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'Dump the losers': Where do city and District leaders really stand?

By Helen Gym on Apr 9, 2014 12:50 PM

How shocked should we be really?

On Friday, Philadelphia School Partnership’s Mark Gleason embraced a stunningly blunt description of the District’s “portfolio model” at a session of the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting. Gleason was attempting to explain why the portfolio model depends on school closings in a system where multiple operators run schools.

“So that’s what portfolio is fundamentally. ... you keep dumping the losers, and over time you create a higher bar for what we expect of our schools,” he said.

The audience of researchers, according to attendees I spoke with, expressed visible dissent. A group confronted Gleason afterward about everything from the “losers” framework to his dismissal of funding as a major source of the District's struggles. The crude phrasing even made Superintendent William Hite recoil, and Hite quickly distanced himself from Gleason’s remarks.

But no matter how uncomfortable Hite and others felt about Gleason’s words, they aptly characterize the portfolio model mentality. More important, they describe what is actually happening in the District. If District and city leaders take issue, they need to explain how their policies – and the impact of them –  are so much different.

Let’s take a look at the facts.

Since the 2001 state takeover, the portfolio model approach has had us pursuing all manner of negligent schemes from for-profit EMOs (education management organizations) to unfettered charter expansion and online cyber schools. In the last few years – fueled in part by “philanthropic” venture capitalists like PSP – this reckless experimentation has increased dramatically, with enormous consequences for District-managed public schools. Since 2011, the District has closed down 30 public schools and seen its charter population increase by 50 percent. Today, Philadelphia’s charter population (86 schools and 67,000-plus students) makes up 35 percent of the total student body at a cost of $700 million annually – and there’s no end in sight.

This year, the District is instituting a de facto parent trigger vote at two public schools that exemplifies the moral bankruptcy of this approach: Convert to charter – a move the District concedes will result in so-called “stranded costs” of up to $4,000 per student – or opt to stay within the District with no promise of additional resources. In other words, the District will sacrifice some $5 million to see a school convert to a charter but won’t spend additional resources if a school remains under District management.

Hite has called those costs a “wise investment.” I call that an abdication of your mission.

District and city leaders may not like the word “losers,” but they have employed some pretty extreme language themselves in defense of this model.

Mayor Nutter has dismissed differences between public, private, religious and charter schools as mere “esoteric debates.” He’s also described mass school closings as something “we all need to grow up and deal with.”

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn recently wrote a journal article titled “Innovate or Perish?” in which he stated that the District was “committed to a set of innovations in infrastructure and service provision to facilitate the development and sustaining of new school models that better meet the needs of all students.” Ensuring adequate resources to deliver quality schools? Not mentioned.

In November, the District unveiled its approach toward creating “Options for Increasing Students’ Access to Better Schools.” 

As you can see, this model assumes that:

  • School performance is static – unrelated to outside forces like basic funding, staffing, or provision of service.
  • Access relies almost entirely on movement – forcing students out of some schools and into others.
  • Investment is solely on the extremes: Good schools must be created or expanded to warrant investment, while poor performing schools must close or convert to charter.
  • Support for or stabilization of middle tier or successful schools is completely ignored.

The District has effectively deserted its internal turnaround model of Promise Academies. So whether or not they like the phrase “keep dumping the losers,” the District and City’s refusal to prioritize putting appropriate resources toward schools and their latest policy regarding struggling schools – basically, charter conversion or closing them down – is effectively the same thing as what Gleason is saying.

Meanwhile the basic functioning capacity of our schools has fallen apart. Every single District school has now fallen into the “losing” category as far as resources go. According to court filings with the state Supreme Court, the District has lost 4,220 staff members this year alone, and is down nearly 8,500 staff members since 2011.

The impact on our schools has been devastating. This year was the most chaotic school opening since the state takeover – massive overcrowding, 100 split-grade classrooms in elementary schools, libraries shuttered, the tragic asthma death of a 12-year-old student whose nurse was assigned elsewhere that day, and schools completely bereft of resources.

Bartram High School has been a poster child for the consequences of this neglect – leadership upheaval, reports of school violence and chaos, and last month, a staffer whose skull was fractured in an assault. What’s not mentioned so much: Bartram has lost one-third of its staff since 2011. It’s gone from 148 employees down to 101, 91 teachers to 63, four assistant principals down to one, 32 assistants and aides down to 22. What educator thinks this happens with zero impact and consequence?

It’s not just struggling schools that suffer. Here’s what’s happened to the top three schools in the city under Gov. Corbett:

 

Click to expand

 

What’s outrageous about the portfolio model is that it’s purposefully indifferent to “details” like funding and staffing shortages. We have to start asking: Are our schools being set up to look like “losers”?

If District officials are so offended by Gleason’s comments, why do they continue to allow him and PSP to control and influence private meetings of the Great Schools Compact?

For two years now, Gleason and PSP have remained a driving force behind this agenda through the Compact, which brings together select providers in private meetings with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Mayor’s Office of Education, School Reform Commissioners, and top District officials. Compact meetings are not announced in advance and are not open to the public. There are no parent, student, or teacher representatives to the Compact. As fiscal agent and staff to the Compact, Gleason and PSP have unprecedented access to press an aggressive agenda around school reform.

Gleason’s latest comments, coupled with his unlimited access to policy and decision makers, serve as another reminder of why the public lacks confidence in the integrity of District and city leadership. Meetings of the Compact must immediately be made open to the public, and full, unabridged minutes for all Compact meetings should be released.

