by Joan Benso
There’s been a lot of much-needed discussion about Pennsylvania’s academic standards – known as the Pennsylvania Core Standards – and the related Keystone Exams for high school students. Much of that talk has focused on school funding issues, the notion of “over-testing” students, and fears of unfunded state mandates being pushed on school districts.
Those arguments have clouded the main reason that the Pennsylvania Core Standards and Keystone Exams are badly needed. For too long, Pennsylvania schools have been graduating tens of thousands of students each year who failed to show proficiency in core subjects like reading and math. In 2012 alone, one-third of all Pennsylvania public high school graduates -- about 44,000 kids statewide -- did not score proficient or advanced on the 11th-grade PSSAs or the 12th-grade retake, but they were handed diplomas anyway.
by Christine Carlson
Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee voted to advance House Bill 1728 – the National Motto Display Act – requiring “In God We Trust” to be prominently displayed in classrooms and other areas of public school buildings. At first, this seems to be an issue of church-and-state separation – after all, public schools may not promote a deity. But could this proposed legislation foreshadow the next step in the Commonwealth’s apparent plan to further defund public education?
One doesn’t have to have children in a Philadelphia public school to know that the District’s financial situation is dire. And it’s not just here. All across the state, in areas urban and rural, public school districts are buckling under Gov. Corbett’s education cuts.
“Pay to play” is a widely reviled practice in government, but that’s effectively what the District's legal argument would establish through its challenge of an open records case in state court.
For more than 10 months, Parents United for Public Education and our lawyers at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia have been fighting to make public the Boston Consulting Group’s list of 60 schools recommended for closure and the criteria it used for developing the list. In 2012, BCG contracted with the William Penn Foundation to provide “contract deliverables,” one of which was identifying 60 public schools for closure. William Penn Foundation solicited donations for this contract, including some from real estate developers and those promoting charter expansion. The “BCG list” was referred to by former Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen in public statements. But District officials refused to release the list, saying that it was an internal document and therefore protected from public review.
In April 2013, Parents United and PILCOP won our case with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, largely because the District appears to have shared the BCG list with top officials at the William Penn Foundation. Now the District is taking its challenge to state court.
The Philadelphia School Partnership’s role in a controversial Council briefing on universal enrollment last month highlights the organization’s role in lobbying for controversial education policies and initiatives – even as it promotes itself as a philanthropy.
Last week, I wrote about PSP’s plan to create a private entity that would “outsource the enrollment and placement” of students into District, charter, and parochial schools. “PhillySchoolApp,” as the entity is being dubbed, would take the concept of “common enrollment” beyond what any other city has done. First, it would include parochial schools and coordinate the availability of tax-subsidized scholarships in the matching process. And second, it would take the crucial function of student placement out of the hands of the School District.
by David J. Berney and Kevin Golembiewski
It began in 6th grade. A girl we'll call “Meghan” was called “bitch,” “faggot,” and “it” nearly every day at school. At lunch, Meghan’s peers pulled and spit in her hair. In the hallway, students punched and pushed Meghan as she made her way to her next class. In 7th grade, during gym class, a student put a trashcan over Meghan’s head. When Meghan removed the trashcan, a group of students knocked her down, then punched and kicked her. School officials were repeatedly notified about incidents like this. Nonetheless, Meghan suffered through these physical and verbal assaults until she dis-enrolled from Philadelphia public schools this past year.
For "Dante," it started in 3rd grade. Dante has a visual impairment and peers targeted him because of his disability. He was called “dumbass,” “retard,” and “bitch.” On a good day, classmates would take Dante’s things and taunt him. On bad days, which were frequent, Dante was attacked by groups of students in the hallways and restrooms. In 4th grade, Dante’s sister found him attempting to hang himself with an extension cord in the family home. Dante survived, but bullies continued to harass him until he left the Philadelphia School District.
by Kristen Forbriger
If the Notebook is going to delve into the proposed universal enrollment process, it should begin with the facts.
Start with the purpose of universal enrollment: to simplify the process of applying to schools for families and make access to the city's best schools more equitable. Also note that universal enrollment is a goal of the Great Schools Compact, which was signed by Mayor Nutter, the School District, charter and Catholic school leaders, and the state secretary of education. Philadelphia School Partnership serves as project manager to the Compact Committee, which includes representatives from all of these.
For months, the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) has been working to put in place a new citywide process for placing students in schools. Most troubling is that PSP wants this process to be run by an outside, private entity that is created by PSP and could eventually charge a per-pupil fee from participating systems.
“Universal enrollment,” as it is called, would match students to either a District, charter, or parochial school whenever they decide to transfer, move, or transition to another school level.
The PSP proposal would not only take the current student-placement program out of the District’s hands -- unprecedented in any other city -- it would also include parochial schools and coordinate the selection process with the availability of scholarships, which are now often provided through two controversial, voucher-like business tax subsidy programs in Pennsylvania.
by Eileen M. DiFranco
I’ve been a school nurse in Philadelphia for almost 25 years. I’ve seen lots of blood and a finger almost amputated by a door accidentally slammed. I’ve seen head injuries, seizures, and high and low blood sugar levels in diabetics. The very worst moments I’ve experienced as a school nurse, however, are those that were spent with children who were having an asthma attack.
Asthma is a sneaky, dangerous disease. It can emerge full-blown in a child who never, ever before had an asthma attack. It can resurface after years of quiescence. It can occur in a child whose disease has been well-controlled until their insurance is dropped and parents can’t afford to pay for inhalers out of pocket. We know that asthma affects almost 20 percent of kids in Philadelphia. That’s a lot of kids. We now know, from sad experience, that asthma can kill an otherwise healthy, active child.
by Samuel Reed and Peggy M. Savage
Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead but Don't Leave does a great job of examining the skills and traits of thoughtful, innovative, and maverick-like educators. This new book, written by Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd, and Alan Wieder of the Center for Teaching Quality, documents the leadership journeys of eight teachers who are exceptional at what they do but not the exception.
When we first looked at the title of the book, we had mixed reactions. Like many teacher-leaders, we bring an entrepreneurial and activist spirit to our practice. We were excited about the concept of innovative teachers leading, but not leaving, the classroom, yet concerned that the language of market-driven entrepreneurship may lure talented and dedicated teachers away from our craft, our passion, our willingness to give back and connect with our communities.
A Sept. 19 commentary by School Reform Commission member Joseph Dworetzky addressed the role of charter funding in the School District's budget issues. The executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools responds this week with a rebuttal commentary.
by Robert Fayfich
In his commentary, School Reform Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky, in general, blames charter schools for eroding the School District budget and argues that the District is unable to reduce its expenses by the per-pupil amount it must contribute to charter schools. Moreover, the District has been left with the “enormous cost” of maintaining infrastructure that was built for a dwindling student population. He proposes that the solutions are to reduce the District’s fixed costs, reduce charter school enrollments, modify enrollment procedures, and close under-performing charters. However, he said, those solutions require a legally time-consuming and “painful process” that would not solve the immediate shortfall.