Insider: The Hot New Schools Cure-All That Isn’t a Cure-All

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

City Council released a proposal last week to create “School-Based Family Service Centers” building on the recent popularity of the community schools concept. It’s the education idea that everyone — including mayoral candidates — can get behind: Jim Kenney announced a goal to create 25 community schools; Doug Oliver’s plan “Homework” calls for bringing City agencies, like health and human services, into schools; and both Senator Anthony Williams’ and Nelson Diaz’ education proposals call for schools to provide “wraparound services.”

And what’s not to love about community schools? Defined as “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources,” they “integrate academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement.” Supporters make this analogy: a traditional school is like a rotary phone — providing just education services — while a community school is like a smart phone — allowing a school and its community to connect with lots of needed services.

This sounds like a smart idea. So why aren’t we already doing it? The current public narrative about community schools seems to be evading a few key questions: Read more »

Inside Take: 3 Bogus Problems With the Teacher’s Contract

School District of Philadelphia

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

Here’s a not-so-bold prediction: Within the next 6 months, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will have a new contract.

This prognostication stems from two people: Governor Tom Wolf, who put forth an audacious plan to fund Philadelphia’s schools, and Marge Neff, Chair of the School Reform Commission. The dismal economic situation of the district may not have changed. But with Wolf and Neff in place, the plan now seems to be “find a contract that brings stability to schools” instead of the Tom Corbett — Bill Green playbook of “drown the PFT in its own blood and dance on the corpse.”

It’s likely the two sides will find middle ground. In the meantime, Philadelphia will be inundated with hot-takes on things like “winners and losers”. In the end, the vast majority of people with opinions about the contract, and yes, this includes teachers, won’t have read the document.

What they’ll miss, what most people miss, is that the so-called “big issues” of the contract are neither big nor issues. Here is a Cliff Notes look at three of the most common/lazy complaints about the contract, not one of which is near as important as critics imagine. Read more »

Inside Take: How (Relatively) Rich Philly Public Schools Benefit at the Expense of Poor Ones

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

There’s been a lot of talk about school equity in Philadelphia recently, but the conversation is missing half of the story.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was in Philadelphia this month calling for more equitable funding of Pennsylvania’s schools. According to Duncan, our state is dead last in terms of the inequality between wealthy and poor districts, and that’s hurting all Philadelphia schoolchildren.

When Superintendent William Hite was recently asked what a bumper sticker for his new plan for Philadelphia schools would read, he eloquently answered, “It’s all about equity.”

Hite’s recently released Action Plan 3.0 is a lengthy 59 page document, but there are a few encouraging themes throughout: stability, autonomy, and of course, school equity. After its release, headlines declared that Hite’s plan echoes Governor Wolf’s call for greater school equity, bolstering the current narrative that assumes equity for all Philadelphia students is achieved simply through changes in state funding, which Wolf proposed in his new budget.

But if you read Hite’s plan, he’s also talking about the need to make budget and management changes that would improve school equity within the District, not just between Philadelphia and the rest of the state.

And just how inequitable is the current Philadelphia school system? In the same way that wealthy districts like Lower Merion have far more resources than Philadelphia, schools with lower poverty rates in Philadelphia are able to outspend their peers in high poverty neighborhoods. Read more »

Inside Take: Stop It Already With the Outrage Over the Philadelphia Book Dungeon

Philadelphia book dungeon

Those poor, poor books. | Shutterstock.com

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

You’ve heard of the Philly Shrug? Whelp, here it is, loud and proud. In this article from The Inquirer, we are regaled by a familiar tale of incompetence and waste: the School District of Philadelphia must pay people to get rid of books they bought so they don’t rot in the basement of a school they closed.

Lumbering bureaucracy leading to staggering waste. It’s a story with a familiar, comforting quality, like your childhood blanket or a classic episode of Law and Order. And nothing compliments delicious confirmation bias like scrumptious hot-takes. Oh, the armchair librarians were out and it was their goddamn Super Bowl. Read more »

Sam Katz’s Audacious, Radical Plan to Save City Schools (and the Pension Fund, Too)

By the inimitable @dhm.

Citizen Sam | Created by the inimitable Dan McQuade, aka @dhm.

Sam Katz is acting more like a mayoral candidate than the mayoral candidates themselves.

