Does Philly Really Have One of America’s Most Efficient School Systems?

WalletHub.com's list of most- and least-efficient cities and their spending on public education.

WalletHub.com’s list of most- and least-efficient cities and their spending on public education.

Get this: A new study from WalletHub.com says Philadelphia has the ninth most-efficient school district in the nation.

Really.

The study compared 90 of America’s most-populated cities, then compared their per-pupil education spending with their math and reading test scores for fourth- and eighth-graders, then adjusted the final ranking for socioeconomic factors. When all is said and done, WalletHub concluded, Philadelphia actually is one of the country’s leaders in getting bang for the educational buck.

But that doesn’t sound quite right, does it? Three observations about what this study does — and doesn’t — mean:

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Court Rules SRC Can’t Void Teachers’ Contract

Protestors in October demonstrate against the school district's sudden decision to cancel teachers and others contract and force them to pay health care premiums. The Commonwealth Court just ruled the SRC lacks the power to void the teacher contract.

Protestors in October demonstrate against the school district’s sudden decision to cancel teachers and others contract and force them to pay health care premiums. The Commonwealth Court just ruled the SRC lacks the power to void the teacher contract.

[Update, 3:25 p.m.] SRC Chairman Bill Green says his board hasn’t yet decided if it will appeal the ruling. “I’m obviously very disappointed, but I’m not sure I understand the reasoning of the court,” Green said.

He’s not sure what happens next. “We said in the beginning we hope to resolve this through negotiation and not litigation, but that has not been possible and still appears not to be possible,” Green said.

He said the district had hoped to end this fiscal year on relatively stable financial footing, and be able to ask the state and city for new school funds that would be used not just to plug deficits, but to invest in improving city schools. “If this stands, it would put us in the place of asking for money to avoid cuts, instead of asking for money to allow (Superintendent) Bill Hite and his team to be proactive and transform our schools.”

Green estimates the deficit next year will be about $80 million if the ruling is not appealed and new city or state funds are not allocated for the schools. “The problem is, there’s very few places to go (for cuts) except class size,” Green said.

[Original, 12:11 p.m.] In a unanimous decision, a five-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court ruled this morning that the School Reform Commission lacks the power to void its contract with the teacher’s union and impose new terms, as the SRC did on October 6, of last year. Read more »

What Governor Tom Wolf Means for Philadelphia

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Four years of Tom Corbett have, to put it mildly, been rough on Philadelphia. Chaos in the state-managed and largely state-funded school district. Cuts to social services that Philly’s high-poverty population rely on heavily. A general sense that the city’s worries and challenges were not a priority for a Republican governor from the other side of the state.

Well, Corbett is finished, in significant part because 88 percent of Philly voters cast their ballots for Wolf.

So how will the city fare with Governor Tom Wolf, a progressive Democrat, running Pennsylvania?

Better, probably, but not nearly as well as many imagine.

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Council Calling SRC, Teachers Back to Bargaining Table

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

It’s not easy to get unanimity from the Philadelphia City Council. But every single member has signed on to sponsor a resolution asking the School Reform Commission and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to call a truce in their battle and head back to the negotiating table.

“Everybody knows in our city, you’ve got to negotiate,” said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who introduced the resolution, then got each of her colleagues to sign on as sponsor. “Our school system’s in too much trouble not to negotiate to resolve these issues.”

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SRC’s Contract Move Isn’t About Shared Sacrifice — It’s Looting

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

Recently, I visited my brother-in-law at Radnor High School and was privileged to see him teach his ninth-grade English/civics class. When I walked in, his students were engaged in a debate about Plato and the notion of dissent versus rule of law in Athenian society. The students had finished reading John Stuart Mill and were getting their first papers back for revision. It was October 2nd.

A few days later, I attended a parent meeting at Central High School, one of the city’s premier institutions. Dozens of ninth graders had spent their school year with substitute teachers who changed every week. The substitutes were put in place to relieve teachers leading classrooms with 40, 50, or even more students. For these ninth graders, school didn’t really start until October 8th, when permanent teachers were finally assigned to them.

This is what a teacher’s contract was supposed to prevent.

And it’s why the School Reform Commission’s move last week to tear up that contract is about far more than the dishonest suggestion of “shared sacrifice” and health care contributions.

Students: School Reform Commission Member Told Us ‘You Belong in Jail’

Philadelphia School Reform Commission member Sylvia Simms lashed out at student protesters at a movie screening last night. As seen in the above video posted to YouTube by Waleed Shahid, students clapped and interrupted the screening with chants of “Philly is a union town” and “The SRC has got to go.”

The students — part of Philly Students Union, a student-led group advocating for better school conditions — disrupted a film screening hosted by Simms. Those students say Simms told them “y’all probably go to failing schools.” Al Dia reports she also said, “You belong in jail.”

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What They’re Saying About the School Reform Commission

Protestors demonstrate against the school district's sudden decision to cancel teachers and others contract and force them to pay health care premiums, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, in Philadelphia. The decision Monday by the School Reform Commission follows nearly two years of stalled negotiations between the district and union.

Protestors demonstrate against the school district’s sudden decision to cancel teachers and others contract and force them to pay health care premiums, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, in Philadelphia. The decision Monday by the School Reform Commission follows nearly two years of stalled negotiations between the district and union.

A day after the School Reform Commission abruptly and unilaterally ended its contract with the 15,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, there is still plenty being said — a lot of anger, but some support, for the action. An overview:
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Oxford Mills Urban Oasis Grand Opening

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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 »

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