Eyes on the Board of Education: April 25, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

Board Rolls Out Red Carpet to Charter Operators

Spring has arrived along with the annual crop of charter school amendments and renewals. Renewals come due when charters’  five-year terms are up. Amendments requests–for enrollment increases, name changes, relocation–can be submitted at any time, but often at the time of renewal.  Incredibly, charter schools who have refused to sign renewal agreements have still been granted amendment requests. First, let us deal with Renewals. Presently on the Charter School Office (CSO) website is the 2018/19 cohort of 12 schools–with no active link for any school, so no way to see the renewal evaluation report.

Of the 18 schools in the 2017/18 cohort, one link is not posted ( Mathematics, Civics, and Sciences Charter School). The April 25 Meeting Agenda lists two Charter Amendments under consideration. Laboratory Charter School is requesting a change of location (Item 3). Laboratory operates one school across three separate campuses in three different neighborhoods–a K-5, a 5-8 and a K-8.  Now Laboratory wants to consolidate all three into one location in East Falls at 3300 Henry Avenue. The District’s School Profiles page gives information on the Northern Liberties campus but not the other two; our written request for explanation has gone unanswered. The CSO Mid-Cycle Charter Amendment Evaluation Report specifically cites lack of community outreach about the relocation,  yet still recommends approval of their request.  The CSO page states that the Pennsylvania Charter School Law does not require districts to consider amendments: “The Pennsylvania Charter School Law does not provide for amendments to charters, and thus the Charter Schools Office (CSO) of the District is not required to review amendment requests from charter schools.”  This may provide a legal basis for denying this request. Why is the Board in such a rush to grant this charter school’s amendment?

The Board has made several pronouncements about making community engagement a key part of its mission. It has created a District Partnership & Community  Engagement Committee along with a Parent & Community Advisory Council. It is incomprehensible that they would consider approving this Action Item while excluding the community from the process.

These requests for relocation far from the original school locations (such as allowing Ad Prima Charter to relocate from Frankford to East Mt. Airy last year, also with no community engagement) bring into question their commitment to the neighborhoods they promised to service in their original applications. These relocations destabilize neighborhood public schools as charters seek to bolster their enrollment in new areas. Philadelphia’s population is not growing rapidly enough to support more schools. Poaching students from not only District schools but other charters will continue unless the Board takes action and denies this Amendment. In addition, the District pays for transportation costs. How much will the District be paying for all of these schools to bus children from neighborhoods across the city?  Should children spend hours a day on school buses?

New York City-based Hebrew Charter School will soon open its first school in Pennsylvania (Item 5). The original application, denied by the SRC for several reasons, showed how little the company understood  Pennsylvania education regulations. With encouragement from the SRC, Hebrew reapplied two months later and was then approved. If you fail the PSSA are you given another opportunity to retake it? Then why is it okay for a charter management company with three schools in New York City to have a do-over because they could not complete their application satisfactorily?

More Outsourcing of District Positions

Relay Graduate School, unaccredited in Pennsylvania, applies for an additional contract (#58). The District has approved several contracts with Relay despite its previous commitment to provide in-house professional development for principals.

Perhaps if the Board posted contracts–or at the very least a more detailed description of projects–we would not have so many questions about Item 45–MOU with Temple University for the Transforming School Leadership, Instruction, and Family Engagement (L.I.F.E.) Initiative. Foundations (Item 8) has also returned with a proposed contract for headhunting substitute principals and central office executive administrators. Why are staff leaving? Part of this contract is to provide principal support. What does this mean? Again, a fuller description is needed to help the public understand what is going on.

What If…?

…instead of diverting millions into new charters or renewing inadequate charters, the Board put that money into District schools? Use that money to invest in our schools, create healthy buildings free of mold and other toxins, lower class size, bring back home/school coordinators for every school, provide adequate support staff, rebuild school libraries staffed with certified teacher librarians. Stop approving any more charter schools until our District schools have what they need to provide an adequate education for every student in a safe and healthy building.

May Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday May 30 at 5 PM.  To register to speak, call 215.400.5959 by Wednesday May 29 at 3, or fill out the online form on the Board’s webpage.

Action Items of Note

Charters Ask–Will They Receive?

Item 3: Laboratory Charter School of Communication and Languages – Request for Mid-Term Amendment (Pending)

This Item is Pending        [APPS note: The Amendment has not been posted publicly]
Office Originating Request: Board of Education
Board of Education Meeting Date:  4/25/2019

Action under consideration: Laboratory Charter School Communication and Languages has submitted a request for a mid-term charter amendment to change its location, pursuant Board Policy 406 Charter Amendments.  An evaluation of this amendment request has been completed by the Charter Schools Office and can be accessed here. The Board of Education will consider this amendment request.

APPS Analysis: After the April 11 Student Achievement and Support Committee Meeting, this Action Item was updated to include the “Mid-Cycle Charter  Amendment Evaluation Report 2018-2019”. Prior to that meeting, no information was attached to the Action Item description. The rationale for relocating these campuses, according to the CSO evaluation of the request from Laboratory Charter School,  is “to consolidate to a singular facility, which would provide sufficient space to reach its maximum authorized enrollment, fully.” Since when is the CSO responsible for accommodating the desires of a charter operator to facilitate its growth? Look at the grade configuration for each one of these three locations: 59th Street campus (Overbrook), K-5; 54th Street (Wynnefield), 5-8; Orianna Street (Northern Liberties), K-8. None of these campuses is close to 3300 Henry Avenue. Out of the 1,075 students enrolled, the school submitted only 200 parent confirmation letters “indicating their student would remain enrolled in the school upon relocation”. Of course, these letters are not legally binding; there is no way to know how many students will stay enrolled. According to the 2017  Annual Charter School Evaluation (ACES) Laboratory Charter met zero standards out of seven in the Financial Health & Sustainability category. The CSO Mid-Term Evaluation Report states: “There is no evidence that the Charter School has engaged residents and community stakeholders of the new location.”  Mifflin Elementary is the public school closest to this proposed new location, but they were not notified of this proposed relocation. How can this Board, with its declared commitment to community engagement, consider approving this relocation?  This relocation of three campuses into a facility already housing Eastern University Charter School (grades 7-12), as well as Philadelphia Hebrew Charter School (K-1 for next year, expanding every year after) has the potential to house over 1,000 elementary, middle , and high school students coming from across the city. The SRC voted not to renew Eastern University CS 18 months ago, but EU has appealed to the state Charter Appeal Board, which has set no hearing date. Next year could see three charter schools lodged in what is becoming a charter mall.

Item  5: Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School: Grant of Charter (Updated 4.11.19)

Action under consideration:  On May 24, 2018, the School Reform Commission voted to approve the revised new charter application of Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School (“PHPCS”) pursuant to the attached Resolution SRC-6 provided the applicant supply specifically outlined documentation to the Charter Schools Office.  The Charter Schools Office’s evaluation report can be found here.

Office Originating Request: Board of Education

APPS Analysis: Where is this revised application posted?  Why did the Board remove it from the website when it is still under consideration? Why the rush to approve and open this charter when all CSO concerns have not been resolved? APPS reviewed Hebrew Charter’s initial application in 2018. Many of the issues we raised remain unresolved.

This New York City Charter Management Organization had to do a quick study of Pennsylvania Charter requirements and still came up short.

The CSO’s Revised New Charter School Application Evaluation Report cites numerous concerns that have not been fully addressed by PHCS, including:

