Editor and director of the Notebook since 1999, Paul was one of the Notebook’s founders in 1994. He came to the Notebook as a public school parent with a long history of involvement in public education and other social justice issues. His children both graduated from Philadelphia public schools. He has been an active Home & School Association member and served as a parent representative on a School Council. Prior to becoming editor, he worked on education issues for the National Coalition of Education Activists and the American Friends Service Committee.
The American Educational Research Association conference is taking place in Philadelphia. These are prepared remarks from a presentation on Friday by Notebook editor and publisher Paul Socolar in a session about "The Landscape of Education Reform in Philadelphia." He was asked to discuss the "portfolio model" and how it has developed in Philadelphia; subsequent comments by Philadelphia School Partnership head Mark Gleason have spurred controversy. [Listen to the entire panel discussion below.]
First a cursory definition: Portfolio school districts rely on a variety of operators of public schools within the city, with the stated aim of providing high-quality learning opportunities … so ultimately every family can choose a slot in a good school. The term is borrowed from Wall Street: You're going to hang on to the successful companies in your stock portfolio and dump the losers. Proponents here talk about replacing “low-performing seats” with “high-performing seats.”
The American Educational Research Association conference is April 3-7 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the downtown Philadelphia Marriott hotel. This excerpt is from a presentation on Friday by Notebook editor and publisher Paul Socolar in a session about "The Landscape of Education Reform in Philadelphia." The topic was whether there are positive trends in school performance in Philadelphia.
Yes, since the state takeover in 2002, the trends are positive on a number of indicators … and not just test scores. Graduation rates are up – now, finally, two-thirds of students are graduating high school within six years. And more of the graduates are going to college.
But the story of how Philadelphia schools are doing is complicated and much murkier.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has asked the state's highest court to reject the School District's recent petition for confirmation of its authority to unilaterally abrogate teacher seniority rights and other teacher work rules.
On Thursday, the PFT filed its response to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the court doesn't have jurisdiction over the work rule changes and that the issues under dispute should be subject to collective bargaining as they have been in the past. The union's attorneys argue that the "grievance and arbitration dispute resolution mechanism" established by state labor laws "is the only method for resolving these issues."
School District lawyers, in their Monday petition to the state Supreme Court, argue that by law they do not have to negotiate with the teachers' union on such issues as hiring practices, layoffs, prep time, and contracting out.
The state takeover law exempts these "non-mandatory" areas from collective bargaining, the lawyers say. They ask the court to affirm that the District can unilaterally implement new rules and practices in those areas, even while continuing to bargain with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers on other contract issues.
The PFT plans to fight this argument in court.
Philadelphia's Mayor Nutter, in his annual budget proposal, addressed the dire needs of a School District that again faces an enormous budget deficit by proposing $153 million in additional funding for next year. That amount, if realized, still falls short of the District's request.
The District is turning to the state and city for a combined $440 million. It is counting on $120 million of that to replace funds that were promised and raised last year but were not recurring. And to cover rising costs while taking some steps toward his aspirational vision for the District, Hite has asked for a great deal more. The price tag attached to the first year of Action Plan 2.0, as it's called, is $320 million. A quarter of that amount will be used just to cover unavoidable annual increases in expenses.
Hite has said he wants the city to dig deeper by providing the $120 million promised to the District last year in the form of an extension of a sales tax surcharge and an additional $75 million to help fund his Action Plan.