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Past Chester Community Charter testing head disciplined in cheating scandal

By Dale Mezzacappa and Paul Socolar on Nov 27, 2015 08:09 AM

A former testing coordinator at Chester Community Charter School, the state’s largest bricks-and-mortar charter with more than 3,000 students, has been sanctioned by the state for “systemic violations of the security of the PSSA exams” over the five-year period between 2007 and 2011.

The school was under scrutiny for testing irregularities by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as part of a statewide cheating scandal that broke in 2011.

District to create task force on testing

By Dale Mezzacappa and Greg Windle on Nov 12, 2015 06:11 PM

The Philadelphia School District plans to convene an assessment task force to study the impact of all the tests administered to city students and make recommendations for changes.

Chris Schaffer, deputy chief for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said that the task force will include parents, teachers, community members, and perhaps students.

The goal is to have its members in place by the December break and start meeting in January to reconsider the District's approach to testing.

Caucus of Working Educators unhappy about PFT election procedures

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 10, 2015 03:25 PM

The Caucus of Working Educators, which is trying to topple the long-dominant Collective Bargaining (CB) Team for leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, is protesting the union's election procedures -- or the lack of them so far.  

WE, as it is known, also alleges that CB-loyal building representatives – the elected union leaders at each school – are improperly seeking to bar them from distributing flyers and holding meetings in school buildings.

Kenney and Gym change the education conversation

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 3, 2015 09:46 PM

[2nd paragraph updated] 

With the election of Democrats Jim Kenney as mayor and Helen Gym to City Council on Tuesday, there is a new dynamic at City Hall regarding education policy.

Kenney has promised to work toward universal preschool, which was also a focus of the Nutter administration. But the mayor-elect has thrown his support behind community schools as the primary reform strategy for the District. That is a departure from Mayor Nutter's approach. Throughout his administration, Nutter supported the strategy that relied heavily on closing low-performing schools and expanding charters, with the goal of having "a great school" in every neighborhood. 

The role of police in schools: A discussion on 'Radio Times'

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 3, 2015 03:11 PM

Notebook board chair Harold Jordan, senior policy analyst with the Pennsylvania ACLU, appeared on WHYY's Radio Times this morning with Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel to discuss the role of police officers in schools. The topic recently got renewed attention after video went viral showing a sheriff's deputy in South Carolina throwing to the floor and arresting a Black high school girl who would not leave her classroom.

Philly NAEP scores below average for urban areas; nationally, scores slip

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 28, 2015 03:01 PM

Students nationwide showed a marked dip in math performance and a somewhat smaller decline in reading proficiency, according to 2015 results of the only standardized achievement test administered across the country by the federal government.  

It was the first reversal of a steady upward trend that held for the more than two decades that U.S. students have been taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 

Philadelphia students continue to score below the national average for big cities, according to analysis of the scores from 21 urban areas. Both nationally and in the city, there are huge achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups. 

Here are some key facts on the NAEP and its significance.

Mayor: Dissolve the School Reform Commission

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 27, 2015 12:23 PM

Updated, 5:40 p.m. with additional quotes and reaction

In a major education policy speech this morning, Mayor Nutter called for the dissolution of the School Reform Commission and the return of a local board of education.

"Of all the policy recommendations I make today, none will have a bigger impact on Philadelphia than a return to local control," he told an audience of invited guests at WHYY.

After 15 years, Nutter said, "it's time for the experiment to end."

Source4Teachers is paid only for teachers it places, according to contract

By Dale Mezzacappa and Greg Windle on Oct 22, 2015 12:20 PM

Editor's note

Critics may get small consolation from the news that Source4Teachers, the firm hired to provide the District's substitute service, is not getting paid by the District for the teachers that it is failing to place in city classrooms.

And the District has incorporated standard language into its contract terms allowing it to terminate its agreement with Source4Teachers "for its convenience" and without penalty, simply by providing the company with 14 days' notice.

PFT's Jordan blasts teacher vacancy situation

By Greg Windle on Oct 19, 2015 06:06 PM

Editor's note

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan spoke at Northeast High School on Monday to draw attention to the “District’s failure” to fill numerous teacher vacancies in the city’s public schools.

SRC meeting dominated by charter conversion critics

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Oct 16, 2015 04:15 AM

Philadelphia school leaders got an earful Thursday night.

Much of the four-and-a-half-hour School Reform Commission meeting was filled with contentious testimony.

Teachers, parents, and advocates decried the shortage of school nurses and took leaders to task for the so-far exceedingly underwhelming results of their decision to outsource substitute teaching placement services — leading some in the crowd to call for ousting Superintendent William Hite.

Mastery's CEO talks about expansion plan and Renaissance turnarounds

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 15, 2015 02:22 PM

Mastery Charter Schools CEO Scott Gordon said Thursday that a new $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education would be used to open new schools in the city and across the Delaware River.  

"We're expecting to open schools in Philadelphia and Camden," Gordon said in a telephone interview. "New schools or Renaissance schools. Our preference has always been Renaissance schools, because that is the quickest way to address kids who are trapped in struggling schools." 

Mastery gets $9.6 million federal grant to expand

By Greg Windle on Oct 14, 2015 04:56 PM

Updated with information on Scott Gordon interview

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has awarded Mastery Charter Schools a $9.6 million federal grant with the goal of opening 12 new schools over the next five years as a part of the department’s Replication and Expansion for High-Quality Charter Schools program.

Conference this week on "Education in Black and White"

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 13, 2015 06:43 PM

A series of events and panel discussions on the history of African Americans and schooling in Philadelphia are taking place this month, including a conference this Thursday through Saturday On "The Institute for Colored Youth and the Ongoing Struggle for Education."

The ICY, founded in Philadelphia in 1837, is now Cheyney University.

Teachers spent week in work-to-rule protest

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 10, 2015 10:30 AM

On a normal day, they’d be tutoring.

But Pamela Roy and her colleagues waved students away when the children tried to come into Room 202 during teacher lunchtime at Thomas Mifflin Elementary School in East Falls on Thursday.

Q&A: Giving your child a good start

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 5, 2015 11:59 AM

The Notebook interviewed Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, who is a Temple University psychology professor, director of the Infant Language Laboratory, and author of several books about how children learn. She offered tips for parents of young children regarding daycare, preschool, and activities to do at home.

Notebook: What should I look for in a pre-K or child care center?

Hirsh-Pasek: The first thing I look for in a pre-K is, “Is it safe?” You want to make sure there aren’t things literally swept under rugs, things that are accessible that shouldn’t be, things that look dangerous.

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