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?

Shine Early Learning’s (Item 29) website states “Achieving breakthrough child outcomes in early childhood education isn’t easy” but claim that their company can do it–for a price. In reality, what helps children to thrive is having parents who earn a living wage,  attending fully funded schools, and access to decent housing and quality healthcare. Consultants and non-profits draw from funds that should go directly into the classroom.

PSP ‘s influence in the District has grown exponentially since its  2011 inception. Some examples: start-up grants for new charter applications (e g, in 2018 Phila Hebrew Charter, in 2019 the High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter School ); underwriting chosen schools such as SLA-MS; grants to District schools requiring teachers to reapply for their positions (WD Kelley and Blaine schools in 2014); setting up a job board for any teaching position in the city; serving as a “fiscal agent” for a grant to Hill-Freedman World Academy; running the annual High School Fair; establishing and funding the PhillyPlus principal training program.  (Luckily, PSP’s 2012 demand that teachers give up 13% of their wages before Harrisburg increases school funding went nowhere.) Item #31proposes extended funding for two PhillyPlus residents. Many wonder where the District ends and PSP begins.

Why send precious funds back into the deep pockets of TNTP (the reform group formerly known as The New Teacher Project)  when true mentoring can take place within the District? Or it used to before Philly became Ground Zero for edu-preneurs funded by foundations and non-profits. A better use of foundation money would be to lobby the state legislature to fully fund all of our schools, not a select few. The often heard slogan “It’s all about the children” rings hollow when it is all too often about the contracts that benefit stockholders and investors.

What If? 

…the District completed a credential audit of Central Administration Leadership? At last month’s Board Meeting, Chris McGinley said to Dr. Hite, after hearing nurses testify about  the lack of support from senior staff, that credentials matter. McGinley remarked that too often it seems that the belief of this administration is that smart people can do any job without the proper certification.

January Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday January 30, 5 PM at 440 N. Broad Street.  To register to speak, call 215.400.5959 by 3 PM Wednesday January 29, or fill out the speaker form on the Board’s webpage.

Action Items of Note

To see the full Item Summary, go to


Should Edupreneurs Write the Early Childhood Education Playbook?

Item 29: Contract with Shine Early Learning, Inc. ($60,000)   Academic Support – Contracts

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: Shine Early Learning, Inc.

Purpose: To provide training and design support to the Office of Early Childhood Education so as to ensure current data collection systems, monitoring protocols and performance reports fulfill all requirements of the revised federal Head Start Program Performance Standards.

Start date: 12/13/201   End date: 6/30/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $60,000
Location: Central administrative support
Renewal Options:  Yes Number of Options: 2
Duration of each option to extend: Years: 1
Maximum compensation authorized per option period:   $80,000

Description:The revised federal Head Start Program Performance Standards were officially adopted in September 2016, along with a timeline to operationalize different aspects of the standards beginning in 2017 and extending through 2021.  The U.S. Administration for Children and Families has been issuing new best practice guidance for each of the performance standards to guide grantees in meeting the new requirements, including revised reporting and monitoring.  As part of its annual self-assessment, the District’s Office of Early Childhood Education has identified a need to review and refine, if necessary, reporting and monitoring protocols in three areas: recruitment and enrollment of eligible families; classroom environment, including active supervision; and child development screenings.  All resulting changes would be implemented across both internally- and partner-operated sites. Shine Early Learning has experience working with dozens of other large Head Start grantees conducting this work, and has tested many of its tools and processes at Acelero Learning, which was recently recognized as one of five exemplar Head Start programs nationally.  By contracting with Shine Early Learning, the District will be able to adopt proven solutions instead of having to spend several years developing and testing its own locally-designed solutions to fulfill the requirements of the new standards.

APPS Analysis:  Superintendent Hite has left no doubt about his desire to outsource Headstart and has already done so in several locations with “partner” organizations. Some of the schools closed in 2013, including Fulton Elementary in Germantown, meant the loss of many HeadStart programs. Ongoing closing of  District Headstart classrooms and outsourcing of services undermines the proven programs in Early Childhood classrooms. Play is the primary work of young children. This part of the Description sums up the administration’s views toward growing internal capacity: “By contracting with Shine Early Learning, the District will be able to adopt proven solutions instead of having to spend several years developing and testing its own locally-designed solutions to fulfill the requirements of the new standards.” Once again, the Hite administration, many of whom trained as business consultants, ignores the competence, knowledge, and experience of its own educators. 

