Eyes on the SRC: April 27, 2017

SRC budget vote

by Karel Kilimnik
April 24, 2017

The Steady Stream of Public Dollars to Private Vendors
A recurring theme in every edition of “Eyes” is how much public money flows from the District into the pockets of corporate education reformers and vendors. The Relay teacher-training program, unaccredited in Pennsylvania, was approved last month for a one-year contract, but we predict that they will return for even more funding next year. Relay is closely affiliated with the Mastery Charter School district.

This month, the SRC proposes to extend its current contract with TNTP (The New Teacher Project) by an additional $1 million. One teacher who testified at the April 20 meeting asked why the SRC funds programs which produce poorly trained teachers while failing to pay their own teachers a fair wage. These companies only seek to profit as part of the program in which students are subjected to unproven methods like blended learning under the guise of innovation.

 APPS has developed a FAQ about these non-profits and consultants hired by the District as part of the privatization program Superintendent Hite was hired to carry out

  1. How much teaching experience, if any, does the staff of these programs have? Were they appointed teachers or TFA-trained? Did they teach in an urban area?
  2. Who sits on the boards of these institutions? Are any board members or staff affiliated with other corporate reformers or vendors? Are any graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy?
  3. Who are their funders? Any of the big 3 (Gates, Walton Family, Eli Broad)?)

WHAT IF… Instead of shelling out $1.2million to TNTP, the district used that money to hire 30 Bi-Lingual Counseling Assistants? Four students spoke eloquently at the April 20 meeting about the urgent need for more resources, including Bi-Lingual Counseling Assistants. Dr. Hite talks about supporting our immigrant students –now we need to see money going to meet those needs.

This Is Not Real Charter Reform
Please be aware that the state legislature is again attempting to revise the state Charter Law with HB 97, a fix with untenable conditions that propose even less accountability for charters and will certainly weaken public schools. Some crucial facts from the Education Voter website on HB 97 include:

*HB 97 fails to ensure that charters will equitably serve all students and does not address student “push-out” in charters.

* HB 97 fails to address critical funding problems with the current law.

* HB 97 does not address issues of education quality in charter schools or allow school districts to hold charters accountable if they fail to provide students with a quality education.

Please contact your state representatives and urge them to vote NO on HB 97.

Education, not Gentrification
In 2013, the district closed 23 schools including Smith School located in the rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze neighborhood. Save Smith School, a community organization working for over three years to have Smith School re-opened as a public school, is holding an Education Not Gentrification rally at 4 PM on Thursday, April 27th just before the SRC meeting. Meet at 4 PM at the Thomas Paine Plaza (adjacent to the Municipal Services Building across from the North side of City Hall); we will march down to 440.   Come and support the parents and community members defending public education in Point Breeze and in all neighborhoods.

The next SRC Action Meeting is Thursday April 27 at 4:30 PM. To register to speak, call 215.400.4180 before 3PM Wednesday April 26.

Resolutions of Note

Ratification of Responses to Auditor General’s Charter Schools Performance Audit Report and Corrective Action Plan
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the Responses and Corrective Action Plan of The School District of Philadelphia to the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Special Performance Audit Report of District-authorized Charter Schools, for the audit period July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2015, with updates through January 22, 2016, a copy of which is attached hereto as Exhibit A.

Description: Beginning in 2013, auditors from the Office of the Auditor General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania initiated an audit on oversight and monitoring of District authorized charter schools for fiscal years ended June 30, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 with updates through January 22, 2016. Thereafter, the Auditor General issued a final report of its findings and the School District submitted its formal Management’s Response to be incorporated into the final report. The School District responses were made public by the Auditor General on April 12, 2016 and can be found along with the Performance Audit Report on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website (www.paauditor.gov) under “Audit Reports”.

