Education activist Helen Gym and a group of civil rights lawyers have won a two-and-a-half-year battle to get their hands on a secret report by consultants on proposed school closures.
The Public Interest Law Center and Parents United for Public Education, which Gym co-founded, first tried, and failed, to obtain the report by the Boston Consulting Group from the school district in 2012. When the state’s Office of Open Records ruled that the district had to release it, the district appealed to the Court of Common Pleas. The district lost, and appealed again to the Commonwealth Court.
On January 20th, the district finally decided to hand over the report and withdraw its appeal. Gym writes in The Notebook that it was quite revealing:
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Not long ago, it was rare, almost unthinkable, for cities and school districts to declare bankruptcy. Even when they did it wasn’t a panacea. Sure debt was restructured, creditors were put at bay for a while. But towns didn’t get to wipe the ledger clean and start afresh just by declaring bankruptcy.
Then came Detroit. After the city declared bankruptcy in 2013, the court eliminated $7 billion Detroit’s debt in one fell swoop. The city was authorized to borrow a fresh $1.4 billion to invest in city services. Pensioners made out pretty well. And there are now credible reasons to think the city is recovering, at least a little.
Sure would be dreamy if the School District of Philadelphia could do the same, right? Whoosh, $1.45 billion in debt payments over the next five years wiped away just like that. There’d be an extra $276 million this year alone. As Larry Platt at the Philadelphia Citizen writes, that’s enough to “hire roughly 1,000 more teachers and provide each student with an iPad.” Read more »
There’s a “revolt” against standardized testing under way in Philly, and some members of the City Council are backing it.
Seventeen percent of students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences have opted out of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment and other standardized tests, City Paper reports. Council members María Quiñones-Sánchez, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell have now backed those efforts.
“Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville,” Quiñones-Sánchez said in a statement backing the protests. “We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children.”
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What does MaST have that Disston doesn’t?
(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)
(Note: This story has been updated to correct an editing error in the graphic that misidentified the percentage of economically disadvantaged students at MaST. For a Citified factcheck on one of Saltz’s central assertions, click here.)
“Our neighborhood public school is just horrendous on every scale of measurement.” This truism, proclaimed with the same certainty as the “the sun rises in the East” or “the Sixers turn the ball over,” leads off a Daily News article previewing what could be a new charter school boom in Philadelphia. Read more »
Sure, Twitter is an ephemeral, terse medium. Yes, it is better suited for pithy one-liners and insults than for substantive policy debate. But every so often, Twitter’s immediacy, its frisson-stoking powers, yields fascinating and relatively unfiltered discussions between those Philadelphians who are wrangling with the city’s Big Issues. Read more »
The former principal at Alain Locke Elementary School has been charged with “creating an environment ripe for cheating” on state assessments — the eighth Philly educator to face court in the long-running scandal.
Lolamarie Davis-O’Rourke, who was principal at the school from 2009 to 2012, faces one count each of tampering with public records or information; forgery; tampering with records; and criminal conspiracy.
The press release from Attorney General Kathleen Kane reports:
The Criminal Prosecutions Section presented evidence of criminal activity before a statewide investigating grand jury, which recommended the charges being filed today against Lolamarie Davis-O’Rourke, 43, 716 Saddlebrook Drive, Williamstown, New Jersey.
The grand jury found that while principal at Alain Locke Elementary School from the 2009-’10 to 2011-’12 school years, Davis-O’Rourke allegedly created an environment ripe for cheating on the annual PSSA by: proctoring students to change answers from wrong-to-right, directing teachers to help students switch answers and rewrite written responses; and changing the locks to a storage room so that only she and the building engineer could access stored test booklets.
Davis-O’Rourke also changed answers and instructed some of her staff to correct wrong answers, according to the presentment.
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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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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.
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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