Eyes on the SRC: January 18, 2018


by Karel Kilimnik
January 15, 2018

Change is in the wind this month as we look forward to the end of the SRC, await the pronouncement of the fate of the six Priority Schools, and see how many of the nine applicants for new charters will hit the taxpayer lottery. Both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney have said that the district will need to close more neighborhood schools every year for at least the next five years in order to balance the budget.

APPS members who testified last month at the first round of hearings for new charter applicants reminded the district that it cannot ignore the financial health of the district when considering new charters. District CFO Uri Monson has testified at the SRC and in City Council that charters are the single biggest item in the District’s budget. Philadelphia is fast approaching the 50/50 tipping point of district to charter schools.

Is the SRC deliberately pushing the District toward the New Orleans Model, which Commissioner Green has often lauded despite evidence that it has been a disaster for that city’s students and teachers?

Approving any new charter comes with the understanding that no matter how well or poorly that school may perform, the city is stuck with it for a long time. The five-year charter term has become meaningless. On the rare occasion that the SRC votes not to renew a charter, a long and expensive hearing process must take place, followed by a possible legal appeal. This can take years—while the school continues to operate. But when Dr. Hite targets public schools for closure, there is no appeal. In fact, there is not even a legal requirement for a hearing.

Despite the fact that the SRC agreed in a court-ordered settlement to post resolutions two weeks before action meetings, after APPS sued them for a pattern of violations of the PA Sunshine Act, the SRC just posted two new resolutions last Friday. Two concern renewal resolutions: the Memphis Street Academy resolution has been tabled since April 2017, the Universal Vare resolution since April 2016. Both were recommended for non-renewal by the district Charter School Office. APPS has asked at every meeting when the SRC would be deciding on these renewals; of course, we never got an answer.

In the face of predictions of more financial problems for the district, the SRC continues to sell school buildings at prices far below market value. This month, Resolution A-24 proposes the sale of the former Ada B. Lewis Middle School to an unknown out-of-state buyer. This raises questions about the effect of closing public schools, not just on the students but on the community as a whole, and about how little the community gets to say about it. Lewis was closed over ten years ago despite strong opposition from parents, teachers, students and community members. The district allowed the building, once home to the largest middle school in the city, to become an eyesore. In 2013, the District closed Smith Elementary in the rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze area. Many of the same community members who fought to keep Smith open formed the Save Smith School Committee to stop the sale of the building. Their long legal battle was lost when a judge ruled in favor of the district, thus enabling an out-of-state real estate investor to purchase the building, who quickly flipped the property to a local developer of high-priced housing.

Last month, the SRC approved the sale of the Beeber Wynnefield Annex. Neighbors had attempted to buy the building to convert it to a community center when the district closed it in 2002, but the District’s asking price of $300,000 was beyond their means. The building stood as an eyesore for almost twenty years, when Iron Stone Capital Partners bought it last month for $140,000—less than the original asking price.

 Is this what the people of Philadelphia want—for the District to shut down schools, then sell the buildings to satisfy the financial interests of developers and investors? The SRC offered little opportunity for the community to express its own needs, neither in Point Breeze nor in Wynnefield. Hite shut down Bok even though it was a thriving high school in a beautiful building; now that building is lost to the community. The SRC should consider the wishes of the community before it votes, not just the bottom line of developers and real estate investors.

Dr Hite’s pronouncement on the fates of this year’s cohort of Priority Schools may be made this month. He announced in a September press release that Penn Treaty will be “partnered” with the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA)—even before Cambridge Education and Temple University started to do their “School Quality Review”. The District told members of the six school communities that they would not be closed or charterized, but only for the next two years. Parents have repeatedly demanded a seat at the table where the future of their school is being decided, but have only gotten the usual dog-and-pony show of District-run meetings where no real decisions are made.

Catapult Learning reappears this month in two resolutions that propose lucrative contracts for the company. Since 2015 the company has shared in contracts totaling over $60 million for programs for high-needs students. In 2017, the District proposed awarding Catapult a $54million contract to run a stand-alone school for former Wordsworth Academy students; the District had to withdraw students from Wordsworth after the murder of a student at the facility. After strong pushback from The Coalition of Special Education Advocates, which is comprised of over fifteen organizations including APPS and represented by attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center (PILCOP) and the Education Law Center (ELC), the proposal was cut back to $10 million to provide for the 100 returning Wordsworth students. [See Lynda Rubin’s summary of the July 6, 2017 meeting for more details.]

Even after the SRC approved that Catapult contract, there were still concerns about Catapult’s record, about the fact that no contract has been made available to the public, and the exclusion of parents, teachers, and advocates from the process. Dr. Hite attempted to reassure Coalition members by having Chief Academic Officer Cheryl Logan address those concerns. Logan said that the District would be carefully monitoring Catapult’s new schools, beginning with weekly visits. To date, neither Dr. Hite nor Dr. Logan has provided any account of visits or any type of oversight of Catapult.