APPS Analysis: PA Auditor Eugene De Pasquale has said that the current charter law has caused serious problems across the state, in particular Philadelphia. However, there are improvements that could be made by the District, for example, expanding the staff at its Charter School Office. “ DePasquale also said that “…the district’s role as a charter authorizer has resulted in uncontrollable and unpredictable legal costs, as well as legal complications over enrollment caps, new charter authorizations, appeals from denied applications, and re-authorizations of existing charter schools.

In addition to those caused by Harrisburg’s failure to adequately fund the state’s schools, the Charter School Law imposes severe burdens on local school districts. The 2016 report was based on five community meetings held throughout the state with various stakeholders, the overwhelming majority of whom advocated for an overhaul of the state Charter School Law. The question remains as to what that should look like. This report describes and clarifies some of the major issues.

Of 163 Charter schools in Pennsylvania, 86 are in Philadelphia. The map in this report shows that Pittsburgh has 18.

Categorical/Grant Fund: $1,087,364 Contract Amendment with the New Teacher Project – New Principal Coaching
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver, and perform an amendment of Contract No. 0794/F16, originally entered into with The New Teacher Project, Inc pursuant to Resolution A-2, approved by the School Reform Commission on June 16, 2016 by increasing the dollar amount of the contract by an additional $1,087,364 from $661,032 approved by Resolution A-2, to an amount not to exceed $1,748,396 for both years of the contract, and by extending the term of the contract from its original scheduled expiration date of June 30, 2017 through June 30, 2018, to provide coaching to first- and second-year principals, as part of the New Principals Academy.

Description: The School District of Philadelphia is seeking job embedded coaching and professional development (PD) facilitation support for first and second year principals participating in the New Principals Academy. The coaching and professional development facilitation support will improve principal effectiveness as instructional leaders and building managers as measured by improvements in student learning. Principal performance will also improve on the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Framework for Leadership in the following domains 1b (uses data for informed decisions making), 2b (ensures a high quality of high performing staff), 3c (implements high quality instruction), and 4a (maximizes professional responsibilities through parent involvement and community outreach). First year principals receive at least six hours of coaching per month, and second year principals receive at least three

Seriously? The district continues to burden principals with additional duties like recruiting community and business partners. Many have had to act as nurses and counselors after Dr. Hite laid off much of the support staff. He has yet to restore schools to full staffing levels. Principals are actually covering classes because the Hite administration has failed year after year to fill teacher vacancies.

As we said when the SRC approved the first TNTP contract last year:” The New Teacher Project was founded by Michelle Rhee and has close connections with Teach for America (TFA). While TNTP claims to be able to identify the qualities of a good teacher, its research has been questioned by actual educators in institutions of higher learning. In fact, TNTP is not a research organization, it is an education reform advocacy group which receives significant funding from donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Addition revenue is generated through contracts with school districts and states. While TNTP claims to be able to identify the qualities of a good teacher, its research has been questioned by actual educators in institutions of higher learning. TFA inserts unqualified college graduates into classrooms after just a few weeks of orientation. TNTP’s current president taught for only two years via TFA; she then founded a charter school in Harlem which was closed down after three years because of low test scores, high teacher turnover, and financial improprieties.”

TNTP is rife with corporate education reformers. Board members include Luis Avila, a former National Program Director for Stand For Children; Matt Glickman, former TFA board member (he has no teaching experience);Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust; Paul Pastorek) executive director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; as well as real estate developers and investment bankers. Of the twenty staff listed on TNTP’s website, only seven list any teaching experience—mostly through TFA or Charter Schools—but do not say for how many years. According to teacher and author Mercedes Schneider, The Education Trust, which has received $4.91 billion from the Gates foundation, was instrumental in writing and lobbying for the No Child Left Behind bill.

At every SRC meeting SRC Commissioners and Dr Hite bemoan the lack of funding. Why do they continue to hire outside companies to do the work that has previously been done internally?

A-9 (Pending)
Capital Fund: Capital Awards II – Henry C. Lea Elementary School – Classroom Modernization

APPS ANALYSIS: There is no summary description allowing the public to know what Classroom Modernization means at the Lea School. The SRC agreed, in its settlement with APPS over Sunshine Act violations, that all resolutions will be posted two weeks before the meeting. Posting a title with no text or description hides information from the public. The public need to know what this project is and how much it will cost.

