy driven by the "private profiteers" to turn our schools into businesses for profit at the expense of taxpayers, and the public who have been and are shut out of the "public participation" in what are deceitfully called public schools. It is time to be honest now. It is time to be honest.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 1:57 pm
How do you expect public schools to succeed when you deny them the special priviledges that Mastery and other charters are granted? Your argument is for eliminating unionized teaching staff, not making better schools. Elminate all the public schools and the charters will also go into decline. There will be no more public schools to dump behavior problems and those with educational challenges into like charters currently too. Charters will have to start taking them. The funding you are currently denying public schools will then be fought over by the charters that have taken over. There will be no more public schools to rob anymore. This is not solving the problem of public educations (which is in a large part the cowardice of the administration when dealing with discipline), but merely running from it. Eventually it will come back to haunt you.
Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on February 22, 2014 2:19 pm
Mastery has far more administrators in each school than Philadelphia public schools. They also have full support staff.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 9:32 am
Okay, let's be honest. Your use of the term "purposefully starved" troubles me. As I understand it, on a per capita basis, Philadelphia Public Schools are in the top half of Pennsylvania districts. That means 250 or so districts operate on less money per child. In addition, over 50% of the budget is contributed by taxpayers who live outside of Philadelphia, understandable given the economic realities, but worth noting nonetheless. For, what this means is that people throughout the state, most making far less than the average Philadelphia school teacher, are being forced to divert money from their more poorly funded districts that their kids attend to Philadelphia. And then they see the dropout statistics and the performance profile of Philadelphia schools. Can you appreciate what their reaction might be? As to your well-taken point about financial exploitation in some charter schools, it must be well-regulated with punitive penalties for the thieves to separate them from the educators. The pejorative terms of "corporate raid" and "private profiteers" simply obscure the real problem - scammers and thieves. Certainly KIPP and other charter awardees deserve a little more respect as they pursue the same mission that current bureaucracies seem unable to fulfill.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 22, 2014 10:55 am
Yes, it troubles me, too. So does the misuse of the original charter school concept. Let me be clear on this. I am "for charter schools" in their original conception and intent, and for those which are run for the right reasons and in the right way -- for the best interests of its students, its families, and the local community. I advocate that they be "actually operated" as public schools for the common good, and not for the private gain. Why do you think I keep bringing up the "actual operations test?" In my book, I gave three examples of governance structures which would allow charter schools to be governed as "true public schools" and fully discussed their legality and practical issues. I also believe that "democracy is the "purification process" for the ills that plague our schools." That is a learned belief from my studies, and my experience. I didn't just drop off of the turnip truck from North Jersey. I have been in the actual trenches of Philadelphia education for 40 years both teaching and leading. I lived education and best practices 24/7 during those years -- and still do. I always welcome honest conversations, but like many of our colleagues, I do not see many honest conversations happening lately. thank you for engaging a collegial discussion with me -- with transparency.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 12:07 pm
Mr. Migliore, Thank you for your clarifications and the energized discussion. My information is somewhat dated, and not as all-involved as yours. I was in charge of a corporate philanthropic function for 20 years, spanning the Clayton-Hornbeck eras. We literally invested millions of charitable dollars into public education, most in Philly, and most highly disappointing. We supported broad initiatives like the Annenberg program, and did our own thing based on research of initiatives purported to really work. I found many extraordinary teachers sprinkled in with a bunch of okay teachers and a fair number of really incompetents, much as to be found in a corporate environment. The difference is we found reasons to drop our bottom performing 5% every year. I found an equal array of competent and incompetent administrators by the way. The common thread that this cynic perceived in all leadership types was an absolute commitment to status quo and a ringing rhetoric committed to reform. We hired researchers from Villanova University to do comparative testing between the schools we worked with and surrounding neighborhood schools, and were deeply disappointed that we weren't able to move the needle. And that is the real bottom line. So I do not underestimate the task nor purport to have answers. One thing to ponder, if our company screwed up, we made bad widgets and could go out of business (which we ultimately did). Education of our children, with any model, cannot be permitted to fail, and kids aren't widgets. I personally witnessed innovative teachers being stymied by the highest level of union leadership (Ted) precisely because their innovations somehow threatened the body politic. I watched the nodding approval of the highest levels of school district management. Hence my defense of charter schools, albeit those that really offer reform, has been colored by a reality that startles me, even 20 years later.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 2:02 pm