What If…

…instead of spending $490,000 on some kind of undefined direct marketing campaign, and another $68,600 to a vendor for professional development, that half million plus went directly into classrooms? Students could have necessary supplies like paper, pencils, and crayons—as students in suburban districts do—and teachers would not have to beg for funds online.

Next SRC meeting: Thursday January 18 at 4:30 PM. To register to speak, call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday January 17.

Click here to read the APPS analysis of SRC resolutions.

The Growing Influence of Jounce Partners

jouince parntersby Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin
November 24, 2017

It would be safe to say that no public school teacher in Philadelphia has seen or heard any colleague forcing a student to face the wall and repeat the same phrase 25 or 30 times. Any principal who witnessed such an occurrence would be within his or her rights to formally reprimand that teacher.

Wall Practice:
1. After giving feedback and monitoring to the point of automaticity, have teacher(s) turn toward a wall in the room to practice the skill 10-20 more times (primarily used for multi-teacher PD sessions).
2. Frame as optimal practice because greatest number of reps can be achieved this way.

3. Emphasize the importance of every rep being executed perfectly and with exaggeration of nuances.

Incredibly, that is precisely what teachers in some district schools are being forced to do. It is but one of the tactics developed by Jounce Partners as part of its intensive coaching and professional development plan, already in use at McDaniel Elementary, one of the eleven schools designated last year as “Priority Schools”. The district has approved Jounce as a partner for principal and teacher training in schools that have been included in its “System of Great Schools”.

The district hired Cambridge Education to conduct surveys of the parents, teachers, students and community members at last year’s Priority schools. APPS members heard these stakeholders ask for more staff, return of NTAs and librarians, more counselors, smaller class size, less standardized testing and more after-school activities. We did not hear any member of any the eleven school communities ask for the removal of teachers and principals or more training for teachers. Nevertheless, the SRC approved a resolution to enter into a $70,000 contract with Jounce Partners for “Implementation of High-frequency teacher Coaching for School Transformation” at McDaniel Elementary”. That resolution, one of 142 approved by the SRC at its June 2017 Action Meeting, stated:

Click here to read the rest of the post.

APPS Review of Cambridge Education Reports on Priority Schools

A Philadelphia School Reform Commission Priority Schools meeting at Kensington Health Sciences Academy. Chris Finn of Cambridge Education is on the left side of the picture.

by Lisa Haver
January 9, 2017

After attending several focus group meetings at six of the eleven schools designated by the Hite administration as Priority Schools, after reviewing Cambridge Education’s contract with the district, and after closely reviewing the Cambridge final reports on the eleven schools, there is no other conclusion for us to come to: the Cambridge reports cannot be considered reliable on any level, including anecdotally.

In every one of the eleven reports, Cambridge states that teachers do not use data to inform their lessons. This is a surprising criticism from a company that has produced a report so lacking in data that its findings are meaningless. They have come to conclusions based on random comments from various members of the school community without specifying how people were contacted or how many they spoke to, whether in person, in focus groups, or by canvassing.

Although the district’s contract with Cambridge Education states that “classroom observations are the cornerstone” of their School Quality Review, the reports don’t state how many classrooms they visited in each school, which subject was taught in observed classes, how long the visits lasted, or what criteria was used to come to their conclusions.

The resolution passed by the SRC which approved its contract with Cambridge states: “The vendor’s purpose in the School Quality Report is to provide additional on the ground data to inform which strategic investments would be most likely to drive sustained school improvement.” However, the reports do not include any additional data, only that which is available through the district itself. Cambridge has been paid $200,000 by the district for conducting the SQR.

The purpose of Cambridge’s report, as presented in the initial focus group meetings and the district’s October press release, was to determine which of five options would improve eleven neighborhood schools: Blankenburg, McDaniel, Heston, Hartranft and Marshall elementary schools; Harding Middle School; Bartram, Benjamin Franklin, Overbrook, Kensington Health Sciences Academy, and Fels high schools. The five options, according to the district’s October press release, include:

Click here to read the entire article.


Who is Cambridge Education?

by Ken Derstine
January 9, 2017


On September 15, 2016, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved a $200,000 contract with Cambridge Education for investigation of the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District that stated:

RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes the School District of Philadelphia, through its Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with Cambridge Education, to develop, manage, and execute a comprehensive School Quality Review process, to gather data and develop qualitative reports on school quality and to engage the school community and gather community input, for an amount not to exceed $200,000, for the period commencing September 16, 2016 through June 30, 2017.