Capital Fund: $145,000 Contracts with Hertz Furniture, Reed Associates, and School Specialty, Inc. – Furniture, Equipment and Supplies – Relocation of Building 21 to Kinsey School
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes the School District of Philadelphia through the Superintendent, or his designee, to execute, perform and deliver contracts with Hertz Furniture, Reed Associates & School Specialty, Inc., to purchase furniture, equipment, and supplies for the newly renovated John L. Kinsey School, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $145,000, for the period commencing April 28, 2017 through December 31, 2017.

Description: These contracts will authorize the procurement of furniture, equipment and supplies for the conversion of the John L. Kinsey School into a secondary program for Building 21. Building 21 will relocate to the Kinsey School building for the start of the 2017-18 academic year. The School Reform Commission authorized the relocation of Building 21 to the Kinsey building by Resolution A-6, approved at the October 13, 2016 public action meeting. These contracts ensure that the school is fully operational and all educational spaces are sufficiently equipped for the start of the new school year.

APPS ANALYSIS:  The Building 21 story illustrates the growing inequity in the district. In 2012, three Harvard doctoral students in the “Education Leadership Program” created their concept for an “innovative school model” and called it Building 21, “from the famous Building 20 at M.I.T. that was a cradle of innovation and divergent thinking for over 50 years”. These students received a $50,000 Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) incubation grant in 2013; in 2014 PSP awarded the school and additional $2 million to launch. PSP’s funding is driving the creation of “alternative” schools in the district.

This Resolution provides another example of the unequal allotment of resources. Building 21 is moving into the Kinsey School, a former elementary school. Other schools have been forced to relocate and never received this kind of support from the District. They had to make do with what they had or with what the other school left behind. While most district schools struggle to survive under Hite’s austerity program, PSP endows schools of their choosing with millions to create new schools, assured that the district will pick the remaining tab. Presently, Building21 operates one school in Philadelphia and one in Allentown. Building21 is part of a national trend of entrepreneurs seeking a foothold for their investments. They appropriate pedagogy and turn it into a product to be sold to school districts across the country.

A-17 (Pending)
Lease Agreement with the Urban Affairs Coalition – Use of a portion of Education Center at 440 North Broad Street

APPS ANALYSIS: Again, no text or explanation is provided. Where are the details of this Lease Agreement? The District has empty office space it is trying to rent. In August 2016, the SRC approved Resolution A-15 to rent “approximately 650 square feet” to Kelly Services a rate of $16.50/sq. ft. What criteria is being used to determine future tenants? How much is being charged? Considering the redevelopment going on in this area is this amount a rate which reflects market-value?

A-31 (Pending)
Operating Budget: $112,450 Ratification of Amended Contract with The Achievement Network, LTD; Curriculum and Teaching Resources, Assessment Materials and Analysis, Training and Coaching

APPS ANALYSIS: Again, no text or description posted.                          
What we do know is that the Achievement Network is the latest contingent of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex feeding at the public trough. They describe themselves as a
mission-driven nonprofit organization…dedicated to increasing educational equity in America. Actually, they hire coaches to work with school leadership teams. Of their 12-member leadership team, only three have teaching experience. The Network has been affiliated with TFA and TNTP. Their website states that ANet schools, with the right conditions in place, see 6 months of additional learning over 2 years.” They don’t say which conditions, presumably to justify any failure to increase learning and lobby for an extension of their contract. The Network has received funding from both the Gates Foundation and the federal government to implement their technology-driven education philosophy which only diminishes the crucial human relationships essential to student achievement.

Edyshuster’s Jennifer Berkshire describes the damage ANet has inflicted on an elementary school in Massachusetts. Their modus operandi is to cobble together portions of numerous state tests and serve the result to whichever district they have been hired.

