Philadelphia’s School Crisis: A City On The Brink

Unless we fix the schools, Philly is doomed. But what can be done when the city’s leadership class lacks the will to face the problem head-on? Here are eight changes we need to demand right now—before it’s too late.

Step 1

Superintendent Hite should set city schools free.

For decades, Philadelphia’s school district has been a top-down organization, with the district’s central office dictating or monitoring everything from the curriculum taught in most classrooms to the length of the school day. The results of that approach couldn’t be clearer: Not only is student performance abysmal, but district headquarters is the type of bureaucracy that makes you want to pull your hair out, at once inefficient (the district is in the digital dark ages, forcing principals and other officials to squander precious hours on paperwork) and overreaching (in 2012, district HQ dismantled a parent-created reading nook in a third-grade classroom at a West Philly school, deeming it “clutter.”)

Which is why this year, superintendent Bill Hite should announce that he is redefining and reining in the mission of district headquarters, and empowering individual schools to manage their own affairs.

Philadelphia’s epic experiment in charter schools—among the biggest in the nation—has yielded mixed results. But there is at least one crucial lesson to draw from the charter experience: Good principals and teachers can work wonders when given genuine autonomy and reasonable resources, even in low-income neighborhoods.

The Mastery-run Shoemaker charter school, a high school in the heart of West Philadelphia, is a compelling example. Ninety-nine percent of the student body is minority, 82 percent qualify for free or reduced-cost federal lunch programs, and most of the enrolled students come from neighborhood public elementary schools. Before the Mastery takeover in 2006, Shoemaker kids were scoring 30 percent proficient in math and 43 percent in reading. After six years of Mastery management, Shoemaker students were at 83 percent proficient in math and 68 percent in reading. Put another way, Shoemaker kids are nearly as proficient at math as those at Central Bucks West.

It’s tempting to conclude—and some do—that the solution is to hand Mastery or a comparably accomplished operator the keys to the district. But that would be impractical in the extreme, and an epic mistake.

Centrally managed takeovers of large numbers of schools don’t work in this town. Exhibit A: Last decade’s utter failure of privately owned Edison Schools, which took over 20 district schools in 2002 and parted ways with all of them before 2012. Exhibit B: Former superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s
Promise Academy model, which sank additional resources into low-performing district schools but handcuffed teachers and principals with rigid rules and curricula.

What does work are individual schools—or small networks of schools, like Mastery’s—with distinctive cultures and approaches of their own.

You can see the early returns of this strategy at a place like the district Workshop School in West Philadelphia, which opened last year. Students here—drawn mostly from the working-class neighborhood that surrounds the school—aren’t just drilling for tests. They’re spending their days figuring out how to solve huge problems, like building an energy-efficient car or fixing the financial-aid morass. Most traditional public schools don’t have anything like that kind of freedom. They have operated instead under pervasive, punitive and, in some cases, comically stupid district controls. Hite must change all that.

Appropriately, Hite is concerned about developing high standards and creating systems to hold schools responsible. That’s essential. “That doesn’t mean,” Hite says, “that we dictate to them how that happens.” He’s looking for school leaders capable of making decisions and deciding independently what methods and approaches best serve their students. “Because guess what? We’re holding them accountable for getting there or not.”

In theory, anyway. The truth is, the district has a very long way to go. Even in its budget-desiccated form, the schools bureaucracy is slow to adapt, and for decades, the culture has been defined by compliance:
with the teachers contract, with federal and state regulations and testing regimes, with tradition. Hite’s challenge is to change that culture and remake the district into an organization that frees schools instead of restricting them, an entity that enforces not rules, but standards.

The potential returns of this approach would, admittedly, vary considerably by school, which raises legitimate questions about equity. But the answer to those worries can’t be a continuation of failed district policy, and the upside of dozens of improving and innovating district schools is too huge to ignore. Indeed, smart teachers and principals predict that if the district sets its educators free, it will discover reserves of commitment and creativity in its workforce that too often go untapped. “A lot of district teachers are hoping and looking for alternative ways to do this work,” says Simon Hauger, a founder and principal of the Workshop School. “We have a pile of résumés from people who want to work here.”

1 2 3 4 5< Previous Next >View as One Page

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • punkymama

    My children attended one of the high performing schools in Philadelphia and my child with special needs is now suffering from PTSD from abuse dished out by teachers. My gifted child got 100% on every test and was so bored. They now attend a mixed model cyber charter in a learning center. My kids are succeeding and healing. Cyber charters should not be eliminated. This school takes the kids with behavioral issues and learning disabilities where traditional charters will not, and prepares them for college. Their test scores will not be the best but the teachers and administration care about the kids they serve and provide individualized instruction. Don’t write off all cyber charters as a one size fails all.

    • missy

      If they become non-profit, I am all for them.

      • Philly Activist

        Generally most not all charters are non-profit run by for profit companies. Data is needed to be sure all are held to the same bar, including traditional public schools, brick and mortar charters, and cyber charters.
        Cyber charters are receiving the same amount of money to educate a child as a brick and mortar school. This has me perplexed and concerned as a taxpayer.
        In Philadelphia there has become an issue of Universal Enrollment put forward by Philadelphia School Partnership. My answer to this when they are including parochial and possibly private schools is to test all with the same test and hold them all to the same bar. We can truly know which school is performing and not performing.
        I must say I am not a proponent of testing children in order for this to be the only determining factor.
        We need to have an investigation of all charters and cyber charters in order to have the needed answers.
        Give the resources back to the traditional public schools that all charters enjoy and fix those schools before we continue to send our children to the Prison System. Give all children a chance at a fair and equitable education.
        I do agree concerning the article the author gave up and didn’t help to fight for the rights of not only his child but all children with the School District.

        • Amy Mathewson Millar

          Give the resources back? As though charters are just stealing from districts? That’s a mighty unfounded statement. They didn’t use those resources to educate those children now in charters when they were enrolled in the districts. They get the resources for the # of children enrolled why should they get more for the children that are no longer there? If they had used them wisely and educated our children I and the 1000s of other parents would have stayed. Why should those districts get our resources, our tax money and our children back when they failed them in the first place? You say give all children a chance at a fair and equitable education….that is what charters DO, my kids now get that fair and equitable education because of a charter. That charter that is educating my children should absolutely be entitled to any resources or funding tied to my children not their old district that failed to educate them.

          • missy

            The difference is no money in the Philadelphia School District goes for profit. This is the huge difference and yes, I too feel it is stealing. The cyber model should stay within the district. They can be for-profit sub-contractors, but not the people delivering the services and evaluating the services. It just can’t be. Also, the “failure” in PSD has a lot more to do with social issues than district issues. I would love to see a study selecting the exact same socioeconomic children in Phila and the suburbs compared to each other. Philadelphia has the absolute highest performing schools in the state and the lowest performing schools in the state. Something is going really, really well, too. The schools in the middle have the most promise with the least resources and farming them off to for-profit charters is the absolute worst thing we can do. Plus, their results are no different. The results also wane in about the 3rd year, so what is the point of creating these new schools if they do the same as the district. There isn’t any, but if they bleed the district slowly, they can get their big windfall in about 10 years…. then we are really screwed like we are now with healthcare.