I hear what you are saying. As a 35 year veteran of the School District I know what you are saying is true. We must not throw out the baby with the bathwater, however. Getting rid of the union would put the corruption and bureaucratic inertia that you site on steroids. The biggest mistake teachers have made in the last twenty years is to sit back and let union bureaucrats cultivate relations with corrupt politicians who are tied to corporate and financial interests. Younger teachers come into the system looking at the union as "them", instead of "us". If a union bureaucrat is not representing "us" they are representing someone else.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 1:25 pm
KIPP "deserves a little more respect"? Is this the same KIPP that kicks out two brothers back into the public school two weeks before the year ends? Doesn't sound like they are "fulfilling . . . the same mission" when they are pulling crap like that. Public schools have to hold onto problem students and those with various educational challenges so charters should be expected to do the same thing. Funny how you compare the wages of "people throughout the state" against those of the Philadelphia teachers, but not the wages of teachers "throughout the state" against Philly teachers. Maybe that's because it would show Philadelphia teachers at the bottom of the wage scale despite working in one of the hardest school districts in the country.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 3:04 pm
Okay, let's compare teacher wages throughout the state. For school year 2011-12, the median salary for classroom teachers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was $59,114. The average salary for classroom teachers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was $61,319. And finally, the average salary for a classroom teacher in Philadelphia was $68,304. So you are totally INCORRECT. Not only are Philadelphia teachers not at the bottom of the wage scale, they are well above average. So my point that Pa. residents from poorer districts might resent paying their teachers less so that their taxes could be funneled into Philadelphia to pay salaries to above-average paid teachers is perfectly valid. Do teachers have a hard job? Of course, but don't plead poverty compared to your state-wide colleagues. http://www.openpagov.org/k12_payroll.asp
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 4:50 pm
Cite from legitimate website. I bet you watch FOX news too, and think everything they tell you is true. Here is a real website for you to check out and you will see that Philadelphia teachers ARE paid much less than their counterparts. http://www.teachersalaryinfo.com/
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 5:22 pm
So, let's see. You give me a website that lists Pennsylvania average teacher salaries at $53,000 while my source was even higher at $59-60,000. Your source does not show salaries by District!!! So what salary for Philadelphia school teachers compares to the $53,000 state average that you cite, in case I missed it. I believe you suffer from a terminal case of dumbness. You question the legitimacy of my source without commenting on what your point of disagreement is. Do you disagree that the average Philadelphia teacher salary is around $68,000? If you do, what is it, and provide a citation. As to my reading habits and source of news, you do a disservice to all the quality commenters on this website.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 5:48 pm
You show exactly who you are with the name calling and lack of comprehension skills. That website that I cited gives the average and median salary for every school district in the state of PA. Yes, the average salary for the state is $53,000 BUT the Philadelphia School District teachers make an average of $43,000. Fortunately for me I can consider the source of your comments.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 7:38 pm
The difference between the $68,000 I cited and the $43,000 you cited is so stark that surely someone can clarify. I find it very hard to believe that the average of all Philadelphia school teachers is $43,000. Someone please help. If my source is so inaccurate, I will gladly eat humble pie.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 25, 2014 9:34 pm
The Pennsylvania School Board’s Association (PSBA) most recent annual salary report (2010-11) found Philadelphia teachers made a little less than $65,000 on average. The national average in 2010-11 was $56, 069. So, where does your $43,000 come from, and who lacks comprehension?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 26, 2014 12:23 am
Where's the link?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 26, 2014 6:58 am
http://www.psba.org/issues-advocacy/issues-research/school-salaries/annu...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 26, 2014 6:55 am
http://mediatrackers.org/pennsylvania/2013/09/04/philadelphia-teacher-sa...
