Jasmine was one of my favorites.
She was one of the shortest, scrawniest children in our 2nd-grade classroom. Maybe 45 pounds with her coat on. Her tattered backpack seemed as big as she was. Somehow the tiniest children can hold the most energy, the most emotion, and somehow they manage to get the most compassion from me.
When you peek in our classroom, you may see Jasmine stealthily surveying the classroom for the child most likely to respond the most spiritedly when she gives them the finger, or when she gives them a freshly sharpened pencil in the side of the head perfectly thrown from 20 feet away.
I thought my first year at a "teacher-powered" school would be the perfect dream. After 10 years of teaching in fairly traditional settings, I was butting heads with my principal, chafing against school policies that didn’t seem right for my students or me, and itching for a new challenge. After several years of advocating for teacher leadership, I imagined myself gliding right into place at a school collectively led by teachers.
My first year has definitely been transforming, but it has also been a little unsettling. I’ve learned that a school powered by teachers is radically different from most schools. My school, the Workshop School in Philadelphia, was founded by teachers, and their vision for teaching and learning emphasizes relationships instead of content, projects instead of classes, and real-world problems instead of standard curriculum. Putting teachers in control doesn’t just change staff meetings: It changes everything.
School funding has played a central role in the state budget impasse and has shaped arguments from both sides of the aisle. For his part, Gov. Wolf has proposed adding $400 million to basic education spending to restore cuts enacted since 2010. But in exchange for greater state contributions to districts, some legislators and education organizations are calling for increased measures of school accountability, including the creation of an "accountability school district."
According to PennCAN founding executive director Jonathan Cetel, “The path forward seems as obvious as it is important: Combine more money for schools with more accountability.”
Reforms like accountability school districts have been gaining momentum across the country, with Tennessee, Louisiana, and Massachusetts often cited as examples. But before considering increased accountability, it is important to stress why funding should be the primary focus for state lawmakers.
During their primary campaigns, Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell Clarke both said community schools were part of their vision for improving public schooling. Their frequent allusions to this school model suggest that community schools will gain more attention as the November election nears and might even become a key part of Clarke’s and presumptive Mayor Kenney's education agenda in 2016.
For Kenney, "community schools" are educational facilities that house schools but also offer things like medical care, social services, and community educational resources. They create a single point of contact that can keep students from missing school for things like doctor’s appointments and can reach families where they are.
Pennsylvania’s education workforce has declined by more than 20,000 as a result of inadequate state funding and rising state mandates. A recent budget survey found that more than 40 percent of the state's school districts plan further staff reductions in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Rather than attack the core issue -- that the state has one of the nation’s most inadequate and chaotic school funding systems -- some Harrisburg legislators are fixated on a further hollowing-out of our public schools.
Sponsored by State Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), House Bill 805, which passed the State House on a mainly party-line vote on Tuesday, would scrap longstanding policy that requires school districts to base furlough decisions on reverse order of teacher seniority. Instead, districts would be compelled to make personnel decisions based on teachers' most recent performance evaluations.
In response to the flurry of articles and social media messages I received regarding my defense of cursive writing in our schools, I, as vice chair of City Council’s Committee on Education, feel compelled to respond and share my reasons for caring so deeply about this issue.
Far from it being a “bizarre fixation on irrelevant minutiae,” as one Philadelphia magazine article described it, cursive is central to the ability to write, and it has broad influence over many other parts of our children’s learning. That we have discarded the teaching of cursive writing without a public discussion is akin to discovering that we no longer find multiplication and division necessary in mathematics; we will not apologize for finding this discovery alarming.
I've removed my family pictures from the wall and taken home my nameplate. As much as I've loved my job, it is clearly time for me to go. As I head into retirement, I thought I’d take a page from David Letterman's playbook. I present to you my own "Top 10 Things Necessary for School Nursing to Work," based upon my 25 years as a nurse in the School District of Philadelphia.
A superintendent like former boots-on-the-ground leader, fellow Philadelphian, and educator par excellence Dr. Constance Clayton, who was driven by the needs of children rather than by data. Data, as you know, can prove whatever you want it to prove.
In education, there are two stories. One story is told through numbers, often painting a picture of schools as under-resourced. Then there is the story told through personal experience, where students, parents, teachers, and other educators share anecdotes about the challenges of ensuring a quality education for all.
In many cases, particularly in urban schools like Julia de Burgos Elementary School, a K-8 school in North Philadelphia, these accounts are contradictory. Educators know it, and at times they appear to be the only ones who truly understand the real stories behind some of the city’s schools.
Every spring, parents of 4th graders anxiously wonder whether their child will be accepted into Masterman or GAMP or another of the city’s seven special admission middle schools and programs. What follows when the letters finally arrive are either triumphant smiles or downcast eyes.
Then begins the exodus, as neighborhood schools across the city are stripped of their top students.
The primary election was, among other things, a referendum on what kinds of schools Philadelphians want and how they think they should be governed.
Taken together with polling data, the election results show that the forces for corporate education reform, headquartered locally in the Philadelphia School Partnership, are losing the fight for hearts and minds, despite a seemingly limitless amount of money, a well-oiled public relations machine, and many friends in high places, including the media.