  • Amy Mathewson Millar

    I have many thoughts on this article…I laughed at the suggestion of having districts have more oversight on charters so we should have the districts that are failing have a say in how we educate our children?? I think not. I love how the writer’s own
    child was being failed by the schools so they didn’t fight for better services, they didn’t lobby their reps for a better education in the city they “loved” for him, they didn’t get an advocate or lawyer and fight like many of us did, they didn’t live through the hell of due process hearings, they didn’t even give charters a thought no they just packed up and left like coward parents that they are but not before on their way out of town deciding to throw their noses up and condemned and demanded charters and cyber charters be done away with all together in the name of saving “your oh so precious yet you left it” Philadelphia school District?!?!? Are you insane??? How dare you, you have not even experienced charter schools first hand or looked to find parents like us whose children have been saved by the damnation they were given by their public schools that even if the district can’t meet their needs sorry that’s the only answer, no I don’t accept that. I’m not saying all charters are good charters but that’s where parent responsibility comes into play, if they aren’t a good charter DON’T send your kids there!! As a charter school parent at an amazing charter I think the author is trying to burn down an entire apple orchid because of a few bad apples because that makes sense right? And I had to laugh that they were heading the suburbs for “better” schools….HA…guess what buddy they are FAILING their students too….those wonderful “top ten places to live” schools failed my children miserably neither of my kids got the services let alone the education they were entitled too, I was told flat out at an IEP meeting, We cannot teach to his needs but he doesn’t qualify for a different placement…WHAT??…It’s not charters and cyber charters that are bringing down traditional education…it’s TRADITIONAL EDUCATION that is bringing itself down to
    the ruble it has become with common core, inadequate special education, burnt out and used up teachers, corruption, financial mismanagement and curriculum that requires each child meet ITS needs instead of the way education SHOULD be which is to have the curriculum meet the needs of EVERY student….I am on FIRE from this article….I hope that many of the other charter and cyber parents out there
    would join me in lobbying and writing our local and state reps in response to this laughable article to advocate what a blessing and necessity these charters have been to us all… The Cyber Charter where my kids go, the students go to a learning center each day with the most amazing teachers, supports, resources a curriculum that meets THEIR needs. It has saved my kid’s educational lives and my sanity from a fight that was never gonna end with our suburban “best schools in pa” school giving them what they needed, no it was gonna end by them crushing my voice and continuing to fail my kids for the rest of their “sentence” of 12 years of public school, and then I found my hail mary pass in the final seconds of the battle…a Cyber Charter that actually WORKS and I have NO regrets and I have the improved test scores, higher performance, and self esteem filled happy kids to prove it. Finally I can only smirk when I image getting to be a fly on the wall when they realize (and likely very soon) that their new “amazing” suburban school doesn’t meet their son’s needs either so then…then what….maybe charters are the answer not the problem after all…..

    • Frank the Tank

      So your plan is to smirk when the author’s special-needs child doesn’t have his needs met? Well, that sums you up nicely.

      I hope whatever Cyber Charter your kids are attending teaches them to break up text into paragraphs.

      • Amy Mathewson Millar

        Oh please if thats all you took away from what I had to say that sums you up well as well. My comment of the smirk was towards this authors arrogance to think suburban schools will do them any better because they certainly never met my two special needs student’s needs at all or the 1000s of other sn students they fail everyday. Charters are a vital part of saving education for our children. But please by all means my lack of paragraphs are more important then anything I have to say.

    • Kate Sannicks-Lerner

      So, Ms. Millar, if the neighborhood school doesn’t provide for the student’s needs, and the charter school doesn’t, either, what does the parent do then?

      BTW, the author didn’t say to get rid of charters. He said that charters should be answerable/accountable to the district.

      • Amy Mathewson Millar

        The author did call for the dissolving of cyber charters in his step 3 action plan. My children attend a blended model cyber charter, so they also have learning centers with actual teachers that they attend each day. If we followed his plan, their school that completely changed the way my kids learn and are educated would be no more and that would be devastating to all the families that have found their fit for their children in our or any of the other positive and good cyber charter schools. Our cyber charter has been the absolute best fit for my kids that did not fit the mold at their old school.

        I think that when the public school and a charter school have both failed a student it is sad part of what is wrong with education today. Our children don’t fit this one size fits all model that traditional education is trying so hard to stay rooted in. And not all charters are created equally. I spent so many nights researching, interviewing, visiting other schools before I found our current one. So keep going, keep looking, keep asking. A parent should know the law, their rights and understand their IEP, and the IEP process as well as how due process works as well. That parent should be demanding the school meet those needs, and have clear reasons why they aren’t, and how you see it being resolved and see if you can get the team and the school to work with you, if not find an advocate, find an education lawyer, start due process and in the mean time keep searching for a better fit. I think the best thing a parent in that situation can do is to keep fighting and never give up. Failing schools and failing teachers only need parents to quit fighting to keep doing what they are doing, don’t ever give them your white flag, that’s what you can do. There are other schools, other charters, other models, other options and none of those options need you to accept a school’s failure to meet your child’s needs because a parent should never except that.

        • Kate Sannicks-Lerner

          How and why to public and charter schools fail students? Would you propose that cyber charters are the best solution for all? (I think not, but the question begs asking.) Are you still fighting, then, for traditional and charter schools?

          Having done so much research, you are aware, then, of all the scandal, cheating and malfeasance running rampant in the cyber charter system, without any oversight, are you not?

          I totally agree with you that not all schools are created equal. However, when the root of the problem lies in intentional starvation of an already starved district, and we fail to point that out and hold people accountable for their misdeeds, when we continue to insist on other options (and they’ll give them to us, have no doubt) instead of insisting they do right in the first place… well, the old saying goes, “when you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

          • Amy Mathewson Millar

            I love your last line of when you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got….it is so true. That is why charters and cybers that are doing it right are so neccessary in this day and age, I don’t want what I always got before. And of course cyber charter is not right for everyone, but it is right for many who don’t fit other school models. And they should remain an option for families. My whole point was that the author stated that all if not most cybers should be done away with and I simply disagree. My two oldest children that attend a cyber charter are night and day learners, with different needs and different strengths yet the same school is meeting and exceeding their needs and the growth in learning, personally, developmentally and emotionally have been profound.

            Schools fail students when students are not being taught at each of their own levels, skills and with their needs in mind in a supportive, abuse free, safe environment. It was brutally exhausting to fight my old district for over 3 years for 2 children. It was actually quite the adjustment for me too when we switched schools this year. I remember going to our first IEP meeting at the cyber charter and I was already for my battle, I had my big folder, the copies of the evals, past performance outcomes and my “attack” plan ready to fire. And when we sat down and they listened, they hit the nail on the head and they presented the same goals and plans that I wanted I asked is this really happening? You WANT my input? You see my child as a person, you see their needs and you’re gonna give them what they need to learn and I don’t have to fight you to get it? What? I left in tears, and not the tears I often left IEP meetings with before, these were tears of utter joy not defeat. I didn’t know what that looked like before than or how to interact with teachers that actually cared, administration that was there to actually administer education for all students. I didn’t know how to not be the parent principals hide from. I don’t worry about my kids at school like I did before. My phone doesn’t blow up daily from the school as it used to. I haven’t used all my sick and vacation time to go pick up kids early or for meetings with the school, or because my children refused to go to school because of the torment they once endured. My life has changed, my kids have changed, their lives are on different paths because of a quality well run cyber charter. My only battle these days is to spread the word that cyber charters CAN work, and they NEED to stay.

