Eyes on the SRC: June 21, 2018

SRC 5-24-18
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite

by Lisa Haver

[Note: Deborah Grill, Ken Derstine, Diane Payne and Lynda Rubin contributed to this edition of Eyes.]

Seventeen years ago, after a vote taken in the middle of the night in Harrisburg, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took control of the School District of Philadelphia.  The School Reform Commission supplanted the School Board as the governing body of the city’s public schools. Few of us could have imagined the devastation wrought by this body: over thirty neighborhood schools shuttered, public schools handed over to private managers, charter expansion and charter fraud, outsourcing union jobs, and a succession of superintendent/CEOs whose policies and practices opened up a marketplace for corporate education reformers and outside vendors.

The SRC will hold its final meetings this month. The SRC will go out the same way it came it—by withholding important information from the public. Up until last week, the SRC had posted two June meetings; one is tentative as action is contingent on the budget vote of City Council.  On June 14, the SRC posted a small notice (the minimum notice required by law) in the classified section of the Philadelphia Inquirer of a Special Meeting to be held at 1 PM on June 21 for the purpose of voting on renewals of seventeen charters.  Rather than put the charter renewals on the agenda of the regular 4:30 meeting, they decided at the last minute to have two separate meetings on the same day. Will working parents be able to attend a 1 PM meeting? Unlikely.

The notice on the district webpage (not on the homepage but on the inside SRC page) says that speakers who will be addressing items on the agenda will be “prioritized”. Here’s the problem: the SRC has not posted any resolutions for this meeting. We know which schools are up for renewal; they are listed on the Charter Schools Office page. So why aren’t they listed as resolutions?  The actions of the SRC, particularly in recent years, leave little doubt about the district’s increasing accommodations to charter operators and investors at the expense of district schools.

A June 11 Philadelphia Public School Notebook/WHYY story, “Philadelphia School District Nears New Accountability for Charters”, offers a disturbing account of secret negotiations between the district and charter officials. The subject: how to lower the bar on charter achievement once again.

The School District of Philadelphia has a new tool for evaluating its charter schools, one that it hopes will help end a long and public tug of war with the city’s growing charter sector.

 If charters accept the terms in this revamped rubric — known as the “charter school performance framework” — the District will have a clear and mutually agreeable road map for deciding whether a school should close when its term expires or remain open for another five years.

 If charters blanch at the deal, the incoming school board will inherit a dispute fraught with political implications and real-world consequences for tens of thousands of children.

To be clear: the SRC has always had an accountability framework for rating charters.  The fact that they ignored it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. When the SRC’s Charter Schools Office (CSO), citing over thirty reasons, recommended non-renewal in 2016 for two Aspira Renaissance charters, Olney High School and Stetson Middle School, the SRC voted to postpone the vote, ostensibly to allow Aspira Inc to get its financial house in order. Two years later, the SRC finally voted not to renew.  That same year, the CSO recommended non-renewal for two Universal Renaissance charters, Audenreid High and Vare Middle.  Those two votes were also tabled and have not been brought back for a vote, although both schools continue to operate with tax dollars, as do the two Aspira charters. The fact that the SRC ignores overwhelming evidence outlined by the CSO does not mean that there has not been a rating system.  It means that the SRC has a history of caving to political pressure and selling out the best interests of the school children who attend actual public schools. The Notebook article states:

The new tool is an attempt to break this stalemate, and it was developed with substantial input from the charter operators themselves. District leaders say it is far more transparent and consistent about what schools must do to meet District standards in academics, operations, and financial stability. They also hope it will create an ever-increasing academic bar for charters, one that ensures these publicly financed, privately run schools are superior to their District counterparts and worth the financial burden they place on the system as a whole.

 In that spirit, the standard charter agreement has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” over the past year, according to Estelle Richman, chair of the soon-to-be dissolved School Reform Commission.

 “These charter agreements incorporate a revised performance framework which provides charter schools with transparent and predictable accountability and ensures charter schools are quality options for students and families,” she said in a statement.