*Alignment with PA Core Standards (page 10) PHCS gets a pass on alignment with 4th grade because that grade will not be enrolled during the first year
*The applicant has sufficiently adjusted its ESL staffing plan and budget in the revised materials, but the potential for disparate impact on student groups due to promotion and exit standards is still a concern.  (page 5)
*Unresolved ongoing issues with Staff Healthcare Coverage (page 16)
*The applicant has sufficiently adjusted its ESL staffing plan and budget in the revised materials, but the potential for disparate impact on student groups due to promotion and exit standards is still a concern. (page 5)
*The revised application did not alleviate the evaluation team’s concerns for the lack of a compelling rationale for teaching immersive Modern Hebrew. The applicant provided a compelling and research-based response for the teaching of any second language, modern or historical, but evaluators found this to be support for foreign language and not Modern Hebrew specifically, and reiterated the same concerns regarding the choice of Modern Hebrew as the leading curricular driver for a public school in Philadelphia. (page 8)
*Evaluators also noted the applicant’s prioritization of developing students who engage their civic responsibility and see themselves as global citizens. However, evaluators noted that it was unclear exactly how global citizenship would be infused across the curriculum beyond annual service learning projects. (page 9)
*The Expenditures-Personnel/Benefits section of the original budget, evaluators identified concerns with retirement plan match, cost of health insurance and expenses for extracurricular activities, which as previously noted in this evaluation report, were addressed sufficiently with the revised application. In the original application, evaluators also noted that the medical benefits budgeted did not appear to cover all personnel, as the difference between total salaries and salaries eligible for health insurance was $111,857.50. There was no documentation detailing who would not be eligible; whether this would be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act; and this value did not correspond to any identifiable combination of salaries listed (Revised Attachment 26). (page 21)
*The applicant also demonstrated a wider target zone for student recruitment in an effort to obtain the diversity they seek and the intent to enroll forms show evidence of success in this regard, including zip codes 19129, 19132, 19121, 19149, 19133, 19144, 19111, 19119, and 19140 in the revised application in effort to increase the likelihood of reaching the stated goal of intentional diversity.

Relay GSE Returns for More

Item 58: Contract with Relay Graduate School of Education – Principal and Instructional Coach Professional Development

Action under consideration: The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform a contract, subject to funding, as follows:

With:  Relay Graduate School of Education
Purpose:  To provide Principal and Instructional Coach professional development in the Acceleration Network.
Start date: 6/3/2019  End date: 6/30/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $114,500.00
Location: Blankenburg, Rudolph School; Marshall, Thurgood School; Rhodes, E. Washington Elementary School; Steel, Edward T. School
Renewal Options:  No

Description: This contract supports professional development for Acceleration Network principals and instructional coaches focusing on three fundamental levers for effective instructional leadership: Data-Driven Instruction, Leading Professional Development and Observation and Feedback. The professional development will establish a common vocabulary and toolkit for network leaders, then provide hands-on support and coaching as they implement these practices within their schools.

The Acceleration Network has adopted RELAY practices around the use of data, climate protocols and teacher feedback. The schools selected have administrators who would benefit from the program and have recently joined the network. They have the potential to effectively improve student achievement with this level of support.  In fact, in 2017, five schools participated in RELAY training and three of the five schools (60%) are now eligible to exit the network due to significant academic improvement, and the other two schools have also seen growth in achievement. The growth of all five of these schools is a result of them implementing data driven processes learned at RELAY and implemented at their schools through data teams which allowed teachers and leaders to make adjustments to instruction and be more responsive to academic needs of students.

The effectiveness of our participation will be measured in several ways:  The Assistant Superintendent and Principal will ensure the usage of the protocols for data team and grade group meetings and observe classroom instruction for evidence of change in teacher practice.  Additionally, the interim assessments results will be used to determine the effectiveness of the change in instructional practice. Finally, we will measure the changes in SPR scores for the schools who have staff in attendance at the training as all schools who have previously attended the training have seen increases in their SPR scores.

APPS Analysis: What truly works at supporting “under -performing schools” is restoring resources, especially staff. The pseudo-graduate school Relay relies on testing, data collection, highly scripted curriculum and coaching, that is, methods that adhere to the corporate education model that seeks to wring as much data out of students with as little support as possible.  In addition to relying on Relay, the Acceleration Network has also added staff including vice-principals, counselors, climate workers, and coaches. Where is the data that isolates Relay’s alleged impact from the other resources added by the Acceleration Network? Present the data that shows exactly how Relay is performing to back up District assertions of what a great job Relay is doing. What do teachers, students, and parents think?