            Parents need to know that when they feel beaten by these districts that throwing in the towel that this is the way it has to be is not their only answer. But they also need to know their rights, what to fight for and to always try to make it work at their current school by using the resources available to them and if needed consulting an advocate or educational attorney and utilizing due process. You are right if everytime a parent was unhappy with a school they jumped ship it would be utter chaos and just perpetuate the problem in a new enviroment not fix it. Parents have to do their job to ensure their kids are educated whether thats at public, private, charters, online, or homeschool, it’s the parents job to ensure they are receiving their education that meets their needs by supporting their areas of struggle and strengthening their strengths.

            Charters and diverse Charters are necessary parts to our path of recovery from the educational crisis in this country. There has to be options for parents. I think all charters should be different we don’t need 100 of the same charter we need diverse charters that focus on different learners so that all students can find the right place to learn. Scrapping them all is never going to the answer.

            It is not as though there is no regulations for cybers as you infer they aren’t just operating with no oversight as you make it seem. The problem is the timing of the oversight and regulations, they are not being proactive but reactive. I am not against oversight and regulations I welcome that and have seen that there is a lot of fraud, abuse and poorly run charters and cybers and those should be weeded out, that we can agree on. And again that’s also where parent responsibility comes into as well. They need to fully understand where they are sending their children. But I also believe districts are taking it to the point that they are targeting cybers and charters as whole for the sins of a few anything and everything they can do to get those tax dollars back they could care less about the student that money is tied too or what’s best for them, it’s all about that $.

            That being said, I agree that there are a lot of “pop up” schools that simply aren’t doing what they need to do from the start. And I believe that if there was more oversight and regulations put in place from the start proactively before a charter ever comes to be the idea of it closing after it opens would be few and far between. But many oversights and measurements come after they have already opened, that’s backwards.

            Look at what happened with the Solomon charter in the fall. How devastating for those families that thought this charter was going to be the right place for their kids to have the doors shuttered a few weeks into the school year and return to their old schools that they weren’t happy with or try to find a new charter 3 weeks into a school year. I would have been heartbroken had that been our school but they weren’t doing what they needed to do as a cyber charter at all and so it had to close and while a school closing is always sad I also don’t think bad charters should stay open just to have a charter there. I can only encourage parents considering charters or cyber for their kids to do their due diligence and research to find the right school that is doing it right on all accounts.

            Our school goes through rigorous evaluations, inspections, testing and oversight of finances, teacher credentials and more. Our admistration welcomes this, is open and willing to have these oversights, they have nothing to hide and follow the law, especially because we are cyber charter with learning hubs. Attendance at the hub is not mandatory only a supportive option and there is no transportation or lunch program and they follow the law to the T in the charter’s management. They have educated the parents on the cyber charter laws, expectations and what we as parents can do to support those regulations in regards to our children’s education. They also greatly keep the parents informed about what the state, board and districts want and what they are doing to meet those requirements…the state has asked for XYZ and we did XYZ and here are the outcomes, action plan and any other information we need.

            Cybers just like public schools that are failing to do right by the law and their students should have their plugs pulled, my whole point was that this author flat out stated that cybers as a whole should be done away with and that they don’t work, when the truth is they do work when done right. I am all for regulation and measuring outcomes and oversight by the board of education, and the state but I am learly of allowing districts that we pull our children out of having large says in that process. Their interest in charters is always money driven they want that $8000+ for a typical child or the $18000+ for special education students back more than wanting what’s best for that child and that is where I think districts should have much smaller voices over charters. Parents should have the right to send their children and their school tax money where their child is learning.

    • missy

      My boys are in one of the Philadelphia schools mentioned in the short list that excel with or above suburban schools. We are lucky and as parents work very hard at helping it do so. It is possible to have great schools, but make no mistake… the main problem for large urban school districts is addiction of parents, poverty and extreme family dysfunction. This happens everywhere, but is concentrated in a large city. Forget about education plans for children that are not fed or hear screaming until 2 am every night. Its so ridiculous to study this city as if it were comparable to the suburbs. Why bother? Anyway, our first year of education was in a cyber charter and I have 2 sons with special needs. The problem with the cyber charter model is not that it won’t work great for specific situations, but that it is profit based. I won’t go into the dozens of reasons why this is dangerous to education, but just remember the “middle manager to improve product and reduce costs” was the model the health insurance industry sold us 25 years ago. “Give us a small management fee and we will fix everything and save money at the same time”. We went from over-charging health care providers to under-servicing health corporations. We gained co-pays, limits, denials and deductibles. It was a shift in funds that went on to become new industry that sadly, most Americans don’t realize was never designed to be an industry. Although the cyber charters are putting their best foot forward now, don’t expect a for-profit company to pay for computers, internet and trips to Hershey Park as the decades roll on. Just like the HMOs needed to find new ways to profit, so will the cyber and for-profit charters. It’s a dangerous road. I am in favor of the the cyber services my K son received, proud of the teachers and loved the system. It is a perfect solution for many students, but needs to be done without middle man profit. We can’t afford it.

      • Kate Sannicks-Lerner

        Exactly, missy. Additionally, with so little oversight, the opportunity for scamming and corruption are rife and multiplying! I’m very happy that Ms. Millar found a solution for her son; she’s lucky, and that school is one of the few. But, as you aptly point out, that’s today. Tomorrow, they’ll do away with something, and still charge you the same thing, and you have no legal recourse.

        • missy

          The cyber charter, Commonwealth Connections, asked me for give backs the first week of school. Part of the contract with the state mandates they give every student a computer and internet. The teacher, as part of her weekly review, was forced to ask us to donate those items back to the school. I told her I would sooner take my internet rebate and pass it on to my catchment school than give it toward their company profit. This is the slippery slope nobody is seeing. The money grabs of “privatization” models are so dangerous and foolish, it is hard to believe the average community citizen can’t recognize it. If we were suggesting privatizing Police, Fire and Sanitation services with vouchers and sub-contractors, special fees and co-pays I wonder if the reality would be more clear.

          Also, It is very hard work to be a good homeschool parent. I’m in awe of the many phenomenal parents I have met that are frankly, giving their children a better education than I could give. A few are doing a much better job than the district. Many, however, are using homeschooling for the wrong reasons. Some of those reasons are selfish and some are dangerous. Homeschool parents detest the notion that it is a vehicle for abusive parents to hide their children, but it is. This is much harder to do with the oversight of a brick and mortar school.

