Insider: Teachers Should Be Opting-Out of Their Own Uninspired Tests

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

The story of Philadelphia’s schools play like a bad rerun — principals making awful decisions under the threat of even more heinous budget cuts. Governor Wolf and the Philadelphia delegation continue to fight for more. Harrisburg (and some allies in Center City) refuse to give a damn.

But even the most jaded and bored among us should be able to see the appeal of the summer’s compelling new education storyline. It’s got everything: parents and teachers versus gargantuan test companies, privacy implications and huge stakes — nothing less than the direction and focus of the U.S. education system.

The opt-out movement — parents refusing to have their kids take the standardized tests mandated by federal and state governments — is exploding. New York had an opt-out rate of nearly 20 percent in 2015. Long Island in open revolt. Pennsylvania has a small number of objectors overall, but a 220 percent increase over last year shows this is no longer a fringe movement. Philadelphia will even host the national opt-out conference this February. Read more »

Local Schools Make Newsweek List of Top 500 in Nation

Newsweek just released its latest list of the Top 500 high schools in the nation, along with a new “Beating the Odds” list of schools that do a good job of preparing students for college while “overcoming the obstacles posed by students at an economic disadvantage.” Five local schools made the latter list: Charter School of Wilmington, 85th, Lower Merion High School, ranked 167th; Wissahickon Senior High School, 284th, and Multicultural Charter School, 289th, and Franklin Learning Center, 306th, both of which are in Philadelphia. Wilmington, Lower Merion and Wissahickon each earned a special “star” indicating that they help low-income students score at or above average on state assessments.

Local schools appearing on the general Top 500 High Schools list are:  Read more »

Philly-Area Startup Gets $2 Million from Gates Foundation

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A local nonprofit education start-up is on the radar of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So much so, that the charitable organization is giving Edcamp Foundation a $2 million grant.

Conshohocken, Pa.-based Edcamp — which was started by 10 Philly-area teachers — is receiving the grant for launching a worldwide campaign of so-called “unconferences” that redefine how educators are trained. In the unconferences, teachers train each other. Read more »

How Philly’s Plummeting Smoking Rate Could Harm Schools

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1. Maybe you shouldn’t quit smoking … for the kids. (We kid, we kid.)

The gist: Today, Philadelphia’s new cigarette tax is bringing in the bucks for the city’s schools. The Inquirer reported that in its first nine months, the tax raised $50 million for the school district — which is almost exactly what officials had predicted. During the budget year that just began this July, the tax is expected to reap $60 million. “After that, however, the tax will bring decreasing amounts, according to state and school district officials,” wrote the Inky’s Claudia Vargas. “They expect cigarette sales to decrease by 7 percent in 2016-17 and even more after that.”

Read more »

Philly Students Audited Their Own School Lunches

A lunch at  Philadelphia’s Charter High School for Architecture and Design.

A lunch at Philadelphia’s Charter High School for Architecture and Design. | Photo courtesy of City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s office

Scarfing down a fattening, stomach-churning lunch every day used to be seen as a normal part of going to public school in America, as much as riding the bus and going to prom are.

But in recent years, as childhood obesity has skyrocketed, parents, students and health experts have pressured school districts to make healthier, more appetizing meals.

In Philadelphia, concerned students at one charter school took it up a notch and recently decided to audit their own lunches to see if they met federal standards. Read more »

Alan Butkovitz: Philly Schools Owe Past Employees Millions of Dollars

City Controller Alan Butkovitz has a new plan to create manufacturing jobs. Photo Credit: Curtis Blessing

City Controller Alan Butkovitz | Photo Credit: Curtis Blessing

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz released an audit Wednesday that makes the school district look a little frazzled.

He says his team found that the district owed past employees more than $5 million in unclaimed compensation as of last June. Some of those workers left the city’s schools as long as 10 years ago. He also claims that school officials don’t know what happened to hundreds of TransPasses, which are provided to students to use to travel to school on public transit. “During a one-week sampling of TransPass activity at five different schools, school personnel could not account for 230 of the passes valued at $4,200,” a press release from his office reads.

Last year, just 13 TransPasses could not be accounted for in the Controller’s audit. Read more »

The Brief: We’ll Soon Know the Names of All Cops Who Shoot Civilians

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. AP | Matt Rourke

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. AP | Matt Rourke

1. The police department is going to start releasing the names of officers who fire at civilians.

The gistCity Paper reports that Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey announced in a memo yesterday that “the department will immediately begin disclosing the names of officers who discharge their firearms in Officer-Involved Shootings ‘within seventy-two (72) hours of the incident.'” According to the memo, this was one of the recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice in its scathing report on police shootings in Philadelphia. Also, the department will examine each case to ensure that “no threats are made toward the officer or members of their family prior to the release of this information.” Read more »

GOP Budget Falls Short of Philly Schools Request

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the GOP-led legislature’s state budget Tuesday night, in part, he said, because it would set aside far less education funding than he believes is fair.

How much less?

Earlier this year, the Philadelphia School District asked state lawmakers for an extra $206 million. The Republican bill would have provided only an additional $21.8 million to the school district, according to data from Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. That’s about 11 percent of the surplus funding that district officials said they need. Read more »

Philly Activists Fast for Education Funding

Photo Credit: POWER Philadelphia

Photo Credit: POWER Philadelphia

POWER Philly is in Harrisburg for 10 days to pray, fast and meet with state legislators with the hope of getting fair funding for Pennsylvania’s public schools into the state budget, which is supposed to be completed and signed by June 30th.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here fasting and getting involved,” Sheila Armstrong, a POWER activist told Philly Mag this week. “I’m a woman of faith, a Christian, and I told my sons, ‘This is a missionary trip. We are doing God’s work.'” Read more »

5 Questions About the Future of Philly’s Schools

Students have a modest request of City Council. | Photo  courtesy of Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi and Jenae Brown.

Earlier this year, students made a modest request of City Council. | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr

Philadelphia City Council did something Thursday that it’s done a lot in recent years: voted to increase both taxes and education funding. Lawmakers expect to raise an extra $70 million for the city’s schools by hiking the property, parking and use-and-occupancy levies.

So, where does that leave the school district? Somewhat better off than it was before, no doubt. But it’s not out of the woods yet, either. Its future depends on the answers to these five big questions, which we should learn in the coming weeks: Read more »

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