When the School Reform Commission meets Monday for its monthly public strategy session, its goal will be to discuss the pros and cons of an unprecedented proposal: unifying the enrollment process for Philadelphia’s public, charter, and parochial schools.
But behind the scenes, a lengthy process involving a working group that included multiple stakeholders appears to have created little consensus over how this “universal enrollment” system might work, who should be in it, and even whether one should exist at all.
“There’s consensus that there’s a problem,” said David Lapp of the Education Law Center, a working group member. “We should improve on having over 80 different systems for how kids enroll in school.”
However, Lapp said, there has been no consensus on “the big [questions], who would run it and who would participate in it.”
The Philanthropy Roundtable, with the help of the Delaware Valley Grantmakers, sponsored a meeting of big donors in Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday. The philanthropic association offered advice, field trips, and workshops on how donors' money "can increase a city's total number of high-quality K-12 seats, regardless of the school sector(s)," public, charter, or parochial.
That the meeting came in the middle of an unprecedented budget crisis that has stripped city schools of essential services was an insult to several dozen protesters, who said that they felt the donors' presence was part of a privatization agenda.
"The message of the young people is that they were upset that these groups had the audacity to come to Philadelphia in the middle of the worst financial crisis the School District has faced," said Hiram Rivera, executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union. "These are wealthy people talking on how they can capitalize on this crisis while students are going to schools with no counselors, no nurses, no programs."
With their schools' mandates to operate running out in just a matter of days, leaders of 10 charters are deep into negotiations with District officials who are determined, at least for now, to defer plans by the schools to expand.
Citing the budget crisis, Superintendent William Hite last month announced he would not recommend any charter expansions in the coming year -- a setback to the publicized ambitions of 21 charter schools to add more than 15,000 students over the next five years. Such expansion would cost the District $500 million.
The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) announced Thursday that it will give $3.4 million to charter school operators KIPP Philadelphia and Scholar Academies so they can expand by a combined 1,500 students.
The moves could mean as much as $10 million a year in unplanned expenses for the struggling Philadelphia School District.
The push to grow KIPP also comes just eight months after the School Reform Commission, citing concerns about academics and cost, mostly denied requests made by KIPP to expand its existing schools in North and West Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis rejected on Monday all eight cyber charter school applications pending before the state Department of Education.
The schools had hoped to serve a total of almost 10,000 Pennsylvania students at a projected cost to taxpayers of roughly $350 million over the next five years.
Dozens of former employees claim that K12 Inc, a for-profit education company, used dubious and sometimes fraudulent tactics to mask astronomical rates of student turnover in its national network of cyber charter schools, court documents show.
K12 manages Agora Cyber Charter School, based in Wayne, Pa. The company is also involved in pending applications to open two new cybers in the state. The Pennsylvania Department of Education is expected to decide on the proposals later this month.
The former employees allege that K12-managed schools aggressively recruited children who were ill-suited for the company's model of online education. They say the schools then manipulated enrollment, attendance, and performance data to maximize tax-subsidized, per-pupil funding.
How reliable are tests in measuring what really matters for 21st-century learning? And should high-stakes tests really be used as a punitive evaluation of teacher quality? With all the controversy surrounding standardized tests and cheating, it’s time for teachers, parents, districts and policymakers to consider alternatives.
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.
The School Reform Commission held one of its in-the-round monthly strategy meetings Monday evening, looking at District academic performance and Renaissance Schools. It was the first such meeting for new Superintendent William Hite, who praised the format.
The Accountability Review Council (ARC), which has tracked student performance in District and charter schools since the state takeover and creation of the SRC in 2002, reported on its findings for the year.
If you love stories, you should plan to attend TAG Philly's annual Teacher Story Slam. The back- to-school event will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at Zocalo Restaurant, 3600 Lancaster Ave.
Let me tell you a story…
Because the human brain is wired for stories, I bet you were all ready to follow a narrative with an attention-grabbing opening, a topsy-turvy plotline, and some satisfying ending or lesson to learn.