          The cyber model should be kept, but with the local district hiring the sub-contractor and have oversight of the homeschooling. They pay for it, we all pay for it and it should be monitored closely. The district should also control eligibility for cyber school and not have it be a daily sell job of commercial tv ads. I know of too many families that don’t support their children once they join cyber school. It is a way to not have to worry about their children getting to school on time and doing homework and taking tests. They give a bad name to the parents that use the opportunity well and for the children who need to be away from the traditional school for various reasons.

          However, even though cyber charters do a good job of monitoring their students, I will never agree to any community being told they have no oversight of all the children in our community and question any parent unwilling to prove they are caring for their child. This is especially true when the funds for the for-profit charters are bled from my children’s school district. Sorry, not buying the “invasive” excuse for not proving you are educating your child with the money we give to do it.

    • I’m glad that you found a solution that works for your family, but entirely unconvinced that cyber charters are a smart policy choice or investment.

      • Amy Mathewson Millar

        Have you actually gone to a cyber charter? Have you met any of their teachers personally? Have you actually met with their board of directors? Have you seen every charters’ performances, evaluations, measures and outcomes let alone their actual curriculum? Have you interviewed any cyber charter parents? Where’s the article where you actually investigate how they each operate and how they are impacting their students? I would gladly invite you to visit our charter and meet with our administrators any day to get the whole truth on cyber charters not just what you image they all are.

        Have you watched a child go from not being able to read along with their peers for 3 years after every chart, goal and team meeting imaginable, every miserably not working intervention the public school had to offer to in 6 months of being at a cyber charter reading now above grade level and thriving and no longer fearful of going to a school where she was bullied every day? She is actually learning, and retaining that knowledge for the first time how do you say that is not a worthwhile investment? She was a kid they said wouldn’t make it, she’s more than making it and she is more than worth it. And there are 1000s more like her. Have you watched an autistic child be able to learn in a less crowded more supported learning center at a cyber charter than when he was one of 25 students in a classroom smaller than he is in now with 10 students where they cultivate his gifted abilities and support his deficits too?

        Of course not because that doesn’t fit your needs now does it to save the Philadelphia school district when it’s a ship already under water, and don’t forget you left your precious district yet on your way out of town condemn for many families the one saving option for their children which is cyber charters. Some of these cyber charters take children like mine that would never make it in traditional schools with lousy special education supports, and they actually teach them, they nurture them, they support their needs and strengthen and bring out their strengths. Their curriculum meets their needs and they have advanced more in the 1/2 year there than they ever did in years they were in public school.

        So what then do you propose is the solution for the 1000s of children that have been failed by their districts and are now thriving and succeeding in cyber charters since you deem them ALL an unwise policy choice and investment? Their education is not worth the investment or worth parents having the option to give their children the education they need and deserve when their districts’ weren’t able to do so?

        • missy

          I feel for you and totally support you using the cyber school model to give your child what they need. My youngest is autistic and navigating the PSD special education plan is heartbreaking. He will be in K next year and I’m not sure it is going to work. My issue with cyber charter is with the profit in it and the ability for parents to choose it on their own. The district and the community should have a say.

          My oldest son did go to cyber charter for K. I interviewed every available cyber charter and I do know their system. It is fabulous for specific children and I would not hesitate to go there again. However, I resent these companies being able to recruit families, using our district money bled from our school, to get students to join who don’t belong there.

  • Ken Davis

    So the state and federal government underfund education. Your solution is to blame the teachers and call for the unelected School Reform Commission to “impose a new teacher contract”. This is the method of military dictatorships through history. What you are calling for is an end to democracy.

    • Kate Sannicks-Lerner

      Not to mention that imposed terms do not a contract make!

    • And here I thought we were making a sincere effort to address a major problem confronting the city.

      • Sheth Jones

        There is absolutely no evidence that imposing teacher contract terms or reducing the amount of lunchtime teachers get will change a damn thing. I am so tired of people repeating these talking points (liberals and conservatives alike) with NO evidence to show that these supposedly overly generous perks are the reason for poor test scores. Most of the people who harp on these points and indirectly accuse teachers of being more worried about breaks and time off than teaching have probably never spent more than 10min in any city public school. In fact, many of these people wouldn’t last a day in the conditions faced by these teachers and yet they are quick to accuse these teachers of being dedicated to work rules, not teaching. Its amazing how solutions often focus on what needs to be extracted from teachers but rarely is it recommended that teacher input be sought in how to improve things. So journalists and politicians who rarely set foot inside a school are EXPERTS on reform but the vast majority of teachers and their contract are seen as “obstacles”, not resources. At least “good teachers” were mentioned as a resource in this piece- progress I suppose.

      • Christopher Sawyer

        Patrick, ignore Ken’s comments because it’s just a ruse. The root of the size problem with PSD is repeated over, and over, and over. There is no justified reason why Philadelphia needs a single monolithic school district with no elected school board. None. Other more successful cities (say, all the large cities in Texas) run a compartamentalized model of ISDs: Independent School Districts. ISDs contain a small grouping of K-12 schools in a geographic catchment. All public schools in Texas are owned by the State of Texas. All ISDs have elected school boards and answer to parents and ratepayers who send their property tax checks to the ISDs [property tax collection in TX works differently than here]. The Texas model of funding Public Ed absolutely works and the management of it gives parents the choices without having to make a “should I leave the city?” question come up when your kid turns 5. If your school district sucks, you can just change neighborhoods, not entire counties. The State also requires balance between school districts loaded with high value property and get gorgeous tax receipts, and the barrio districts who are short of money all the time–all revenues are controlled by school district regions who audit every local ISD and reappropriate money. In PA this would be unthinkable because that would mean Lower Merion revenues might be recycled back to bankroll Upper Darby and parts of Philly, and Chestnut Hill property tax payers might see their school receipts split between Philly and some remote rural town in PA. When it comes to paying for education in Texas, the system is about as socialistic as one could possibly make it—and Texans would not have it any other way. They were raised on it. I was, and I did K-12 in a rural district. My education was great.

  • Kate Sannicks-Lerner

    punkymama and Ms. Millar, the author did NOT say to eliminate or abandon charters. He said to LIMIT EXPANSION, and provide for MORE ACCOUNTABILITY. He is right on both counts. Any charter that works, and works well, the author said should exist by all means, but that they should be accountable to the district for scores, etc.

    As for traditional education bringing down traditional education, Ms. Millar, you’re oversimplifying a very complicated issue. However, the main problem is and has been the intentional underfunding and defunding of traditional public schools. More to the point, charter and traditional public schools alike suffer as a result of this lack of funding.

    Lastly, I can’t imagine that the author has any “street cred,” as the kids say, when it comes to understanding the public school scene, and what really needs to be done to fix it. Some of his recommendations were on point, but some were sublimely ridiculous. Impose a contract? Pardon me, but if terms are imposed, THERE IS NO LONGER A CONTRACT.

    How do we fix public education, including traditional and charter schools? We fix it by imposing not a teacher contract, but rather, equitably funding our schools, every one.

    • punkymama

      I agree fund ALL the schools including our amazing cyber charter.

  • S. El-Mekki

    Interesting article. some ideas floated could work, others not so much. also, one of the main reasons the Edison experiment didnt work in many regards was because the SDP didnt want the Edison program fully. it wanted to piece meal it-that doesnt work.

