Commentary: Board of Education must hold charters accountable

401738944397064137-schooldist

The following commentary by Lisa Haver and Deborah Grill was published by the Notebook on July 11, 2018

Philadelphia charter school operators and advocates have long maintained that if they were freed from the bureaucracy and regulations imposed on public schools, charters would be able to quickly and consistently raise student achievement. The School Reform Commission bought into that argument, approving new charters in almost every year of its 17-year reign.

The SRC also turned over control of more than 20 neighborhood schools to charter operators through its Renaissance initiative, whose provisions include“stringent academic requirements” that would be used “as a basis for a decision to renew, not renew or revoke a Renaissance school at the end of its [five-year] term.”

But when the data show many of those schools failing to achieve anything close to the “dramatic gains” promised, the SRC did not hold those charters accountable.

Recently, charter operators have actually lobbied the District to lower the standards by which their schools are evaluated. A June 11 Philadelphia Public School Notebook/WHYY story,“Philadelphia School District nearing new accountability rules for charters,”revealed that secret negotiations had taken place between District and charter officials about changes in the rating system, which “was developed with substantial input from the charter operators themselves.”  This is not the first time charter operators and District officials have met in secret: They conducted closed-door meetings from fall 2016 through spring 2017 to formulate public policy about charters.

Belmont Charter CEO Jennifer Faustman argued that it’s not fair to compare charters who took over poor-performing District schools, saying, “You’re basically being challenged to exceed the District.”

But hasn’t that been the justification for creating and expanding charters — that they would always do better than public schools? Belmont Charter would not sign its 2017 renewal agreement, citing unfairness of conditions, even though Belmont failed to meet standards in all three categories—academic, financial, and organizational.

District officials contend that the new rubric is “fair” to charter operators, but do not explain how it is fair to the students or their parents. Theoretically, a charter school could earn a 45 percent academic grade even with near-zero proficiency rates. That is, a charter could be renewed as long as it showed improved attendance and growth — if not actual academic achievement. Incredibly, the charter coalition finds that expectation too high. They are holding out for a 40 percent passing grade.

Then-SRC Chair Estelle Richman told reporters that the charter “performance framework” has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” in the last year and that the “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.”

Transparency, apparently, should be extended to charter operators but not to the public. If charters are truly public schools, as charter operators contend, then all policy discussions, including changes in the rating system, must be open to the public. Nor did Richman explain why the SRC felt the need to consult those being regulated on how they wished to be regulated.

Last month, in one of its final actions, the SRC approved 10 charter renewals. Four others, including two Mastery charters, were not on the agenda, reportedly because they rejected conditions suggested by the District.

The SRC has failed to take action on seven Mastery renewals, including five Renaissance schools, over the last three years, as Mastery officials have refused to accept proposed conditions. The District does not publicize conditions until after the operator accepts them as part of its new charter; the District does not disclose any conditions that the school has rejected. Despite, or perhaps because of, Mastery’s stonewalling, the company was invited to take part in negotiations regarding the new rating system.

In Mastery’s February 2018 application for a new elementary school to be located in North Philadelphia, it asserted that it has had a successful track record of turning around unsuccessful schools. However, the District’s School Progress Reports (SPR) for the last two years show that 14 of Mastery’s 17 Philadelphia charters (most of them converted District schools) are in the lowest performance tier — Intervene — in the academic categories. The remaining three are in the Watch category, the third lowest of the four performance tiers.  Lenfest Middle and High School, which Mastery has been managing since 2001, has an achievement placement in Intervene and an overall placement in Watch.

Mastery’s application also stated that none of the four District elementary schools in that targeted area (Dunbar, Ludlow, McKinley, and Moffet) ranks in the top quartile citywide on either the SPR or the state’s School Performance Profile (SPP). However, SPP data for the last two years show that none of Mastery’s Philadelphia schools rank in the top quartile. In fact, those four public schools in Mastery’s targeted area have SPP scores comparable to most of Mastery’s schools.

The new Board of Education must hold charter operators accountable. Any adjustments in the rating system — which would be a major policy change — should be deliberated on in a public process, for the purpose of raising standards, not lowering them.  The District cannot afford to subsidize charters that are not adequately educating their students.

Why does Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion High School only enroll 235 out of 2,267 eligible students?

The following article was published by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.
Due to space limitations the Notebook article was limited to 800 words.
Below is the full 1217 word version of the post.

strawberry-mansion

by Ken Derstine
May 8, 2018

At the School Reform Commission Meeting on April 26th, Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite stated that of 2267 students in its catchment area only 235 students are enrolled in the Strawberry Mansion High School. His theme echoed a flyer the School District has circulated in the Strawberry Mansion community “Envisioning the Future of Strawberry Mansion High School”. The premise is that the Strawberry Mansion community is not supporting the comprehensive High School and therefore it must be phased out and replaced with a yet to be defined “Education Complex”.

The very first paragraph of the flyer is titled “Strawberry Mansion is NOT closing.” Apparently this is to reassure the community that Strawberry Mansion will not become an abandoned building, thereby contributing to a downward spiral like so many seen in so many low-income communities that have lost their community school, but, after it has been emptied of students and community control, it will be replaced with such corporate entities such as what Hite called in his SRC statement the Energy Performance Pilot School. (Note the corporate company Hite keeps to bring this about.)

