Eyes on the Board of Education: September 19, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

Years ago the garden of privatization seeds were sown, the garden well tended by corporate disruptors, and now in full bloom. The current administration, led by the Broad Academy-trained Superintendent William Hite, has been steadily outsourcing everything from school staff to special education services to support for central administration.

Crumbling and toxic buildings, along with past and future school closings, give lie to the District’s stated goal of having  “a great school close to where children live”. Not long ago children walked to their neighborhood school. Teachers spent their career teaching in one or two schools. That has all changed now as the winds of corporate reform continue to blow through the District.

Corporate education supporters hold Board and CEO positions at many of the vendors who are offered contracts before the Board this month.  Attuned Education Partners (Item 7) is rife with officials from TFA,  Broad Academy, Relay GSE, and McKinsey & Company. The Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education is on the Board of  Relay GSE Board.

Item 6-Amendments to Contracts with ACS Consultants, EBS Healthcare, and Progressus Therapy – Special Education Teachers diverts more taxpayer money into the pockets of outside vendors as the District continues to struggle to recruit and retain teachers.

An honest effort toward teacher retention includes examining working conditions. Teachers have been held accountable for the failures of No Child Left Behind and the testing culture that permeates school systems. Additional stressors here include incompetent school leadership and continual turmoil inflicted by the Acceleration Network and Priority Schools turnovers. Before the corporate “dump the losers” mentality took hold,  it was not uncommon for teachers to spend their professional life in one or two schools. That is true stability.

Items 41 through 47 (Mastery Charter School Renewals) present a list of seven Mastery Renaissance Charter Schools, most of whose new contracts have lingered unsigned for years. The Charter Schools Office (CSO)  now recommends what amounts to retroactive renewals–without calling them that–some as far back as 2016. Although 5 of these Renaissance schools were recommended for 5-year Renewals with Conditions by the CSO when they first came up for a vote, the conditions have now been disappeared by the CSO.  The renewals specify that they “ do not include any school-specific conditions”. What was removed that Mastery did not want to implement? The public was never told what the conditions were, so we have no way to know what was rejected by this charter operator. The District conducts all charter renewal agreements in secret.  The SRC treats charter schools as clients, not as public schools, and the Board is continuing that practice. Where is that data proving the success of the Renaissance Charter School Program in ensuring “that all students have a great school close to where they live”? The District website states:  “A Renaissance Charter School is a neighborhood school that is operated as a public charter school and can only enroll students from the neighborhood, also known as a catchment zone.” But Councilmember Helen Gym’s report provides data showing a rise in out-of-catchment students at several Renaissance charter schools.

Allowing negotiations between charter management companies and the District to be conducted behind closed doors, and allowing Charter operators to refuse to correct their academic and financial deficiencies, simply continues the SRC practice of providing cover for charter operators at the cost of actual public schools.  Based on the District’s 2019 Budget Vendor List, the projected cost for these seven Mastery Renaissance Charter Schools over their five-year contract is $$888, 494, 511. 

Charters grow like weeds as they regularly apply for amendments to increase school enrollment (Items 39 & 40 KIPP Charter School ). Inadequate public information is provided for these expensive Items; in fact, there is not even a cost posted.  The SRC actually provided far more details than the skimpy descriptions given by the Board. One of the four Board’s stated priorities is “Transparency”. Failing to provide adequate descriptions of what is being voted on does nothing to support that commitment.

What If…

….the Board refused to approve any more enrollment changes for charters until district-run schools were all housed in healthy buildings? 

October Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday October 17, 5 PM at 440 N. Broad Street.  To register to speak, call 215.400.5959 by 3 PM Wednesday October 16, or fill out the form on the Board’s webpage.

Action Items of Note

The full list of Items before the Board can be found here.

More District Outsourcing 

Action Item 6:   Amendments to Contracts with ACS Consultants, EBS Healthcare, and Progressus Therapy – Special Education Teachers

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:  ACS Consultants, Inc. and EBS Healthcare, Inc. Progressus Therapy, LLC
Purpose: To increase maximum number of contracted Special Education teachers and one-to-one aides from the currently authorized number of 60 to a maximum of 100 individuals
Original Start Date:  7/1/2017 Original End Date:  6/30/2020
Currently Authorized Compensation:  $5,300,000
Additional Compensation:  $3,500,000
All entities will be paid out of the aggregate amount not to exceed $8,800,000.

