On a day that saw the closing of 49 schools in Chicago, it seems sadly fitting that Philadelphia is kicking off three days as the host city of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' national meeting on innovation.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors embraces controversial education reform trends that are spreading across the nation's cities: mayoral control of schools, parent trigger laws, charter co-location, and mass school closings. As head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayor Nutter has supported the organization's call to bring a number of those reforms, particularly mass charter expansion and mass school closings, to Philadelphia.
Although the theme for this meeting is innovation, Philadelphia has been anything but innovative when it comes to education reform.
Are we in a financial crisis? For the thousands of students who organized a massive walk-out today, yes. But not for a certain sector of contractors who are benefiting from the School Reform Commission’s decisions lately.
The same day that elementary school parents flooded City Council to rally for school funding and a sizeable crowd attended a panel on the destructive impact of high-stakes testing, the SRC on Wednesday approved nearly $1.3 million in contracts related to assessment and accountability, including a million-dollar contract to Pearson for high-stakes teacher and principal evaluations.
High-stakes testing and communities pushing back have been all over the news lately. Just this week, Senate Democratic leaders held a press conference opposing the implementation of Keystone exams, mandatory end-of-course state exams that will go into effect for September's 9th-grade class. Amid a backdrop of unprecedented statewide cuts under the Corbett administration, Senate leaders said the Keystones would "cost taxpayers dearly" and were being implemented "without a full understanding of the benefits for students, teachers, administrators, and taxpayers.”
Parents United for Public Education has won its state Right To Know request to gain public access to the list of 60 schools identified by the Boston Consulting Group for closure and to the firm’s criteria for school closings -- a request for information that the District has consistently denied to the public.
Last spring, the Boston Consulting Group came under intense criticism for a plan that promoted school closings, massive charter expansion, and privatization of key functions within the District, such as transportation. Under its multimillion-dollar contract with the William Penn Foundation, BCG agreed to provide the foundation a number of “contract deliverables,” one of which was identifying 60 schools for closure. The “BCG list” was referred to by former Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen in public statements, but District officials had refused to release the list, stating that it was an internal document and therefore protected from public review.
Against a backdrop of unprecedented school closings and disinvestment in public education in Philadelphia, journalist and author Barbara Miner will be in town Thursday to share wisdom and hope for our schools’ future. She will be discussing her new book, Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City, at an event and book signing hosted by the Media Mobilizing Project, Parents United for Public Education, TAG-Philly, and the Philadelphia Student Union.
Thursday's School Reform Commission vote on the recommended closure of nearly 30 schools will undoubtedly have a major impact on the future of the city's public school system. In advance of the vote, the Notebook asked prominent Philadelphians to offer their thoughts, using new data and maps on school attendance patterns in the city as a starting point.
One of the biggest challenges our schools face has as much to do with a lack of vision about public education as it does with a lack of resources.
Like most of the public, I’ve been baffled by the District’s latest rationale for closing down an unprecedented number of schools in a single year. In observing the school hearings this week, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.”
That statement couldn’t ring more true when looking at the District’s proposal to close down one in six Philadelphia schools, including wiping out 9 public schools in the 19121 and 19132 zip codes (plus Vaux will no longer be a high school). The plan will disrupt the lives of 17,000 children in the District – more than 10 percent of the population – for a questionable savings that amounts to barely 1 percent of the District budget.
Moreover, the District has failed to show any lessons it has learned from cities across the country that have closed down public schools with little impact on finances or student achievement.
by Helen Gym
Every once in a while, it becomes apparent just how differently parents view high-quality education than do the reformers out there who are defining it purportedly for our own good. The GreatPhillySchools website (GPS) is just one example of this difference in viewpoints.
Last week I attended a local screening of Won’t Back Down, the latest flick from the producers behind the controversial documentary Waiting for Superman.
The film stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal as two moms of special-needs children, one also a teacher, trapped inside their failing public schools while battling an evil union leadership. They decide to take advantage of a state law called the FailSafe (known as the “parent trigger” in most states) in order to take over their public school, close it down, and re-open it under their personal and private management.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter took the national stage last night at the Democratic National Convention to deliver a key platform issue of President Obama’s agenda: education.
I, for one, couldn't be happier to have education, and especially public education, play such a central role in the president's campaign message.
But I also found it an interesting choice of topic for Nutter. The mayor has been aggressively involved in a controversial re-making of public education in Philadelphia. Recently, the Inquirer editorial board questioned a statement he made that dismissed differences between public education and non-public options as "esoteric."
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear a Pennsylvania politician questioning the very definition and premise of public education. It may surprise you that Philadelphia’s leading Democrat is on record saying public vs. private ought to be meaningless when it comes to education.
At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Michael Nutter said that parents deserve school choice and that public, private, religious designations don’t matter. In his talk, the mayor went on to say:
"I’m not getting caught up in all this. At my level, these are esoteric debates that ultimately don't mean anything to these young people sitting here in this room.”
Children care about their teachers, recess, lunch and whether they’re in a safe learning environment.
“That’s what this is all about,” he asserted.
Although the mayor certainly hasn’t been hanging around the high schoolers I know, he may be right that my 9-year-old isn’t really paying attention to such discussions.
Does that mean we shouldn’t either?
It’s hard to imagine a worse debut in Philadelphia for the Boston Consulting Group.
Dear Mr. Knudsen:
I am the mother of three children in District and charter schools in this city. I have been actively involved in stopping good schools from decline and helping low-performing, violent schools turn around. I believe in the essential role that a high-quality public school system plays and have fought for that vision. My 7th grade son will soon have outlasted four superintendencies, including yours. And I’m here to tell you that you’re not speaking to me.
You’re not speaking to me with this brand of disaster capitalism that tries to shock a besieged public with unproven, untested, and drastic action couched as “solutions.” You’re not speaking to me when you invoke language like “achievement networks,” “portfolio management,” and "rightsizing" our schools – and say not a word about lower class sizes or increasing the presence of loving support personnel or enriching our curriculum.
Thursday’s move by the School Reform Commission to hire a Chief Recovery Officer who will be advised by an "outside team of experts" signals a potentially troubling path around both mission and process for the School District as it struggles to keep afloat amid fiscal chaos.
District 1201 union President George Ricchezza, whose 2,700 members have all received layoff notices, said what’s on many people’s minds: “What I see here is a dismantling of the public school system."
To be sure, no one can deny the District’s devastating financial situation. A $715 million budget gap. $61 million to close by June. A projected $300+ million deficit in FY2013.
On top of all that was a ruling that the city and School District had lost a state court appeal around property taxes that could result in $45 million less in tax revenue for the schools.
The current leadership of the SRC needs to take swift fiscal action. No one denies that. It is also a given that schools, school personnel, and classrooms will need to make more compromises on top of the ones they already have made.
But here’s where the SRC leadership needs to act with caution.
Last year I named Arlene Ackerman – and her penchant for turning any piece of news into news about her – as my Number One choice for the Top 10 education story of the year. Ackerman did not disappoint in that category again this year.
The year 2011 made education watchers and opinion-makers of us all. Here’s my pitch for the best and worst moments on the (mostly) Philadelphia school scene.
Grinch of the Year: Arlene Ackerman