The next claim is that current students will graduate from Strawberry Mansion. The District has already announced that there will be no ninth grade next year so that is not true for all students since what would have been the ninth graders will not graduate from Strawberry Mansion.

Click here to read the entire post.

Should the rich rule the schools in Philadelphia and beyond?

rich high school

The following column appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 20, 2018.

The story of how one wealthy man engaged in secret negotiations with officials to impose his will on one suburban high school became front-page news for days. Commentaries expressed outrage about the district’s rushed vote to rename Abington Senior High School in exchange for a $25 million gift from billionaire businessman Stephen Schwarzman, along with several other conditions,  including changes in curriculum and technology.  “Someone coming in with a lot of money can have a whole lot of influence over a public school,” warned one parent at a subsequent school board meeting. One Inquirer columnist expressed uneasiness  “that public schools could become beggars at the table of the uber-rich.”

To these suburban parents and pundits, we say: Welcome to our world.

In November 2011, the state-imposed School Reform Commission (SRC), absent any public deliberation, approved a multimillion-dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In return, the SRC agreed to several conditions, including yearly charter expansion, implementation of Common Core standards, more school “choice” and testing, and permanent school closures. No one elected Bill Gates, typically portrayed in the media as just a very generous rich guy, to make decisions about Philadelphia’s public schools. But his mandates have had devastating and lasting effects on the district, much more than renaming one school.

Abington residents were shocked to learn of the district’s covert establishment of a foundation that would make decisions, rather than the elected school board, about how to spend money from donors. Here in Philadelphia, the Gates Compact conferred authority upon the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) “to provide funding …to low-performing or developing schools.” PSP has since raised tens of millions from a stable of wealthy donors; most has gone to charter schools, in keeping with Gates’ pro-privatization ideology.

Read more: Public Eduction shouldn’t have to rely on private money

PSP’s influence has grown in the last seven years: the group now funds and operates teacher and principal training programs, oversees a website rating all Philadelphia schools, and holds the district’s yearly high school fair. PSP’s money, like Schwarzman’s, always comes with strings attached, whether that means changing a school’s curriculum or a complete overhaul of faculty and staff, as its 2014 grant to two North Philadelphia schools mandated.

Meetings of the PSP board, where decisions about funding, curriculum, and staff training of public schools are made, are closed to the public.   This board, composed mostly of wealthy suburban businesspeople, often has more influence over city public schools than the residents do.

This practice of ceding public decisions to private investors on a large scale first reared its head in 2001, when Philadelphia came dangerously close to privatizing the entire district and handing over the reins to the for-profit Edison Schools founded by media mogul Chris Whittle.

>> Read more: Many public institutions, like libraries, are funded by private money, but caution is key 

Gates, whose Compact has been adopted in several other cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Nashville, and New Orleans, is just one member of what education writer Diane Ravitch calls the “Billionaires Boys Club” of corporate education reformers. Real estate developer Eli Broad is using his wealth and political power to stave off community opposition to his push to charter-ize half of Los Angeles’ public schools. The family of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, heirs to the Amway fortune, have used their billions to privatize public education through the unregulated proliferation of for-profit charters in Detroit and other cities throughout Michigan. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million toward then-Gov. Chris Christie’s 2010 plan to transfer Newark students from neighborhood schools to charters. Newark residents, who learned about this massive cash infusion when it was announced on Oprah, had never been consulted about what they wanted in the “One Newark” plan.

Abington residents were justifiably angry about the board’s intention to rush through a vote without full public disclosure.

Like the opioid crisis, it seems to have taken a less urban and more middle-class population to alter the media’s perspective on the damage inflicted. This appears to be a brushfire in Abington, while rule by the rich has been a fact of life for almost two decades in Philadelphia, where the less affluent, mostly minority community continues to be disenfranchised in matters of school governance.

Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and cofounder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Deborah Grill is a retired teacher and school librarian and a research coordinator for the alliance. appsphilly.net.

 

 

APPS sends a letter to Governor Wolf asking for the removal of Commissioner Green from the SRC for violation of the School Code

Wolf : Green

Last week, APPS co-founders Lisa Haver and Karel Kilimnik sent this letter to Governor Wolf. APPS asked the Governor to enforce the official school code, which clearly states that no sitting SRC commissioner may “seek or hold a position as any other public official”.  The Governor should enforce that law. He should ask Green to step down.  If Green does not, he should take steps to remove him.

All For Phila Public Schools
apps.phila@aol.com


Governor Tom Wolf
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA  17120

governor@state.pa.us

 Dear Governor Wolf:

 On March 3, 2018 SRC Commissioner Bill Green filed federal paperwork to challenge U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle in the 2018 Democratic primary, and he is currently circulating nominating petitions.

 Section(6) Section 696 (b)(6) of the Public School Code of 1949, as amended, states:

No commission member may, while in the service of the School Reform Commission, seek or hold a position as any other public official within this Commonwealth or as an officer of a political party.

 The law is clear: no one, including Mr. Green, can serve on the SRC while seeking public office. There is no question that a person serving in the US Congress is a public official.

 On behalf of the members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Schools, we ask that you immediately remove Commissioner Green from the SRC.

 Sincerely,
Lisa Haver
Karel Kilimnik
Co-founders, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools


For Governor Wolf’s response to the APPS letter see

Gov. Wolf: Bill Green can’t run for Congress | Clout – The Philadelphia Inquirer