Eyes on the Board of Education: December 12, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik 

Walk down any hall at 440 and pass five senior staff members–odds are that three will be Broad Academy alums or fellows,  including Superintendent William Hite. Go to their Linkedin pages and search for any not Teach for America-trained.  Central Office staff are now all “Chiefs”–not Directors– taking a page from Jeb Bush’s  Chiefs for Change, another corporate reform lobbying group advocating the usual failed policies including uniform implementation of Common Core State Standards, using test scores to evaluate teachers, A-to-F report cards for schools, expanding charter schools, and expansion of dehumanizing online learning. The Board is poised to approve contracts for more Broad Fellows based both in Central Administration Offices and in targeted schools. Instead of rising through District administrative levels,  many are brought in from afar via TFA and TNTP.

Grants from foundations and non-profits open the door for  their anonymous board members to influence curriculum and learning across the District. The William Penn Foundation, who paid for the now infamous Boston Consulting Group plan to close neighborhood schools in 2013,  has moved into underwriting Early Childhood Education programs. The Neubauer Family Foundation, built on Aramark money, is partnering with the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) on Principal Mentoring (Item 31).  Last month, the Board approved, despite some member’s concerns, accepting a grant from Neubauer in  support of the questionable KIPP College Match Program that the District will have to pick up the tab for after the grant runs out.  These items are touted as the latest best practices but offer no solid research to support those claims. Like many Hite administration initiatives, from Redesign Schools to Renaissance Charters to the System of Great Schools,  there is little if any data to indicate success. And their shelf lives are short. Business consultants replace education experts, as in the case of Item 9 (Contract with District Management Group, LLC for Operations and Facilities Review). This contract reveals scant information, again contradicting the Board’s commitment to transparency and accountability. These contracts should be published concurrent with Board approval, thus ending the public’s having to file a Right to Know request and waiting weeks or months for the document. Educators have been relegated to the back of the room when decisions are made about spending priorities while the Board spends more on outside corporate consultants. Is this any way to run a school district?

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