It’s Time for Pennsylvania to Stop Discriminating Against Black Kids

Philly classrooms aren't quite this empty this fall, but they're shedding students more quickly than expected.

Last week’s news was filled with important stories about the gubernatorial election and a couple of major, sordid crimes, so if you missed out on the somewhat quieter news generated by David Mosenkis, it’s no wonder. But it’s important enough that the news needs to be repeated — indeed, to be shouted from the mountaintops.

The news is this: The school funding system in Pennsylvania is — there’s no nice word for it — racist.

“An analysis of enrollment, demographics, and basic education funding of Pennsylvania’s 501 public school districts reveals dramatically higher per-student funding in districts with predominantly white populations compared to economically similar districts with more racial diversity,” said the study by Mosenkis, a Mount Airy data analyst. (See the summary below.)

In other words: In Pennsylvania, white kids get more. Black kids get less.

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ThinkFest Preview: William Hite on Moving Philadelphia’s Schools Forward

School District of Philadelphia superintendent William Hite and Philadelphia magazine deputy editor Patrick Kerkstra.

School District of Philadelphia superintendent William Hite and Philadelphia magazine deputy editor Patrick Kerkstra.

He’s got the toughest job in Philadelphia, and more experience managing crises than FEMA. But Philadelphia schools superintendent William Hite didn’t move to the city two years ago to manage the district’s decline. When not extinguishing fires, Hite is working on a plan to drag urban education into the modern age. His goals are extraordinarily ambitious: 100 percent of kids reading at grade level by the 8th grade; 100 percent of students graduating, prepared for college or career.

But how? How to give schools autonomy, while ensuring they meet high standards? How to attract and retain the best teachers and principals amid labor strife and constrained resources? How can the district win the high-stakes match of three-dimensional chess with City Hall and Harrisburg? Above all, how can the district move forward? At ThinkFest, Hite will wrangle with these and other incisive questions posed by Philadelphia magazine’s Patrick Kerkstra.

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.

Bill Green Responds to Helen Gym: Honest School Dialogue Requires All the Facts

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From left: Bill Green (Jeff Meade, via Wikimedia Commons) | School District headquarters (Jeff Fusco) | Helen Gym (Alex Hogan, Flickr

In criticizing our decision to begin charging teachers for health benefits and directing the $44 million annual savings to schools, Helen Gym makes an important point: Unless the School Reform Commission is open to and responsive to public input, it cannot meaningfully improve public education in Philadelphia (“SRC’s Contract Move Isn’t About Shared Sacrifice—It’s Looting.”).

I share the value Ms. Gym places on winning “the public trust,” but she considerably weakens her credibility with the sloppiness and bad faith of her attack on the SRC.

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The PFT Fails Philly’s Students and Teachers

Who is standing up for good teachers and poor children in the School District of Philadelphia? If you guessed “the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers,” you’d be wrong.

That’s why my colleagues and I went into the midst of 3,000 PFT protesters last week to talk about how PFT leaders are keeping millions of dollars from the classroom and have been harming poor children and high-performing teachers for years.

We explained how PFT leaders are blocking education reforms that will dramatically improve the SDP for both educators and kids alike. To say things got heated would be an understatement. Sometimes the truth hurts, but in this case, it could also set Philadelphia free.

Here’s how the PFT hurts good teachers and the city’s neediest children.
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Philly Principals Are Hungry for Money

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

If you want to get a better idea of the financial squeeze Philly’s public schools operate under, just take a look at how some of them were going to use money freed up by the SRC’s unilateral cancellation of the teachers’ contract.

Central High School was going to hire teachers.

Commodore John Barry School was contemplating the same.

And Greenfield Elementary? More paper and pencils.

Those plans are on hold now that a judge has halted the School Reform Commission’s decision this week. Before that happened, though, the SRC announced that the cancellation had freed up $15 million — money that had previously been spent on health insurance premiums for teachers — to give directly back to schools, to be used as they choose. (A spreadsheet of each school’s cash expected disbursement can be found here.) And the principals were happy to choose.

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Helen Gym and Bill Green Try to Find Common Ground (or Not) on Education in Philadelphia

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He’s chairman of the School Reform Commission. She’s co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. They have very different ideas about how to run the district. In mid-September — a month before the SRC voided the district’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers — Bill and Helen sat down for a lengthy chat. Here, their (abridged) conversation about trying to see eye to eye.

PHILLY MAG: Helen, what do you think the advocate’s role is when dealing with the SRC? Is it to convince them? Is it to pressure them? How do you attempt to influence the SRC’s decisions?

BILL: Sometimes she calls me and yells at me, and sometimes we …

HELEN: He loves it.

BILL: … have a very cordial conversation.

HELEN: I’m his voice of whatever. I think about a lot about this question of who really has power. When we’re looking at large, complicated systems … it makes me think a lot about how we listen to one another, and how we define power and decision-making and authority, and in some cases I think that we haven’t always had governing authorities that are really aware of, responsive to or reflective of the things that parents and community members care very deeply about. I think we should agree that we’re in an extremely undemocratic governance structure. The School Reform Commission is a state takeover body, it’s an unelected body, and — this isn’t, you know, personal or anything like that.
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23 Best Signs From the Philadelphia Teachers’ Protest

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Thousands of teachers jammed Broad Street before a meeting of the School Reform Commission late Thursday afternoon, protesting the SRC’s unilateral cancellation of teachers’ contracts last week.

Speakers at the protest spent a few hours railing against the SRC, Bill Green, Gov. Tom Corbett, and SRC member Sylvia Simms — who students said told them they “belong in jail” at a movie screening Simms hosted Wednesday night. There were many signs supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, Gov. Corbett’s opponent in next month’s election.

The speakers also had strong words for the counter-protesters hired by the Commonwealth Foundation, who were also demonstrating near the front of the School District building.

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Commonwealth Foundation to Demonstrate at Schools Protest

Update: Challenging the characterization of the event as a “counter-protest,” the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives confirmed it has hired a team to appear at the Philadelphia Federation for Teachers’ protest outside School District headquarters on Thursday.

The Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank in the state, says its PFTFails.com website will be up Thursday morning. Spokeswoman Cindy Hamill wrote the site would be “informing people about how Jerry Jordan and the PFT leadership are standing in the way of tens of millions of dollars going back into Philadelphia classrooms.” The Commonwealth Foundation also registered PFTFails.org and PFTFails.net earlier this week.

“Their selfish agenda fails children, fails teachers, and fails the poor,” Hamill continued. “They fail us when they put personal political scores ahead of what’s best for children, teachers and the poor.” She said the workers have not been hired to “counter-protest” but to pass out information and hold banners. “We will be there to inform, not to counter protest,” Hamill said.

ORIGINAL: A group calling itself “PFT Fails” has hired a marketing team to hire counter-protesters for Thursday’s Philadelphia Federation of Teachers protest, Philly blog The Declaration reported last night.

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