We need to know where Hite, the District, the Mayor’s Office and the SRC really stand on the impact of the portfolio model on our public schools overall. Is Mark Gleason an outlier, or did he simply say publicly what is being said privately on matters of massive importance and consequence to our children, our schools, and our city?

 

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


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (79)

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 1:39 pm
District officials are so offended by Gleason's comments about dumping the losers for one reason: Gleason spoke the truth of what the likes of Hite are hired to carefully couch. Hite was visibly irritated by this candor. Otherwise, there is absolutely no difference between Hite and Gleason. Outsiders here in Philadelphia to do very dirty work.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 9, 2014 8:40 pm
I think you're completely right, anonymous. Gleason's comment hit a little too close to home for Dr. Hite, so he's trying to distance himself from the comment as much as possible in order to avoid save face and exposing himself. Dr. Hite is a master slickster. He sends these collegial emails, referring to all of us who work for the District as his "colleagues," talking about doing what's "best for students," and then poops all over the PFT contract. It's not just the disrespect of teachers, but the fact that he talks like he respects teachers but then acts with such disrespect. And he thinks we're too dumb or busy or [insert adjective here] enough to buy into him having it both ways. Gleason is kind of like Dr. Ackerman because he can't help himself sometimes and says what he really thinks. Even Mayor Nutter got tired of Queen Arlene's drama. Saying what you think isn't a bad thing necessarily, unless you're trying to hide something...and Gleason and the PSP are trying to do just that, hiding their true motives, because if the public were more collectively aware of the PSP's true motives, there would be a whole lot of backlash. And that backlash is coming, because you can't hide ugly!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 10:47 pm
The disagreement with Ackerman was about a lot more than her drama. As always, follow the money! http://tinyurl.com/lpou9hu
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 9:14 am
Forensic Audit NOW! Link to article about ongoing lack of transparent…in fact purposeful secrecy by SDP finance managers: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2014/04/08/city-controller-faults-secre...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 1:32 pm
Gleason was obviously saying what the charter lie folks have as their agenda. It has nothing to do with kids except where their dollar value is concerned. It's an end run on Democracy and all things union and worker related. Their intention is to stampede and intimidate the citizenry into accepting fascism in place of democratic principles because they know what's best for all of us even if we don't. People like Nutter will sell their soul for status and in his case, already has. Green has always been a pompous, entitled, bully who, like Nutter, sees himself as better than the citizens he represents. And I'll say it again, It's appalling and very, very sad that the first African American President is re-segregating the schools of the inner cities. All the progress made over equality and justice, is being dismissed under his watch. George Wallace is in hysterics in hell.
Submitted by Headstart Teacher (not verified) on April 9, 2014 2:14 pm
If we are dumping losers, the Gleason should be the first to go on the scrap heap! He is the king of losers.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 2:15 pm
Ms. Gym conveniently omitted Gleason's attribution of the quote to Paul Socolar. “So that’s what portfolio is fundamentally [as Paul Socolar said] you keep dumping the losers and over time you create a higher bar for what we expect of our schools.” Also, perhaps Ms. Gym can explain how pulling her children out of neighborhood schools in order to send them to magnets like Masterman or Central is not also "dumping the losers."
Submitted by Helen Gym on April 9, 2014 5:10 pm

Apparently you do not understand the difference between a critique of the portfolio model (which Paul clearly gave here) and the ringing endorsement that Mark Gleason gave a few minutes later in which he supported that idea. 

As to your question: There is ZERO comparison between the existence of public magnet schools and the purposeful draining out of financial and staff resources from every single public school in the city - including all the magnets above - and closing down schools or converting them to charter at an exorbitant expense.

Perhaps next time you can actually address the points I raised in the blog post - unless that wasn't your actual point of posting anyway.

 

 