Shine’s website heavily markets its products in curriculum, coaching, and assessment.  Instead of buying this package, why doesn’t the Board ensure that early childhood workers have access to college-level courses with financial and academic support? Instead of buying products from vendors, let’s reimburse college credits for ECE professionals so they can attain the educational background needed to support the growth and development of young children. The District should promote from within to provide ongoing in-house professional development across the board.

The Shine business model is built on showing young children producing “some of the largest child outcome gains ever “ .  Shine Insight  “delivers the right data to the right hands at the right time to ensure results and positive outcomes for children.”  When edupreneurs say “outcomes”, read “test scores”. Is the Board going to hire a company that wants young children sitting at computers taking standardized tests?  Real educators know that children are not data points. 

Shine Early Learning is a division of Acelero, established in 2001.  Acelero claims to have transformed early learning along with producing “breakthrough child outcomes in early childhood education”.  Last March the “right-leaning pro-reform” (according to blogger Peter Greene)  Bellwether Fund named Acelero Learning “ one of five exemplar Head Start programs across the country.”  Another corporate ed reform group , New Schools Venture Fund, supports Acelero. New Schools Venture Fund counts the Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as “Lifetime Giving Donors” ($5 million and over). Are these the people and programs the Board wants determining the first learning experiences of  Philadelphia’s young children?

Why Is District Management Hiring a District Management Company?

Action Item 9:  Contract with District Management Group, LLC for Operations and Facilities Review ($325,000)    Superintendent – Contracts

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: District Management Group, LLC
Purpose: To develop a strategic plan for operations and facilities departments
Start date: 1/1/2020   End date: 6/30/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $325,000
Location: Administrative Offices
Renewal Options:  No

Description: The District Management Group will work with the District’s central office and other stakeholders to deliver on the District’s commitment to support the long term success of the Operations department. The primary deliverable is an Operations Department Strategic Plan that will include an overall vision and commitment to schools (and other customers), priorities, organizational structure and roles recommendations, and measurable goals/key performance indicators. The Strategic Plan will create the foundation for additional targeted support in the future to revise and improve processes and service delivery across the Operations functions of the District. Additionally the District Management Group is available to provide needed assistance and recommendations to the Superintendent immediately so there is no delay in implementing needed changes.

APPS AnalysisSince the District reveals very little in these Items we have no way of knowing which “other stakeholders” will be working on its “commitment to support the long term success of the Operations department”. The circular jargon of the Description provides little insight.  But the real question is: Why does the very highly-paid Hite administration have to hire a company to provide “an overall vision and commitment to schools”? Public records show that there are at least 20 District administrators making over $150,000 annually.

Who leads DMG and what has his path to the marketplace of education encompassed? CEO John J-H Kim started at McKinsey & Company before becoming President of Kaplan Learning Services, where he developed and marketed education services for the K-12, higher education and corporate markets.  Kim helped to establish Beacon Education Management, which soon merged with Chancellor Academies to form Chancellor Beacon Academies in 2001.  Chancellor Beacon Academies was bought by the scandal-ridden national charter school management company Imagine Schools. Head spinning yet? Kim then goes on to work at online marketing company Rakuten before landing at the  District Management Group. The only education experience he has is in marketing education products. Kim has been a Senior Lecturer in Business Administration at Harvard Business School since 2011, and he is a Senior Advisor for Gnowbe (“a mobile 1st, web-enabled, micro-learning solution designed specifically for behaviour change that delivers business impact. We aspire to revolutionise corporate education through transformational learning – available anytime, anywhere.”).  DMG is known for its “Academic Return on Investment (A-ROI) approach to evaluating programs and initiatives”. Some of DMG’s  recommendations include cuts to Special Education spending. We have to wonder whether  this is going to influence the recommendations for organizational structure in the CSPR.