APPS Analysis: The District has been steadily outsourcing Special Education services including teachers, speech therapists, and physical therapists. Instead of providing adequate support and staffing, the District hires vendors and pays them a management fee for what used to be done in-house. We have written, researched, and analyzed ACS Consultants, EBS HeathCare, and Progressus Therapy for years. Nothing has changed except the amount of the contracts. And are we talking about a Teacher shortage or a teacher exodus?    Educators are blamed for things over which they have little control: underfunded schools, test-prep curriculum, and scripted curricula that narrows teaching and learning and turns students into data points. Their wages remain stagnant while the cost of living increases.

In response to  a recent nursing shortage, wages were increased, working conditions improved and more people applied to nursing schools. Similar changes have not happened within the teaching profession. Class size has increased while support services decreased. Teachers cannot be the only ones held accountable.                                                        

Privatizers Win Contract to Update Anchor Goals

Action Item 7: Contract with Attuned Education Partners – Action Plan Support
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: Attuned Education Partners, LLC
Purpose: To provide project planning, meeting preparation, meeting facilitation, and data review/analysis in support of the District’s efforts to update the actions it takes to implement its Anchor Goals
Start date: 10/1/2019     End date: 3/31/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $142,000
Location: Administrative Office(s)
Renewal Options:  No

Description: Since its release in Spring 2015, Action Plan 3.0 has helped bring focus and alignment to the District’s operations which, in turn, has enabled the District to make measurable and significant progress towards its anchor goals. The District is coming to the end of the plan’s five-year cycle in June 2020. In advance of that, the District would like to: 1) review and reconfirm implementation of its anchor goals; 2) establish future performance targets and metrics for each anchor goal; and 3) identify key actions to achieve those performance targets.

The District is seeking external support to help with the work needed to identify and design impactful actions.  It does not have internal resources with both the required skills and available capacity to devote to this short-term, but heavy effort project.  In addition, the lead partner at Attuned Education Partners successfully worked with the District’s leadership team when refinements were made to the Action Plan in early 2018, and his knowledge of the District’s work and progress is important to this project.

Office Originating Request: Superintendent

APPS Analysis: According to this Item, the lead partner at Attuned Education Partners “successfully worked with the District’s leadership team “ in 2018. SRC Resolution A-25 (February 15, 2018) approved a donation of services ($55,000) by David Rudall aka Kenwood Education Advising. David Rudall, who goes by various names, is presently listed as a Partner on the Attuned Education Learning website using the name Evan Rudall. Despite many attempts to locate a specific location, we found none.  As we watch the District leadership increasing its affiliation with Broad fellows, examining Attuned’s staff provides insight into how thoroughly this Administration has infused corporate education people and practices into the running of the District. Former US Secretary of Education John King (who upon leaving public service took over the reins of a corporate education called The Education Trust) collaborated with “Evan Rudall” to establish Roxbury Charter Prep in Boston. King, having taught for only three years, was in charge of curriculum while Rudall handled operations. After attending law school, Rudall took on various administrative positions with Uncommon Schools (a charter management company with schools in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts). Of the nine staff listed on Attuned’s website, seven have worked in charter schools, one is a Broad alum, four have TFA affiliations, one is from Relay GSE, and two worked at McKinsey & Company. Why is the work of identifying and designing education initiatives given to a vendor with no apparent ties to Philadelphia and staff with limited experience in public education? Why does the Hite administration have to spend $142, 000 to examine its own anchor goals?

Board Bringing in Bush Reform Group?

Action Item 33: Contract with Johns Hopkins University – Curriculum Audit
Academic Support – Contracts  CHIEFS FOR CHANGE

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: Johns Hopkins University
Purpose: Curriculum auditing and mapping
Start date: 9/20/2019    End date: 6/30/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $184,356
Location: All Schools
Renewal Options:  No

Description:  Research indicates that the achievement gap between low- and high-income students is often, in large part, a “knowledge gap,” and that reading levels – especially from fifth grade onward – are closely related to students’ level of background content knowledge, rather than abstract skills. To ensure that we are providing students with high-quality instructional materials and resources, the Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment will contract with the Johns Hopkins University to undergo a curriculum audit. Johns Hopkins University has developed a tool with which to analyze an English Language Arts curriculum in terms of the knowledge it offers students, both about the world (mainly through non-fiction texts) and about human psychology and the human condition (through both non-fiction and fiction texts). This proprietary tool, known as the Knowledge Map, analyzes curricula in terms of the content knowledge they offer students. By “mapping” the domains of knowledge implicit in each text across curricula, the Knowledge Map tool will help us answer the critical question of whether our materials provide the depth, breadth, and level of content students need to become excellent readers, engaged learners and informed citizens.  This actionable data will inform our work to support student learning.

