With Compact, District, charters commit to fix struggling schools
by Benjamin Herold
Promising to replace 50,000 "low-performing" seats in city schools with better options, the District and School Reform Commission joined city, state, and charter leaders in signing a new "Great Schools Compact" in December.
Philadelphia is one of 14 cities awarded a $100,000 planning grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for such a compact. The award comes with the opportunity to compete for millions more in Gates funds.
"The Compact is a transformational opportunity for Philadelphia's schools," said Mayor Michael Nutter, who signaled that the Compact will drive a revamped education agenda during his second term.
The agreement itself calls for "replacing or transforming at least 5,000 low-performing seats annually for each of the next five years." Strategies include allowing successful charters to enroll more students and expanding the District's Renaissance Schools initiative. Officials announced in January that an unspecified number of additional District schools would be targeted for conversion to Renaissance charter schools come September.
Under the Compact, District and charter leaders also have agreed to adopt by May 1 a common accountability rating system that will be used to assess the performance of both District and charter schools. A new Great Schools Compact Committee is tackling that and other issues. Chaired by Lori Shorr, the mayor's chief education officer, the committee started meeting in January.
Hoping to learn more about district-charter collaborations, Mayor Nutter led a contingent to Denver in early January that included two SRC commissioners along with representatives of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools and the Philadelphia School Partnership.
Denver Public Schools officials and charter leaders there touted their city's work to create a single student enrollment process and enhance charters' special education offerings. But not everyone is a fan.
"I think folks in Philadelphia really need to dig under the surface to see if [these reforms] are appropriate for public education," said Denver school board member Andrea Mérida, who criticized the city's compact as a tool of the "corporate school reform movement."