 SRC Chair Estelle Richman told reporters that the charter agreement has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” over the past year. We intend to ask the SRC directly:

  • When were these changes negotiated?
  • Who was present during these negotiations?
  • Why were these meetings, about a major policy change, kept secret from the public?
  • Charter operators maintain that charters are public schools. Why would policy changes about any public schools be conducted in private?
  • Why does the SRC allow the charter operators—the entities who are regulated—to determine how they will be regulated?

The district and the charter operators say that charters are public schools.  Then all dealings with charter operators must be conducted in public and all information about them made available to the public.

 Next SRC Meetings:

Thursday, June 21 2018 at 1 PM. Call 215-400-4010 (NOTE: Different number) by 1 PM the day before.

Thursday, June 21 2018 at 4:30 PM.  Call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM the day before.

 Click here to read the Resolutions of Note
and the APPS Analysis.

Ears on the SRC: May 24, 2018

SRC 5-24-18

by Diane Payne
June 4, 2018


All four sitting commissioners were present for this meeting. Three members of APPS and several community members spoke in defense of public education, including six who opposed Dr. Hite’s plan to close Strawberry Mansion as a comprehensive high school.  They cited reasons why the Strawberry Mansion community needs to keep a high school open in the rapidly gentrifying area.

 To view these testimonies go to APPS.net

 Commissioners Attempt to Justify Failing to Carry Out Their Public Duty

Two Commissioners offered justifications for voting to approve charter schools despite having serious concerns about them.  Commissioner Fran Burns read a statement at the beginning of the meeting about the SRC’s approval of another Franklin Towne Charter school. Chairwoman Estelle Richman, along with Commissioner Burns, admitted that there were several areas in which the Philadelphia Hebrew Charter School (PHCS) application was deficient–just before voting to approve it.

 At the previous meeting,  APPS co-founder Lisa Haver asked the Commissioners to explain why they approved the Franklin Towne Charter Middle School (FTCMS) re-application after it had denied virtually the same application in February. APPS had sent the SRC a letter asking for an explanation but received no response. Haver pointed out that FTCMS had failed to address concerns raised by the Charter Schools Office (CSO) in over thirty areas.  Burns said she had an explanation but  would not answer until the next meeting (even though Haver had ceded most of her time so the SRC would answer then). At this meeting,  Burns said that she voted to approve even though there was serious concerns because she felt the “conditions” imposed by the CSO addressed those concerns.  That is, a charter operator can submit a seriously flawed application, not once but twice, and the CSO will rewrite it for them, adding conditions that the charter company had not yet agreed to, paving the way for the charter to begin to collect tax dollars.

 Click here to read the rest of the post.

Ears on the SRC: May 17, 2018

SRC 5-17-18

by Diane Payne
June 1, 2018

 SRC Limping to June 30th

Both the elected and appointed officials who control the SRC seem to hold the people of Philadelphia in very low regard.  Mayor Kenney removed two of the previous Commissioners, Chris McGinley and Joyce Wilkerson, so that they would be able to serve on his newly-appointed school board. Their seats were filled by two placeholders, former SRC Chair Marge Neff and former district staff member Fran Burns. In addition, the SRC has been conducting business with only four seats filled because of Governor Wolf’s decision not to replace Farah Jimenez after she unexpectedly resigned in February. Bill Green showed his disrespect for district stakeholders by skipping yet another meeting (we’ve lost count of all the meetings he has been absent or late for in the last year).  The charter schools Green supports can fire staff without explanation or due process, and Green can be absent without explanation or regard for the community. We did wonder whether the SRC withdrew two resolutions concerning charters just prior to the meeting, without explanation, because of Green’s absence. Present at this meeting were: Chairwoman Estelle Richman and Commissioners Fran Burns and Marge Neff.

Five members of APPS testified in support of public education at this meeting.  In addition, four members of the public testified on behalf of public education.

 SRC Spending Priorities Remain Unclear

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Eyes on the SRC: May 17, 2018

full SRC 4-26-18

by Karel Kilimnik

Community Engagement or Community Exclusion?

