Eyes on the Board of Education: February 27, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

If privatization and outsourcing are truly innovative, why don’t we see more of that in affluent suburbs like Lower Merion? As we review the list of Items the Board will consider at its next Action Meeting, there seems to be no end to the contracts with private vendors to take on work traditionally done by District staff. Companies that have been the lifeblood of the corporate disruption movement like Teach for America are now  joined by newer players Relay Graduate School of Education (which, as Board Member Chris McGinley reminds his colleagues, is not really a graduate school and is not accredited in Pennsylvania) and the District Management Group, hired to perform tasks formerly done by District Staff (Items 15, 16, 17). Dr Hite sent a letter to all District staff last week imploring District staff to aid in recruitment efforts under his “Teach Today. Change Tomorrow” initiative.  Why is he recommending spending $325,000 on TFA Recruitment if this campaign was just launched? Hundreds of thousands have been spent on teacher recruitment in the past three years–where are the results? Is the push for TFA an indication that that recruitment effort failed? The Board does not have to take on the rubber-stamp function of the SRC. The Board can take a stand and restore teacher recruitment and professional development to the District.

Dr Hite, a 2003 graduate of the business-oriented Broad Superintendents Academy, continues to outsource rather than build internal structures and capacity. The primary belief by the Billionaire Boys Club, of which Eli Broad is a member (note more details under #15,Contract with Teach for America to Support Teacher Hiring $325,000)), are described succinctly by Curmudgucation blogger Peter Greene “… Broad does not believe that schools have an education problem; he believes they have a management problem. School leadership does not need an infusion of educational leadership–they need business guys, leadership guys….there is no external governing or certifying board of any sort declaring that the Broad Superintendent’s Academy is a legitimate thing, and yet, it exists and thrives.”

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Eyes on the Board of Education: January 30, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

Almost one-fifth of January’s Action Items address the ongoing toxic schools crisis.  The Board will be voting on contracts to outside vendors totaling approximately $40 million– this month alone. Toxic conditions in the city’s schools are being discovered every week. Most district buildings were built when the dangers of lead and asbestos were not fully understood. But that does not excuse the years of inaction after those dangers became clear.  Essential reading includes the June 2019 Inquirer Series on Toxic Schools , in which a team of investigative reporters created three sections based on interviews and data:  Danger: Learn at your own risk;  Hidden Peril; and Botched Jobs. Since schools opened in September, lead and asbestos has been discovered in more schools, resulting in the growing demand from parents, students, teachers, and community members to fix them. Time and again the District has failed to listen to stakeholders. Contractors who performed shoddy and incomplete work are rehired; much of the construction takes place during school hours. Contractors have failed to safely dispose of contaminated materials or to adequately cordon off work areas, and their completed work does not pass environmental testing. On January 20, the PFT held a press conference  announcing its intent to seek a remedy through the courts as the District has failed to work with the union to correct the situation. This edition of Eyes focuses on the issues raised as seen by the many contracts awaiting approval.

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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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Eyes on the Board of Education: October 17, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

With the rapidly unfolding debacle of the planned co-location of SLA at Ben Franklin High School, the Board needs to step up and provide leadership on District spending priorities. Stop fattening the bottom lines of outside vendors and increase spending to guarantee that all schools are healthy environments.  The Board needs to start denying contracts to vendors and demanding that the Superintendent build resources and support from within the District. District governance returned to local control over a year ago; it is past time to return to building up District staffing and resources.

 

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