Eyes on the SRC: August 17, 2017

SRC May 18

by Karel Kilimnik
August 14, 2017

The August resolutions include contracts and grants for over $14 million in district spending. A regular feature of Eyes is showing the history of spending on one program or company. The public’s ability to know about these issues has been compromised by the district’s decision to erase the history of SRC resolutions, minutes, amendments and actions on charters prior to last year. For reasons yet to be explained, the Communications Office put up a new website with missing information, but has not kept the previous website up (and since the Director and Assistant Director of that office went on vacation just after the change, answers have been in short supply). This is a simple technological matter. The City of Philadelphia has done exactly that so that the public still has access to public information. We do wonder whether the replacement of the previous website with an incomplete one signals a decision by the SRC to limit public access to district information. The SRC must rectify this matter and make sure that the people of the district can find all of the information they need.

Since his arrival five years ago, Superintendent William Hite has been implementing many of the corporate reforms taught at the unaccredited Broad Academy where he received his training. He has overseen the consistent shift of public positions to private companies, along with the requisite union-busting policies. The local media rarely holds him responsible for the shortcomings of the district he leads, even after disasters such as last year’s outsourcing of substitutes.

This Resolution Summary (83 as of August 10) exemplifies the rush to turn the district over to vendors whose primary purpose is not the education of all of our students but the expanding of their bottom lines. This flood of money into outside pockets only stops when there is enough pushback from stakeholders, politicians, and the media. We have a lot of work to do to reclaim our district.

Just some of the devastating actions of the Hite administration:

  • Shutter 23 neighborhood schools in 2013 (with plans to close 12-15 more)
  • Designate WD Kelley and Blaine elementary schools “Transformation Schools”, forcing all teachers to reapply for their positions, among other changes dictated by a grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership (2014)
  • Attempt in 2015 to turn two district schools over to Mastery Charters and Aspira, Inc; his efforts were thwarted by organized opposition from parents, teachers and community members
  • Place three more elementary schools— Cooke, Huey and Wister—into the Renaissance program over the wishes of most parents in 2016
  • Place four schools into The Turnaround Plan, forcing both principals and teachers to reapply for their positions, so that children came back in September to an almost entirely reconstituted faculty
  • Target eleven neighborhood schools—elementary, middle, and high schools—as “Priority Schools” in 2017. After spending $200,000 on a contract with Cambridge Education which provided no data and little useful information, the district forced teachers and principals at some of these schools to reapply for their positions.

Hite’s policies create churn and destabilized school communities as both teachers and principals are forced to leave their schools and students behind, some after serving in these communities for many years. Hite has presented no research showing this destabilization improves academics or school climate. In fact, news reports have detailed the problems Blaine and Kelley continue to face.

Each attempt to destabilize schools has resulted in intense public pushback, but rather than reassess the wisdom of the policies, Hite just changes the name and tweaks some of the details—from Renaissance to Redesign to Transformation to Priority. Fierce resistance to placing Steel and Munoz-Marin Schools into the hands of charter operators caused him to simply place Cooke, Huey, and Wister into the Renaissance Charter Program rather than allowing parents and community members to vote on it. Hite had to back down from turning Cooke over to the Great Oaks Foundation after City Councilwoman Helen Gym published a scathing report which clearly showed the company’s inability to run an elementary school.

We have witnessed an endless outsourcing of district services and resources to private vendors. Professional Development has taken a hit as vendors line up to provide Blended Learning and other packaged PD; transportation services have gone into the hands of private companies resulting in numerous complaints from parents as to incompetent services.   Favored vendors include Cambridge Education, Catapult Learning, The New Teacher Project and Relay Graduate Education.

A proposed contract for $150,000 to Cambridge Education to “conduct high quality and objective third-party reviews of school quality in a number of schools that have been identified as under performing” was actually voted down 4-1 (Commissioner Jimenez voted Yes) at the June 15 SRC meeting. Earlier this year, the district paid Cambridge Education $200,000 to hold meetings and gather information on the eleven Priority Schools. APPS members reported on the woeful shortcomings of both the methodology used and the report itself. So why is Cambridge back just two months later with its hand out for another $100,000 (Resolution A-8)?

