A grass-roots organization of parents, community members, and school staff, fighting to defend public education. We work together to provide analysis and demand accountability from the School District of Philadelphia to provide students with a high-quality education.
After holding six community meetings at each of the three schools in the 2018 System of Great Schools (SGS) cohort, the District announced one more at each school during the week of February 4th in which the option for each school would be revealed. APPS members attended meetings at all three SGS School last Fall. Our reports can be found here.
The two possible options for the schools were either placement in the Acceleration Network (formerly the Turnaround Network) or allowing each school to develop its own Academic Improvement Plan (AIP) . The main feature of the first option is the requirement that teachers and principals reapply for their positions in their school. Chief of Schools Shawn Bird told the Board’s Student Achievement Committee that teachers had to reapply so that the District would know whether they were willing to attend the additional monthly and summer professional development. If this is true, then the District changed its policy; it has not been true for the previous two years of this program. But why not just ask the teachers if they will attend the PD? Why would they have to go through a re-application and re-interview process just to answer one question? When questioned by the Committee about this, Bird said he wasn’t sure and would have to check. Who would he be asking when he is in charge of the SGS process? Another last-minute policy change: this year, the AIP option could also include a requirement for teachers to reapply. This was not disclosed until the last meeting at Harrington in answer to a question from APPS. The other school communities, as far as we know, have not been informed of this.
Superintendent Hite waited until the 2017/18 SPR scores were reported until making the final decision on whether Harrington, Lamberton, and Locke Schools would enter the Acceleration Network or develop their own Plan. Ultimately, he decided to place all three schools into the AIP Option. Each school would have a Planning Committee selected by the Principal. No criteria was provided as to how Planning Committee members would be selected, only that the Principal would choose them.
As part of the District’s stated plan to “gather information on school strengths, challenges, and ways to improve”, Temple University was awarded a contract to gather input from parents and community members about the strengths and weaknesses of each school. The “Parent. Family, & Community Input Report” (listed under Download Focus Group Report on the SGS website) noted the extremely limited involvement of families. Given that all three schools list student enrollment at over 400, there was paltry parent attendance at each school. The total for parents/community members for all six meetings came to 29 at Harrington, 23 at Lamberton, and 38 at Locke–fewer than ten at each meeting. Their report does not indicate whether Special Ed and/or English Language learners were part of their sample nor what grades were included.
Public meetings for the three SGS schools have concluded. Six meetings were held at each of the three schools—Harrington, Lamberton and Locke. Four of those meetings—the parent/community focus groups—were not informational meetings. They were facilitated by Temple University professors and graduate students for the purpose of finding out what members of each school community felt were the schools’ strengths and weaknesses and what additional resources the schools needed in order to improve student performance. An initial informational meeting was held where District staff narrated a power-point presentation and answered audience questions.
The sixth and final public meeting was held in order to present “Findings and Feedback”. Although the report refers to its findings as “data”, the report includes mostly anecdotal information gathered from 15-minute classroom visits and answers to questions posed to students during those visits.
For the first time in the process, meeting participants heard about a “planning committee” which would review the reports and make recommendations about which option should be imposed upon the school. Conflicting information was given about who would serve on the committee and whether it would be only District administrators or would also include any community members or teachers.
Chief of Schools Shawn Bird presented the SGS Findings and Feedback report to the Board’s Student Achievement and Support Committee at its December 7 meeting. Committee members Angela McIver and Julia Danzy both asked Bird to clarify this statement from the report:
“Not all instruction was aligned to grade level expectations.”
McIver said that because these schools are struggling, we would not assume that all children are learning on grade level. (Of course, it is a fact that not all children are learning in the same way at the same time at any school.) Committee member Julia Danzy also asked what “grade level” applied to–the student or the instructor? Bird replied that the statement about grade level was based on “what the student is doing”, even though the report says “instruction”, not “understanding”.
Mallory Fix Lopez told Bird that she attended the Harrington meeting and that it was not clear to her that the community knew what the potential recommendations were. It was good to hear a Board member come to the same conclusion we have: that the District did not provide the parents and community members at any of the three schools with sufficient information about the possible options, how they would be decided on and by whom, or whether teachers and staff would have to reapply for their positions.
The final decision for all three schools will be made by Dr. Hite and announced in late January or early February. We will then see whether the concerns and wishes of the school communities align with the options chosen.
Click on the links below to read the Feedback and Findings report for each school:
For the third consecutive year, the Hite administration has placed several neighborhood schools into its “System of Great Schools” (SGS), to be redesigned according to a set of apparently predetermined outcomes. The District once again went through the motions of providing community engagement in a series of poorly designed parent focus groups. These featured the simplistic questions asked of participants and the lack of informed District personnel to provide information or answer relevant questions about possible outcomes.
Although millions will be spent, the fate of three schools will be determined, and the future of the children and staff at the schools may change significantly, there has been no press coverage.
APPS members have attended 15 of the 16 focus group meetings at Locke, Harrington and Lamberton, all elementary schools in West Philadelphia. [See links to the individual reports below.] APPS members also attended all three of the SGS kickoff meetings. Despite pronouncements from District officials about changes this year as a result of “lessons learned”, the process so far has been a replication of the last two: the same rationale, the same power-point presentation, the same misrepresentation of the process and possible outcomes. What remains to be seen: whether there will be the same disregard for the stated wishes of the parents and community members. Unfortunately, none of the members of the Board of Education came to any of the 15 meetings. Although they might see the reports, they did not hear firsthand from parents and community members.
[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.
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.
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.