ackerman 2 Photo: Harvey Finkle

On Wednesday, after the School Reform Commission meeting, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman confirmed that the District’s eagerly awaited strategic plan will indeed present “turnaround” options for chronically low-performing schools.

“What we want to talk about is not only how we support underperforming schools, but what do we do to give parents great choices,” Ackerman said at a press availability after the meeting. She cast the School Reform Commission’s signal that it would approve seven new charter schools on Feb. 18 as the first step in creating a “system of great schools” that draws on resources from “both in District and outside the District.”

Translation: the final strategic plan, also due to be unveiled publicly at a 2 pm SRC meeting on Feb. 18, is likely to accept in some form a working group’s draft recommendation that the District draw heavily on charter organizations like Mastery and KIPP and other outside managers to “fix” District schools that have consistently failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind.

Also in the recommendations is the creation of two District-managed categories, “innovative” schools in which the staff is reconstituted from the ground up, and “performance” schools that trade “autonomy” for “accountability,” but don’t necessarily get new staff. Ackerman said that she envisions this turnaround model reaching from pre-school to high school.

Since The Notebook reported last week on what the working group on succeeding and failing schools recommended, several people have told us that the draft document didn’t fully reflect the working group discussions. At least one person – a district-type, not an activist – said those discussions focused more on teacher quality than shaking up management at low-performing schools. (There was a separate working group on teachers and leadership.)

Ackerman has expressed her admiration for the Renaissance 2010 model, which is in the process of creating 100 new schools in Chicago and closing dozens that aren’t doing well. But there are many questions about Renaissance 2010. Are the new schools educating the same students, or are students being pushed out to make room for a more gentrified population? A study by Catalyst Chicago indicated that African American students weren’t necessarily choosing the “better” schools – raising the question of how well this “choice” was actually working. 

The Philadelphia Student Union has announced a “teach-in” on Monday evening Feb. 16 aimed at highlighting the differences between community-driven turnaround and corporate-driven turnaround, and exploring further the gentrification issue, among other concerns. Anyone wishing to attend should call Erika Almiron at PSU, 215-471-5970, by Saturday Feb. 14.  

District leaders, for their part, are planning several community forums and also seeking to meet with selected groups before final action on the strategic plan is taken.

One of the big mistakes made when Philadelphia first implemented its “diverse provider” model in 2002, following the state takeover, was foisting new school managers on schools and neighborhoods without any explanation why a particular manager was chosen for a particular school. Neither parents nor teachers had choice in what provider they got, and predictably many were not happy. While some of these pairings have worked out, in a manner of speaking, the overall conclusion about the diverse provider model is that it was flawed, to say the least. One hopes this will not happen again.

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