WHAT IF…?

Instead of spending this $14 million allocated to vendors for questionable experimental programs like blended learning or redundant teacher training from non-educators, the SRC spent this money on lower class size and more classroom aides?

Or instead of spending over $7 million in lawyers fees in one whistleblower case they should have settled years ago, the SRC had spent that money on preserving school libraries and bringing back certified school librarians?

Next SRC Meeting: Thursday, August 17, 4:30 PM at 440 No. Broad Street. Call 215-400-4010 before Wednesday 3:30 PM to sign up to testify.

Resolutions of Note

Click here for the full Resolution Summary.

 Broad Moves to Expand Operations in District

A-6
Categorical/Grant Fund: $128,700 Ratification of Acceptance of Grant from The Broad Foundation – Resident Positions
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the acceptance with appreciation by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent, of a grant in the amount of $128,700 from The Broad Center to partially fund the salaries and benefits of two resident positions, for the period commencing July 1, 2017 through July 31, 2019.

A-7
Donation: $350,000 Acceptance of Donation of Services from New Leaders, Inc. – Assistant Superintendent Development
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver, and perform a Memorandum of Understanding with New Leaders, Inc., for an intensive professional development program for Assistant Superintendents, valued at approximately $350,000, for the period commencing August 18, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

 APPS Analysis: Both resolutions are examples of corporate reformers buying their way into a school district.  Broad has been doing it for over a decade, particularly in Los Angeles. While New Leaders is new to Philadelphia, they have footholds in 13 other cities or states.  

 The Broad Residency is a 2-year management development program which places individuals with advanced degrees in business or law in high-level management positions in urban school districts.  These individuals have little or no training in pedagogy or child development and little to no classroom experience, yet they are put in positions where they will create and enforce policies that will affect every student in every classroom.  The Broad Center subsidizes the salaries, making the residents attractive to underfunded districts.  This ensures a pipeline of individuals who share the corporate ed “reforms” espoused by the Broad Foundation.

 Recent Broad graduates include Charter Schools Office Director Dawnlynne Kacer and Mastery Charters CEO Scott Gordon.

[For an in-depth article on Eli Broad and his influence on public education read “Who is Eli Broad” by Ken Derstine.  It is an excellent primer on the influence of venture philanthropy on public education.]

 New Leaders, Inc. was founded by a group including a former education policy analyst in the Clinton Administration, a former management consultant at McKinsey and Co., a former Teach for America member, and a former NYC public school teacher.  Its major financial supporters include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, strong supporters of corporate education reform.While the purported aim of New Leaders is “to prepare educational leaders to deliver breakthrough results,” only 2 of their 8 person executive team have any classroom or school leadership experience, and one of those was through TFA.  While the current CEO has served on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission and has held leadership positions in the NYC Department of Education under Joel Kline and Michael Bloomberg, he has no actual experience, in any capacity, in a school setting.  

This resolution represents New Leader’s first foray into Pennsylvania. The $350,000 grant helps to secure a place in the district for future contracts.

 More Outsourcing of Professional Development—Does Dr. Hite Know We Have Experienced Teachers with a Wealth of Knowledge?

A-38
Categorical/Grant Fund: $30,000 Acceptance of Grant from Teach Plus, Inc. – T3 Initiative

RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes the School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to accept with appreciation a grant from Teach Plus, Inc. to support the evaluation of the Teach Plus T3 Initiative, for an amount up to $30,000 for the period commencing August 18, 2017 through December 31, 2020.

B-28
Categorical/Grant Fund: $94,200 Contract with Learning Forward – Comprehensive Professional Learning Plan Development
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with Learning Forward to provide professional services to develop and implement a five-year district-wide comprehensive professional learning plan, for an amount not to exceed $94,200, for the period commencing September 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

A-2
Various Funds: $1,607,360 Contract with Cornerstone OnDemand, Inc. – Professional Development and Evaluation Tool
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent, or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with Cornerstone OnDemand Inc. for the Professional Development & Educator Evaluation tool for teachers, principals and non-instructional professionals, for an amount not to exceed $1,750,000, for the period commencing August 18, 2017 through June 30, 2022.