A sampling the members of ANet’s Board illustrates the background and priorities of those who run this company:
Leslye Arsht is the chairman and CEO of StandardsWork, Inc., a trustee of Franklin Pierce University, and a senior advisor to both Tutor.com and Care.com, Inc. She previously served as deputy under the Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy.  She is a former senior advisor to the Ministry of Education of Iraq. In 1992, Leslye founded StandardsWork(SW), a non-profit education consulting firm that supports and initiates evidence-based approaches to improved teaching and learning. SW has developed a digital learning game, http://www.themarsgame.com, with Lockheed Martin and DOD’s Advanced Distributed Learning Lab.”
Eileen Rudden, is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy (as is Dr Hite) and co-founder of LearnLaunch, which drives innovation to transform learning.

Operating Budget: $88,200 Contracts with Agile Mind, The Princeton Review, and Achieve 3000 – Summer Bridge Programs
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver, and perform contracts separately with: Agile Minds (Summer-Start Academic Youth Development), for an amount not to exceed $45,500; The Princeton Review (UP Next and Early Edge 101), for an amount not to exceed $37,700; and Achieve Intensive (Achieve 3000,) for an amount not to exceed $5,000, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $88,200 to provide professional development and curriculum for teachers who will provide Summer Bridge Programs in up to 25 neighborhood high schools, for the period commencing April 28, 2017 through August 31, 2017.

Description: These contracts, which cover teacher professional development and the purchase of curriculum materials, will support the hosting and implementation of Summer Bridge Programs in a variety of disciplines. The Summer-Start Academic Youth Development (AYD) program provided by Agile Minds aims to increase math achievement. The program, which will be held at the four (4) 9th grade pilot high schools (Sayre, Frankford, South Philadelphia and Kensington), targets students and teachers who are preparing for Algebra I in the fall, introduces key ideas and self-management strategies, and encourages new learning mindsets that contribute to building a positive learning environment for themselves and peers. Students engage in challenging problem solving activities and higher-level mathematics. The program runs for four weeks, will support up to 100 rising 10th graders, and includes two days of in-person training for eight teachers. Program activities directly align with standards for college readiness and foundational mathematics standards, and the knowledge and skills students gain in the summer are reinforced, strengthened, and shared with peers during the academic year.

The Princeton Review will offer two programs within a two-week transition program structure: Early Edge 101 and UP Next. Early Edge is an early college preparation course that reinforces and increases the basic foundational skills students need to perform at grade level. Early Edge also introduces students to standardized test preparation, demonstrating the links between academic subjects and their corresponding question types on college admissions tests. Focusing on mathematical, grammatical, and English language concepts, Early Edge 101 provides students with the foundational support they need to achieve academic success. The UP Next program is a modular, workshop-based program designed to improve student retention, and graduation rates by developing non-academic skills such as goal setting, leadership, time management, and community building. This program utilizes a live classroom instructional model designed to boost student engagement and participation. Both programs will be implemented in up to 25 schools and service over 600 students. High schools will be selected on a first come, first serve basis with preference given to comprehensive high schools.

Finally, Achieve Intensive offers Acheive3000, a new program designed to engage and motivate students by providing a rapid intervention solution which uses a customizable curriculum for daily differentiated instruction and independent practice with highly engaging cross disciplinary articles differentiated at 12 levels in English and seven in Spanish. The program runs for 5 weeks and will be implemented at Penn Treaty School and serve 40 students, allowing 8th grade students to experience summer literacy support as they transition to 9th grade.

APPS Analysis: As Dr. Hite creates new categories of schools each year—Transformation Schools, Redesign Schools, Innovation Schools—we see more transfer of public assets to private vendors. The companies named in this resolution are purveyors of “blended learning” and “personalized learning”, which is anything but. It is not hyperbole to say that these programs are dangerous. They take away time in which students can interact with their teachers and peers and sticks them in front of a screen for significant portions of the school day. They take away time for students to socialize with and learn from others.

For more information on this dangerous trend, we recommend that you read the blog of Philadelphia parent Alison McDowell, Wrench in the Gears.