Note: Joseph Dworetzky served as a School Reform Commission member from 2010 to 2014. The opinions expressed here are his own and are not to be read as the views of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, the law firm where he is a shareholder, or of the SRC or the School District of Philadelphia.
Last week, I received an email from the Philadelphia School Partnership expressing outrage over a recent report by Public Citizens for Children and Youth that recommended the School Reform Commission should not approve any of the 40 pending charter school applications. The group said PCCY’s recommendation was deeply flawed.
Thirteen of the 40 applicants – representing 13,000 new charter seats -- deserve approval, PSP said. The reason? These 13 schools are being proposed by high-quality charter school operators, with many of their existing schools serving a similar cohort of low-income students as District-run schools but receiving better school ratings. According to PSP, to reject these applications wouldn’t just be mistaken, it would be "outrageous."
American teenagers dipped in all major subject categories as measured by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development between 2009 and 2012, sliding in the global rankings from 10th to 20th in reading, 19th to 23rd in science, and 24th to 30th in math.
In order for this trend to reverse, elementary schools, where the foundation of each subject is established, need to adjust to the increasing demands of a changing educational landscape.
During the Great Depression era, only half of all 13- to 17-year-olds attended high school, and many of them didn’t graduate. A select few pursued advanced degrees. In 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68 percent of high school graduates immediately enrolled in college.
Although our students’ academic expectations are drastically higher now than they were in the 1920s and '30s, little has changed in the model used for their instruction.
Charter school proponents often suggest that the ills of urban education can be solved by simply creating more charter schools. And even more people believe that, if we could just have better teachers in all urban public schools, we could increase student achievement and success for all students.
But are schools and teachers really at fault? My own examination of urban children and their families suggests a very different reality.
Since 2011, the number of nurses in the Philadelphia School District has dropped by 40 percent, leaving many schools uncovered by nurses for most days each week. This fact, according to Meredith Elementary principal Cindy Farlino, a presenter at the School Reform Commission meeting Monday night, has caused high anxiety for non-medical school personnel, like principals, who must administer inhalers and give medications on those uncovered days, praying that things will work out.
Building capacity for student health services was the topic of last night's meeting, where I, a school nurse, acted as a facilitator for group discussions. The meeting began with an overview of the issue; we heard that school nurses had 257,000 visits from students for illness or injury last year. Over 147,000 doses of prescription medication were administered. The impact of asthma in schools was highlighted -- it affects 36,000 students. Then, in the first of two panel discussions, a school nurse and a principal addressed the various responsibilities and challenges that each faced in providing health services to students in need.
In spite of opposition from York City’s elected school board, York's school district is on the verge of being turned over lock, stock, and barrel to a for-profit charter operator with ties to Florida Republicans Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
The York City School District has been under state control since 2012, when Gov. Corbett's administration put the district in receivership, appointing David Meckley, a local businessman, as chief recovery officer. Meckley has pressed an austerity program, which includes cutbacks to school budgets, teacher layoffs, and union concessions.
York's school board drew the line at his proposal to privatize the entire district. The board tabled this measure, citing a lack of evidence that the proposed charter operator, Charter Schools U.S.A., would do better than the existing administration. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has gone to court to compel the local school board to implement the charter takeover. A decision is expected this week.
In his four years of being in high school, Terrell was never sick. So when he showed up in the nurse's office at 8:30 a.m. on a half-day, I knew something was really wrong.
Terrell said his stomach really, really hurt. Juice and crackers for hunger pains and a trip to the bathroom for what I like to call “a morning constitutional” typically cure the vast majority of in-school stomachaches. But not this time. Terrell had a stomach virus and he needed to go home.
There is no magical cure that can be offered in school that will make a student with a stomach virus or the flu well enough to remain in school and concentrate on his/her studies. School nurses are trained to recognize the severity of illnesses and injuries and to treat or refer according to their assessment. Thus, school nurses need to be regarded as the backbone of the health delivery system to our schoolchildren.
The uproar against standardized testing has been getting louder in Philadelphia over the last few years. Recently, activists have been wielding a relatively new term in their vocabulary: “opting out.”
The term can be confusing, as it can mean two things. In one sense, it can refer to parents who use a provision in state regulation to exempt their children from taking state tests, including the PSSAs and the Keystones. In another sense, it can refer to entire schools or districts that decide not to distribute the tests in the first place.
City Council recently heard testimony from educators and activists who argued that high-stakes testing and budget cuts have upended any premise of a fair accountability system. Council yesterday passed a resolution in support of scaling back standardized testing in the School District of Philadelphia and asking the state for a waiver from the Keystone exams.
I’ve been talking about race and racism with my students. We’ve been talking about Ferguson, Mo., critiquing the ways that various media have covered the case, identifying pernicious stereotypes about young people of color and seeking out ways to create media of our own.
Talking about race is not entirely new to my 9th-grade students, most of whom are Black, but it’s definitely not a comfortable topic, at least not at school. As I get to know my students at the beginning of the year, I notice how they tiptoe around the issue. One student uses the term “White people” and then immediately apologizes to me: “Sorry, Miss. No offense. I mean Caucasian.” Another student mentions the demographics of a neighborhood, saying there are a lot of White people, and someone else responds, “Oooh! Don’t say that! That’s racist!”
I also notice that most of my students conceive of racism as a thing of the past. I often hear the phrases “back in slavery times” or “back in racism times,” as if racism were an ancient artifact. Students are familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many of them credit him with ending racism, as if it were a disease for which he discovered a cure.
Five years ago today, we were at South Philadelphia High School when it erupted in a day-long series of anti-Asian, anti-immigrant attacks. Dozens of students were assaulted, and 13 went to the hospital. Afterward, the School District's leaders refused to even acknowledge the issue of race and racism in our schools – until we filed a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and won a consent decree in the case.
We will never forget that day and wanted to write about what lessons we’ve learned over the last five years.
A commentary piece by charter school supporter Janine Yass, a founder of Boys' Latin Charter School (“The facts on charter schools,” Inquirer, Nov. 23, 2014), and statements by Mark Gleason of the Philadelphia School Partnership apply a double standard in comparing traditional public schools and charters. While they cite the new state School Performance Profiles (SPPs) as a measure of school quality, they use the scores selectively to bolster their case. Most notably, they uniformly label low-scoring public schools as “failing,” but call many charters high-performing, even when they have low SPPs.
Yass and Gleason say they’re for “school choice,” but when you dig deeper, it seems they only support the choices they agree with. They favor choice when parents choose charters, but never when parents choose traditional public schools.