    • Kate Sannicks-Lerner

      The SDP never wants to take any full program. They always want to put their own brand on everything, and research be damned. They’ve done that with every reading program I’ve ever used in the district.

      All that aside, I don’t think the so-called Edison experiment didn’t work solely because they didn’t take the full program. I believe it would have failed on its own merits via buyer’s remorse. But, we’ll never know now!

  • bbqshot

    I agree that the SRC should unilaterally impose a new contract with the PFT. That will help bring the deficit to a close. Pay no attention to the union trolls on here. They have only one agenda: What is best for the teachers’ union.

    • Philly Activist

      Oh my I am a volunteer and do not work for any union, including PFT.

      Perhaps you should research what an imposed contract means before you assume you know what someone’s agenda is.

      As a taxpayer, I do not agree withe the imposition of a contract on any one.

    • missy

      Yeah, just a parent here and completely disagree with you. I don’t want non-union teachers because every great teacher I know would never settle for it. Perhaps the union saves a few “bad” teachers here and there, but it attracts more good. All the charter school teachers I know, including cyber, are just dying to get out. The only thing worse than sucky pay for a sucky job is extra hours and no benefits. If my child was in a charter, I would question why the teacher wasn’t good enough to get a union job. jmho

    • Sheth Jones

      Do you or anyone else have a shred of evidence or a case study that can show results from drastic contract changes being imposed on a teachers union? There are plenty of incompetent teachers- but the same can be said for every profession. Teaching seems to be the only one where so many people are in agreement that management should immediately impose harsh changes to crack down on members of that profession. And before anyone argues that teachers should have fewer rights because of the critical importance of their jobs I would offer that firefighters, police officers, medical workers, etc. are just as critical and yet rarely do you hear people arguing that people in those professions are fat and lazy and slow due to cozy contracts.

      • Vince Madiraca

        So right… they dont get it. If you have 100 teachers.. someone has got to be #100…. they dont need to be fired. Just give them opportunities to get better. The education industry lets these teachers struggle with zero support.

  • barrygster

    Missing a big part, is the city and its representatives needs to do its their share for funding. Everyone wants the blame the state and Corbett, and of course they have a big role, but the city itself has been neglectful for years. The reliance on wage tax over property tax (which funds the schools) needs to get flipped, and tax enforcement MUST get better. It’s criminal that Philly’s reps in the statehouse voited against laws that would make it easier to go after deadbeats.

    • missy

      Absolutely true about the property tax rate. Some of my neighbors, before the first adjustment a few years back, paid $100 a year and freaked when it went to $1000. (on average $300K-$400k houses) This last adjustment brought many of them up to about $2k-$4,000 and they started searching for their NJ houses. I told them good luck with that because their taxes would be twice with extra sanitation fees and a fire department 10 miles away. They are still here. The gall of residents expecting to pay $100 or $1000 a year for school, fire, police, sanitation, roads, etc., etc. is unbelievable. They just don’t get it and mostly because they relied on Catholic schools for decades and decades. They always felt the school district shouldn’t get their tax dollars ignoring the model of education for all is a community responsibility. Now many of the Catholic schools are gone and the legacy of being “too good for Phila public schools” has them desperate. This is the perfect time for charters to offer a solution and why it is so dangerous. They believe the charters are private and even where they perform worse than the catchment school, they still fight to get in. It’s remarkable.

      • I agree – and argue in the story – that city residents should be paying more to fund schools. But your understanding of the tax burden of city residents is incomplete, to put it mildly. It is true that property taxes are comparatively low, but city wage taxes, sales taxes, business taxes, parking taxes and so on are extraordinarily high. In fact, Philadelphia residents face one of the highest local tax burdens in the country.

        • missy

          Since I’ve lived in the city for almost all of my working life, I understand the tax burdens, but our suburban friends pay almost the same wage taxes if they work in the city. Even with the 2% sales tax we are still extremely low. The business taxes don’t apply to the homeowner property tax and parking tax? … I guess I’m uninformed about that. For residents, parking is a choice you make when you buy your property, so I wouldn’t agree that it should discount property taxes if that is what you are saying. We have a high tax burden, but still, our property taxes are extremely low. My parents live in a tiny, average performing, PA school district pay about 3K more for a house worth about half our value. The real problem is that too many residents in Philadelphia don’t value or expect to pay more for living in a major US city. We are 5th largest and pay far less taxes than NY, Chicago, LA, etc.

  • barrygster

    The other huge piece missing is pension reform. The state is actually increasing funding, but a larger and growing share of it goes to the teacher’s pension fund rather than the schools. It’s not sustainable and has to end. First for new hires, and very possibly for existing hires too. This would also free up more funds to raise starting teacher salaries. Young, talented teachers are more swayed by a bigger paycheck than backloading lots of pay in a pension.

    The generous pension terms are state law, and not part of any contract, so will be very hard to change with the state’s penny wise and pound foolish union politics, but it needs to be done.

  • Cletis

    Never mind.

  • ad_hominahominahomina

    Ah, “progressives”.
    Nothing that you do will fix the Philly school system…NOTHING!
    Failure is ensured by your most central political beliefs, and 60 years of inertia.

    Younger folks with *any* sense will tire of being regarded as some sort of problem (“gentrifying bastards!”), getting next-to-nothing in the way of services for their tax dollars, and functioning as prey to large chunks of the populace.

    Unfortunately, we long-time suburbanites will be stuck with the most amazing & ironic aspect of this settling-out, in which those who have fled their progressive hell-holes in the city move to the ‘burbs, and continue to vote Democrat!

    It’s guaranteed that the author of this wretched piece is among these slugs.

    • missy

      ah fact-less Rushies …. just why o why is the #1 High School, as well as another usually in the top 5 and a few others consistently in the top 50 all in Phila SD. The public catchment elem school my children attend has better scores than almost all suburban elementary schools in the area and it is not the only one. Keep telling yourself this simplistic crap and keep wondering why your opinion continues to become the minority opinion. Here is a hint: it’s not because a handful of progressives move from the city to your bourgeois suburb, it’s because people can interpret facts instead of fantasy.

      • ad_hominahominahomina

        “Rushies”? Ha!
        Sorry, missy, but you’re way off base.

        The Philly high schools that my sisters and I attended are now smoking ruins. Our old elementary schools – which did a very decent job teaching EVERY SINGLE CHILD in typical classes of 35 to read & write – are absurdist nightmares where uncertified “principals” got to ply their trade.

        Your “public catchment” school is atypical, and in no way reflects the realities mentioned in this, or my previous post. The vast majority of Philly kids are doomed, and you know it; with a graduation rate of 50-60% your school system is an abject failure, and will NEVER be fixed.

        Meanwhile, children on our leafy block of 100 year-old houses have solid shots at success; and we welcome folks of all types – especially ones who can remember WHY they left your workers’ paradise!