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 10, 2014 8:42 am
The portfolio model is merely a euphemism for "schools as private businesses" model and is part and parcel of the privatization game and the corporate raid on public schools to destroy them and to turn them into markets for private profit. The focus should be on the ethical responsibility and legal duty of our leaders to "make every public school a good school" with adequate resources and 21st century leadership concepts. It should not be the focus to close neighborhood schools or to turn them over to private enterprises. Even our best true charter schools are being hurt by the insidious games being played by the band of self dealers and their choir singers. Thank you Helen for exposing, what was named by many AERA participants as -- the Big Lie.
Submitted by Mark Wilkens (not verified) on April 9, 2014 3:29 pm
The difference is that if a parent decides to send their child to a city-wide, special admit school run by the district it does not diminish the total resources available to educate students in the district. In contrast (as admitted by the SDP itself), when the district turns over a school to charter operators the district takes a hit of approximately $4000 per student in stranded costs. When students exit the district for charters it becomes a zero sum game - whatever gain these students might get is balanced by a multimillion dollar loss in resources available to every other student who deserves a quality education. I would hope that, as a society, we could create a win-win system. Tragically, there is a vast gap between hope and reality in Philadelphia.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 9, 2014 3:47 pm
Philly has two school systems - charter and public. Financially, it is not sustainable. The drain of charters on other schools districts is starting to have an impact. Maybe, then, this will wake up the Pennsylvania Legislature. Either we have a public school system in PA or the Governor / Legislature turn all education over to private entities. (Charters are not public schools - they are schools funded with public / tax payers money.) Ironic considering the origins of public education in PA.
Submitted by David Hensel (not verified) on April 10, 2014 9:05 pm
Perhaps you should leave Ms. Gym's children out of this. Perhaps we need a policy on the Notebook where comments referencing someone's children to make an argument against someone are not allowed on here. Especially creepy anonymous comments like what you see here. It does not get any scummier than this. Your argument is a terrible one, but it is made even more terrible by dragging someone's children into it. You are a disgrace and you should be ashamed of yourself.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 2:00 pm
The outrage! An impolitic reference to losers. Alternatively, he could have said: “So that’s what the district was fundamentally . . . you keep holding onto the losers and over time you create a lower bar for what we expect of our schools.”
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 2:42 pm
Or he could have said we fix the low performers by giving them the resources and class sizes they need for a student population that is suffering the ravages of poverty.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 3:14 pm
You should check PSP's website. Have they not invested $11M into the Renaissance initiative and another $3M into District run schools that are "suffering the ravages of poverty?" Does that not satisfy your qualm?
Submitted by Me (not verified) on April 9, 2014 4:04 pm
No, because then the schools that weren't failing, having violence issues, and providing an education to kids are now suffering becasue resources are being taken from them to provide money to the Charters.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 9, 2014 4:31 pm
I think everyone should revisit the math behind why charters have become such a financial burden. It was not intentional, but a product of the fact that so many families left the SDP, and schools were left running with an infrastructure with far fewer students. Recall that this had been happening for years before charters as well. With far fewer students, and the same infrastructure, the per student cost then jumped proportionately. With the arrival of charters, and a not well thought out charter funding formula, It is this higher cost that then must be paid to the charters. It was the lack of understanding of this that has caused charter funding to become so burdensome to the SDP budget. Not a planned privatization conspiracy. The use of privatization as a solution is a reaction to the frustration of trying to throw gobs of money (let us not forget Title I) at a bureaucracy to no avail, not a deliberate conspiracy. My neighborhood school was one of the ones that was closed, and it was definitely justified. The number of students in most of the classes had dropped to 10 or less (with the exceptions of just a few grades), and you would have thought that the achievement would have gone up with such utopian student to teacher ratios, and all the complaints of bad behavior would have gone down. Not so, not at all. So much for "more resources" being the sole answer.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 9:13 pm
That magical resource fairy is a wondrous creature. It always has the answer to every question in education. It eliminates the need to actually come up with any other idea or explain any failures. Resources are always limited. And pretty much everyone always wants more. That is a state of nature. Even the public sector recognizes it eventually. District funding per pupil is up over 100% since 2001. Could we use more? Sure. 100% is still some 65% more than inflation, severalfold faster than the income of taxpayers it serves and nearly twice as fast as the profit growth of those evil corporations in the S&P 500. So your suggestion is do nothing while waiting for this magical resource fairy to shower us. It is a complete cop-out.
Submitted by Lisa Haver on April 9, 2014 3:39 pm
Helen makes a couple of crucial points here. First, the district is acting as if the state has passed a "parent-trigger" law. It has not, thus has no authority to put the fate of any school solely in the hands of its current parents. Second, the venues in which school district policy is actually determined--before being rubber-stamped by the SRC--are all closed to the public. Last year, APPS members made formal requests to the William Penn Foundation, to PSP, and to Lori Schorr, in her capacity as Chair of the Great Schools Compact Committee, that these meetings be open to the public. We were either ignored or denied. The SRC passes almost all of its resolutions without discussion. Questions are not answered. That is because all of it has been discussed and questioned in these private meetings. The most important Helen makes, and it can not be said enough, is that the school district, under the leadership of Dr. Hite and Mr. Green, is failing its students in ways that cannot be excused or justified.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 3:06 pm
True. It's failing under Hite and Green. Before then -- and before testing, and charters, and PSP -- it was doing a great job.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 9:57 pm
So, when the SRC makes the decision themselves, we criticize them for moving forward without community input. But when they let a parents vote inform that decision, we criticize them for exceeding their authority. Makes a lot of sense and it worked with BCG.
Submitted by tom-104 on April 9, 2014 11:06 pm
The criticism is about the stacked deck. The District is putting up money to make the charter appealing and letting the parents know the school will continue to be starved of resources if they choose the traditional public school option.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 3:48 pm
So let's get this straight... You started a charter school. You send your own kids to a magnet school. But giving the same choice to other families (with fewer resources) is "moral bankruptcy." Got it.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 9, 2014 4:55 pm
