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The effect of student 'opt-outs' on schools

By Jessica K. Beaver and Lucas Westmaas on Dec 12, 2014 12:19 PM

The uproar against standardized testing has been getting louder in Philadelphia over the last few years. Recently, activists have been wielding a relatively new term in their vocabulary: “opting out.”

The term can be confusing, as it can mean two things. In one sense, it can refer to parents who use a provision in state regulation to exempt their children from taking state tests, including the PSSAs and the Keystones. In another sense, it can refer to entire schools or districts that decide not to distribute the tests in the first place.

City Council recently heard testimony from educators and activists who argued that high-stakes testing and budget cuts have upended any premise of a fair accountability system. Council yesterday passed a resolution in support of scaling back standardized testing in the School District of Philadelphia and asking the state for a waiver from the Keystone exams.

From the archives: Allegations of test improprieties cropping up across country

By the Notebook on Dec 12, 2014 10:32 AM

The Notebook launched in 1994 as a newspaper committed to ensuring quality and equity in Philadelphia public schools. We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first publication earlier this year. We are featuring an article from our archives each week, shedding light on both the dramatic changes that have taken place in public education and the persistent issues facing Philadelphia's school system.

This piece is from the Spring 2003 print edition:


by Ajuah Helton

 In Rhode Island, teachers in some schools kept copies of previous years' exams and used them to prepare students for the 1999 state assessment.

• In New York City, a teacher was fired in 1999 after allegedly "sneaking a peek" at the state English test, discovering that the essay question concerned Cubist art, and giving her fourth-grade students a lecture on Cubism the day before the test. The teacher was one of nine employees reprimanded.

U.S. labor secretary praises Philly apprentice program, announces $100M grant competition

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 11, 2014 04:01 PM

Tyler Buck skillfully dismantled the screen of an iMac computer and showed U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez how to put it back together.

"You're on the education superhighway," Perez said, telling Buck he has the skills for the future. "The sky's the limit."

Said Buck, "I still have a lot to learn."

What we talk about when we talk about ‘universal’ preschool

By Kate Schimel for Chalkbeat Colorado on Dec 11, 2014 02:31 PM

This story is part of an ongoing series of stories on expanded learning time. The stories are the result of a multi-city reporting project by Catalyst Chicago and its partners: Chalkbeat New York, Chalkbeat Colorado, EdSource Today, and the Notebook.


Hellen Juarez was excited when she heard Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce that the city would introduce universal preschool.

“Universal means there will be open slots for those who need it,” said Juarez, a single mother of three whose youngest, a 3-year-old, is not yet in school.

Pitches for new charter schools in North Philadelphia

By Shannon Nolan on Dec 11, 2014 02:15 PM

On Day 2 of the School District’s hearings for new charter school applications, representatives from 12 proposed charters made their pitches for new schools in North Philadelphia.

A small crowd of community members, charter school supporters and other education stakeholders gathered at School District’s headquarters Wednesday to hear the 15-minute presentations from a diverse group of applicants, including well-known charter operators Mastery, KIPP, and ASPIRA.

Two new Mastery schools?

Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Charter Schools, the largest charter operator in Philadelphia, proposed two new K-8 schools. Mastery Gillespie would occupy the closed Gillespie Middle School facility, he said. A second school, Mastery North Philadelphia, doesn’t yet have a set location, but one option is the former M.H. Stanton School, which closed in 2013. Both charters, he said, would enroll about 750 students and serve the Nicetown/Tioga neighborhoods.

Appeals court seems baffled by Philly teachers' contract strife

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Dec 10, 2014 06:52 PM

"Dysfunctional ... abnormal ... extreme."

These were just a few of the words that a Commonwealth Court judge used Wednesday to describe the relationship between the Philadelphia School Reform Commission and its teachers' union.

The hearing in Harrisburg reviewed the SRC's Oct. 6 decision to unilaterally terminate the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract and impose health-care concessions on members. Most PFT members currently don't pay a share of their premiums.

Penn students press for PILOTs to support Philly schools

By Aaron Moselle for NewsWorks on Dec 10, 2014 06:13 PM

Students at the University of Pennsylvania are pushing for the private institution to contribute more than $6 million to Philadelphia and its struggling public schools.

Like other nonprofits in the city, Penn only pays property taxes on a small portion of the land it owns. As a result, students argue, the school should pay what are known as PILOTs, payments in lieu of taxes.

State appeal board upholds decision to close Truebright Academy charter

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 9, 2014 06:25 PM

The state Charter Appeal Board has upheld the decision of the School Reform Commission to close Truebright Science Academy Charter School.

School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the decision of the seven-member board was unanimous. Tim Eller, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, confirmed the action.

As school selection deadline nears, free help offered to families

By Shannon Nolan on Dec 9, 2014 04:11 PM

The deadline for students applying to Philadelphia School District schools that are not their neighborhood schools is 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12. This year, for the first time, the School District's application process is entirely online.

Philadelphia families and students interested in receiving online high school application help can attend Free High School Application Night on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at one of eight locations around the city.

This free event will bring teachers, administrators, and volunteers together from 6 to 8 p.m. to help students complete their applications and provide them access to computers.

Germantown makes its pitch for community charter school

By Aaron Moselle for NewsWorks on Dec 9, 2014 12:17 PM

In kelly green T-shirts, they linked hands and prayed for a neighborhood.

"Germantown is a place with many seeds that are ready to swell," said the Rev. Lorelei Toombs, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. "As the sun shines down on us today ... show us the beauty of the spring that is to come."

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