        • missy

          The Philly kids that are doomed, were doomed before they stepped foot in any Philadelphia School District. They are doomed because our entire society ignores them, as we ignored their parents when they were children. They are doomed because the state and local authorities fail them. Don’t confuse the school district with a rehab center or teachers with psychiatrists. If we take all the kids in those “doomed” schools and send them to your school, without changing any other part of their life, it would be the same result. It’s not your school district that is different; it is the parents that are different.

          That little leafy boundary your district draws makes you exactly the same as the little boundary catchment our district draws, so you, too, are atypical. You see, you can create a bubble anywhere, but it doesn’t mean you are better educators. We are no different in that and I blame no parent for leaving the city if they can’t find the best school here. The problem I have is thinking moving out of the city absolves you from the problem of neglected and tormented children in the “doomed” part of this city. All children are everyone’s responsibility if you are an American and/or a member of any religion. Failed children live in the city and out of the city, but the concentration is in the city.

          Stop blaming the Philadelphia school district for poverty and addiction and other societal problems that they cannot control. Stop giving yourself credit for creating a bubble mostly free from these at-risk children, and stop pretending a map removes your responsibility to them.

          • ad_hominahominahomina

            What – 50 years’ worth of the War On Poverty didn’t work?
            Forced busing of children from their neighborhood schools didn’t create a better, more equitable school district?
            Multi-generational welfare wasn’t the answer?
            Turning a blind eye to behavioral standards was a disastrous practice?
            Gee…who could’ve predicted this?

            Actions have consequences, missy, and Philly’s actions have been unilateral for six decades.

            But thanks so much for giving the nod of approval to those who no longer wish to participate in your dead-end theories & practices – you’ve made your perfect little progressive bed; just don’t ask the rest of us to snuggle up with you.

          • missy

            There is not and never was a war on poverty. Forced busing is a stupid copied southern policy and welfare doesn’t work. blah blah with your Rush the hypocrite excuses for being greedy. None of those things were created by the school district and the only thing worse than those failed policies is doing nothing or excusing yourself from the problem. . The school district gets the after-product of bad policy so stop equating them with every social problem this country has. It’s not the school districts duty to treat addiction so that they can educate addict’s children. It’s America’s duty to treat addiction.

            One can easily blame the actions of your family, this author and families like you, with their departure, too. I can’t, but when you have your level of illogical criticism and blame over situations you did nothing to solve, it’s pretty sickening.

            You insulate yourself from abused American children with pride. It’s incredible. Luckily, there are fewer and fewer people like you. So, sorry, but you will continue to pay to educate Philadelphia children with your state tax dollars and city sales taxes and city wage taxes. As poverty continues to spread to your suburbs, you will pay for the education of those failing students in your local taxes, too. Unless you get with it and stop thinking the imaginary boundary line is real.

            “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

          • ad_hominahominahomina

            Congratulations, missy – of all the left-wing maniacs I’ve encountered in the past few years, you’re the left-wingiest!

            And look, you’ve even quoted Burke – as if your clearly inadequate education took you anywhere near the man!

            Burke also maintained that it was a mistake to regard the loudest complainers for the public to be the most concerned for its welfare – it’s almost as if he was looking into your deranged little eyes when he wrote that, missy.

            Anyway, best of luck to you and your specialness – you’re quite a gal!

          • missy

            Burke is the father of modern conservatism, your heros, so maybe you should study a little more about his views on authority, the entitled classes and their duty to society. I went to school in the suburbs (in a district people fight to move into and ironically with scores lower than my child’s school) so my education is a product of your leafy block… or a better one. And you are the loudest complainer here, so I agree with Burke again. …and fyi, being against forced busing and welfare hardly makes me a left leaning… as good as that is.

  • salvatore sandone

    In my humble opinion – step 1 should be unwinding of the SRC and returning oversight of Philadelphia’s schools to Philadelphia. Step 2 reversing the decision to dispose of our community assets by selling off our school buildings. Step 3 Philadelphia needs to formulate funding for its own school system in concert with PDE allocations. Maybe a district could pilot the project. Its what they do in the burbs. The local tax base supports their local school. STEP 4 make every school a community school including services ranging from the cradle to college. Just think a bout it.

  • upandup19125

    I think #8 should be #1. All around the city, there are very dedicated and hard-working parent groups working to improve their local public schools, and when they band together to send their kids to the local public school,more and more people sign on. It is the ONE tool for reform that we all have within our immediate reach, unlike all the slow, difficult changes at a policy level. How do you think Meredith got to be where it was? No one just came in and waved a magic wand.

    I want to know-did you even try? Did you even consider joining or forming one? Or did you just start looking at real estate listings as soon as the “five year countdown” began? I can’t imagine you were living in such a terrible, dangerous part of West Philly with no other middle class families around you and no hope of even forming a parents group. Sorry, your “feeling guilty” isn’t enough for me.

    • Sheth Jones

      This article along with the recent coverage of the Pew study about Millienials is quite eye opening. While I have no doubt that many Millenials and others who love the City have genuine interest in reforming the schools, Ive come to the realization that most of them don’t plan to do anything to make that happen. Many of the newcomers seem to see themselves as a separate, and higher class of Philadelphian. Now that THEY are having kids (or thinking about it) they have just noticed the school situation in this city. Their view (as well as the media’s view) is that NOW Philadelphia must do something to fix its schools because we must do whatever is necessary to hold on to the folks who live between Fairmount and Washington Ave, not necessarily because every child in the city deserves the same opportunities as kids in the burbs. I am all for population growth and improving abandoned neighborhoods so I welcome new college educated people who can afford $400k houses. But I do have an issue with this notion that these folks are so special, so sought after that they shouldn’t have to invest any capital in bringing about change. These folks arent going to put their money or political clout behind any of the organizations or politicians pushing for funding equity, they are simply going to complain and threaten to move. They aren’t going to attend SRC meetings, join protests in Harrisburg, call anti-Philadelphia legislators or otherwise lift a finger to fight for the the district as a whole. They are going to ask why all of this wasn’t solved in time for their kids to enroll and then prepare to put their houses up for sale. They arent going to visit many schools, try any schools, offer to support local schools, etc. They will give up without ever trying a Philly school and then say they had “no choice” but to move. What we all know is that no media or legislative attention will be showered on this district unless the powers that be can see that the underfunding and mismanagement affects the plight of white Philadelphians. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any critical mass building amongst fed up white Philadelphians who have children in public schools or desire to send their kids to public schools. You have a large contingent that has preferred parochial schools for decades and those folks don’t care about the prospects of the district. We now have a much smaller (but much more valued) contingent in and around Center City that has largely decided there is no option but to run across the border in spite of the fact that most have not expended much effort to change the status quo. The general view of millilenials is that they are sort of uninterested in politics or the idea that it really matters who is running the government or large institutions in general. I see this attitude reflected in the recent coverage of the Pew study. When these folks were not concerned about the schools or thinking of being parents they were oblivious to what was going on in Harrisburg or at 440 N. Broad or City Hall. They could care less about the budget deficits, the funding cuts, who won the governor’s race in 2010, the lack of local control or anything else related to the schools. Now that they have awaken after having to face the prospects of enrolling their child they are alarmed and want things fixed within a year or two if they are to even think about remaining in the city.