Submitted by sdc70 (not verified) on February 26, 2014 1:25 pm
Now that you have several links, I no longer see a defense of your $43,000 bogus claim for average Philly schoolteacher salaries. Perhaps an apology is in order? But more importantly, it undercuts your entire argument. Now I don't think Philly teachers are overpaid by any stretch, but neither do I believe they are treated more poorly than teachers throughout the Commonwealth.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 6:21 pm
What is the average salary you are giving based on? To get a true picture you would have to know the bottom salary and the top salary and where teachers fall over that range. An average is not going to give you that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 7:06 pm
Assuming they calculated correctly, the average would be the total salary burden of a district divided by the total number of teachers collecting salaries. The low point and high point are irrelevant to the average. The median salary means that half the teachers are making less than median and half making more. Both taken together give an indication of salary levels. As long as you are computing the same way, you can compare district to district. Obviously a district with a higher proportion of long-term employees would trend toward a higher average, but over 500 or so districts in Pennsylvania, it would sort of average out. Others have cast doubt on the source of my statistics, and I can not vouch for their accuracy. Could someone please indicate whether the average salary of a Philadelphia school teacher is $43,000 or $68,000. If it is $43,000 I will shut my mouth forever. Thank you
Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on February 22, 2014 10:26 pm
Salary range is more revealing than average salary. Philadelphia teachers start with salaries similar to the Phila. suburbs. That changes with time. Philadelphia teachers make about 15 - 20% less than their suburban counterparts after more than 10 years. If you want a professional teaching staff, then you need experienced teachers are well as novice teachers. Philadelphia can't keep teachers because of the lower long term salary scale, working conditions, lack of support, etc. How many suburban schools are 100 years old and falling apart? How many suburban teachers spend over $1000 a year just to keep their classes going? This is compounded by academic stratification of the School District - this is exasperated by charters.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 10:09 pm
The problem I have with your argument is that there are over 10,000 teachers in Philadelphia and only 130 teaching positions in Lower Merion. Using suburban district pay and working conditions as the standard is simply unrealistic. It's as if I just got an MBA and a $75,000 offer from a local financial firm. But Goldman Sachs pays their entry level MBA's over $300,000. It's just not fair. My response is - go for it - get the Goldman Sachs position if you can. Similarly, if you aspire to Lower Merion or other suburban salaries, go for it, but the reality is that those positions are few and far between, and highly competitive. Now to the reality of the lousy working conditions you mention - unconscionable. No management organization with any degree of competence would be unable to find a way to deliver a quality product irrespective of obstacles. As to teaching, I have the highest respect for quality teachers. I substitute taught in the suburbs after my retirement and was completely overwhelmed. I also spent quite a bit of time in Philadelphia inner city schools and saw the incredible challenges teachers faced every day. I am in awe of their commitment and tenacity. On the other hand, teachers make a reasonable salary, have practically tenured positions, great benefits, and pensions far in excess of their private sector counterparts. So, everything is a tradeoff.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 7:40 pm
My bad. I did find the specific Philadelphia salaries from your citation. Let me list the data. Pre-school teachers $26,511 Elementary school teachers $53,770 Middle school teachers $62,044 High school teachers $58,257 How they get from this average teacher salary in Philadelphia of $49,715 mystifies, unless there is a tremendous percentage of pre-school teachers. But further to the discussion, if the average Pennsylvania salary is $52,913, your assertion that Philadelphia teachers are at the very bottom of the state wage scale is based on what?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 5:45 pm
The blunt measure you are using does nothing to account for the large variation in COL between the Philadelphia area (highest COL in PA) and the rest of the state, especially rural areas. Moreover, K-12 labor markets are highly geographically regional. SDP is competing with suburban school districts that typically offer better pay and working conditions than what SDP offers. It is also to competing with charter schools some of which are receiving large annual infusions of money from private philanthropies and are able to offer above market salaries. KIPP generally pays above market wages for less experienced teachers in the regions they enter. Ultimately, SDP is not in any meaningful way competing with lower-paying rural districts for employees. I'd love to hear your strategy for recruiting and retaining good staff given the actual labor market dynamics. I'd also like to see you provide data that rural districts are subsidizing SDP. I think it's more likely rural districts are being subsidized by more affluent suburban districts. I randomly chose Northeast Bradford SD and about half of their budget is from SBE funding. I didn't feel like taking the time to add up other state revenue that they receive to calculate the exact percentage of district revenue that comes from the state. But it exceeds 50%. I'm not going to spend the time to parse all the data, but at least I'm offering something other than unsubstantiated claims.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 7:10 pm