Thursday afternoon Katz launched a new website—Citizen Sam—and dropped what is, by far, the most comprehensive policy paper of the mayoral race to date: an ambitious, even radical, heavily-footnoted proposal to eliminate the school funding and pension crises in about, oh, 82-fell swoops; without raising taxes. Read more »

The Mayoral Candidates Are Short on Ideas, so Citified Is Here to Help

Plans, people. We need to see some plans. With numbers and stuff. | Shutterstock.com

Plans, people. We need to see some plans. With numbers and stuff. | Shutterstock.com

There are just 82 days left before Philadelphia picks its mayoral nominees, and the race remains shockingly deficient in both original thinking and concrete plans.

Licenses and Inspections is a wreck. Where are the five-point plans to fix it? The pension fund is eating City Hall alive. Who has clearly articulated an agenda to address that?

Or take schools. That’s all the mayoral candidates will talk about, a dynamic that’s starting to annoy some people. But the problem isn’t the subject. It’s the candidates’ wishy-washy blather. Consider the conversation around school funding. What you hear, from almost all the candidates, is variations on: “I’ll build relationships in the state capital and use the bully pulpit to convince Harrisburg to do its part.” Which is, in a word, lame. I mean, does anyone really think Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke have not been trying to do exactly that, with very limited results?

If education matters so much, the candidates should be offering up firm plans to fund the schools using local dollars. Or they should be honest enough to say, sorry, the city can’t afford it, and the schools are state-run, so I’m going to focus elsewhere.

Well, Citified is here to help. We’ve got five wildly different plans for funding city schools. Each has flaws—big ones—but all far more specific than anything the mayoral campaigns have suggested to date. Candidates, feel free to crib these notes. You’re welcome.

Read more »

Conservative Group Sues PFT Over “Ghost Employees” on Philly Schools’ Payroll

School District of Philadelphia

A new conservative nonprofit sued the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) and school district in Common Pleas Court Wednesday over the district’s policy of keeping full-time union employees on the payroll. (Read the full suit below.)

The Fairness Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Americans for Fair Treatment, issued a scathing statement about the practice:

What’s a ghost teacher? What else would you call a certified School District of Philadelphia teacher earning a publicly-funded salary, enjoying cost-free health benefits, accruing a state pension, and building up years of seniority without having taught a class in over a decade? It’s true: More than 20 of these ghost teachers are working full-time as union bosses for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers right now—even as city schools face staffing shortages and budget strain.

Appalling stuff, right? Turns out it might be more than a little misleading. Read more »

Trending: Mayoral Candidates Should Ignore Schools

It’s becoming trendy to declare that, since the mayor doesn’t directly control the School District of Philadelphia, education shouldn’t be the dominant theme of the 2015  campaign. Brett Mandel, echoing arguments I’m increasingly hearing online and in private conversations, contends that “if education is what mayoral candidates are going to talk about, they might as well offer their Philadelphia weather platform.” Tom Ferrick doesn’t go that far, but he suggests a mayor’s real role when it comes to schools is to provide the cash, and that’s pretty much it. Read more »

Hite: District to Share “Opt Out” Info on Testing

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The Philadelphia School District is preparing to share information with parents on how to opt their children out of standardized tests, Superintendent William Hite said Thursday night at a meeting of the School Reform Commission.

The announcement came several weeks after teachers at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences were threatened with discipline for helping students and their families there opt out of the tests. A reported 17 percent of the school’s students had opted out of testing.

Kelly Collings, a teacher at Feltonville, said in an email Thursday night that an “investigatory conference” scheduled at the school for late January had been canceled because of an administrator’s illness — and never rescheduled. “There has been no communication whatsoever from the district to the teachers since the original memo was issued on January 21,” she said.
Read more »

SRC Approves 5 of 39 New Charter School Applications

School District of Philadelphia

[Updated at 6:30 a.m. Thursday]

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission decided Wednesday night at a high-stakes, five-hour meeting to conditionally approve five of 39 applications to create new charter schools.

SRC chairman Bill Green said the vote came after a “thorough, high-quality process” of evaluating the proposals and airing them in public. Officials say they held 100 hours of public hearings and received 1,400 letters and emails on the applications.

But in the end, the SRC’s decision pleased neither public school advocates nor education reformers.
Read more »

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