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From AERA: The 'portfolio model' and where it's headed in Philadelphia

By Paul Socolar on Apr 7, 2014 09:07 AM

The American Educational Research Association conference is taking place in Philadelphia. These are prepared remarks from a presentation on Friday by Notebook editor and publisher Paul Socolar in a session about "The Landscape of Education Reform in Philadelphia." He was asked to discuss the "portfolio model" and how it has developed in Philadelphia; subsequent comments by Philadelphia School Partnership head Mark Gleason have spurred controversy. [Listen to the entire panel discussion below.]

First a cursory definition: Portfolio school districts rely on a variety of operators of public schools within the city, with the stated aim of providing high-quality learning opportunities … so ultimately every family can choose a slot in a good school. The term is borrowed from Wall Street: You're going to hang on to the successful companies in your stock portfolio and dump the losers. Proponents here talk about replacing “low-performing seats” with “high-performing seats.”

So what’s interesting about Philadelphia’s portfolio approach? It’s got plenty of company nationally as a district adopting the portfolio model. It stands out for having a high percentage of students in non-District schools – 35 percent of students are in charters. It also stands out because of the move by Philadelphia School Partnership and some officials to welcome Catholic and private schools into the portfolio and to downplay the distinctions between public and private schools. So for instance, Mayor Nutter has said that debates about public vs. private vs. charter are “esoteric” and don’t matter to children. More on that later.

Philly started down the path of outsourcing school management in 2002 – after the state takeover of schools. The newly created School Reform Commission’s plan included a portfolio approach of sorts – called a “multiple provider model.” It turned over 45 schools with low test scores to outside education management organizations, or EMOs, and restructured 21 other schools under District management. The contracting-out of so many schools was highly controversial from the start. A for-profit company, Edison Schools Inc., got a multimillion-dollar contract from the governor to come up with a plan for the District. Their plan recommended hiring themselves to run dozens of schools. … Edison said they could produce higher achievement in the worst-off schools for less money, while turning a profit. Results did not pan out. … Edison became a lightning rod spawning anti-privatization sentiment. And the School Reform Commission over time re-assumed control over most of these schools. Since the brush with Edison, the emphasis here has been on outsourcing to nonprofit charter management organizations.

But during the early 2000s, the District was also facilitating rapid growth in the charter sector and also an expansion of the choice model within traditional District high schools. And in 2010 the District launched a school turnaround initiative that relied on charter conversions. What we call Renaissance Schools are turned over to outside charter operators while remaining neighborhood schools. We have 20 of those, and some examples of dramatic turnaround.

By the end of 2011, the School Reform Commission had formally adopted the portfolio model as its theory of change.

But the big issues flagged in the literature about the portfolio model are clearly playing out in Philadelphia. One is the question of whether you still have enough of a center and a central office left to manage this portfolio. Philadelphia’s central office has been decimated by cuts. The charter school office, never large, is now six people overseeing nearly 90 charter schools. Limited central office capacity makes it difficult to get comparable data about charter vs. District schools.

Another issue playing out here is about equity of access across the portfolio. The District has recently been documenting inappropriate barriers to entry at many charters. Since the District began working on barriers to entry, some of the egregious problems have been addressed – like the charter school that required applicants to attend an open house at a suburban country club.

Many other issues are still unanswered.

  • Is it a priority to ensure that all operators take their fair share of students who are far below grade level, or students with disciplinary records?
  • Is there any consequence for the charters that don’t take a proportional share of severely disabled students and English language learners?
  • On the inclusion of nonpublic schools in the portfolio: Does this mean it’s OK to use scarce public resources to encourage and support students to attend private and parochial schools?
  • Do private and parochial schools have to meet any of the standards applied to public schools to include them in the portfolio of options for families?

And with school closings an intrinsic feature of the portfolio model, there are questions from our experience of closing down 24 schools here:

  • Do we know that students are moving to higher-performing schools? 
  • Do we really even know what happens to students displaced by school closings?

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Comments (21)

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 7, 2014 10:04 am

What needs to be made clear is that Paul Socolar was describing a framing of the portfolio model where "dumping the losers" ought to raise questions, concerns and critiques. Mark Gleason's comment about "dumping the losers" was a wholesale tonedeaf endorsement.

Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 7, 2014 11:40 am
Gleason is trying to deflect responsibility from himself. What else is new... Gleason should take Hiriam Rivera's advice - ""Mark Gleason and his PSP should be shut down and kicked out of Philadelphia." Now, anyone and all schools who have accepted money from the PSP should call for his ouster. SLA? Workshop? Blaine? "innovative" high school? Wissahickon Charter? Folks Arts Charter? New Foundations Charter?
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on April 7, 2014 5:46 pm
Ah, Gleason did a good job of being direct and calling the spades spades. Who wants to have losers? I don't want my taxes to pay for these loser schools anymore. Gleason knows what he's talking about. Glad that Hite is welcoming him into his coterie along with getting rid of seniority. Maybe there is hope for this district.
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on April 7, 2014 11:06 am
The Walton Family gives Gleason and the PSP $1.8 million. The PSP gives Philadelphia Academies (Lisa Nutter) $1.2 million. Mike Nutter continues the resegregation of our schools. The students are blamed for their behavior when there is no "Code of Conduct". The parents are blamed when there is no elected and accountable Board of Education. The teachers are whipped into submission. Does any of this sound familiar? Conservatives are by their very nature reactionary. They want to return to the way things were. There is a reason that the South still pines for slavery. The fact that Mike Nutter and Barack Obama are so drunk with power is no accident. The plantation system existed for one hundred years before and after this nation was created. We are returning to that mentality. We have returned to a far more insidious form of slavery. Physical chains can be broken. Invisible chains are much more difficult to break. Anthony Hardy Williams (Hardy Williams Mastery), Dwight Evans (King), Kenny Gamble (Universal) and Vince Fumo (Maritime Carter) all create their own schools (plantations) that they benefit from financially and politically. No Public Education, No Democracy. No Democracy, No America.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2014 6:10 pm
So, after you guys ran the district for four decades, helping drive the middle class out of the city, leaving an 80% minority district, you claim Nutter is "resegregating" the district. That is some balls. And/or some serious and willful ignorance of history. So is calling those who oppose you reactionaries when you are the one who wants to return to the self-serving status-quo-ante of failure.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2014 8:22 pm
"helping drive the middle class out of the city, ...That is some balls. And/or some serious and willful ignorance of history." Yes, teachers were the cause and definitely not things like bigotry-based white flight and the collapse of the manufacturing economy that lead so many middle-class people to leave the city. If you're going troll, how about coming with something stronger than gibberish based on an inane willful ignorance of history?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2014 12:19 pm
Bigotry-based white flight? Try legitimate fear of riots and violence-based. If you're going to troll, how about not fictionalizing history.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2014 1:34 pm
"Bigotry-based white flight"? I witnessed it. My parents' neighbors of now 48 years were the first black family on our block in 1966. Within 4 years my family and one other were the only white families remaining. I actually do understand the concerns people had about safety, but that was far from the only reason white people fled in a panic. My neighborhood school, F.S. Edmonds, went from majority white to majority black in the blink of an eye because white families feared being the last ones remaining. The teaching staff at Edmonds was largely unchanged during that time, yet according to you they drove all of the middle-class (what you really mean is white) people out. Arguing that people weren't motivated by a desire to avoid living with black people and educating their children with black children is fictionalizing history, not that I expect you to acknowledge that. Arguing that teachers drove out middle-class families is fiction as well.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2014 8:43 pm
My point was arguing resegregation is absurd. Yes, there word multiple causes of philly's depopulation. The district was one cause. It did little if anything to attract middle class parents over decades and many little things to drive them away, acting like an unaccountable monopoly. Which it was unless you had the resources to leave.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2014 8:32 pm
You forgot high taxes to support a terrible government. Bussing to socially reengineer neighborhoods was the sort of harebrained district promulgated scheme that you refer to as bigotry. Your basic disdain for parents who might be suspicious of that program, parents whose suspicions have been validated by the colossal failure that was bussing- well that explains it all. Blaming the customer is the culture of a failed organization.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2014 9:23 pm
"Bussing to socially reengineer neighborhoods was the sort of harebrained district promulgated scheme that you refer to as bigotry." Still denying the role that race played in people's decisions, I see. White people fled my neighborhood and many others in the 1950s and 1960s years before the district instituted the voluntary busing program. BTW, the district spent years resisting being forced to implement mandatory busing. The district was under constant legal pressure regarding desegregation. It couldn't just ignore the court. It had to do something. SDP relied on voluntary programs such as creating more magnet schools and other inducements to try to promote integration. But it's difficult to have integrated schools (or as you would put it socially re-engineered neighborhoods) if a non-trivial portion of the population simply doesn't want them. Yes, there were multiple reasons that people left the city, but race-based fear was one of them no matter how intently you deny it. Using an example from my own family, my grandparents moved to Abington as soon as black families began moving into the portion of West Oak Lane where my grandparents lived. Schools had no influence on their move. They didn't want to live near blacks and my grandfather felt no reservation about expressing that fact. Given the fact that the district was legally obligated to desegregate and there were many people opposed to desegregation, what in your infinite wisdom would you have done that would have satisfied the court but not offended the victims of socially re-engineered neighborhoods?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 5:11 pm