      • upandup19125

        Wrong, wrong and wrong. Yes, many people simply write off the PSD without a second thought and wonder why no one else solved the problem. However, parents in my 19125 neighborhood (and many other neighborhoods), most of whom are newcomers, ARE rallying around the local public schools through a number of “friends of” groups. They ARE paying attention to what is happening in state legislature, while also trying to fundraise and find solutions at the local level for the schools in their neighborhoods. Many of these parents have infants, and some members of the groups don’t even have children yet.

        Also, there’s a significant divide in attitudes/interests amongst older (30+) and younger (21-26ish) Millennials that the media tends to overlook. Someone who is 32 and has gotten married, bought a home, started a family, and is further along in their career is in a MUCH different place than a 22 year old single renting some apartment in Center City. There are plenty of us who have chosen to get involved and join together with existing PTAs and such to improve the local schools, and many of us reside OUTSIDE of Fairmount/Washington. I would like to see more press about that, but it’s easier to just continue with the hand-wringing.

        And yes, now we CAN do something because there is a significant population of middle-class parents with greater access to resources to improve the school- they’re not all immediately decamping to the ‘burbs like their parents did. If you talk to these parents, they value a good public education for EVERY child, not just their own. Rising waters lift all boats.

        • Sheth Jones

          My assertions do not apply to EVERYONE- obviously. But my impressions are based on article such as this one and the overall notion that unless “someone” fixes the schools all of the precious residents in gentrifying areas are going to leave the City. And many seem to support the idea that someone else should be doing this for THEM, not necessarily for the general welfare of the city. The implication is that a failing school district (I actually hate that term) isn’t big news as long as the families who use it are “captive” citizens who presumably have no choice, but it’s a huge deal when the status of the district may cause consternation amongst people living within a mile of the borders of Center City.

          I agree that the media should dedicate more coverage to those who are staying to fight for the schools- and this applies to those who have been here for years as well as newcomers living in Fishtown. The general story conveyed by the local media is that long time residents are just sitting around being victims while a small handful of active (typically white) residents are working hard to stay engaged with their local schools to better them. Aside from that tiny fragment of the population we basically are told about Millenials who are on the verge of calling the moving company and long timers (mostly minorities) who have given up hope and are consigned to accepting reality.

          For the record I am not excusing the lack of action from minority parents (afterall most of the kids getting shafted are black) or community leaders. But realistically, I don’t foresee any major changes at the state level until Harrisburg sees how their decision making is causing pain for Philly’s white residents. The funding inequities will not be addressed until it becomes very clear that there are tens of thousands of white families in this city who are outraged about the disregard for PA’s largest school district.

    • And that’s fine. I open myself up to this sort of criticism by including my personal story, but it seemed improper to me not to be forthcoming about what my family has done, and it would have been intellectually dishonest to leave out #8, knowing what I know about the role economic integration plays in improving schools. To answer your question, there is in fact a robust parent organization in the catchment of my W. Philly School (Lea), and my hat is off to those parents. We were never more than minimally involved, having planned to move into the Penn Alexander catchment. Then came the lottery at PAS, the extraordinary budget crisis of the last two years, and a discussion with a senior district official in the Office of Specialized Services who said in no uncertain terms our son’s particular needs would be better met in another district.

      • upandup19125

        FYI, Penn’s next step is to invest time and effort in Lea ES in a similar fashion to PAS. I’m sure financial support is not far behind.

        From a journalistic (and community support, really) perspective, it would have been diligent of you to cite more examples of parents groups who are doing #8. It does not get nearly the press that the “gloom and doom, omg millennials are leaving because of the schools” does.

  • Annethensome

    Another wish list? Are we living in the same world? A better list would be directed entirely at schools organizing themselves.
    1)Form a School advisory Council which gives you power to hire your
    principal & implement site based selection. 2)form political
    relationships with Council & mayor by donating or running for
    committee person 3) use those relationships to pull autonomy for real
    from the district 4)FUNDRAISE for your school 5) tell your own success
    stories in earned & self-created media 5) cooperate w/ staff & principal to implement best
    curriculum practices w/ teacher buy in for RIGOR 6) Lobby at the state
    & local level with UNIFIED, REALISTIC GOALS in coalitions with other
    well-organized schools 7) form alliances with neighboring civic
    associations 8) In that coalition, create a platform for the next mayor to sign off on in order to get all of your schools support 9) VOTE and 10) FUNDRAISE some more. This has worked at Meredith & others, but not to scale b/c not enough, far from
    critical mass, of other schools are focused at the same level. And, for this exact reason, politicians do not feel the need to address the crisis. It will never cost them their jobs.

  • Thomas R. Bank

    Steps 5 and 6 are especially relevant. Like med schools, colleges and universities should use the first year of teacher prep to weed out those who are really unsuitable for education careers. But as so often happens, job security for the staff in the college or university departments depends on the raw number of students that attend their classes. If they weed out those students who won’t be successful, some of the professors – parish the thought – might have to go back to teaching in the very K-12 schools that they are supposedly training their students for.

    And like Med schools, Ed schools should have INTENSIVE internship training. I’d go so far as to require all schools in the state, kindergarten through graduate schools, to go on the quarter system. Why? First, because it would allow college level institutions to identify students earlier who are in inappropriate paths and to get those students reoriented toward majors in which they can succeed, and that should be a part of such institutions’ job. Second, because it could make internship programs a far more meaningful part of the education process. We need to look at internship the way our ancestors looked at apprenticeship. Just looking at the educational path for teachers, it would not be unreasonable to require one third of their time to be spent in internship programs; and the quarter system vs. the semester system at both the K-12 and college level, would facilitate that.

    Beyond that, Ed schools should draw their staff from the ranks of the most successful K-12 teachers. Especially in Education, getting advanced degrees really has little to do with success in applying one’s education to the field involved. How often have you heard that college level careers depend on “Publish or Perish”? And then there is the well known perk of the “sabbatical.” Instead of focusing on dreaming up papers and taking sabbaticals, professors in the Education departments should themselves be taking “internships” where they can return to applying what they teach to the gut level experiences at the front lines of K-12 education, while at the same time sharing – as a two way street – their experiences with the teachers in those schools that are actually in the trenches.

    Do I make education sound like warfare? It is! And the truth is that we are losing. Our education model is far to much like that of the military in World War One, where the officers that made the decisions never faced the conditions at the front and were rewarded for irrelevant “contributions” and decisions that ignored the number of soldiers (students) that were lost in the battles. That needs to be changed, and the change needs to start in the Education Departments of our colleges and universities.

  • Christine Doobinin

    I’d like to add a bright note to Patrick Kerkstra’s article about the grim state of Philadelphia’s schools. There is a brilliant organization that has stepped up, big-time, by engaging the very children who are suffering from the severe slashes in public school funding – in this case, eviscerating the arts in our poorest schools. Fresh Artists, an award-winning nonprofit has identified and armed a new kind of “leadership class” to step up and face these funding problems head-on – K-12 kids! As the arts budgets have gone from pathetic to zero over the past six years, the 1000-plus children who are part of Fresh Artists have delivered the value of more than $300,000 directly into the classrooms of Philly’s inner city schools. Fresh Artists has curated a collection of K-12 art, donated by talented and generous kids, that generates funds to deliver quality art supplies and innovative programming right back into classrooms. The children are artists-philanthropists, taking bold civic action. Corporations throughout the country are lining up to install huge reproductions of this art for their facilitates, delighted to find a way they can truly “step up to face the problems head-on”. The kids’ art speaks volumes – amplifying both their potential and the need for all of us to stay the course in solving the enormous challenges of public education. I urge your readers to check out Fresh and lend their support to this very smart solution to a big problem.

