Who is Afton Partners?


by Ken Derstine
March 14, 2017

In a recently released report by Afton Partners, the cost of students leaving Philadelphia public schools to transfer to charters was examined. The study had been commissioned in February, 2015 by the School Reform Commission which functions as a school board and makes all final decisions for Philadelphia schools.

Click here to read the entire Afton report.

In “is the glass half full or half empty” coverage, the Philadelphia Inquirer published Report: Philly schools still face costs when students go to charters vs. the Philadelphia Public School Notebook’s Students leaving Philly schools for charters less costly than once thought.

According to The Notebook article, the resolution calling for the contract with Afton said the analysis would take place between February 20, 2015 and May 1, 2015. SRC officials claim the report “got lost in the shuffle as old administrators left and new administrators replaced them.” The District’s Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson, appointed February, 2016, said he first got word of the report last summer and has been working with Afton “to make sure the report addressed all questions.”

Why is the report being released now? Could it have something to do with a bill in the Pennsylvania House introduced by Speaker Mike Turzai on March 6th which would require the Philadelphia School District to add 3,000 charter seats per year? This bill would undercut the charter oversight authority of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC). The establishment of the SRC in 2001, as part of the state takeover of the School District, abolished local control of public schools, along with any hope of any type of democratic process. A 2014 bill passed by the legislature imposed a $2/pack cigarette tax for school funding; it included a last-minute provision that the SRC consider applications for new charters each fall.  Rejected applicants would be able to appeal to the state Charter Appeal Board.

Now, invoking the state rights’ provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Turzai wants to completely take even this oversight from any local influence. He has been aggressively intervening in the SRC’s charter approval process lobbying for approval of charters that the SRC has rejected. The SRC’s Uri Monson said the bill is unnecessary because in the SRC’s five-year financial plan presented last year there is an already projected annual growth of charter enrollment of between 2,700 and 3,000.

Click here to read the entire article.

Philadelphia Charter School Application Reports


January 23, 2017

The School District received five applications for new charters to open September 2017. One applicant has already dropped out. APPS members attended all four Charter School Hearings held on Thursday Jan 5 and Monday Jan 9th.  The SRC will vote on these applications on February 8th.  The Charter School Office will post its evaluation reports  on its website approximately one week before the vote.  We have researched each applicant. Links to our research follows this Executive Summary of issues and concerns.  The four applicants are Metropolitan Philadelphia Classical Charter School (MPCCS); Deep Roots Charter School (DRCS); Friendship Whittier Charter School (FWCS); and KIPP Charter School. Our reports are quite lengthy and detailed so we are highlighting some essential points.

* Three applicants have detailed Attachments that are inaccessible to the public.  Representatives  of the SRC office told APPS that we would have to file an official Right to Know request to access any of the attachments.  That would take months, and it would be unlikely that the district would release the information before the SRC votes in February.

*MPCCS and FWCS applicants are from outside of Philadelphia. FWCS and MPCCS have no connection to the intended community.

*All four applicants used pre-packaged, scripted curricular materials.

*3 out of 4 have limited or no parental involvement.

*FWCS and DRCS are opening in district school buildings closed due to under-enrollment.

*FWCS and DRCS have management contracts with outside businesses. The  FWCS management fee is 12% of its budget. This goes to the Charter Management Operator.

*All four are top heavy in management positions.

*Student privacy and the rights to student information are not addressed by any of these Charter Management Organizations.

*There is no job security for teachers at DRCS, KIPP, and FWCS. As it says in the KIPP Parkside Charter School application, employment “is “at-will” meaning that either the employee or the school may end the employment relationship at any time, with or without notice, with or without cause.” At MPCCS all teachers will be recruited from Hillsdale College. The College “considers itself a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture…”

To read the reports on individual charter applications click on the links below:

Deep Roots Charter School

Friendship Whittier Charter School

 KIPP Parkside Charter School

Metropolitan Philadelphia Classical Charter School

The School Reform Commission will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, February 8th to consider and vote to grant or deny these new charter applications. The meeting will be at 4 p.m. in the auditorium at the 440 N. Broad Street. If you wish to speak you must register by calling the SDP Office of the SRC at 215-400-4010 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, February 7th.

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.