Will District Slap Anti-Testing Teachers?

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Teachers at a Philadelphia school say they face discipline from the school district for helping parents opt their children out of standardized tests.

Kelley Collings, a teacher at Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences, said Monday she is one of a half-dozen teachers called to an “investigatory conference” on the matter, scheduled for Thursday. Collings is also on the steering committee of the Caucus of Working Educators, which helped organize the effort to help students and their families opt out of the tests.

The nature of the accusation against the teachers is unclear, Collings said, but she said the district is attempting to “instill fear” in educators who resist the testing regime. “I’ve never been written up, and I’ve been doing this 15 years,” she said.

Officials at the Philadelphia School District did not respond to inquiries on the topic.

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Philly Schools: Worse than Detroit?

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You know the School District of Philadelphia is strapped–in a big way–for cash. You’ve heard the stories about the lack of counselors and nurses; the $160 budget for a 400-kid elementary school in Germantown. Then there’s the cigarette tax, the sales tax, the property tax increases. Part of the reason for the mess is easy to identify: Pennsylvania is one of only three states that do not use a comprehensive school-finance formula to distribute state education funding to individual districts.

But a new report (see below) from the Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative puts the district’s financial struggles into an alarming national context, and shows that city schools are underfunded not just compared to wealthy suburban districts, but to peer cities as well. Indeed, the School District of Philadelphia has less to spend on classroom instruction per kid than even other high poverty cities, like Cleveland, Baltimore and Detroit. (Full disclosure: I’m working with Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative on an unrelated project.)

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INSIDE TAKE: Six Predictions for City Schools in 2015

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

Reading the big headlines, 2014 seemed like another rough year for Philadelphia’s schools, but we shouldn’t forget that some positive things happened too. With a new governor and a mayoral race, 2015 will bring a lot of debate and new ideas. Here are a few predictions for Philly school watchers:

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INSIDE TAKE: Standardized Testing Isn’t Worth It

It's not like this.

It’s not like this.

(Editor’s note: This column is the first of many to come from Citified insiders, our roster of urban doers, experts and advocates who will offer their takes on a wide array of issues, from schooling to policing to politicking. Insiders are not Phillymag staff, and their opinions are their own. Read more about our insiders here.)

I’m cranky this week.

I spend a lot of time trying to make my classroom, Room 207 at the Paul Robeson High School for Human Services, welcoming. I have my contact information in four places. I bought comfortable chairs. I decorate with seemingly important quotes and song lyrics, I post student work, I use bright colors.  I shake hands and give high-fives at my doorway. I’ve developed a reputation for preaching, in a secular way of course, the gospel of being in class, on time (“You can’t say TGIF if you don’t have a job, and you won’t have a job without succeeding in the classroom”). Read more »

Protesters Invade Penn President’s Party

Protesters took over Penn President Amy Gutmann’s holiday party Monday night, demonstrating in support of Philly schools and with recent events in Ferguson and New York on their mind.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports the activists want Penn to pay a $6.6 million payment in lieu of taxes — known as a PILOT — to the school district. Penn is a tax-exempt institution.

The students, who were members of Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation and SLAP, first laid on the ground for four and a half minutes in memory of Michael Brown, the Ferguson teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer. Caught off guard, Gutmann joined the protesters, lying down on the ground to participate in the “die-in.”
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5 Reasons Philadelphia Should Be Thankful

And the No. 1 reason to be thankful...

And the No. 1 reason to be thankful…

It’s Thanksgiving Week! That means — it addition to some well-deserved time off for most of us — it’s time to actually contemplate what makes us thankful. Let me offer five suggestions for Philadelphia in 2014:

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People Power in Philadelphia

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I’m so proud of my city.

Do we say that enough in Philadelphia? Outside of the Philly Love Notes blog, probably not often enough. But every once in a while, something happens that reveals the underlying character of the city’s population — and we sometimes surprise ourselves when that something is good.

Well, that something happened this week.

Here’s what happened. The state’s Basic Education Funding Committee came to town for two days of hearings. It had a lot of people on the schedule: Mayor Nutter. Superintendent William Hite. Experts from Penn and Temple. School choice advocates. A real array of the city’s smartest and best-known officials.

Not on the schedule? Parents.

Not on the schedule? Students.

The Basic Education Funding Commission wanted to come to town and hear from just about everybody except the people who are most directly affected by the inadequacies in how we fund our schools.

Crazy, right?

Well, Philadelphia didn’t let that stand.

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Philly Officials Make Case for More School Funding

The Basic Education Funding Commission during a hearing earlier this year.

The Basic Education Funding Commission during a hearing earlier this year.

A parade of Philadelphia officials made the case for greater state education funding Tuesday, the first of two days of hearings held here by the state’s Basic Education Funding Commission. “What our children experience in Philadelphia schools would never be tolerated in other districts,” one principal told the commission.

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Funding Commission, Activists Reach Accord

The state’s Basic Education Funding Commission has decided it might be worth getting some public input, after all.

POWER, the Philadelphia faith-based activist group, said today it was calling off plans to protest at the commission’s two-day meeting in Philadelphia this week, after the commission agreed to begin offering public comment sessions at all its future meetings. Previously, a spokesman for the commission said that only “expert” testimony from officials was needed — precluding the comments of parents, teachers, and other interested parties.

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Are State and Federal Exams Dragging Down Philly Schools?

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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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