APPS Analysis: In corporate ed-speak teachers are now “talent”, and vendors must be employed to both recruit and evaluate them. Terms of this $1.6 million contract, which the public has not seen, will be implemented the day after the SRC votes to approve it, but we have only this paltry description of what Cornerstone OnDemand promises to provide. What does the company’s slogan—“Disrupt the Digital Landscape”—have to do with education? There is not an educator to be found among their staff or on its board, yet they have been awarded a contract to provide a tool for the Professional Development & Educator Evaluation for teachers, principals, and non-instructional professionals. Their clients include TFA, KIPP Charters, and Sylvan Learning. (Interesting fact: last month, Catapult Learning was awarded a $6 million contract by the SRC to open a separate school for Special Needs students. Their current President & CEO held the same position at Sylvan Learning before taking over at Catapult.) According to Cornerstone OnDemand CEO and founder Adam Miller, the company prides itself on being “one of the largest cloud computing companies in the world”. How does this alleged accomplishment correlate with education, finding “good” teachers, retaining them, and evaluating their performance? [See the June 15 2017 Resolution B5 in Eyes on the SRC for more information on the T3 initiative.]

 System of Great Schools Info Vanishes into New (but hardly improved) Website—When Will Hite Put More Schools on the Block?

A-8
Operating Budget: $100,000 Contract with Cambridge Education – School Quality Reviews
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with Cambridge Education, to develop, manage, and execute a School Quality Review process to gather data and develop qualitative reports on school quality in support of the School District’s System of Great Schools process, for an amount not to exceed $100,000, for the period commencing September 1, 2017 through February 28, 2018.

A-9
Operating Budget: $70,000 Contract with Temple University – System of Great Schools Meetings
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver, and perform a contract with Temple University to lead the facilitation of several sessions designed to solicit feedback from school stakeholders, to record and analyze the feedback, and to produce a report synthesizing the input gathered from the community in support of the School District’s System of Great Schools process, for an amount not to exceed $70,000, for the period commencing September 1, 2017 through February 28, 2018.

A-10
Operating Budget: $750,000 Contract with School Support Services Partners for SGS Intervention Schools
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 Achievement Network, American Institutes of Research, Bloom Planning, Community Training and Assistance Center, Generation Ready, Johns Hopkins University, SchoolKit, TNTP, 2Revolutions and University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, to support District schools requiring additional support services as determined through the System of Great Schools (SGS) process, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $750,000, for the period commencing July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019; and be it …

APPS Analysis: Let us not forget that over $2 million was raised by private foundations and corporations, including the William Penn Foundation, to fund the Boston Consulting Group’s 2012 secret report which recommended the closing of over 60 public schools.

Not only did their report recommend immediately closing 40 schools but suggested a necessity of closing 6 school buildings a year to help create fiscal stability. Dr. Hite has repeatedly stated his intention to close 3 schools a year over the next five years, including in his May 2017 City Council testimony. His “System of Great Schools” is not so much a reality as it is a cover for implementation of the BCG recommendations. Farming out evaluation tasks to vendors attempts to shift the responsibility from the shoulders of both the SRC and the Superintendent. APPS has reported on the Achievement Network and on The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a Michelle Rhee creation, both set to get more money from the district to tell us what our schools need. Why not reinstitute the SRC Strategy and Policy meetings, which were ended without explanation in 2015? That would not only be cost effective, but Hite and the SRC would hear from the people who are the district’s true stakeholders—the people who live here, work here, and send their children to school here.  

 External Relations

A-11
Operating Budget: $39,900 Ratification of Contract with DT Firm – General Government Affairs Consultation
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the execution, delivery and performance by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Chair of the School Reform Commission, of a contract with The DT Firm to provide general government affairs advice with the goal of advancing School District of Philadelphia priorities, for an amount not to exceed $39,900, for the period commencing May 1, 2017 and ending October 31, 2017.

Description: The DT Firm will provide consult services to support the School District’s governmental relations with public officials and perform general lobbying activities with the goal of increasing funding for the School District of Philadelphia and building positive legislative relationships.