Thank you for your insight. Before my time, but I know bigotry was a big factor for many people fleeing the city, compounded by all the other negative factors into a downward spiral. Some factors were under the cities control (a terrible government, high taxes and low quality services) and factors that were not (loss of manufacturing, white flight to suburbs) from 1960 through 2000's. I brought up bussing as an example of a dumb destructive policy that ultimately left Philadelphia more segregated. When I saw the post complaining about charters causing "resegregation", I am reminded how this city is still a fertile laboratory for dumb ideas inspired by rigid ideology. I hope that the city has turned the corner- stopping the downward spiral with population gains of younger people don't carry the racial baggage of their grandparents. To make the city work, we need good schools- attractive options in the system that draw in (or at least don't repel) involved middle-class & professional parents are critical to reversing this long slide. And actually delivering a more diverse integrated school system. My view is that left to its own devices, there is no way the district would achieve this.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 7, 2014 1:29 pm
I was in attendance and the brightest star was Hiram Rivera. His speech was passionate, inspiring, incisively accurate and right on the mark. His words were from the students' hearts right to his mouth. He sent chills through me cause he was so good. Hiram, you earned my highest respect, and you keep it up. You are a rising star in our galaxy. Maybe you can even become the North star. Paul was good, too, and so was Dr. Hite, Kate Shaw, Lori, along with Eva Gold and Paul Kihn in another session. The portfolio model was not well respected in any session which I attended and there were researchers from across our nation and Canada. I just have one question for Paul and everyone really -- Whose portfolio is this?
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2014 4:20 pm
Rich, You completely lose me here. I have heard Hiram did an excellent job. Your need to simultaneously congratulate everyone who essentially disagrees with the spirit of Hiram's words greatly diminishes your praise for Hiram as well as your credibility. Hiram said what needs to be said, "Gleason and his PSP needs to be shut down and kicked out of Philadelphia." If the others can't help us achieve that, then they are worthless to the cause of public education in our town.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 7, 2014 5:46 pm
The others were also well spoken. I do not have to necessarily agree with exactly what they say or do all of the time. What I do have to do though is show everyone the respect that they deserve. That is a value I hold highly. Leadership is about building positive relationships with those you lead and wish to persuade. Effective leadership and effective persuasion is built on positivity, not negativity. Of that I am sure. There is always a time and place for being adversarial, I assure you that I know how that works, but if you want it to end in a positive result, there has to be a handshake. Positive reinforcement always works better than negative reinforcement. I have learned that through many years of experience and my study of the characteristics of effective leadership. I have had the good fortune of working with some great leaders over the years. I have also worked with some pretty terrible ones. There are "emerging leaders" all around us like I have not seen in many years. They are like flowers in the springtime. Or, if you wish, sproutings in a burned out field. Our Hope is in our community. And so are the seeds of our rebirth. Hiram was more than excellent -- he was awesome.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2014 6:09 pm
Was this a contest on eloquence/ poise/ well-spokenness?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 7, 2014 8:02 pm
No, It was a panel discussion entitled The Land of Educational Reform in Philadelphia. The panel was Dr. Hite, Mark Gleason, Hiram Rivera, Kate Shaw, Lori Shorr and Paul. The Chair was Jonathan Supowitz of the University of Penn. It was very interesting to see them and listen to them speak in that setting. The audience included researchers from many different areas and a number of people from our community, including Torch Lytle. There was a different dynamic to it. The session I was most impressed with, to be honest, was the Philadelphia Education Town Hall at the Arch Street Methodist Church, led by delegates to AERA from around the country, along with APPS leaders. They had discussions on recurring themes of corporate reform such as the deeper meaning of schools as businesses with customers vs. schools as institutions of democracy with citizens. Another theme was the misuse of testing and the negative effects it is having on children. The opt out movement is growing across America and right here in Philadelphia. So is the resistance to corporate reform. It was very enlightening.
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on April 7, 2014 6:30 pm
There is NO middle in this situation.There is no being neutral with integrity. Either one stands firmly committed to all our students or not. That is not to suggest there is no room for improvement in public schools, simply to say enough of this destructive brand of so called reform. Read this eloquent piece by Philadelphia public school parent Tamara Anderson who says what I feel deeply, only so much better than I could ever say it. Thank you Tamara.
Submitted by Mr. Tibbs (not verified) on April 7, 2014 6:09 pm
Gleason and other tea party advocates will never understand historical events that have lead to a system of failing school not only in Philly, but across the US. One questions for Mr. Gleason---when low performing schools close will poverty stricken students suddenly become high performing in the new system of educational apartheid?
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 7, 2014 7:39 pm
No, many of those students will be placed on the express train to prison, replete with just "maintaining" them until they're old enough to cut them loose." The worst part is it will be lawful and by design which is essentially turning the clock back to a time we all need never to revisit. P.S. Gleason et al don't care about the historical events you mentioned. They DO understand or at least are aware of them but caring, not very much if at all. This is all about making lots of easy money while cutting down significantly on civil and working rights and all forms of overhead expenses like unions.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2014 7:54 pm
Hey "Lets dump the Gleason" !!!!!!

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