Action Item 31:  Contract Amendment with TNTP – PhillyPLUS Residents ($10,000)    Schools – Amended Contracts

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 an amendment of a contract, subject to funding, as follows:

With: TNTP, Inc.
Purpose: To provide a Principal Residency Program at two additional School District schools
Original Start Date:  7/1/2019 Original End Date:  6/30/2020
Currently Authorized Compensation:  $90,000 Additional Compensation: $10,000
Total New Compensation:  $100,000
Location: Mitchell, S. Weir Elementary School; Ziegler, William H. School
Renewal Options:  No

Description: PhillyPLUS is a partnership between Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), the Great Schools Compact, the Neubauer Family Foundation, and TNTP. In addition to providing coaching for fellows, TNTP is responsible for coordinating the administrative and operational components of the program. PhillyPLUS Residency is a two-year principal certification program for accomplished Philadelphia educators who are becoming principals. The program blends intensive summer training and a year of hands-on practice in a local school with support from a mentor principal and leadership coach who provide ongoing support and guidance. Residents get the support of the personal coach, combined with real experience in leading teachers at a local school. They learn how to assess the quality of in-class instruction and give teachers concrete feedback and support on how to improve. Residents who demonstrate success have the opportunity to earn their principal certificate and lead their own Philadelphia school during their second year. Mentor Principals are chosen jointly by the School District’s Chief of Schools and TNTP. To be selected as a mentor, principals must have a proven track record of improving student achievement. This program is part of the School District’s principal pipeline program. For the current school year, 47% of Principal placements had participated in the Philly Plus program, while 24% of the Assistant Principals placed last year had participated in the program. Changes to the recruitment and selection process have been made in order to widen the pool of candidates for this program to include sitting Assistant Principals who do not need certification but could benefit from the additional instructional leadership training. This action item is requested to amend the contract with TNTP to include two additional School District schools that will have residents participating in the program. The majority of the cost of services provided by TNTP for the PhillyPLUS program are covered by the Neubauer Family Foundation. The School District contributes a placement fee of $10,000 per resident, which represents overhead expenses related to recruitment, selection, placement, and coaching of residents in Philadelphia schools. Mitchell and Ziegler Elementary Schools have funded a portion of the costs of the placement fee from their school budgets while the remainder of the costs will be covered by PSP.

Funding Source(s): FY20 Operating

APPS Analysis: Despite some Board members’ expressed interests in returning to in-house professional development rather than outsourcing,  TNTP continues to garner unanimous votes for extending their contracts. Infamous corporate education reformer Michelle Ree created TNTP formed in the late 90’s as a spin-off of Teach for America (TFA). TFA continues to send new recruits into urban hard-to-staff classrooms with only 5 weeks of summer training under their belts. TNTP board members have solid corporate ed credentials, including: Chair Luis Avila (National Program Director at Stand for Children), Chris Bierly (partner at Bain Capital where he runs their global education practice), Tina Fernandez (partner at Bellwether Education Partners, former TFA corp member and current Atlanta TFA  board member, two years teaching experience in TFA), Matt Glickman (Bain), and Paul Pastorek (former Executive Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundations’ education division). Two years ago, APPS member Deborah Grill testified at a SRC meeting on the lack of credentials, not to mention teaching and leadership experience, among TNTP’s principal coaches. Nothing has changed.

Foundations such as Broad and Neubauer create their own programs for school districts as they push their “portfolio model” of education and create a pipeline for school leadership. Joseph Neubauer built and ran Aramark, an international multi-billion dollar corporation, until he retired in 2014.  He has said that wanted to use his wealth to do good. Several years ago Neubaur made an anonymous donation to keep the libraries at Central and Masterman open. Certainly a generous gift to those two magnet schools, but what if he had also used his influence to ensure that every public school had a library? The Neubauers started the  Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders in 2014. Their flagship program, the Neubauer Fellowship in Educational Leadership, enrolls principals from charter, private, and district schools. Both the  Broad and Neubauer Foundations clearly understand the need to train future leaders in the field of Education, whether they be principals, superintendents, or state secretaries of education. They recognize the path to implementing their business model of education depends on having people in leadership positions to open the doors for their financial interests. For years, we have watched as both programs and staff have been outsourced.  We count on the Board to know who these “benefactors” are and what their long-term agenda is.