We provide below more voices describing the faux Relay Graduate School of Education.  Our sources are actual academics and experienced educators well versed in authentic schools of education.

Prof Ken Zeichner describes Relay Graduate School of Education along with his concerns. Relay is unaccredited in the state of Pennsylvania.

“Relay Graduate School of Education is an independent institution not affiliated with a legitimate college or university that prepares new teachers and principals and provides professional development services for teachers and principals to school districts and charter networks. It was founded in 2007 by three charter school networks (Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First) within Hunter College’s Education School and became independent in 2012 changing its name to Relay Graduate School of Education.

Until recently, its teacher preparation programs were all ‘fast tracks’ preparing uncertified teachers who were fully responsible for classrooms after only a few weeks of preparation. Among those who they prepared were many TFA (Teach for America) teachers in NYC. Recently, they have begin offering a “residency” option in certain locations where during the first year of the two year program their teachers are not fully responsible for classrooms and are mentored by a licensed teacher. In both the fast track and residency versions of the program teachers receive a very narrow preparation to engage in a very controlling and insensitive form of teaching that is focused almost entirely on raising student test scores.”

In 2017 then-SRC member Christopher McGinley, a former superintendent and current Temple University education professor, voted against awarding the contract to Relay, citing concerns with “the quality of services that they’re known to provide.” At the April 11 2019 Student Achievement and Support Committee Meeting co-chair McGinley again raised concerns that this Action Item refers to certain skill sets that seem very basic for the role of  principal and that they are things that principals should have learned before becoming principals, not after.

Seton Hall University professor Daniel Katz, who studies new-teacher induction and chairs the education department, went a step further. “What Relay is preparing people for is to work only within schools that operate on tightly  scripted curricula,” Katz said. “They’re not working to teach teachers to be flexible, professional enactors of curriculum, but to work within a set of instructional gimmicks.”

APPS posted our own analysis in 2014, Relay Graduate School of Education: A Policy Brief, describing the origins and focus of this unaccredited institution.  Although it was posted in 2016, and there have been some leadership changes, the basic focus has remained the same as it is bolstered by contracts from the District.

ELL Services Outsourced

Item 45: Amended Memorandum of Understanding with Temple University for the Transforming School Leadership, Instruction, and Family Engagement (L.I.F.E) Initiative    (Academic Support – Other)

Board of Education Meeting Date:  4/25/2019

Action under consideration: The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, perform, and deliver an amendment of a Memorandum of Understanding as follows:

With: Temple University – Of The Commonwealth System of Higher Education Purpose:Professional development
Start Date: 9/1/2016
End Date: 8/31/2021
Value of Services not to exceed:  $2,700,000.00
Location(s): Frankford High School; Franklin Learning Center (FLC); Furness, Horace High School; Kensington Health Sciences Academy; Lincoln, Abraham High School; Northeast High School; Washington, George High School; Two (2) K-8 and/or middle schools (TBD)

Description:Temple University’s Transforming School Leadership, Instruction, and Family Engagement (L.I.F.E.) for English Learners is a professional development and family engagement initiative currently being implemented in four high schools (Franklin Learning Center, Furness, Kensington Health Sciences, and Lincoln) under OGC Contract No. 705/F18. A second cohort of schools will begin the initiative in September 2019. The initiative focuses on providing professional development and consultative services and resources to educators of English Learners (ELs), school leadership teams, and parents/families of ELs. We are requesting approval for changes made to the initial Memorandum of Understanding with Temple University for this project.

Under the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), three schools were identified for the second cohort of schools (Northeast, Frankford, and Washington). Temple is increasing the number of schools for the second cohort to six in an effort to increase support for EL students in the District. The six schools will include Northeast, Frankford, Washington, and two (2) K-8 and/or middle schools not yet identified. The additional two schools will be selected based on the size of the EL student population and ability to recruit the required school personnel for participation. PD and family engagement activities will continue as outlined in the initial MOU.