The description the SRC provided of the Resolution said:

The information gathered during the School Quality  Review process will be used to inform recommendations on appropriate measures to be taken to promote sustained school improvement through the System of Great Schools process. The vendor’s purpose in the School Quality Review Process will be to provide additional on-the ground data to inform decision-making. All final recommendations on the investments and interventions to be made in schools will be made by the District.

See SRC Resolution A-3 for the full description of this resolution.

Since the September 15th, 2016 meeting, the SRC has held hearings at its eleven Priority Schools.They were deemed low performing based on test scores. All are in low-income communities. No consideration of the economic status of the student population or lack of resources for the schools due to underfunding was considered.

The SRC will look at five options for these eleven public schools:

•  Entering the school into the District’s Turnaround Network
• Merging the school with a nearby high-quality school
• Engaging a contract partner
• Initiating an evidence-based plan for academic improvement
• Restarting the school

Overseeing the SRC’s Priority Schools meetings is Chris Finn of Cambridge Education. The leadership page of Cambridge Education shows they are all about business. Joining Cambridge in the Philadelphia Priority Schools hearings is Educators 4 Exellence, a corporate education reform group funded by the Gates Foundation.

According to its website, Cambridge Education has 350 consultants:

We work with academies, schools and colleges to develop appropriate strategies to bring about sustainable and embedded practice, improving life opportunities for future generations. We recognise all educational institutions have unique needs and we collaborate with you to develop tailored approaches to some of today’s urgent questions.

A central part of their school reviews is “educator accountability” which includes a great deal of “delivering, supporting, and monitoring the implementation of improvement strategies across classrooms, schools, and districts.” They have trained and “calibrated” 1,000 teacher evaluators. Of its long-range strategy, Cambridge Education says:

As education systems grow in independence and sophistication, we can help to track and manage them. Wherever you are, we are your local company – but with global backing.

Cambridge Education’s recent activities in the U.S. are listed on its parent company Mott MacDonald website:

Our education experts at Cambridge Education worked with Springfield Public Schools to provide 130 administrators and district staff with training to meet the new Massachusetts Educator Evaluator Rubric and supporting the design and implementation of a curriculum alignment plan. The District is now able to provide more targeted professional development customised to requirements of individuals.

For Hillsborough County Public Schools we helped implement the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative, requiring that teachers are observed by administrators, peer evaluators and mentors. In 2013, we collected and analysed over 2,500 lesson observation scores with the resulting analysis being used by the county to help inform its decision making.

Through a partnership with Dr Ronald Ferguson of Harvard University, Cambridge Education delivered The Tripod Project®, a system for US educator evaluation using staff and student surveys. These surveys have been an integral part of the Gates-funded Measures of Effective Teaching project, which is improving results in English and Mathematics.

Cambridge Education is based in England with international offices including a subsidiary in the US. They have several offices in the U.S.and eighteen offices worldwide. Cambridge Education’s goals in the U.S. are described on its parent company Mott MacDonald’s website. The description follows the usual privatization stealth method of corporate education reformers of speaking in vague generalities, but never giving specifics about the privatization objective for public schools.

The British website British Expertise says:

Cambridge Education has been in existence for more than 30 years, and was originally a joint venture between Sir M MacDonald and the University of Cambridge. We still maintain close links with the University, but are now part of the Health and Education arm of Mott MacDonald, a major, international multi-disciplinary consultancy company with more than 12,000 employees worldwide. Cambridge Education itself has over 160 staff members at its HQ in Cambridge and 220 worldwide, of which about a third are educational professionals.

The Mott MacDonald Group Executive Board

A current report of Mott MacDonald says it employs over 16,000 people in 150 countries. Education, with its subsidiary Cambridge Education, is only one sector of its portfolio. Others include aerospace, bridges, buildings communications, environment, health, industry, international development, city development, oil and gas, power, railways, transportation, water.

The Our Hertage page of Mott MacDonald Group highlights some of the companies developed by MMG.

Mott MacDonald Group’s current projects in North America says they are expecting “unprecedented growth in North America.”

The article “Transforming teacher education and learning” shows that they are aiming to become an international leader in digital learning. They are using their Raspberry Pi system and tablets to “demonstrate the value of technological resources and digital learning in teacher education, helping colleges see the value of embedding these practices into their teaching curriculum.”

Members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools attended many of the Cambridge Education focus group meeting for the Priority Schools. In their APPS Review of Cambridge Education Reports on Priority Schools they concluded:

After attending several focus group meetings at six of the eleven schools designated by the Hite administration as Priority Schools, after reviewing Cambridge Education’s contract with the district, and after closely reviewing the Cambridge final reports on the eleven schools, there is no other conclusion for us to come to: the Cambridge reports cannot be considered reliable on any level, including anecdotally.