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.”
by Kristen Poole
Hundreds of students marched to City Hall yesterday demanding that the city help with the School District's dire budget shortfall. It was an admirable, even inspiring moment of collective civic action. The students, who came from many different schools, organized a march in the ways expected from young people today: over social media, through text messaging, and by word of mouth.
The demonstration was both highly visible and audible. It could be tracked with news helicopters in the air and documented by iPhones on the ground.
Lately, there has been a surge of activity more difficult to see and hear. I'm referring to the activity of hundreds of parents fighting for the schools. Those of us with work to do, dinner to cook, and kids to car-pool haven’t been staging large Occupy Wall Street-type protests. But don’t mistake our lack of chanting on Broad Street for silence.
by Michael Masch
I am struck by how many supposedly politically sophisticated public school advocates appear to be urging City Council to give the Philadelphia School District more money, independent of what the state does. If that happens, most of the horrible cuts now looming will still occur, since $60 million represents less than 20 percent of the District’s identified 2013-14 budget gap.
It seems to me that Council President Darrell Clarke has a point when he says that Council has already increased city funding for the District two years in a row, even as the Commonwealth was cutting and freezing its funding, and it's just not smart for the city to do that again.
The School District is in bleak fiscal straits. Staring at the possibility of a deficit of $242 million by the end of 2013-14, District leaders are looking to the city and state to contribute $180 million in aid while also looking to reduce labor costs by 10 percent.
As City Council prepares for school budget hearings next week, the Notebook asked prominent folks in Philadelphia education to offer their take on what else could be done to address the gap. What solutions to the District's budget crisis are there, beyond the plea to the city and state for more funding and the plan to cut employee salaries and benefits? We received the following four responses. Comments are welcome.
Parents United for Public Education has won its state Right To Know request to gain public access to the list of 60 schools identified by the Boston Consulting Group for closure and to the firm’s criteria for school closings -- a request for information that the District has consistently denied to the public.
Last spring, the Boston Consulting Group came under intense criticism for a plan that promoted school closings, massive charter expansion, and privatization of key functions within the District, such as transportation. Under its multimillion-dollar contract with the William Penn Foundation, BCG agreed to provide the foundation a number of “contract deliverables,” one of which was identifying 60 schools for closure. The “BCG list” was referred to by former Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen in public statements, but District officials had refused to release the list, stating that it was an internal document and therefore protected from public review.
by James H. Lytle
The School District announced last week that its budget for next year would be cut by 25 percent. When coupled with the nearly 20 percent reductions the two previous years, school resources will have shrunk by at least 40 percent.
Next year, according to Superintendent William Hite, schools will have principals and teachers, and that's about it. No secretaries, no counselors, no music, art, sports, or extracurriculars. Definitely no afterschool programs. In these stripped-down conditions, every classroom would be filled to the maximum of 30 to 33 students.
That means schools, staffed at the lowest levels in 50 years, will still be accountable for meeting the performance standards that continue to grow ever more demanding.
The School District of Philadelphia needs all the help it can get, so I’m happy to see a number of local nonprofits band together to offer their advice.
The member groups of the recently launched Coalition for Effective Teaching are calling for reforms to the teachers' contract. As I looked over their list of recommendations, I saw a mix of ideas, some already happening and some that would be helpful. But many of them are misguided. The coalition would have greatly benefited had the members bothered to talk to rank-and-file educators during the planning process.
This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared at Education Week.
by Kate Shaw and Adam Schott
Philadelphia's state-appointed School Reform Commission last month approved the closure of 23 schools -- an unprecedented action for our region that is expected to affect roughly 14,000 students and hundreds of staff members. In New York City, which has already closed nearly 140 schools over the past decade, 22 more closures are on the horizon. The District of Columbia is bracing for as many as 15 closures after shuttering two dozen sites in 2008. The Chicago public school system -- the nation's third-largest district -- recently announced plans to close 54 schools and consolidate 11 more before the 2013-14 school year begins.