"Choice" is for commercial products. "Equity" is for education. An equitable system would ensure resources are available for all students/ schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 5:26 pm
First, I care more about equitable outcomes (schools that graduate kids on track for life success) than equitable inputs (every school has the same inputs). Second, choice already exists. Anyone who can afford to purchase a home in part of the city that has better schools does so. Anyone who can enrolls their kids in magnet schools does so. Please stop pretending choice doesn't exist. Third, I am willing to bet that the magnet schools get more money per pupil than the neighborhood schools. Let's take some cash from the magnets and give it to the neighborhood schools. Funny how advocates are game for choice for them and inequitable funding that benefits them, but against it when others want in.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 9, 2014 5:51 pm
Magnets and neighborhood schools have lost funding. The Philadelphia system is very tracked - charters add another layer to the tracking. That said, students with the most needs are left to neighborhood schools. Instead of calling the schools and the students failures, provide what is needed for the students to meet their potential. Neighborhood high schools should not be evaluated against magnets and charters - both reject the neediest students.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 5:27 pm
What is "on track for life success?" How is it measured? Defined? There are many students who are not going to perform proficient on a standardized test who are "on track for life success." The only schools getting more money are those receiving grants through PSP - SLA, Hill Freeman, Workshop, 3 new high schools, etc. - and/or fundraising (Central, Masterman, SLA). The rest are starving including many magnets. Bodine cut their world language teachers - one thing unique about the school.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 9, 2014 5:06 pm
You are wrong about magnet schools, even SLA spends far less per child than the neighborhood schools. The individual school budgets are on the SDP's website. Central in previous years has come in at $5.5k per child, much less than the overall District average. Anti privatization critics do have a valid point in that not all schools have the same inputs, and that choice has just exacerbated the inequitable distribution of the behavior problem children. The real problem is that we haven't realized that the industrial revolution model classroom is a limited scope experience and support outside of the classroom needs far more attention.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 9, 2014 11:01 pm
Ms. Cheng, I encourage you to go to the page School Budgets, https://apps.philasd.org/SchoolBudgets/servlet, look at the subtitle School Funding Formulas and read the first line carefully: "The primary factor in the allocation of School District personnel and dollars to individual schools is enrollment." The budgets of SLA and neighborhood high schools reflect the enrollments at the schools. SLA and Central have VERY DIFFERENT student bodies than any of the neighborhood high schools. There is a much higher enrollment of students with IEPs at the neighborhood high schools, particularly students with the most significant disabilities. Students with the most significant disabilities are the most expensive to educate because there is a lower staff to student ratio. It's also a fair statement that neighborhood high schools require more police officers than the special admit schools. Go on the Facilities Master Plan website, School Information section, and look at the numbers of students with IEPs who attend SLA and other magnet schools (Masterman, Central) versus the neighborhood schools. The special admit schools don't generally have the self-contained special ed classes for Autistic Support, Life Skills Support, or Emotional Support. AS, ES, and LSS are the three types of categories listed on the individual school information sheets. Students at Central and SLA are cheaper to educate because they are generally easier to serve than the students who attend the neighborhood high schools. It's all related to enrollment.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 10, 2014 10:40 am
EGS, I am aware of this. My comment was a reply to the one that thought that magnet schools were getting more per child than neighborhood schools. Do not forget however that "gifted" is an IEP as well. I do agree that concentrating behavior issue children together, and then judging a school using the performance of other schools that do not have behavior issue children, is unfair. Let's revisit the money argument however. I am guessing that Lower Merion does not have many behavior issue children, so perhaps we can compare their schools to Central. Central, with its gifted IEP, spends far less per child, but has results on par. The money to schools then can't be the critical factor. Please don't misunderstand this comment. Of course schools need to be funded, but the relationship with how much is not a linear one. How about we compare the percentage of economically disadvantaged at Central, and that at the Lower Merion schools? I would guess again that Central's is higher. Again, there goes the argument for simply throwing money at the problem.
Submitted by Headstart Teacher (not verified) on April 10, 2014 1:27 pm
BUT Central has creamed off the top - taken the best, brightest and most willing to learn. How can you compare that to an entire district like Lower Merion?? Money that is properly allocated - and utilized for the benefit of the children, such as hiring more staff to have smaller class sizes does help "fix the problem". Money just tossed into the pot to pay admim more or put pretty wrapping on a building does nothing. Also, we know nothing about Lower Merion children so to say they have fewer behavior problems is a gross stereotype. Compare one school to one school and then we can talk otherwise your argument is so full of holes it looks like swiss cheese.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 10, 2014 3:16 pm
Absolutely, I do not have specifics on any of the schools in Lower Merion, and neither do any of the commenters that use Lower Merion to make the argument that Philadelphia schools are grossly underfunded. What in fact are their outputs relative to their inputs? If they started out with as many behavior issue children as Philadelphia, added their $9 to $16k differential, and produced children that adequately met minimum State standards, well then that would be an argument. And yes simply because they spend a lot more, does not mean it all is well used. If children who are motivated, even those that are economically disadvantaged as at Central, can learn despite having so much less spent on them, then the question becomes, how did they get motivated? I know for sure the SDP got gobs/a heck of lot of Title I money to do just this, and somehow it all got spent with little result.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 12, 2014 7:19 pm