Your points are all well-taken. What I was trying to portray was the attitudes of those who feel that a district that receives 50% of its funding from other geographic is feeling way too entitled. The data you allude to with regional explanations are probably a truer indication of reality, but attitudes matter in a political environment.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on February 22, 2014 9:28 pm
KIPP may pay higher salaries, but their teachers also work very long hours because the school days at most KIPP schools are at least 8 hours long.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 22, 2014 1:46 pm
Your perceptions are interesting. I assure that the vast majority of teachers do not want the status quo. Especially the status quo of today. No one wants the status quo -- those who say that teachers want the status quo are only those who want to demonize teachers and their unions. Teachers want a legitimate voice in their schools and what happens to their students and to them. In fact, I hear teachers calling for opportunities to create innovative learning environments over and over again, and the call for "small learning communities" was originally made by teachers. The original concept of charter schools was to create 'teacher led schools" and "parent led schools" as well as community led schools. The PA Charter School Law was intended to, and created to, provide those opportunities. One of the first "charter schools" in PA and in America was created by the staff at U.C.H.S. while Torch Lytle was principal. It was a "school within a school" known as the "Law Charter" at Uni. I taught in that charter, both English and law. Teachers do not want incompetent teachers in their ranks. I assure you of that. In fact, if a principal or assistant principal does not deal with poor teachers, they will quickly lose the respect of the teachers. I was known as one of the most teacher supportive administrators there was, yet I "counseled out' more ineffective teachers than just about anyone. The difference was that I did it in a highly professional and highly humanistic manner, and only after I gave them my sincere, good faith efforts to help them improve or to handle their classes well. Struggling teachers always felt comfortable to come to me in confidentiality. You can check with the PFT on that one. The most important way to ensure that we create a highly skilled and highly professional teaching staff, is to provide our teachers with a "highly professional climate" in which to practice their profession. We need most of all to "re-professionalize" teaching, not destroy the teaching profession. But that is not the case in most of our schools, and it is certainly not what the SRC promotes. The threats to 'impose contract terms" is a prime example of "poor leadership." Management by "threat and intimidation" is the worst form of management and is never effective. It can not be called leadership at all -- it is counterproductive and destructive. Watch the turmoil it creates -- watch as it unfolds.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 3:54 pm
I am a little familiar with the work of both Susan and Torch Lytle. Were they the norm, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation. You might find this of interest. In the early '80's my company offered to sponsor a "Teacher of the Year" award in Philly with $25,000, one award of $7,500 and 7 awards of $2,500 to the runner-ups. Both the union and the administration tried to talk us into awarding 100 Teachers of the Year getting $250 each, not 6 or 7. Being somewhat dim, I didn't realize, at first, that their concern was introducing the concept of merit into the discussion. While our agenda was simply to acknowledge and reward excellence in the profession as a whole, PFT and the Administration viewed this as a threat. It is attitudes like these that perhaps resulted in the SRC and other impositions on the professionalism of teachers. But it captures the point that providing a highly professional climate that you espouse is difficult when the powers that be want to eliminate any concept of differentiation amongst its members. So while you all beat each other up, the issues surrounding communities that don't value education remain formidable.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on February 23, 2014 5:51 pm
"Teachers do not want incompetent teachers in their ranks. I assure you of that. In fact, if a principal or assistant principal does not deal with poor teachers, they will quickly lose the respect of the teachers." Rich, you are absolutely right. Especially with all of the scrutiny that teachers feel right now with the current school reform efforts, the last thing I want is to have colleagues who don't do their jobs. But even more, having a colleague who doesn't do his/her job affects me and affects the students. In the school in which I worked previously, although I liked the principal personally, I didn't particularly respect the job he/she did running the school. One of the reasons for this was that the principal turned a blind eye to staff members who weren't doing their jobs and allowed staff persons to get away with not doing their jobs or with doing the bare minimum. After a certain point during the school year, this principal didn't even check lesson plans so teachers could get away with having no lesson plans at all (I saw this first hand). There were no consequences for student misbehavior. Most parts of the school were filthy dirty. As a result, the students suffered. A good principal creates a culture of high expectations based on trust and cultivates a supportive environment. A good principal leads by example. Principals should absolutely give constructive criticism, and in some instances a more firm type of criticism, when necessary. But teachers cannot improve or do their best when there is a culture of tension and fear...or when there is a culture of low expectations and "anything goes."