In addition, Temple will provide a $500 honorarium to one staff member from each Cohort 1 school who is not directly involved in the school’s Temple L.I.F.E. Leadership Team or teacher cohort, but has significantly contributed to the activities and efforts of the project. This person will be selected collaboratively by the school’s leadership team and participating teachers.

The Temple L.I.F.E. program supports the district’s overall strategy to support English Learners by developing content teachers’ knowledge and ability to support English Learners in their classrooms through the ESL certificate program. In addition, the Temple L.I.F.E program includes family engagement components, which align to the district’s efforts to increase engagement with our multilingual families.

Related resolution(s)/approval(s): November 16, 2017; B-5

APPS Analysis: Temple is overseeing this five-year $2.7 million Department of Education National Professional Development grant titled “Transforming School L.I.F.E. (Leadership, Instruction and Family Engagement) for English Learners.  Where is the research showing how effective this has been? Have teachers, students, and family members participated in providing feedback as to the usefulness of this professional development? If so, where is the link to the documentation? Is this initiative replicable or does it begin and end with Temple’s role? If more details were provided then we would not have to ask these basic questions. It is unclear why a school member will get a $500 honorarium–will it be used to further this Project or simply given as a personal award? Provide a link to the contract so we can see what is being provided and expected from participants. This brief description raises questions that should have been answered within the description of this Action Item.

More Outsourcing

Item 9: Amendment of Contract with Foundations, Inc. (Talent – Amended Contract)

Board of Education Meeting Date:  4/25/2019

Action under consideration: The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute a contract subject to funding as follows:

With: Foundations, Inc.
Purpose: To provide substitute services for principals and central office executive administrators and to provide principal support
Original Start Date:  7/1/2018 Original End Date:  6/30/2019 Amended End Date: 6/30/2022
Currently Authorized Compensation:  $1,250,000
Additional Compensation:  $1,550,000 Total New Compensation:  $2,800,000
Location: All Schools; Administrative Office(s);
Renewal Options:  Yes; Number of Options: 3
Duration of each option to extend: Years: 1
Maximum compensation authorized per option period:   $1,250,000

Description: When long-term vacancies arise for reasons including medical leaves, resignations or retirements, the Office of Talent seeks to identify substitutes as quickly as possible. The District started working with Foundations, Inc. in 2016 to provide substitutes for Assistant Superintendent, Chief, Deputy Chief, principal and senior central office positions as well as executive coaching and principal support.

When the contract amount was budgeted for SY 2015-2016, projected costs for resignations and medical leaves were budgeted for a lower amount than has become necessary. Therefore, the Office of Talent requests a contract amendment for the current contract for an additional $175,000. Please note that this request is cost-neutral, with funds being moved from the per diem principal substitute budget and departmental budgets to cover this amount.

Foundations, Inc. conducts client satisfaction surveys of supervisors following candidate placement.  According to the most recent survey results of Assistant Superintendents’ responses about their experiences using Foundations, Inc., 100% of Assistant Superintendents who were surveyed “strongly agreed” that they were given a choice of qualified candidates from which to select and that the candidate they selected had the necessary experience requested for the assignment.  90% of Assistant Superintendents “strongly agreed” that the candidate’s performance during the assignment met expectations.

Related resolution(s)/approval(s):

August 18, 2016; A-6
June 15, 2017; A-7
April 26, 2018; A-4

Funding Source(s):
FY19 – Operating
FY20 – Operating
FY21 – Operating
FY22 – Operating

APPS Analysis: One  year ago this is what we wrote about the ongoing flow of money over the past three years to Foundations, Inc. It appears that not much has changed, except the increasing amount.

Eyes on the SRC, April 2018, APPS Analysis: For the past two years the District has been giving contracts to Foundations Inc to supply “temporary executive staff”. Where are their results? They were searching for people to fill the same positions back in 2016 (Resolution A-6). Why can’t the District attract and retain executive personnel? Whatever happened to promoting from within? In-house promotions provide a person with actual experience working in the District. This administration seems intent on importing inexperienced people from across the country who stay for a bit and fly away to greener pastures. We need stability in all levels of this District.