School Closings Are Hugely Controversial, But a New Study Suggests They Boost Student Performance

The two most polarizing words in Philadelphia education might be “portfolio model.” The phrase has induced hunger strikes, enraged Diane Ravitch and paved the way for two dozen Philadelphia public school closures in 2013. If you’re not familiar, “portfolio model” is shorthand for a theory that endorses reallocating funds to higher-achieving schools and closing the lowest-performing schools. It’s a model that has become increasingly common in urban school districts across the country, and the source of consternation from parents and school-choice skeptics everywhere.

The head of the Philadelphia School Partnership, Mark Gleason, bluntly explained the portfolio model this way last year: “You keep dumping the losers and over time you create a higher bar for what we expect of our schools.” Schools activist (and now City Council candidate) Helen Gym responded by calling Gleason “a relentless promoter of questionable reform models that have really wreaked havoc in other places.”

But what does the data say? A new study from conservative think tank Fordham Institute attempts to parse out statistically whether school closures are a positive or negative force on student achievement. The authors claim their findings show that vehement parents in Chicago, Detroit and Philly are wrong, and that there are noticeable improvement in academic scores when students of failing schools are relocated. Read more »

The Brief: How Some Charter Schools Keep Out the Riff-Raff

School District of Philadelphia1. How Some Charter Schools Keep Out the Riff-Raff

The Gist: This is an important, well-reported story from WHYY’s Kevin McCorry, that’s not easily condensed into a sentence or two. Be sure to check out it out. In summary, McCorry explores how some charter schools inflate their numbers—graduation rates, college placement, test scores and so on—by not replacing the large volume of kids who drop out. Read more »

Former Teachers Sue SRC Over Free Speech at Charter Meeting

Protesters carried signs outside the Feb. 18 SRC meeting. Inside, those signs were confiscated. Photo | Holly Otterbein

Protesters carried signs outside the Feb. 18 SRC meeting. Inside, those signs were confiscated. Photo | Holly Otterbein

Three women identified as former Philadelphia school teachers are suing the School Reform Commission, saying they were deprived of First Amendment rights when they had signs and posters confiscated during the SRC’s controversial meeting February 18th to discuss approval of charter schools. Read more »

Live: SRC to Decide All 39 Philly Charter Applications

[UPDATE] The SRC has approved 5 of 39 new charter school applications — with conditions.

[ORIGINAL] As promised, the School Reform Commission will be deciding on all 39 new Philadelphia charter school applications this afternoon. Philly Mag’s Holly Otterbein is on the scene, providing a blow-by-blow account of what’s sure to be a contentious meeting for public school advocates and school reformers. Follow her live coverage, and the #phled conversation, on Twitter below:

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A Plea to the SRC: Evaluate Each School on Its Individual Merits

School District of Philadelphia

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

At Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School in South Philly, students are offered majors in music and visual arts and every kid participates in ballet weekly. About half of its student body is middle class and white. At the other end of Broad Street, in North Philly, at the Multi-Cultural Academy charter school, there is no ballet. By design, there are very few extracurriculars available at all. The school’s model is “no-nonsense, academics-focused.” The student body is nearly all black and about 80 percent of the students are low-income.

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Inside Take: New Charters Should Be Unacceptable to All

Philadelphia School District Building

(This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

Conditions in the School District of Philadelphia have hit a new low after four record breaking years of state disinvestment in education and years of meager improvements in school performance. That situation is poised to change for the better if the new governor and legislature heed the voter sentiment expressed in the historic ousting of a sitting governor largely because of his sweeping education funding cuts. Unfortunately, while the new players in Harrisburg are still unpacking their boxes, the School Reform Commission must decide whether to approve new charter schools and what cuts to impose on traditional schools to pay for charter expansion. Read more »

SRC to Rule on All 39 New Charter Applications at Special Meeting

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo | Jeff Fusco

The School Reform Commission has scheduled a special meeting to approve or reject each of 39 applications to start new charter schools in Philadelphia.

The February 18th meeting is bound to be controversial: Public school advocates say new charter schools draw resources away from public schools, making it harder for students in those schools to succeed. The Philadelphia School Partnership has offered to give the district $35 million to ease the costs of approving new charters, as school reform proponents say Philly schools have already failed students, who deserve a chance to choose an education that better fits their needs. Skeptics say that money covers only a fraction of the money the district will lose.

The meeting will be 3:30 p.m. on February 18th at Philadelphia School District headquarters, 440 N. Broad St.
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Too Good To Refuse?

Yesterday, the Philadelphia School Partnership made what seemed, at first blush anyway, like an offer too good for the School District to refuse: $35 million, in exchange for the authorization of enough new charter schools to educate at least 11,000 kids.

“We are trying to make it cost-neutral for the district, so they consider the applications on their own merits,” PSP Executive Director Mark Gleason told the Inquirer’s indefatigable Kristen Graham. The donation was supposed to “take the cost issue off the table.” Read more »

Charter CEO: Whiter and Wealthier a “Blatant Misrepresentation”

The library at MaST Charter School. Photo Credit: MaST

The library at MaST Charter School. Photo Credit: MaST

(Editors note: The following is a response from MaST CEO John F. Swoyer III to a controversial column this week from Citified insider Andrew Saltz. Citified fact-checked the central assertion of that column here.)

In the opinion piece of January 19th written by Andrew Saltz, a teacher at a district special admissions high school, he appears to conclude that my team at MaST Community Charter School, by virtue of the fact that we are a charter school, may use practices to bar or dissuade disadvantaged or racially diverse students in order to achieve our stature as one of the best academic performers without academic admissions criteria in Philadelphia. The blatant misrepresentation of our school was not only irresponsible of a professional educator, but was offensive to our hard­working students, parents, and teachers. I felt compelled to set the record straight on a number of the accusations in Saltz’s piece.

When MaST started in 1999, our founder, a seasoned school district leader, had a vision for a K-­12 charter school. A small number of families took a leap of faith in the MaST model in its early stages. There was no wait list at that time, and everyone who applied was accepted. Many, if not all, of these families were from Northeast Philadelphia near the school’s location. Thus, our demographics reflected those of our surrounding neighborhoods. Over several years, MaST went from a few classrooms in an old steel building to one of the most innovative schools in Philadelphia serving students K­12. Through careful fiscal management and creative use of resources, we developed and grew the school over time, offering an environment of rich student engagement through a STREAM­based (science, technology, robotics, engineering, arts, and math) curriculum. Fortunately, those families who initially ventured with MaST loved the school and what it provided for their students. As happens in all schools that do a good job (district, charter, and private), these parents, and those that have followed, stayed with us as their families grew.

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