Submitted by Education Grad ... on February 22, 2014 8:27 pm
MAST may have an excellent reputation, but it doesn't serve the same population as traditional public schools. According to Penn Data, which provides authoritative data on students receiving special education services, in 2011-2012, the latest year for which data are available, MaST had an enrollment of 1,247 students. 11.8% of the students had IEPs, all for high-incidence disabilities. The breakdown was: Other Health Impairment 15.6% Specific Learning Disability 65.3% Speech or Language Impairment 10.9% Direct link to the data is http://penndata.hbg.psu.edu/BSEReports/Public%20Reporting/2011_2012/PDF_.... (Source: Penn Data: http://penndata.hbg.psu.edu/BSEReports/PR_IUList.aspx - Select Philadelphia IU 26, then the school, then a school year). These numbers don't add up to 100% so there are likely students with other disabilities. But there aren't enough of those students to show actual percentages. When a Local Education Agency (school district of charter school) has only a few students with a particular disability, the percentage or numbers won't show in order to protect confidentiality of students. MaST may be a fantastic school, but where are the students with Emotional Disturbance? Where are the students with Intellectual Disability? Where are the students with Autism? Where are the students with Multiple Disabilities? Does MaST have any self-contained special education classrooms? I doubt it. I can also pose these same questions about the District-run schools which are considered "top of the line." These schools are either selective (Masterman, Central, SLA) or in middle-class or affluent neighborhoods (Penn Alexander, J. S. Jenks in Chestnut Hill). These schools also tend to have lower numbers of students with the more significant disabilities. Take Masterman or Central, for example. A child with an Intellectual Disability or Multiple Disabilities wouldn't be intellectually capable enough to attend one of these schools and a student with Emotional Disturbance (namely, severe behavior problems) wouldn't be well-behaved enough to attend one of these schools. MaST doesn't serve the same students as traditional neighborhood public schools and neither to selective admission schools. Test scores don't mean anything unless there are controls for variables such as socioeconomic status, disability, ELL status, and class size. STOP THE APPLES TO ORANGES COMPARISONS!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 9:38 pm
Education Grad...you have said you have worked in charters. Do you know their pay scale? I would think at the moment they must be competitive with traditional public schools to attract teachers. If the SRC is able to get away with lowering salaries the charters would follow them I suspect.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on February 23, 2014 12:26 am
The pay scale differs from school to school. I worked for an organization that ran two charter schools. It was a summer position. However, some of my colleagues were teachers at the schools during the regular school year. At these two schools, new teachers generally started out at around $39,000 or $40,000 in salary. They had good benefits, but not as good as PFT's benefits. My understanding is that most charter schools pay less than the District. If you go on PAREAP.net or websites for individual charter schools/charter management organizations, you can find salary information. I was perusing websites of different schools and districts last year when I was looking for a job. I remember that Greenwoods CS starts its new teachers at $40,000 in salary. Mastery Charter Schools starts new teachers off at around $44,000 or $45,000, as I recall, plus benefits and a 401(k) program. Many suburban districts pay less for first year teachers than the School District of Philadelphia. The District has VERY good pay for new teachers...but then I also pay out the behind for school supplies plus I teach in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, so my job is more stressful than working in most suburban districts. A lot of suburban districts start off teachers at around $42,000/year, e.g. Marple Newtown, Springfield Delco. Having gone to job fairs and speaking to other applicants, the job market is extremely tight in public school districts in the Philadelphia area. Many opportunities in the Philadelphia area are in the charter schools. If you want to teach elementary regular education in the city, charter schools are your ONLY option. The District isn't hiring at the regular elementary teachers at all and hasn't in probably almost 4 years, to my knowledge. They are hiring for regular ed at the secondary level. When I interviewed last year with the District, I was told that at that time that the District was only guaranteed to be hiring for secondary positions (regular and special ed) due to the financial situation. They weren't sure that they'd be hiring elementary special education teachers. Charter schools can get away with paying less for new teachers for a variety of reasons, but one big reason is the tight job market. They don't have to attract new teachers, new teachers-to-be want jobs! Some teachers also like the autonomy and environment of some charter schools, especially the ones in which the student populations are "nicer" and there are fewer students with severe behavior problems (which of course means that most of the students with the worst behavior problems end up in District-run schools). With there being so many charter schools, and given Dr. Hite's insistence that the District must restructure work rules and compensation in order to compete with the charter sector, it is clear that charter schools are placing competitive pressure on the District to depress salaries of teachers. This is particularly true given rising pension obligations and reduced state funding.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on February 23, 2014 8:33 am
a good point that bears repeating and an argument for why jerry's "rubber band" defense strategy (give, give, give, but don't risk breaking) has been so self-destructive for the pft. jerry missed his chance to take a stand when the union was strong, before the "reformers" grabbed control of so many schools. how do you get outsmarted by ackerman and still keep your job? "With there being so many charter schools, and given Dr. Hite's insistence that the District must restructure work rules and compensation in order to compete with the charter sector, it is clear that charter schools are placing competitive pressure on the District to depress salaries of teachers."
Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on February 23, 2014 9:53 am
Charter operators not only want to lower salaries but also benefits. This allows the charter operators - including the CEOs - to reap more benefits. So much for challenging income inequality.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on February 23, 2014 10:40 am
jerry already blinked first on that one, opening up the floodgates by offering up a pay freeze and benefits cut (as in, we start to and/or pay more for them) without getting a single concession from hite, gleason & the rest of the company of clowns. he must've taken barack's online course on effective negotiating done quick and easy. lol.
Submitted by ParentCitizen (not verified) on February 22, 2014 11:46 pm
I have said this before, but I believe it bears repeating. What is wrong with the concept of school choice? I would be willing to bet most Philly teachers would not want their own children or grandchildren attending Philly public schools. Personally, I know many Philadelphia teachers with children, some go to parochial school, some to private, some to charters and some to magnet, all others live in suburbs. Only one I know sends their children to an actual Philly public school. If the teachers with young children themselves want school choice, than why not all parents?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on February 23, 2014 5:14 pm
ParentCitizen, School choice, like most things in life, has its positives and negatives. However, one of the big problems is that not everyone has an equal choice. I work as a Special Education Teacher for the District. I teach in a Complex Support Needs classroom (CSN refers to Autistic Support, Life Skills Support, and Multiple Disabilities Support). Many charter schools, including the overwhelming majority of charter schools which use a lottery for admission, do not have the ability to service children with more significant disabilities, like the ones I teach. By law, charters are supposed to serve all children, but the reality is that they don't. Principals and Special Education Liaisons at any neighborhood school could probably tell you that they receive students with disabilities who come from charter schools. It's basically impossible for any lottery-based charter school to properly meet the IEP goals and objectives of students with low incidence disabilities because charters can't ask for a student's IEP during the application process. Without an IEP, there is no way from year to year to know how many students with a given disability or disabilities, e.g. intellectual disability or autism (and about 70% of people with autism also have ID), would be applying for the lottery and, thus, no way from year to year to guarantee that there would be enough students to support self-contained special education classrooms. The District has a separate curriculum for students who are in AS, LSS, and MDS. There are separate state standards for the students with the most severe cognitive disabilities. My students take a test called the PASA, not the PSSA. Students with significant disabilities typically benefit from self-contained classrooms because they have unique needs. It's common for students receiving CSN services to have IEP goals and objectives in areas such as personal maintenance (e.g. toileting, tying shoes, memorizing personal information) and domestic maintenance (e.g. cooking and shopping), which are unheard of in general education settings. Academics are often functional in nature. Yes, students receive instruction in the basics of reading and math (according to the IEP and student's ability), but there is also emphasis on being able to use money, tell time, know high frequency words, which are more functional academic skills. Do students with significant disabilities benefit from inclusion during recess, lunch, assemblies, and other events? Absolutely. Some students also benefit from inclusion during specials classes and even core subjects with students without disabilities. But the District has self-contained classrooms for a reason: these classrooms are necessary. Whereas the District has the infrastructure to provide the necessary services for children with significant disabilities and the necessary supports for the teachers and other professionals who work with these students, charter schools (especially lottery-based ones) do not. There's a long-winded, and hopefully informative, explanation about one of the major downsides of school choice.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2014 11:27 pm
So you think there is something magically wrong with teachers in Philadelphia? What do you think is the cause of these conditions that you think people want to flee from? The problem with "school choice" is that it is by design that public schools are underfunded and understaffed. This is politically ideological situation that has been deliberately created to privatize public schools.
Submitted by tailor (not verified) on October 22, 2014 4:51 pm

I think Anastasia's action of entering her child into a lottery for the charter school is justified, the many questions about the MaST system notwithstanding. As an immigrant from Belarus, she came to America seeking the best for herself and her kids. It's the allure of the American dream, and Anastasia knows exactly what she is looking for. I also think that the MaST system to some extent demystifies the lottery concept - read more on this at http://lotterysyndicateguide.com. It's about taking a small risk in the hope of earning greater returns. Otherwise, If I were in Anastasia's situation, I would have done the same for my daughter.

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