[Updated, 5/23 with additional reaction]
A report by a national nonprofit studying Philadelphia has concluded that the District does a poor job of hiring and assigning teachers, fails to effectively evaluate or support them, and overrelies on seniority to govern placement and layoffs.
The report, from the National Council on Teacher Quality, also said that Philadelphia pays salaries competitive with surrounding districts and most charter schools for the first 10 years, but then rapidly falls behind -- largely because the only way to get a raise after that, besides a negotiated percentage increase, is for a teacher to accumulate more graduate credits.
Two icons of the progressive education movement spoke in Philadelphia on Wednesday night to decry standardized testing and urge that a “justice-oriented framework” drive school reform instead.
“Test score gaps are used to label schools as failures without providing resources or strategies to eliminate the gap,” said Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools, an education journal and publisher.
Parents and students from Powel, Henry, Penn Alexander and Masterman schools came to City Hall on Wednesday morning to protest proposed District budget cuts, converging in a staircase up to the second floor.
Mayor Nutter walked through the chanting crowd right after he had announced with Superintendent William Hite that he was proposing a package to raise $95 million in new revenue for the District, which is $35 million more than the School Reform Commission had requested.
The money would come from a new $2 city tax on a pack of cigarettes and a hike in the liquor-by-the-drink tax. For both measures, the District needs enabling legislation from Harrisburg that has been introduced and that Nutter and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams said has support. Nutter also announced that the city expects to step up property tax collections to raise $28 million in additional funds next year for the District, which faces a $304 million budget gap.
Superintendent William Hite has decided not to recommend any charter school expansions for next year, saying it would be irresponsible to do so given the District's financial situation.
"Given our dire financial prospects, we must ask for shared sacrifices from our partners," said Hite in a statement. "It would be irresponsible for the District to endorse charter expansion while asking our principals to do the impossible with school budgets."
[Updated, 2:12 p.m. with full text of email]
While it is trying to cope with its fiscal Armageddon, which includes plans to cut by 30 percent its already depleted central office staff, the School District is also seeking to restructure its top management and is advertising nationally for new personnel.
An internal email from Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn to senior staff was obtained by the Notebook and NewsWorks. In it, Kihn explains that everyone will be required to reapply for their present jobs and announces that the District is seeking people to fill new roles. These include a chief schools officer, as well as several assistant superintendents and deputies.
Facing a $300 million structural deficit and still uncertain whether it will get the increased revenue and labor concessions it is seeking, the School District is asking schools to prepare to operate next year with a principal and a bare-bones allotment of teachers – and just about nothing else.
That means the contractual maximum class size in every classroom – 33 students in grades 4-12 and 30 in K-3. It means no dedicated money for guidance counselors, interscholastic sports, extracurricular activities, librarians, art or music.
No money, even, for secretaries.
On the agenda for Thursday's School Reform Commission meeting is a resolution to approve $15 million to establish a District-run virtual school.
The District plans to release more details later this week, but Superintendent William Hite has spoken in the past of starting a cyber school in an effort to retain some of the nearly $50 million that the District now pays for more than 6,000 city students who have headed to cybers. Some of that growth has happened among students who struggled in traditional high schools.
Philadelphia lags behind other Pennsylvania cities in getting early intervention services to eligible infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who fail to meet certain developmental milestones, according to a recent report.
Public Citizens for Children and Youth found that thousands of children with developmental delays who could be getting services are not -- which potentially costs the city more later in special education and other expensive services.
A coalition of advocacy groups wants groundbreaking changes in the Philadelphia teachers' contract -- including the effective end of seniority privileges -- but is also urging the School Reform Commission to take off the table its plan for deep salary and benefit concessions.
Saying that such cuts would be demoralizing, the groups want the SRC to ask the city and the state to cough up even more than $180 million in additional funds.
In the first clear fallout from investigations into the cheating scandal in Philadelphia, two administrators have surrendered credentials in lieu of disciplinary action by the state.
They are Barbara McCreery, the former principal of Communications Tech High School and this year principal of Bok Technical High School, and Lola Marie O'Rourke, former principal of Locke Elementary. Both Comm Tech and Locke were among the 53 Philadelphia schools investigated for irregular patterns on PSSA scores.
The District's press release said that about half the schools ended up with different scores, but most of those were off by just a point on the 10-point scale. SPI scores have figured into many high-stakes decisions, such as determining which schools to close or convert to charters.
The years in question included those in which widespread adult cheating on state standardized tests has been investigated. But Superintendent William Hite's statement said that "the underlying data feeding into the SPI was not in question nor considered to be faulty." Rather, "the calculation used to produce the SPI scores for traditional public and charter schools was in question."
As the Notebook produces our eighth annual edition on the city’s dropout crisis, I’d like to draw attention to a program that has spent a quarter-century working on getting low-income students through high school and into college.
Say Yes to Education.
Mark Gleason, the executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, has been named one of four "education reformers to watch" nationwide by the Walton Family Foundation.
Walton, which has given some $1 billion to its education causes, is one of the country's leading backers of parental choice in education, including vouchers and the expansion of charter schools. It believes that choice is the best path to equal opportunity for low-income students.
Heidi Ramirez, the former School Reform Commission member vying to become the next leader of Camden's schools, elaborated in a short phone interview Wednesday about why she'd like to run the extremely troubled system.
"My career has been about working with high-poverty, high-minority districts," she said. "I feel a special relationship with Camden's children, having come from challenging background myself. And the children of Camden deserve better than what they have had. And I have a commitment to make that change happen."
[Updated 3 p.m.]
Mastery, Universal Companies, and Scholar Academies will vie to operate three additional Renaissance turnaround schools put on the list for next year, the School District announced Monday.
In making the announcement, Superintendent William Hite said in a statement that all three had made progress in the elementary-level turnarounds that they now operate. Mastery has five, Universal three, and Young Scholars one.
The District said that eight organizations had submitted applications.