Are State and Federal Exams Dragging Down Philly Schools?

With funding battles likely to rage in City Hall this week, City Council appears prepared to open another front in the battle over public education in Philly — this time, the target is the growing burden of standardized testing on public schools.

The council’s Committee on Education will meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss whether to hold hearings on the growing burden of standardized tests required by state and federal authorities, and whether they ultimately harm or help the education received by Philadelphia students.

“What are we sacrificing, education-wise, for all these required tests?” asked Sean McMonagle, legislative aide to Councilman Mark Squilla, who introduced the resolution calling for hearings.

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Lawsuit: School Funding in Pennsylvania is Unconstitutional


Seventeen years ago, the city and School District of Philadelphia filed suit against Pennsylvania, accusing it of failing to provide sufficient education funding in violation of the state Constitution, which obligates the state legislature to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”

It didn’t work. Commonwealth Court rejected the suit, and the state Supreme Court in 1999 refused to hear an appeal.

Now school funding advocates are looking for a rematch. A potentially momentous lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court this morning, claiming that the state has “adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.”

One of many striking elements of this suit is that the School District of Philadelphia — which would be among the greatest beneficiaries of a successful lawsuit — is not among the plaintiffs.

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ThinkFest Preview: How Philadelphia Is Reinventing Medicine and Healthcare

Dr. Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Jefferson; Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, head of medical ethics and health policy at Penn; and Dr. Stephen Altschuler, CEO of CHOP.

Dr. Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Jefferson; Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, head of medical ethics and health policy at Penn; and Dr. Steven Altschuler, CEO of CHOP.

Jefferson, HUP, Hahnemann, Temple, CHOP—Philly is undeniably a medical town. And while our landscape of top doctors, researchers, institutions and hospitals helps shape the medical community and conversation around the world, its growth and innovation also leave an indelible mark locally—on employment, the economy, real estate and much more.

Next month, at Philly Mag’s ThinkFest, Ezekiel Emanuel, head of medical ethics and health policy at Penn, will lead a discussion with Thomas Jefferson University president and CEO Stephen Klasko and CHOP CEO Steven Altschuler on how institutions here are reinventing medicine, and how out-of-the-box thinking is leading to programs and ideas that are shaking up the ed/med establishment for good.

Join us on November 14th at Drexel’s LeBow College of Business for a day of the city’s smartest people sharing their biggest ideas. Read all of our ThinkFest 2014 previews here, and watch the livestream, starting at 9 a.m. on Friday November 14th.

Oxford Mills Urban Oasis Grand Opening


Oxford Mills, billed as an “urban oasis for teachers and nonprofits,” held its grand opening last week in South Kensington, another step in revitalizing the neighborhood. Oxford Mills was once a dye works factory. It was later abandoned and has now been transformed into a hub for Philadelphia’s education community. The project is a mixed-use real estate development designed to provide low-cost housing for teachers as well as commercial space for educational nonprofits.

Paul Kihn, deputy superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, told the guests, “Oxford will be a great place for teachers to bond with other like-minded teachers, discuss curriculum, vent about their day, prepare for the future, and relax. … A development such as Oxford Mills will help attract good teachers to the city as well as retain the ones we already have.”

Oxford Mills was developed by Gabe Canuso and Greg Hill, D3 Real Estate Development, and a Baltimore company, Seawall Development Company, who had created a similar project called Miller’s Court in Baltimore. The complex has 114 apartments, with half of them earmarked for teachers who will rent them at a 25 percent discount. The retail includes Artwell, Education Plus, Interfaith Center for Greater Philadelphia, Teach for America, Grace and Glory Yoga, and Gryphon Coffee Company, which are available to the residents as well as the neighborhood.

Oxford Mills Urban Oasis Grand Opening »

Tom Corbett’s Last Chance to Be a Real Governor

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, right, along with Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, left; hold a news conference in his chambers addressing the state budget-spending plan for the new fiscal year that starts in less than 40 hours, Sunday, June 29, 2014 in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, right, along with Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, left; hold a news conference in his chambers addressing the state budget-spending plan for the new fiscal year that starts in less than 40 hours, Sunday, June 29, 2014 in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)

Gov. Corbett may not be able to adequately fund education in the state of Pennsylvania, but at least he’s got a pithy new aphorism explaining why that’s the case:

“You can’t spend what you don’t have.” Sounds good. Sounds noble. Sounds commonsensical. It does an amazing thing: It makes a virtue of accepting decline, of living within one’s limited resources, and if Pennsylvania has to watch its schools fire teachers and counselors and school nurses, well, that’s too bad, because … you can’t spend what you don’t have.

Here’s a better — more apt — saying:

“You eat what you kill.”

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Sen. Hughes: State Ed Funding “Unacceptable”

The state’s current plans for funding K-12 education are “unacceptable,” State Sen. Vincent Hughes said Friday in a letter to Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission.

The letter came a day after the Pennsylvania House passed its version of the budget that includes $70 million in funding increases, but omits many millions more that had been sought by Gov. Tom Corbett before the manifestation of a $1.5 billion budget deficit.

“Simply put, the level of education funding in the budget passed by the State House is unacceptable,” Hughes, a Philly Democrat, said in the letter addressed to SRC Chairman Bill Green.  “We all know that our teachers, parents, and students are already operating in a very difficult environment and the budget passed by the State House will only make matters worse. ”

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Neshaminy Schools Close to Banning Students’ “Redskins” Ban

The Neshaminy School Board of Directors is ready to pass a policy that would ban the student newspaper editors at Neshaminy High School from banning the use of the school’s mascot — the “Redskins” — within the paper itself. 

Advocates of that stance say the newspaper’s editors shouldn’t be able to impose their preferences on, say, students who want to write letters to the editor that include the term.

“Assuming that it’s a proper use of the word, such as a reference to the mascot, the school district does not believe, and I don’t believe the law allows, one set of students to prohibit another student from expressing himself or herself,” said Michael Levin, who serves as special counsel to the district.

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My Son Is Getting a Great Education in Philly Public Schools

Photo Jun 15, 5 56 56 PM

At Greenfield, recess has corporate sponsors.

The school year ends this week, which makes it as good a time as any to offer this announcement: I’m really glad my son attended a Philadelphia Public School this year.

Scratch that, and let’s start over: I’m really glad my son attended a specific Philadelphia Public School this year — Greenfield Elementary School in Center City. Greenfield often ends up on the list of the city’s best public schools; it’s why my family stayed in our tiny little Fitler Square basement apartment when we’d otherwise have moved long ago — to give our son the best possible chance at a good and affordable education in the city.

And he got it: T started out with some challenges — his late summer birthday made him probably the youngest student in the school, with maturity to match. That didn’t make for an easy start to the school year. But a persistent tough-love approach from his teacher (something we tried to reinforce at home) helped get him in shape: By the end of this year he was grading well on the social aspects of school — and as for the academic aspects, well, all I know is this: My son is now reading books, at the end of kindergarten, that I didn’t get to until I was in second grade. And I was a good reader!

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Does Handwriting Really Matter?

As a product of Catholic school education, it’s hard for me to imagine a world where good penmanship doesn’t matter. In fact, I still remember a day in sixth grade when I was instructed to re-write a cursive letter “D”’again and again because I opted to put my own personal flare on the old-fashioned stencil. Aside from the personal trauma that comes with overzealous instruction from ladies dressed in habits, there’s a different kind of psychology associated with handwriting, according to a piece in the Times.

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information,”the story goes. “In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.”

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