Johns Hopkins University has conducted numerous curriculum audits with large school districts and, in partnership with Chiefs for Change, has developed an extensive database of resources that will be used to assist the District during and after the proposed audit. While the District employs curriculum specialists, an independent curriculum audit through a well-respected and nationally recognized university will help us translate the research on what works for educational excellence and equity to those on the front lines of policy and practice – our teachers and staff who support teachers.  Overall, this project includes a review of all English Language Arts core resources to develop a Knowledge Map (K-12); a Teacher Survey (English Language Arts and Math K-12) to gather data relative to instruction; an analysis of 11th- grade career readiness against the PA Career Education Standards, a cross-comparison of Pennsylvania’s State Standards to the Common Core State Standards, and focus groups to gain a deeper understanding of teachers’ needs and resources so that we can provide targeted data-driven support to our educators.

APPS Analysis: In 2008 then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush created the Foundation for Excellence In Education to promote his privatization agenda including: promoting Common Core State Standards; using test scores to evaluate teachers; A-to-F report cards for schools; expanding charter schools and online learning; and pushing states to embrace digital learning in public schools, a costly transition that often requires new software and hardware. Many of those digital products are made by donors to the foundation and funders of Chiefs For Change — including Microsoft, Intel, News Corp., Pearson PLC and K12 . Later came a spin-off advocacy group Chiefs For Change (CFC). Initially set up for state education superintendents, their dwindling membership forced them to include superintendents of urban school districts.

In 2015 Chiefs For Change split from Bush’s Foundation. Dr Hite joined the Chiefs in 2017.  Other members include former Newark superintendent and subsequent New Jersey State Education Secretary Chris Cerf, who imposed Governor Christie’s privatization agenda on Newark and Camden; Paymon Rouhanifard, former Goldman Sachs employee and superintendent  of Camden School District who laid out the welcome mat for charter chains including Mastery and KIPP; former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) John Deasy, who resigned in the wake of a $1.3B iPad debacle coupled with a “robust travel schedule” that had Deasy out of town at times when LAUSD difficulties required a superintendent’s attention. David Steiner,Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Professor of Education at Johns Hopkins University, sits on the Board of the unaccredited Relay Graduate School, created by two charter school founders who wanted a program to supply their schools with teachers with the correct ideology. 

Do the Board members know who the Chiefs for Change are and what their agenda is?

More Digital Resources, Less Staff

Action Item 35: Contract with Newsela – Comprehensive Digital Library
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: Newsela
Purpose: Digital library that aligns with English Language Arts curriculum for grades 4-8
Start date: 9/22/2019  End date: 6/30/2024
Compensation not to exceed: $1,595,000.50
Location: All Elementary Schools; All Middle Schools

Description:  Studies show that students need texts that reflect their personal experiences and backgrounds to remain engaged. This is especially crucial for hesitant readers; and striving students are more likely to engage in reading and learning when the text makes a real-world connection to their lives, or when they are interested in the topic.  Newsela, an instructional content platform, uses relevant and timely news articles/stories from today’s headlines and rewrites them at multiple reading levels. The articles/stories are culturally relevant, current, and age/grade appropriate. This allows all students to access the same content (knowledge) and learn the same grade level skills, despite varying reading levels. Through the Newsela platform, teachers and students will have unlimited access to Newsela content, standards-aligned reading activities, and insights to support core instruction and differentiation across the curriculum. This includes access to over twenty genres of content, such as primary sources, reference texts, essays, fiction, issue overviews, and more – at five different reading levels. Teachers will be able to use Newsela to teach to the standards, themes, and topics contained in the District’s English Language Arts core materials as well as create custom activities, search for content by standard, get lesson ideas, and control the reading levels students see. Newsela will be accessed through the District’s Curriculum Engine and/or the Newsela website. The Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment will provide a screencast and offer professional development to communicate to teachers how to access Newsela to enhance instructional practices and support student-identified needs. Teachers will, in turn, teach students how to access and use Newsela, and school leadership teams will provide information for families about the use of Newsela.