APPS Analysis: Where are the SRC Commissioners and the Superintendent in our ongoing struggle to obtain fair funding for the district? Parents, advocates, students, and community members routinely travel to Harrisburg to lobby our legislators. We supply our own transportation, meals, and time in our commitment to fight for equitable funding. We have urged Dr. Hite and the Commissioners to join us, but to no avail. How about joining us…no cost involved, just your time. If you can’t travel with us there are other ways to engage the public such as online petitions, speaking out on the importance of contacting your state legislators, hosting a panel of speakers through FACE to engage parents and community in becoming advocates.

 Continued Outsourcing of Services for Special Needs Students Escalates as Accountability Lessens

B-7
Operating Budget: $132,000 Contracts with Progressus Therapy, LLC (Invo HealthCare Associates, LC), EDU Healthcare, LLC, and Delta-T Groups, Inc. – School Psychologists

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 Progressus Therapy, LLC (Invo HealthCare Associates, LC), EDU Healthcare, LLC, and Delta-T Group, Inc., to provide licensed and qualified school psychologists to perform student psychoeducational evaluations and prepare evaluation reports, within timelines established by federal and state law, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $132,000, for the period commencing August 18, 2017 through, June 30, 2018.

B-8
Operating Budget: $6,997,500 Contracts with Community Council Educational Services and Catapult Learning – Contracted Emotional Support Classrooms
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee to execute, deliver, and perform a contract with Community Council Education Services (Community Council Health Systems), for the provision of up to a total of 45 emotional support classrooms for students with emotional disabilities, as well as for services to support students with emotional disturbance and enhanced behavioral needs in other School District settings, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $6,750,000, for the period commencing August 18, 2017, through June 30, 2018.

APPS Analysis: How have we arrived at the place where economics determines all decisions in Special Education? A bit of history is needed to create context for this outsourcing. In the mid 1970’s, students with disabilities were taught in smaller classrooms staffed with assistants. The self-contained Emotionally Disturbed (ED) district classrooms were still needed for some students, but as class size grew and assistants were cut, it became more difficult to find teachers for these specialized classes. As a result, some students were serviced in Approved Private School (APS) placements such as Wordsworth. While APS was very expensive for the district, these facilities began to cut services and rely more on support staff to handle behavioral problems. Not surprisingly, violent incidents increased. We have written repeatedly about the privatizing of Special Ed services; these resolutions simply continue that trend. There is very little information available on the Community Council Education Services website. The district has been hit with numerous lawsuits over the years for failing to provide services. Hiring a vendor means paying an agency or company that hires less experienced staff, many on a temporary basis. Don’t our students and parents deserve better?

 B-9
IDEA: $315,000 Contracts with Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services, Presence Learning, and Educational Based Services – Web-based Video-Conferencing Speech Therapy Services                        

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 Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services, Presence Learning and Educational Based Services (EBS), to provide students with speech therapy, speech/language evaluations and other related services through on-line, web-based video-conferencing, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $315,000, for the period commencing August 18, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

APPS Analysis: There has been a steady erosion of Speech Therapists in the district in recent years. This $315,000 contract would have children interacting with a person who does not come to the school but is a face on a screen. That person does not know the school community, and they do not know him/her. Speech Therapists should be able to develop a trusting relationship with students and families. They should be able to meet the children’s teachers and see how they interact with other children. Who benefits here—the students or the contractor?

B-27
Operating Budget: $51,000 Contract with Lorin Clay – Program and Community Coordinator – Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber

RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with Lorin Nicole Clay, to provide guidance with respect to community partnering, organizing and maintaining coursework with these partners, supporting academic program, and recruitment events, for an amount not to exceed $51,000, for the period commencing September 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

APPS Analysis: SLA has grown from one school in Center City to several in recent years. Three years ago, SLA co-located in Beeber Middle School just before Beeber was closed by the SRC. The new SLA Middle School will be located on the ground formerly occupied by University City High School before that school was closed and demolished. Last month, Dr. Hite created a new position, CEO for the SLA network, for SLA founder and principal Chris Lehman. The SRC’s decision to keep SLA in its expensive Center City location while other schools struggle to survive has been called into question by community activists. Now the SRC is poised to hire a special consultant for one SLA school. Why? Principals in other schools are being assessed on their ability to recruit “community partners”. Is this not a task that could be undertaken by the new SLA Network CEO?