I balk at hearing the language "behavior issue children"? Perhaps you could consider using people-first language, such as "students with behavior issues" instead of "behavior issue children," which means putting the child first, not the disability or child's problems. With regard to gifted IEPs, those IEPs are easily overlooked---thank you for raising the issue of gifted IEPs. However, it's fair to say that from a cost standpoint, children with gifted IEPs are cheaper to educate than children with significant autism (who are in Autistic Support classes) or children with intellectual disability who are in Life Skills Support Classes or children with severe disabilities who are in Multiple Disabilities Support classes. For example, legally speaking, the caseload size for an Autistic Support class is one teacher and one classroom assistant for every 8 students. Typically, if there are more than 8 students, then there must be an additional classroom assistant. MDS classes have a caseload of 8 and 2 classroom assistants. My understanding is that students with gifted IEPs are served in regular ed classes for most of the day, but may receive push-in or pull-out services. Please correct me if I am wrong. Regarding Central, even students there are being shortchanged. I'm sure that class sizes are higher than in previous years. Students are probably not receiving the college counseling that they need. Perhaps the budget cuts have impacted offerings of electives and foreign languages. ALL District-run schools feel these budget cuts, but some schools feel the cuts more than others. IF MONEY ISN'T AN ISSUE, then why did parents at schools like Greenfield, SLA, and Central raise money to cover the BASICS (personnel, supplies)? My guess is that EVERY school in the Lower Merion School District has a librarian and a full-time nurse. How many schools in Philadelphia have a librarian and a full-time nurse? Not very many. Funding matters. Is it everything? No, but those of us who work in the highest-poverty schools feel these budget cuts the most. For God's sake, I HAVE TO BUY COPY PAPER FOR PRINTING IEPS AND HOMEWORK! My school is fortunate to have a behavioral health service and some great parent volunteers who really help keep things orderly at our school. But we need more. It's hard for quality instruction to take place when a teacher is having to break up fights. Schools like mine have the most difficult, hardest-to-educate students and there aren't just 1 or 2, but 5 or 6 or 9 or 10 in a class. On top of the fights among students, there are parents who come into the school and want to start fights. The underfunding is not right, and it's unfair to both the students and the adults who work in the schools.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 12, 2014 8:49 pm
EGS, how did it get so bad that teachers need to buy copy paper? I do know that there was hundreds of millions of Title I money given to the SDP that appears not to have gone to "leveling the playing field". Money that if properly spent might have enriched the children who have behavior issues and given them some resilience, or that might have enabled them to focus in a classroom environment. Who's to blame for the mismanagement of this money? Not Harrisburg/Corbett. Not the PSP/Gleason. Here, I am not talking about the children with severe diagnosed disabilities. Was not the State funding for Special Ed recently revised in their favor? I did not say money was not important, but there has been a lot of money wasted by the SDP. The argument for more money using Lower Merion's per child spending with just dollar amounts is not a valid one.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 10:38 pm
In a short comment, you summed up why the district is not trusted by so many parents and why charters are. Delivering the best education to the most people should be the district's goal, not achieving some nebulous ideologically defined goal of "equity". And pretend these goals are in complete harmony. The easiest way to achieve equity is to give everyone rubbish.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 11:45 pm
There is nothing "nebulos" about equity. The state and SRC have been starving the public schools and building up charters to advance a corporate agenda.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 3:24 pm
I seriously hope you aren't a teacher. The notion of equity IS entirely subjective. There is also a difference between opinion and fact. Do they not teach this basic element of critical thinking in the district? Some think a flat tax is equity. Some think equity is when the government confiscate all wealth and redistributes it. Some think equity is allowing all parents to choose their schools. Some think equity is abolishing private schools so that no one receives any advantage. And some think equity is the residual value after all debts are paid off. The notion that the district's primary mission is to pursue "equity" is simultaneously silly, stupid, and meaningless. But it is also a useful dogma excusing any accountability for doing a bad job in providing a good education- the actual job of the school district.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 6:51 pm
You are a person of privilege and an elitist. If it was your childrens' school being underfunded you would raise hell. "All men are created equal and are endowed their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 11:40 pm
I agree. I believe it is "Choice" is part of the problem. Many are making the choice to flee their neighborhood school for greener pastures and send their children to charters. But studies reveal in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their traditional public school counterparts. A Department of Education study found that "On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress. There are numerous examples of failed or ineffective privatization schemes that show us that hasty, unregulated initiatives simply don't work. Too many have made uninformed choices out of desperation to find "something better." Choice has helped propel the privatization agenda and destruction of the public education system. Making "the right choice" for those lucky enough to win a lottery or go to a private school does not lend to fairness and justice in allocating resources, opportunities, treatment, and success for "every" student. Our leaders do not have the interest of "every" child at heart...in fact I don't think they have the interest of any child...unless of course they can attach a $$$ value to them. Educational equity seems to be a dream not a reality in this city.
Submitted by TCFearfullyMade (not verified) on April 9, 2014 11:01 pm
Agree. I believe "Choice" is part of the problem. Many are making the choice to flee their neighborhood school for greener pastures and are sending their children to charters. But studies reveal in unmistakable terms that charter students are not faring as well as their traditional public school counterparts. A Department of Education study found that "On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress. There are numerous examples of failed or ineffective privatization schemes that show us that hasty, unregulated initiatives simply don't work. Too many have made uninformed choices out of desperation to find "something better." Choice has helped propel the privatization agenda and destruction of the public education system. Making "the right choice" for those lucky enough to win a lottery or go to a private school does not lend to fairness and justice in allocating resources, opportunities, treatment, and success for "EVERY" student. The “reform” model is a loser in and of itself. Our leaders do not have the interest of "every" child at heart...in fact I don't think they have the interest of any child...unless of course they can attach a $$$ value to them. Educational equity seems to be a dream not a reality in this city.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 3:33 am
Funny how i almost never see parents who have made that choice complaining here. Mostly just district employees. You may think you know better than me, but that doesn't make me want to entrust my kids education to you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 1:56 pm
Is it because we educate the poorest and the most problematic kids? I can bet that if I go and teach at a charter, you won't have problems with me being your child's teacher. Face it, you, like most charter school parents, want to segregate your children by race and class.
Submitted by TCFearfullyMade (not verified) on April 11, 2014 12:41 am
I don't trust the district leaders as far as I can spit as they care nothing about my children. However, I am a parent who has made an informed choice to keep my children in their neighborhood school. I believe in the public school and I see dedicated, hardworking teachers busting their butts daily to ensure that children learn despite not having adequate resources. This is no complaint, just a simple statement of truth.
Submitted by Helen Gym on April 9, 2014 4:51 pm