APPS Analysis:  Let’s first correct the initial sentence of the District’s description: Studies show that students benefit significantly when their schools have Certified Teacher Librarians (CTL) in school libraries.  School library advocate Deb Kachel wrote: “When schools have high-quality library programs and librarians who share their expertise with the entire school community, student achievement gets a boost.”  

These are some of the skills that CTLs bring to a school community that are missing in an online program: instructing students, both with classroom teachers and independently; collaborating with classroom teachers to prepare engaging lessons; providing professional development to teachers; facilitating the use of technology by students and teachers; providing technology support to teachers; and providing reading incentive programs. Instead of spending scarce funds on a “digital library”, the Board should be making a commitment to bring back what works: books and online resources in a library with professional staff. This administration needs to follow South Carolina’s commitment to have at least one school librarian with an  MLIS degree  (Master of Library and Information Science)in every school.

The Non-Profit, Philanthropic, Charitable-Industrial Complex

Action Item 38: Contract with 12 Plus – Postsecondary Academic and Mentoring Support Services Schools

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: 12PLUS
Purpose: To provide Post-secondary, Academic and Mentoring Support Services
Start date: 9/20/2019  End date: 6/30/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $155,000
Location: Hill-Freedman World Academy; Kensington High School; Penn Treaty High School
Renewal Options:  Yes Number of Options: 2
Duration of each option to extend: Years: 1  Months:

Description:  12PLUS will provide individualized and school-wide post-secondary, academic, and mentoring support services for grades 9-12 at Kensington High School (KHS), Penn Treaty School (PT), and Hill-Freedman World Academy (HFWA). Additional career and college resources will be provided through fully-staffed, 12PLUS Center that will be established within Kensington High School, Penn Treaty School, and Hill-Freedman World Academy. Monthly events will also be held to promote a school-wide college-going culture, increase interest in career related fields, and celebrate student achievements. 12PLUS will partner with school faculty and administration to provide ongoing academic and behavioral monitoring for the entire student bodies of KHS, PT, and HFWA.

12PLUS will support the following tasks at each school: Individualized advising and small group workshops to assist students in exploring post-secondary options and preparing for post-secondary success; Career exploration and individualized career advising;  Academic monitoring and intervention for at-risk students; Non-cognitive skill development designed to improve student engagement and academic achievement; Parent and community meetings; Professional development workshops; and Summer Transition for incoming ninth graders and graduating seniors.

Included in 12PLUS’ services is the role of an Impact Director. The Impact Director will work will school staff to manage and evaluate the overall efficacy of our program. The director will create reports on a range of educational outcomes from growth in attendance to college acceptance and matriculation rates. They will also work as a liaison between 12PLUS and school administration, working closely to make sure goals are aligned. He/she will train 12PLUS Site Directors and formulate and deliver objectives on a weekly basis. Finally, the Impact Director will work to serve as an inspector of quality assurance, to guarantee that 12PLUS’s service at each school is consistently excellent.

Related resolution(s)/approval(s):   June 27, 2019, # 83

APPS Analysis:  This Item is another example of what we have pointed out on many occasions.. A non-profit gets its foot in the door by donating its services, later they receive a contract from the District. The initial amount may seem minor but gradually increases as the District continues to outsource instead of building resources from within. Our critique has nothing to do with the quality of K12 programming but with the continued contracting to vendors. As we said in the 2018 Edition of Eyes on the Board of Education, if there were adequate numbers of counselors, social workers, and other support staff, non-profits like 12Plus would exist to supplement what was available with District staff, not impose newly created staff positions onto school staff. This is a national trend as the wealthy and corporations fail to pay their taxes–non-profits spring up to fill the desperate need for basic services. Not only do foundations supply funding but non-profits pitch their services to individuals for support. Ironically, it  is our donations that help fuel these critical resources instead of fully funding our schools. We envision a world in which the District’s budget includes a steady and reliable funding stream.

And what is an” Impact Director”? Why are  schools being forced to accept more intrusive professional development  and coaching from outside companies? Penn Treaty had the ISA consulting firm move in after being designated as a Priority School just 2 years ago.  Can’t we see whether that worked before another vendor sets up shop? This contract represents another step in privatizing resources within a school and handing responsibility to an outside agency.

