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October 2012 Vol. 20. No. 2 Focus on A Portfolio of Schools

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Where charters run the neighborhood schools

By by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Oct 17, 2012 11:00 AM

As part of its Renaissance Schools turnaround initiative, the School District of Philadelphia has outsourced management of 17 struggling public schools over the past three years.

The result is a transformed educational landscape in which a patchwork of seven independent charter school management organizations has replaced the traditional school system in large sections of the city, as shown in this graphic by NewsWorks, the Notebook, and geospace analysis firm Azavea.

In several of Philadelphia’s lowest-income communities in North Central, West and South Philadelphia, Renaissance charters are now the default neighborhood school option – at least for some grade levels. In one large, contiguous swath of the city stretching from Girard Avenue in Lower North Philadelphia to Cheltenham Avenue in the Lower Northeast, 11 former District schools are now under outside management.

Interpretations of the city’s dramatically shifting landscape couldn’t be more different.

District officials say it shows their effort to bring high-performing schools to the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods is working. “The goal here is to create high-quality seats and make them available where there had not been that choice before,” said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

“We are very happy to see that we have been successful.”

But critics see confirmation that the District is targeting high-poverty areas to experiment with privatization schemes.

“Without a real education plan designed to mitigate the effects of poverty on learning, the only ones who benefit in the long term are the pockets of the charter school companies,” said teachers’ union president Jerry Jordan.

Former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman initiated the Renaissance initiative in 2010. Much earlier, the District had taken its first step in turning over a neighborhood school to charter management at Belmont Elementary in 2002, and then three neighborhood middle schools were taken over by Mastery Charter Schools.

A study by independent nonprofit organization Research for Action found significant test score gains in the six initial Renaissance charters during their first year of operation. A 2011 Notebook analysis found that the first cohort of Renaissance charters attracted more students from their surrounding communities while continuing to serve the students who previously attended the schools.

Officials estimate that the cash-strapped District must spend between $800 and $1,000 per student per year to convert a school to a Renaissance charter.

While Jordan wants to see a moratorium on new Renaissance charters, Gallard said the District wants to continue growing the initiative. No expansion plans have yet been determined.

“We are hoping to continue this path as quickly as possible,” Gallard said, “but it’s going to clearly be driven by finances.”

An interactive version of this map is available online at http://ph.ly/ren-map. This mapping project is part of Azavea’s 2012 Summer of Maps program. Special thanks to Nse Umoh Esema.

About the Author

Contact WHYY education reporter Benjamin Herold at bherold@whyy.org.

Comments (18)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 9, 2012 3:38 pm

Could you please explain this. I thought neighborhood schools served the neighborhood. If read this right it means students who previously attended magnets are now in neighborhood schools. This of course would increase test scores. Why would someone leave Central to attend a charter school? Only one reason, cash inducements. Am I right, or has this not been checked out?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 18, 2012 9:28 pm

Neighborhood charters serve students within their catchment zone, just as a traditional neighborhood district school does. Many families who had previously chose to student their students to schools other to their neighborhood school (for a variety of reasons) are now choosing to enroll their students back in their neighborhood schools because of the positive impact many of these charters are having on culture and academics. I think you are being clouded by test scores and conspiracies, when instead the focus should be on the fact that quality education is being offered in communities where it may have previously not been and families are taking the opportunity to participate!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 19, 2012 10:11 am

Agreed. It's great that children in neighborhoods where a schools were schools were consistently failing now do not have to spend sometimes up to an extra hour a day to go to a 'good' school. All schools should be 'good'.

I also think it's great that the same children who had been attending these schools and getting a poor quality education are now able to stay in their neighborhood and succeed academically.

Having a successful school in the neighborhood is a win for students, parents and the neighborhood.

Submitted by Annony. (not verified) on October 19, 2012 11:20 am

Why are you assuming these schools are now "good?" What evidence is there that ALL schools are good?

Why can't there be an investment in public schools? Instead, this is more privatization of a public good - public education. (Charters are publicly funded but too often privately run.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 19, 2012 12:55 pm

I used the term 'good' because thats what I hear many parents say when they send their children across the city to another school instead of to the school in their neighborhood. (e.g. "That school down the street is horrible, I'm sending my child to a 'good' school in ---.")

My point was why should that parent have to do that? The 'school down the street' should already be a good school. The Renaissance Charters are serving the same children in the neighborhood who went there before. They are public schools (though they are run by charter providers, they answer to the school district).

Most of these schools are 'now good' in that the students are achieving, their scores are up.(evidence of that can be found in issues of this publication) As a result parents are bringing their children back, pleased that they can get quality education closer to home.

While this may not be the solution to the entire educational dilemma, thousands of children are receiving a quality education now. They are not waiting for more research, more discussion and more talk about what's the best way or who can do it best while they continue to fail.

Public schools should be invested in however, for years they have not been. It's about the children and what is best for them. If a charter works, fine. If a regular public school is doing the job in the neighborhood, great. Until the public school system figures out a way to make quality education available in EVERY school. It's up to parents to research and choose what's best for their child.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on October 19, 2012 8:45 pm

Here's what's seems to be happening to our neighborhood school, thanks to the charters.
We receive a steady stream of 'disturbed' and/or disruptive children, who are almost impossible to handle. We lack the resources to send them out of the classroom, so the rest of the children are subjected to the maladjusted behaviors of a few. Learning for everyone else is hijacked, sometimes for hours per day, to deal with a relatively small number of students.