Let's get THIS straight.

I went to public school. I was a Philadelphia public school teacher. I was the first full-time editor of the Public School Notebook and helped distribute it at grocery stores and on street corners to make sure parents and Philadelphians got better informed about our schools. I worked in curriculum support and wrote teacher guides to improve teaching and learning and expand the curriculum. I joined the boards of several national organizations focused on anti-racist teaching and curricula. I sent my daughter to Powel Elementary where I helped found Parents United for Public Education which has found tens of millions of dollars in new revenue for the schools. I am one of the founders of Parents Across America - a national network of parents supporting public schools and public education investment. I built a charter school serving many immigrant families on top of a historic struggle over a baseball stadium that would redefine Chinatown's future. Two of my children attended the very charter school I founded because I believe you don't build schools for other people's children. And all three of my children attend public school today.

I believe in improving education. I believe this system has to improve. And I also believe in public education, public schools, teaching and learning, and the communities they serve. Finally I believe in signing your name to what you believe.

Your turn.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 4:58 pm
Totally ducking the question. Should other parents have the right to send their kids elsewhere or not?? And if yes, recognize that propping up schools that have consistently come up short keeps the ones that have delivered from growing.
Submitted by Helen Gym on April 9, 2014 5:51 pm

First, you did not even ask a question. So now you are changing the question and the issue at every point. Parents do have the right to send their kids elsewhere. What possible question about that is there? Sign up for private, parochial and there are 86 charters already there. Have you wondered why 30% of Lower Merion parents choose to send their kids to schools other than the Lower Merion public schools yet no one there talks about starving and punishing and closing down schools because of that?

The difference you are asking is whether parents have the right to use any amount of public dollars to send their children to whatever endless limits of choice they choose to exercise. And the answer there is clearly NO.

I don't even understand your last sentence. "Propping up schools that come up short"? Are you talking about giving those schools their fair share of teachers, support staff, programs, resources and investment? Do you think schools have the capacity to change - get worse or better - depending on the level of investment being granted to them? You're asking me if I think all children are deserving of equitable resources within the schools they attend - then reiterating the term moral bankruptcy? 

I think you've made yourself clear. Further questions, email me directly and I am happy to have that conversation then.

