by James H. Lytle
When I started working for the School District in 1970, there were 300,000 students attending 265 schools. When the new school year begins, there will be 200,000 students at 303 schools, including charter schools. There are now more and smaller schools than there were in 1970, when some high schools had 4,000 students and were on double shifts. In one sense, this shift can be seen as an improvement, because small schools tend to be more caring and effective than big schools.
But as the number of schools increased, the demand for school leaders -- principals -- grew markedly too. At the same time, the job of principal has become more complex, more demanding, and less attractive in a District ill-equipped to support or retain quality school leaders.
This article originally appeared at The Legal Intelligencer on June 10 and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013 ALM Media Properties, LLC
by Vernon Francis
Philadelphia's public education system is in serious financial trouble. Again. With a $304 million deficit, the school system faces its worst budgetary crisis since 1991 and, as usual, it's not clear when a workable solution will be proposed, much less implemented. The city's schools and the children they are supposed to educate are just too important to be left dangling in the wind while our leaders decide who pays. It is time to solve this problem now, and the organized bar needs to lend its voice and our profession's expertise to the effort.
by Anthony Nannetti
Inside the book room of Bok's English department are dusty, yellowing copies of classics like Heart of Darkness, Native Son, and The Great Gatsby. It is possible to trace each novel's history just by opening the cover, where students have left their names and other identifying marks. Like cave drawings, in a way, those pages tell stories.
Many objects found within the walls of Bok Technical High School tell stories, not just of the things themselves, but of the people who used them and of the school itself.
One of the more stressful jobs I've had over my two decades of teaching middle school was running a lunch room with upwards of 300 rambunctious adolescents. They were determined to make the most of the one time during the school day that they were out of the classroom.
It was a challenge to keep peace and good order. I had to make sure students got their food, could visit the bathroom, and didn’t escape into the halls or the uninhabited regions of our old building. I depended on a group of noontime aides (who now call themselves student safety staff) to help police the perimeters, identify problems, and mediate conflicts.
by Rhonda Brownstein
Ben Herold's recent article "Rising cyber-charter costs fuel push for statewide reform" focused on the financial cost of cyber charters. In the article, much attention was given to responses from cyber-charter operators and supporters who emphasize catchy policy terms like "innovation," but wholly ignore the reality of student experiences in these programs.
This commentary originally appeared on Keystone Politics and is reprinted with the permission of the author.
by Susan Spicka
My daughters just finished up their ninth day of PSSA testing in their elementary school. They will spend 5 percent of their school year filling in bubbles, and this doesn’t include the weeks of class dedicated to working on test prep before these very stressful testing days. My 5th grader cried every night before she had a test, worrying that if she didn’t do well, her school would not make AYP.
As a parent, I am very troubled by the impact that these high-stakes tests have on Pennsylvania’s children and on the public education they receive.
I have friends who chose to opt their children out of the PSSAs this year. They did not do this because they oppose the use of educational standards or testing. They opted their children out of Pennsylvania’s high-stakes tests because these tests are hurting our children and our schools.
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.
by Tom Vernon and Shelly Yanoff
Sometimes we fail to look for causes in conspicuous places. As we seek out reasons why our children are having trouble learning in school, tens of thousands of our kids’ futures are being cut down because, in their younger years, they were exposed to lead.
For at least two decades, neurological and epidemiological research has told us that lead affects academic performance, classroom behavior, and the rest of life. We know so much more today from more recent research. Now we know that even low levels of lead can cause serious damage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bleakly states: “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”
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.”