    • charles

      Well Said Christine. PLEASE everyone help support They do great things and we will all benefit from there good work.

  • Christine Doobinin

    I’d like to add a bright note to Patrick Kerkstra’s article about the grim state of Philadelphia’s schools. There is a brilliant organization that has stepped up, big-time, by engaging the very children who are suffering from the severe slashes in public school funding – in this case, eviscerating the arts in our poorest schools. Fresh Artists, an award-winning nonprofit has identified and armed a new kind of “leadership class” to step up and face these funding problems head-on – K-12 kids! As the arts budgets have gone from pathetic to zero over the past six years, the 1000-plus children who are part of Fresh Artists have delivered the value of more than $300,000 directly into the classrooms of Philly’s inner city schools. Fresh Artists has curated a collection of K-12 art, donated by talented and generous kids, that generates funds to deliver quality art supplies and innovative programming right back into classrooms. The children are artists-philanthropists, taking bold civic action. Corporations throughout the country are lining up to install huge reproductions of this art for their facilitates, delighted to find a way they can truly “step up to face the problems head-on”. The kids’ art speaks volumes – amplifying both their potential and the need for all of us to stay the course in solving the enormous challenges of public education. I urge your readers to check out and lend their support to this very smart solution to a big problem.

  • Eric Blaustein

    Patrick, you failed to mention the fact that the current Student Code of Conduct is a JOKE!

    At this moment, in every non-Charter school, there is a teacher being cursed out, belittled, or assaulted. There is quality instruction that is being held hostage by unruly behavior.


    Before some of these students worry about 1 + 1, 3 x 6, or reading on grade level, they need to get their heads screwed on correctly. They need emotional and mental health assistance…ASAP!!!

    Every child deserves a chance. Some (not all) of them were robbed of the chance right at birth with little or no parenting for support. Some have been exposed to unspeakable experiences that no one should endure.

    How can we expect these children to worry about “the basics” when they are emotionally unstable?!?!

    Although it is not their fault, these children should be removed from the classroom and referred for mental health evaluations and support. They should not return until a mental health professional (not a politician) deems them fit.

    By ignoring this fact, you are turning your back on the rest of the children in the classroom who deserve a “fair and proper education”

    Try spending a day in the shoes of teachers and maybe you’ll understand.

    • Vince Madiraca

      So right… i worry more about the character of the kids i teach than the basic skills. their character is soo…….. weird.

  • Beth

    As a former Phila. teacher of more than 32 years, I feel the article was spot on. Mr. Kerstra suggested using teachers as a resource in the schools, trusting the schools and giving them autonomy, making ed. programs in universities more like med school programs, and overseeing charters. He wants to tighten things up, and bring the positive atmospheres we once had back into the schools. Shame on the universities that drop the ball, the lack of funding from all sources, and all the people and institutions that are just giving up!!! The situation in the city schools is DIRE – we need to act with URGENCY!! We could start by implementing Mr. Kerstra’s ideas, and things would start to improve!!

  • Vince Madiraca

    what does Mastery do to be successful… discipline? curriculum? can someone share…

  • IJS

    Um excuse me, but what role do students play in changing a system that is suppose to help them. As an educator, I need to see more positive attitudes about learning from both the students and their parents. Where are they during report card conference night? Why are there so many absent students? I need to see everyone value education, and not blame money, unions and teachers as to why our children are not getting educated. IJS

  • noah_wayman

    Philadelphia Magazine should just change its name to “Glib” and get it over with.
    Such simple solutions, especially from the halcyon vantage point of the suburbs to which Mr. Kerkstra has repaired!

    And those self-satisfied suburbanites will say this after a few glasses of chardonnay by the gazebo puts them in an honest frame of mind: The citizens of Philadelphia cannot be trusted to run their own district through an elected school board subject to taxpayer scrutiny. They need a commission packed with political appointees representing the rich and powerful to divert public money to fly-by-night charter schools and for-profit companies (operated, of course, by their political friends). These entities will conduct scientific experiments and try educational gimmicks on students rather than provide a quality education in a clean, safe building staffed by qualified teachers. Most of the kids in the district are black and poor anyway, not the demographic that brokers elections and influences lucrative contracts,so who cares?

    There is plenty of money for stadiums and casinos.There is plenty of money for gas companies to frack PA to oblivion without paying a reasonable tax. There is plenty of money to allow corporations that do business and make money in PA to avoid state tax by setting up a in Delaware. There is plenty of money for big corporations who are based in Philadelphia to receive tax breaks for staying in the city. There is plenty of money for the prisons to look like hotels while the schools look like prisons. There is plenty of money to ignore the millions in delinquent property taxes. There is plenty of money for tax breaks for people who do not need them to move into the trendy sections of the city while my mother’s property taxes on the rowhouse she has owned for 50 years in a forgotten section of the city have gone up significantly.

    There is no money for educators to make a decent salary with benefits (to which they should contribute) and to collect the pensions they were promised when they retire. No money for clean, safe schools.No money for books. No money for a decent bus or subway system to get to school.

  • Jay from Philly

    Three anecdotes:

    1) Back in the summer of 2005 a temp agency sent me to work the front desk of Delaware Valley Charter High School. I’d take applications and answer the phone. Never saw a single nonBlack student apply. When I had to tell mothers of prospective students that all the slots for the their kid were filled, they’d get tearful. Are there any other charters with openings, they’d ask. I have to get my kid into a charter school. Luckily there was a PSD website listing all the city charter schools that I could direct them to. Charters aren’t the be-all and end-all and some are just set up to fatten the bank accounts of the connected. For a single mother making 13 bucks an hour in this city a charter is her kid’s only shot. Neighborhood schools are, with few exceptions, not an option.

    2) In 2010 I was working as a tour guide in Society Hill as a second job. One night before tour time I had a conversation with my coworker whose day job was as a teacher in the PSD. She was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kid from the South Jersey burbs who went to Penn inspired by dreams of motivating and educating underprivileged children. A lamb being led to the slaughter. Reality smacked her in the face. The students don’t want to learn. The administration told me I can’t make them. The parents tell the student you don’t have to listen to that white lady. What am I supposed to do she asked me. What she can do is get labelled a racist if she questions the way things are set up. That’s the big elephant in the room that the author won’t acknowledge.
    3) My kid is 16 months old right now. By the time the 5th birthday rolls around we’ll be gone from this city. I don’t make enough money to send my kid to private school and I’m not going to roll the dice on a charter. Nuts to that. My tax dollars and parental involvement go with me. Congratulations, Arlene Ackerman. Even though you died last year, you won.