Submitted by Darryl Johns (not verified) on April 9, 2014 9:41 pm
Lower Merion spends around $ 22,000 per child vs. about $ 13,000 in Philadelphia. Lower Merion also has significantly better outcomes for it's students than Philadelphia. Does money matter? Of course it does. Furthermore, if Charter operators would find a more lucrative reimbursement rate in Lower Merion as opposed to Philadelphia, then why aren't they flocking there? Could it be that they know their performance would be deficient in that environment and the citizens there would not tolerate such? Whereas, Philadelphia is a ripe environment for privatization since the emphasis is on cost savings and not school performance?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 10:50 pm
Darryl---You are exactly right BUT don't think they won't try if they can sell their cancer in Philly. Nobody is safe from fascism if it finds success anywhere. Of course, money matters and the whole poverty piece which is enormous, is as usual being ignored. Bottom line is MONEY and the charter lie folks see Philly as the lowest hanging fruit due to Nutter's cowardice and willingness to play the dual roles of fool and tool and others of his ilk also.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 3:53 am
Wealthy suburban districts like Lower Merion and Rador will never allow the "by any means necessary" test prep pedagogy and discipline of KIPP, Mastery, ASPIRA, Young Scholars, etc. in their districts. Scott Gordon's children go to a Quaker school - he won't let his kids into Mastery. What Lower Merion or Radnor parent will tolerate the "Mastery model?" None.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 11:53 am
It's true that suburban parents don't want their kids attending test-prep factories. However, they need to wake up and become better informed. The "my kids go to private schools that don't follow a rigid test-driven pedagogy, but everyone else's kids need benchmark tests every six weeks in a privatized school" crowd has their sights set on the suburbs. They are preparing the landscape by talking up the "middle-class crisis" in public schools and by doing things such as establishing non-district authorizers (SB1085 anyone?) to neuter suburban school boards. I think few suburban parents have a clue that they are about to face the same test and accountability driven privitization of public education as urban parents. However, Lower Merion and Radnor are likely not the types of suburban districts to be the initial targets. Currently suburban parents mostly see this as an urban issue, but they are in for a rude awakening.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 4:10 pm
Philadelphia is a ripe environment for choice because the density of the urban area supports a greater variety of choice within an acceptable travel radius. And because most parents don't trust the district's ability to get it right. It really is that simple.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 6:46 pm
The District has been run by the state for twelve years. It is simply that simple.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 9:40 pm
Yes, though for most of that time, it was run by Philly sympathetic Democrats (ie. Rendell). What is amazing is that funding DOUBLED per pupil since the state takeover while over 1000 administrative and patronage hires were cut. And somehow we still have a financial crisis. In 2001, the state also created a pension bomb with a multi-billion dollar give away, unfunded of course, in 2001 for the benefit legislators, state employees and teachers increasing benefits some 30% and causing the $48 billion pension deficit that is now eating into every category of spending throughout the state and municipalities. That and for a decade the SRC refused to lay-off people or close schools even as some 60k kids left for charters, choosing to fund operating deficits with debt. Philly's DROP scamming pols would of course do even worse.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 1:57 am
Ackerman was Superintendent during the Rendell years and she put most of the increased funding into charters and Promise Academies.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 9:43 am
Helen, are you saying that all charters are the problem? Are they all privateers looking to loot district coffers?
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 9, 2014 5:39 pm
Helen--Ignore them. Case Closed. They can't get out of their own way. Gleason said exactly what the reformers are all about. Words are pesky little things.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 4:22 pm
First they ignore you, then they attack you .... Looks like PSP has taken their people off of "transforming" schools to attack Helen in this column. Or maybe it's just Mark Gleason trying to do damage control.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 9, 2014 5:17 pm
Anti PSP/Gleason have made some valid points, but tucked amongst them must be those that don't wish African Americans to advance at all. For the life of me, I can't understand how a school like Hill Freedman, that has achievement on par with Masterman, but with a predominantly African American student body, and a high percentage of Special Ed (though easy to educate I am told), shouldn't be supported to expand. They have shown interest in Germantown High. Isn't this a good thing? Someone explain to me how Hill Freedman is about privatization? How about the new high schools, such as Bldg 21 are to be in North Philly, the war zone, and there is protest amongst the anti PSP/Gleason camp?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 9, 2014 9:53 pm
Ms. Cheng, I understand your points. What people have a problem with is the process. The fact that PSP is unelected, not accountable to the public, is very problematic. There's a lack of transparency. This organization has been around since only 2010. It seems that so much goes on behind closed doors. It's not just philanthropy to help people, but there's definitely an agenda behind what PSP is doing. The PSP wants all of this data on how schools are doing, but won't provide the public with data or objective criteria for how it selects schools that receive grants. What are the criteria for a "high performing seat"? People are suspicious of the PSP and their motives. There's a credibility problem when the PSP wants to run (and make money from) a universal enrollment system. It often feels like the SRC isn't accountable, but with the PSP the public is shut out completely. It feels like things are being "done to us" instead of "done with us." The PSP lost all credibility with me when they proposed the privately-run universal enrollment system. Anyone with any knowledge of how special education works in the District knows that a privately-run enrollment system is a lawsuit waiting to happen. No parent of a child receiving special education services could be forced into a privately-run enrollment system because a student's placement is the decision of the IEP team and involves certain actions from people in the Office of Specialized Services and, in some cases, other departments/offices in the District (such as Transportation). The placement of students, particularly those who receive supplemental services in a self-contained classroom (Autistic Support, Life Skills Support, Multiple Disabilities Support, Emotional Support) cannot be done by computer. The PSP is not a Local Education agency, and therefore, has no right to coordinate the placement of students with IEPs unless a parent provides consent. And the fact that the PSP would try to devise such a system just struck me as incredibly galling. They clearly hadn't thought through the decision to account for issues such as, um, special ed! Where was the public comment on the universal enrollment system? There was none. Participants of the working group were hand-picked. People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. If PSP had nothing to hide, they would welcome public involvement. The fact that so much of what they do occurs behind closed doors says a lot about the PSP.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 10, 2014 8:03 am
EGS, PSP's biggest problem is that they're politically naïve. That does not equate to being a deliberate conspirator. They are a private grant funded institution. They only are mandated to disclose their budget, not to be inclusive in their decision making. Yes, there are significant issues with the universal enrollment system they proposed, not least of which is the mandatory fee which families would have to pay (welcome to Philadelphia, where we like to keep our taxes under cover), but there were reasons it might have worked best with a private entity. At the least it should have to be run by a third party entity, since it would involve the Catholic schools too. One only has to look at the schools awarded their support to see that "high performing seats" is related to test scores, and innovation. I would consider that with their meager millions, they have accomplished getting more resources directly to children, than the SDP has in over 10 years of hundreds of millions of Title I money. The real lack of awareness of where this money has been spent speaks volumes about what the motives are of the anti PSP/Gleason camp. I am no stranger to the resentment and hostility that being generous seems to provoke. Then when you start getting close to the truth, you will get some serious attacks. Ha ha, just because I can think critically, apparently I'm not a parent. That had to be the best accusation ever.
Submitted by Helen Gym on April 10, 2014 9:48 am

You are kidding right? Because I am pretty sure that PSP's own board would completely disagree with you. PSP's board and founders are hardly politically naive, unless you consider billion dollar hedge fund managers, the folks who underwrite political campaigs, and one of the state's largest GOP lobbying firms to be completely naive. Also, Mark Gleason is a registered lobbyist. He is not politically naive. He is here in part to advance political and legislative action on behalf of his board and donors. You can make an argument around whether or not you think their investments are worthwhile. Political naivete, however, is not remotely an argument.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 10, 2014 10:33 am
Helen, I have a problem with connecting "billion dollar hedge fund managers" by default to our own lowest self profit motives. Companies are successful because people buy their products. Many can attribute their success to good management and hard work, not necessarily taking advantage of others. I think the only way to fix the SDP, is to correct internal power structure problems, and I agree the huge movement to charters and even privatization will not fix that. PSP is naïve because they overlook the complexity of the problems which they have set out to solve. Their suggestions, in a simplified world however, do not work to the advantage of the "billion dollar hedge fund managers". A truly educated, critical thinking (yes, successful test taking even) body of citizens from a historically left out population does not promote being taken advantage of. I am disturbed by how little attention is given to the huge amount of Title I money that has been given to the SDP apparently to disappear in the bureaucracy. Can we shed more light on where this has gone? What the PSP is waving around certainly can't compare to these dollar amounts.
Submitted by Helen Gym on April 10, 2014 10:29 am

We are working with PILCOP and have filed formal complaints and requested investigation about Title I funding not being used toward SES services and supports. 