We have heard a lot about the importance of community involvement from Superintendent William Hite and his staff. Dr. Hite has expanded the Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Office, spoken of the need for “customer relations” (meaning parents, who are not customers but stakeholders), and created “Focus Groups” for his Priority Schools Initiative In fact, Dr. Hite wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer lastweek beseeching the community to “come together” to solve the problem of crumbling, moldy buildings that the district has ignored for years. Yet Dr. Hite continues to pursue his corporate reform-driven plans behind closed doors.

In the struggle to save Strawberry Mansion High School, the district’s two-faced dealings with the public has reached a new low.  The district’s hollow claims of community involvement have been exposed by a group of people determined to thwart plans to close the comprehensive high school and replace educators with vendors. Parents, students, alumni and community members have shown up to speak out at SRC meetings, attended the City’s Listening Tour for new school board members, and contacted City Council members. A commentary on the subject by APPS member Ken Derstine was published in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

In late March, Dr. Hite sent Assistant Superintendent Eric Becoats to SMHS to lead a community meeting, which was well attended despite poor outreach from the district.  In answer to a question from the audience, Becoats admitted that the district’s plans had already moved into the “implementation stage”, thus skipping any planning stage in which stakeholders could add their own perspectives or objections. This meeting’s resolutions draw attention to changes in the mission and future of Strawberry Mansion—at the same time raising even more questions.  Resolution B-15 sends money to one vendor for an alternative education program, while the (B-17) Culinary grant includes Mansion despite the fact that the district has left the Culinary Arts teacher position vacant this year. Dr Hite claims that under-enrollment at SMHS accounts for his closing the comprehensive high school (without actually admitting that this is a school closure).  If there are so few young people in the neighborhood, why has the district opened a new high school?

Note that nearby Robert Vaux High School was closed by the SRC in 2013 due to under-enrollment, then reopened in 2017 as a contract school under the management of Big Picture. A flyer appeared on the SMHS website announcing future plans for the school.  No 9thgraders will be admitted, although  “…current students can continue and graduate from Strawberry Mansion High School”.  For unexplained reasons, enrollment of 9thgraders will resume in 2019 for a project-based high school.

The district selected a small group of SMHS community members to visit The Workshop School in West Philadelphia in an attempt to persuade them to endorse the district plan. The Workshop School has 240 students (less than SMHS), and despite Great School Philly’s projection of an enrollment of 500 by 2015/16, that school is under no threat of closure due to under-enrollment. There has been a systematic erosion of services, staff, and resources in district comprehensive high schools. Feeder schools have been shuttered, thus forcing displacement of students across the city or into charter schools. Bok, Germantown High School, Carroll, University High School, Vaux, Stephen A. Douglas High School, and Lamberton High School were among the twenty-four schools closed by the SRC in 2013. This policy of closing schools comes directly out of the 2012 Boston Consulting Group Report,  paid for with private money and kept secret from the public.

Spring is rerun season for TV viewers—and favored school district vendors. Both The New Teacher Project (TNTP) (Resolution B-8) and Jounce Partners(B-13) return to feed at the public trough. No matter that the district has yet to provide data showing that either program has benefitted students.

The district is awarding a $20 million contract to the Chester County Intermediate Unity to oversee the Philadelphia Virtual Academy (B-3) over the next three years. Why does a virtual school—without the same costs as a brick-and-mortar school—need an additional $6.6 million every year?  Enrollment is currently at 462 students, there are no SPRs, no data. Will Dr. Hite explain why the virtual school has suddenly become so expensive—and why the district has to outsource to another district to manage it?

The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) continues its financial support of schools of its choosing, this time with a $116, 000 grant to Science Leadership Academy Middle for two more teachers.  Multi-million dollar renovations slated for both Motivation High School and Roosevelt ES (A19) both raise questions about the co-location of Motivation with the KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory CS and will hopefully provide some relief for the beleaguered Roosevelt School community. There is an ongoing issue of Our Schools Are Not Charities as staff is hired at Parkway West (B1) and money allocated to the Fund for the SDP for a staff position (A9).

For this meeting, there are 53 Resolutions  which send $34,381,750  to vendors and contractors including TNTP, Jounce, One Bright Ray, and the  Chester County Intermediate Unit.

What If…?

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