by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
The Philadelphia School District is vowing to take a hard line on two issues that have caused confusion when charter operators take over traditional public schools: special education and facilities costs.
Even as the District tries to convert three more of its schools into charters, officials and parents alike are wading through confusion over “exceptions” that past administrations granted to outside managers in previous years of the District’s Renaissance school turnaround initiative.
In 2009, three researchers – Wall, Wheaton and Zuver – reviewed all U.S. studies done on bullying and developmental disabilities. The results were consistent and staggering.
All 10 studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their non-disabled peers. Additionally, research showed that the bullying experienced by these students was more severe and most often directly related to the child’s disability.
The School District of Philadelphia has proposed closing 37 schools in June and relocating seven others. The announcement has sparked heated debate and criticism by parents, students, and community members.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia has concerns that school closures could present serious consequences for students with disabilities and English language learners.
[Updated, 9 p.m.] The School Reform Commission devoted its monthly strategy meeting Monday from 6-8 pm to the topic of special education. The agenda included both District officials and special education advocates, with a staff presentation on the state of special education in the District.
Philadelphia’s current restructuring plan is based on the “portfolio school district” model, where there is an array of public, charter, and other schools operated by independent organizations. Parents have choices among a “menu” of schools, including schools that are not operated by the District. District administration manages the portfolio of schools based on performance, closing poor-performing schools, expanding capacity in those that are doing better, and opening new ones designed to meet community needs.
By Dale Mezzacappa and Benjamin Herold
The School District released a 119-page document on Thursday that summarized the analyses and recommendations of the Boston Consulting Group, an outside firm retained at private expense to help the District avert a financial meltdown by radically overhauling its business operations and delivery of education.
The document details BCG’s work and thinking on hot-button topics ranging from charter expansion to labor negotiations. It also includes the previously unreleased analyses behind controversial District proposals to close dozens of schools and reorganize those that are left into decentralized, independently managed “achievement networks.”
The School District of Philadelphia and its largest charter school turnaround operator have agreed on the outlines of a deal that will prevent the relocation of 12 severely disabled children from one of the city’s Renaissance charters.
The deal avoids a potentially traumatic move for students in two Multiple Disabilities Support (MDS) classrooms at Mastery Charter Clymer Elementary in North Philadelphia. It also allays, at least for now, the concerns of disabilities rights advocates that the District had established a precedent for exempting charters from their responsibility to educate some of the city’s most vulnerable – and expensive to serve – students.
“I think we came up with a really positive solution,” said Courtney Collins-Shapiro, deputy chief innovation officer at Mastery Charter Schools.
“I think this is a good sign of the District and charters partnering.”
The transition from high school to college is difficult for any student. But for special needs students, who often depend on tailored instruction and targeted resources at the high school level, the move to higher education can seem even more daunting.
About a third of District graduates who attend college enroll at the Community College of Philadelphia. We posed some questions to Theresa Tsai, who has been a counselor at CCP's Center on Disability (COD) for 20 years, about the transition to college life for special education students.
South Philadelphia senior Marcus Johnson stands at the front of his classroom eager to give his presentation on mammals. But there are no poster board cutouts here, no sketches across a blackboard, no pages borrowed from an animal encyclopedia. Johnson, with his back to a class that has iMacs and iPads, works the keys on his laptop computer with the focus of an engineer in a computer lab. After a few clicks, he turns to face his peers, and the website he designed – which gives vivid images and rich content about the animals he loves so much – fills the interactive projector at the front of the room.
In Michele McKeone's autistic support classroom at South Philadelphia High School, students develop their communication skills and the abilities necessary for their transition to independence. McKeone, in her fourth year of teaching at Southern, uses digital media to keep the students engaged, as well as plugged in to what's relevant today. The Notebook talked with her about some of the exciting projects that students have created using digital media.