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 10, 2014 10:16 am
That is a great start - thanks :)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 11:01 am
Helen, are you saying that all charters are the problem? Are they all privateers looking to loot district coffers?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 11:55 am
No, I saying that they are! And that's exactly what they are doing, with Corbett holding open the gate to the cash cow.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 11:57 am
No, I saying that they are! And that's exactly what they are doing, with Corbett holding open the gate to the cash cow.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 11:03 am
No, I saying that they are! And that's exactly what they are doing, with Corbett holding open the gate to the cash cow.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2014 8:05 pm
Ms. Cheng: You hit the nail squarely on the head. The racism that some of these poster exude is only exceeded by the self - hatred of those African - Americans who foolishly follow behind them.
Submitted by Urban Teacher (not verified) on April 9, 2014 9:46 pm
Please " Dump the Gleason"
Submitted by Mary Louise (not verified) on April 10, 2014 6:42 am
Last night, while leaving a PFT meeting, I heard Dr. Hite on 1210AM. Dick Morris was gushing all over Hite, telling him how he admires him, he's doing a great job with dismantling seniority, etc. Morris asked Hite about the stabbing in western PA. No mention of Bartram, no mention of the Gleason comment, nothing! Maybe he did but I got disgusted after 15 minutes and shut off the radio. Maybe it was on the "Do not ask" list. I don't know. All I know is this is not a place I want to work, let alone live. When decisions are being made regardless of the democratic process allowed us as citizens, I might as well move to Russia or North Korea. At least you know what you're going to get!
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 10, 2014 1:05 pm
Mary Louise----Your biggest mistake was even listening to DICK Morris. He's got fired from EVERY job he's had in the last 25 years. The dude smells feet for a pastime and he's put the DIC into dictator. Even the agent of evil himself, one Richard DICK Cheney, had to rid himself of Morris. Where Hite is concerned, why would anybody who can google, be surprised (except for Jordan who is always in a state of shock) that Hite is doing exactly for what he was brought here. I still think you'd be better off here than North Korea but Russia, it's becoming a tossup.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 8:05 pm
I heard from my Building Rep that Jordan does not support a "walkout".or "strike". What else does he have up his sleave if not a walkout if we lose our arguments before the PA State Supreme Court???? Are we supposed to say okay SRC do what you will with us??? We are the union. Our leader better come up with a good game plan.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2014 9:19 pm
Why would you assume your Building Rep would tell you the truth about something like that? I can guarantee you they don't know what they are talking about. ALL options are on the table
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 1:43 am
Could this be the reason the union is prostrate. http://tinyurl.com/m6gzyfe
Submitted by ES (not verified) on April 10, 2014 5:41 pm
The problem with Gleason's comment is that the District is starving the WINNERS as well as the LOSERS. Schools that are very successful are being forced to cut back on those aspects of their programs that make them successful and give them identity. They now go without libraries-librarians-media centers, counselors, and new technologies. They are forced to maintain large classes, and forego supplemental instruction and enrichment activities. Little or no money for textbooks and other materials is available. They are being stripped of the programs and services that make them successful and give their schools meaning, like music and art, drama, connections to outside agencies, and the like. Then there is no analysis of WHY some schools are not successful - with many having high numbers of deep poverty students, high rates of absences, and student mobility levels that make it impossible to develop comprehensive programs. There is no doubt that some schools can and should improve, but let's not starve those schools that are making a difference and let's help those schools that can improve to do so. The current situation is a tragedy for both good schools and for Philadelphia students.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 13, 2014 2:58 pm
Agreed. But under the CBA, what choice do they have. You're starving Central to keep Strawberry Mansion open. Thank Jerry and Helen.
Submitted by Philly Public T (not verified) on April 10, 2014 6:57 pm
Thank you Ms. Gym for a thoughtful piece that acknowledges the surreal PSP/Harrisburg view of the "dumping" ground in which we live and work and provides context for their McKinsey-flavored charts. Whether Kihn's "stranded costs" are $4, $4,000 or $14,000 doesn't matter. (I'm sure he left "The Firm" on good terms -- they have a much nicer dumping policy there. Yes, they really call it The Firm.) But, follow the money as you have done: Keep asking "but why?" Please don't stop asking. And kudos for the props from the White House. Too bad Chicago didn't have you when Obama cut Emanuel loose. Steel and Muñoz-Marin may be the catalyst needed to break this Stockholm syndrome relationship with Harrisburg. Mr. Canada is right: intergenerational equity is THE issue. Parents and staff at Steel, Muñoz-Marin and at surrounding schools have a sliver of a chance to pull a sparkplug out of the bulldozer. Unions are just an impediment to this crowd, and another diamond on someone's pinky ring if they break ours. But anybody who's taught our public school students knows that the real gems are in the eyes we see every single morning, even the eyes who come back having been kicked out of charters. Depriving their schools and families of any chance, and any real choice at all blinds our students and throws them -- to extend Mark "the lobbyist" Gleason's metaphor -- into the dumpster. So, let's talk real money. (Yo main-liners listen up.) Can we all afford to let Harrisburg hide behind PSSAs and throw young people into a dumpster because they're poor? Because they're black or brown? Because they're ELL? Duh. Then support the strike 'cause I think it's coming. And call Corbett and your rep. Please. Like, right now: get on the phone. Because what's my teaching cert worth if the students who I can most help are in a dumpster? P.S. Double Duh. From Dale Mezzacappa blog of April 1: "Steel is near Gratz High School, which is already run by Mastery, so adding the elementary school would move the operator closer to setting up a K-12 charter network. Kihn said that this is not an explicit goal, but added that it is an “interest” of the District to test out the approach."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 12:38 pm
Green Party candidate for governor of Pennsylvania addresses education issues: http://www.glover4governor.com/education

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