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Stories tagged: Commentary

When to stay and when to leave? School nurses make the call

By Eileen DiFranco on Dec 18, 2014 12:31 PM

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 effect of student 'opt-outs' on schools

By Jessica K. Beaver and Lucas Westmaas on Dec 12, 2014 12:19 PM

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.

Talking with students about Ferguson and racism

By Kathleen Melville on Dec 4, 2014 01:30 PM

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.

Lessons from history

By Wei Chen and Duong Ly on Dec 3, 2014 03:35 PM

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.

The double standard that charter supporters apply when judging school quality

By Susan DeJarnatt on Dec 2, 2014 02:41 PM

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.

Education issues to consider in the mayoral race

By James Lytle on Nov 26, 2014 02:00 PM

Although the mayoral primary isn’t until May, prospective candidates for mayor are already testing their prospects. 

Four have already announced their intentions to run: former head of the city's Redevelopment Authority Terry Gillen, former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. In the view of many Philadelphians, there is no more important issue than the future of public education in the city. And advocacy groups like the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools are already determining what issues to focus on and which candidates they might support.

In some respects the issues seem obvious: increased funding, local control, and restored services like libraries, counselors, and nurses. But the devil is in the details. What specifically would the candidates do? What is the candidate’s record on support for city schools? What experience does the candidate have in dealing with City Council and Harrisburg? 

Neff: SRC action on teachers' contract was unfair, but conditions in schools are unjust

By Marjorie Neff on Nov 24, 2014 12:27 PM

The School Reform Commission’s decision to cancel the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and require teachers and staff to contribute to their health insurance premiums has been described as unfair. I agree.

I expect that my colleagues on the SRC feel the same way. But our decision was born in response to a larger and profound injustice being inflicted on Philadelphia’s children. 

When we describe something as unfair, we usually mean we think it’s wrong. When something is unjust, it goes beyond issues of fairness to violate a moral code. People of good will can disagree about whether requiring teachers and staff to contribute to health insurance premiums is the fair or right thing to do.

But there can be no argument that denying children basic conditions for learning is an injustice.  

A different model of School District governance

By Susan Gobreski on Nov 18, 2014 03:23 PM

There is a conversation happening in the city about the issue of local control of the School District of Philadelphia and moving away from a state-run district.

It is virtually inarguable that the state-controlled School Reform Commission has not solved the issues of the District. Indeed, one could argue that the premise that governance was the problem has been proven false. Clearly, the citizens of Philadelphia must have more to say, while still ensuring that those who allocate funding are directly engaged with the decision-making.

Local control most likely means either an elected board or mayoral control, each presenting challenges. There are numerous troubling issues with mayoral control: It has been trendy, but it is not a proven improvement strategy, and people should be wary of it. Furthermore, it is not substantially different from the SRC in that a handful of appointments are made, insulated from the public and other elected officials.

Headed into an election year, voters should be skeptical at best about people who want to be handed the only set of keys to the District.

Wolf needs to hit the ground running

By Ron Whitehorne on Nov 12, 2014 12:09 PM

Tom Wolf won the governor’s race because he made this election about education and he aggressively challenged Tom Corbett’s budget austerity narrative. Wolf put forward bold proposals for funding schools, including taxing shale, closing corporate loopholes, and creating a progressive state income tax.  

A landslide vote, running against a strong Republican tide nationally and in local legislative races, allows him to claim a mandate for moving ahead on this agenda.

Remembering the fallen alumni of Roxborough High

By Eileen DiFranco on Nov 11, 2014 11:48 AM

Four long years of war took the lives of 97 Roxborough graduates. Every time I walk up the steps of the marble hall in Roxborough High School, I lightly touch a metal plaque that honors those who gave their lives for their country during World War II.

The grand hall, the centerpiece of the Art Deco-style public schools built in Philadelphia in the 1920s, rises two stories, its walls covered by paintings in gilt frames. Two magnificent curved staircases lead to the second floor, where the plaque honoring the dead faces a window that sometimes blazes with sunlight. The hall is quiet in comparison to the rest of the building, giving it the feeling of a shrine. A fitting place to honor the dead.

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