Parents who are able and willing to put forth the effort, apply for their children to go to charters. They don't want their children to be subjected to that CRAP all day long, and who can blame them? This year I 'lost' at least 4-5 of my top students to charters, before the new school year started. Needless to say, our test scores have been on the decline. We're used to losing our brightest students after 4th grade, when they get snatched up by the special admit schools, but this mass exodus to charters is a new wrinkle, and it wouldn't happen if charters had to take all students, as traditional public schools do. For many parents, good = a safe, stable environment.

Maybe, in order to save our schools, we need to remove the 'disturbed' and/or disruptive children from their classrooms, put them in some of the empty buildings, with certified teachers, and let parents know that they (the children) may not be returning to their old schools, at least until their behaviors improve. The rights of the children who come to school to learn should start to take precedence over the rights of those who don't. Once parents realize that the disruptive children have been removed from their children's schools, I think that many of them will choose traditional public over charter. It's worth a try.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 19, 2012 10:55 pm
I agree with you 100%!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 20, 2012 7:45 am
you nailed it on the head, excellent analysis. The 99% of the kids who show up everyday to learn are held hostage to the antics of the 1% who show up for no other reasons than to disrupt class, get into fights, sell drugs and run around the building. What few resources neighborhood schools have are going into chasing these "1% ers" around the building all day, and most of a teacher's energies are drained trying to deal with them in the classroom while the other 32 students sit and sigh "here we go again." The Philadelphia Inquirer is soooo pround of their Pulitzer Prize a few years ago for Violence in our schools. Hey Inquirer, do you want a second Pulitzer? I challenge you to do an in-depth year round investigation into charter school enrollments. Track their kids over the course of a COMPLETE school year and see exactly how many students they accept that . . 1) had chronic disciplinary problems in their previous neighborhood schools 2) were chronically truant in their former neighborhood schools 3) are classified Special Ed with IEP's (and stay enrolled in the charter for the year) 4) are classified ESOL or ELL (and stay enrolled in the charter for the year) 5) how may students the Charters kicked out and sent back to their nieghborhood schools and the reasons for doing so. THERE is your second Pulitizer Prize. I dare you to go for it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 19, 2012 9:40 pm
it's not the charters who create disturbed and disruptive children. Parents should be held accountable for their children's behavior, something the District does not enforce. Teachers should be supported when disruptive behavior is reported, not forced to put up with it. I agree the disruptive children should be taught in the same school with the understanding that when they are ready to learn and not disrupt those who are there for education, they can return to the classroom. Parents should stop making excuses and work with these children so they can succeed. Education works only if it is wanted and supported by ALL participating parties.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 20, 2012 7:13 am
I agree with everything you are saying. . .except that Charter should play on the same level playing field and be forced to accept ANY child that applies, if that child lives within the same neighborhood boundary as the Charter is located in. Right now, the Charters just kicked any "problem child" out and ship them back to the neighborhood school, something the neighborhood school cannot do in reverse. If you think about it, if the Charter school opeators and their theories and policies are so great. . .shouldn't they actually be accepting these "problem students" and showing us poor neighborhood schools "how it is done?"
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 20, 2012 8:25 pm
I agree with you 100% that parents should be held responsible for the behaviors of their minor children. If their child is disruptive and the teacher has to spend most of the school day dealing with that disruptive child, it is at the expense of the child who is sitting in his/she seat ready and willing to learn. We need to stop making excuses for these children who can't seem to control themselves in school and their parents who refuse to do a darn thing about that child's behavior. The parent needs to be held responsible and we need to stop making excuses. These disruptive children are crying for help and they aren't getting from home and they aren't getting it at school and so there needs to be a place for them outside of the traditional school setting so that they aren't continously causing chaos in our schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 20, 2012 9:29 am
The Philadelphia School District is hiring now to fill vacant positions. Check the vacancy list. Dual certified special education teachers needed NOW!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 20, 2012 1:58 pm
I am reminded of the old saying if you have a bushel of apples. If one is rotten you don't throw out the whole bushel. You remove the rotten one to save and eat the rest. As a high school teacher in Philly it is that 1% that we are forced to keep that ruins things for everyone. I tell my kids every day that it may be my job to educate them, but it is their job to be responsible enough to accept this education and WANT better for themselves, no matter the bad behavior of the rest of the students. The school district, parents, and society itself forget that teachers aren't miracle workers. We can only teacher those that are willing to accept the education. It's pretty impossible to educate a child who refuses to walk in the door of the classroom. This is why charter schools have this rep that they are high achieving. A child that does not follow the rules is kicked out. As a public school we work with every child, no matter their circumstance, and do our best to help them succeed.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 20, 2012 3:01 pm
If they are deemed neighborhood schools why are they not obligated to provide the gamut of special education needs of those in their catchment area? Instead, special education students are tossed back to the District. As a result, the District has a larger special education population and a much higher financial obligation. If charters are really obligated to stand in the shoes of the predecessor school then should't they be charged with educating all children in their catchment area?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 21, 2012 12:47 am
Renaissance Charters are obligated to serve the children in their catchment area including children with IEPs. My experience has been that the children with IEPs are accomodated. I can say that our provider does an outstanding job. All students (even IEP students who transferred back into their catchment) were accepted and are still there. There is a program in place for those with behavior issues as well. Some parents took their children out because they did not want to do the work and comply with requests to follow up on behavior issues (did not want to come to meetings or counseling, etc.). Rather they transferred their children out and said the school was to strict. All schools public, private or charter should not have to deal with disruptive children whose parents are not willing to cooperate with help being offered them.
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