CharterWorld Has Its Own Rules

Action Item 39 KIPP West Philadelphia Charter School – Application for Charter Renewal (Added 9.5.19)

Action under consideration: Renewal Term:  July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2024

Amendment:  Increase maximum authorized enrollment from 375 to 500; commencing January 1, 2020, absorbing Grades 5-8 populated with 360 students from KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter (“KWPPCS”), provided KWPPCS forfeits its charter.

Description:  KIPP West Philadelphia Charter School applied for renewal of its charter in the 2018-19 school year.  A renewal evaluation of this charter school was completed by the Charter Schools Office in 2019 (Renewal Report).  The CSO has recommended a five-year renewal effective July 1, 2019. In accordance with SRC Resolution SRC-15, approved on June 16, 2016, KIPP West Philadelphia Charter School and KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter (“KWPPCS”) are to be combined provided KWPPCS forfeits its charter.  The renewal includes changes to the authorized grades and maximum authorized enrollment as previously approved by the SRC. The Board of Education will consider this application for charter renewal.

Office Originating Request: Board of Education

Action Item 40: KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School – Forfeiture of Charter (Added 9.5.19)

Action under consideration
Effective Date:  December 31, 2019

Description:  In accordance with SRC Resolution SRC-15, approved on June 16, 2016, KIPP West Philadelphia Charter School and KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter (“KWPPCS”) are to be combined, provided KWPPCS forfeits its charter.  The Board of Education will consider this forfeiture.

Office Originating Request: Board of Education

APPS Analysis:  One of the charter management companies’ sleight-of-hand moves is creating similarly named schools with fragments of grades, often housed in multiple locations. KIPP practically wrote the book on this. The local  KIPP Schools’ website lists six schools while the District website lists five,  all with slight variations in their names.  

These two Action  Items provide scant information. Where will these two schools be located? Last month the Board approved the selling of Whittier School to a separate, for-profit entity: KIPP Whittier Development, LLC MIS Capital LLC.  This represents yet another circular lease agreement common in the charter sector. We confirmed that the KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter will be relocating to Whittier located in North Philadelphia. KIPP moves its students like pawns on a giant chess board from one part of the city to another with little regard for the communities they move to and from. 

Action Item 41:Francis D. Pastorius Mastery Charter School – Application for Charter Renewal (Added 9.5.19)

Action Item 42: Hardy Williams Academy Charter School – Application for Charter Renewal (Added 9.5.19)

Action Item 43:Mastery Charter School Cleveland Elementary – Application for Charter Renewal (Added 9.5.19)

Action Item 44: Mastery Charter School Clymer Elementary – Application for Charter Renewal (Added 9.5.19)

Action Item 45: Mastery Charter School – Pickett Campus – Application for Charter Renewal (Added 9.5.19)

Action Item 46: Mastery Charter School Simon Gratz Campus – Application for Charter Renewal (Added 9.5.19)

Action Item 47: Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus – Application for Charter Renewal (Added 9.5.19)

APPS Analysis:  it appears that there are presently two school systems operating in  Philadelphia, one consisting of district-run schools, the other privately-managed charters that include both stand-alone schools and Renaissance Charters. One in which there is accountability, the other with very little. District-run schools have to meet standards or face closure or interventions under the System of Great Schools(SGS). Strawberry Mansion High School was slated for closure last year but significant community pushback averted such action. Schools placed in the SGS Priority and Focus Schools category are then often thrown into disarray. Many were forced into the Acceleration Network; a significant portion of the faculty were forced out, without due process, after being required to reapply for their own positions in the school. In CharterWorld, though, schools like those in the Mastery chain, even those who fail to meet standards, can refuse to accept any conditions but still remain open and fully funded for up to 4 of their 5-year terms.  Obviously something happened because they are now agreeing to approve their contracts. Whatever went on, negotiations about the future of these “public” schools were held with no public notification or inclusion.  Several of these Mastery Schools have also been granted additional enrollment despite low academic performance.

These are the  annual costs for the following Mastery schools–from the District Vendor List from the  June 30th 2019 FY Quarterly Report: Gratz  ($21,653,926), Shoemaker ($10,90,772), Hardy Williams ($16,502,699), Pickett ($12,583,205), Clymer ($7,782,189), Cleveland ($10,369,759).  These figures do not include stranded costs incurred by the District when students leave to enroll at a charter school. When a child leaves a charter that money does not follow the child but remains at the Charter School.