by Lisa Haver
[Note: Deborah Grill, Ken Derstine, Diane Payne and Lynda Rubin contributed to this edition of Eyes.]
Seventeen years ago, after a vote taken in the middle of the night in Harrisburg, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took control of the School District of Philadelphia. The School Reform Commission supplanted the School Board as the governing body of the city’s public schools. Few of us could have imagined the devastation wrought by this body: over thirty neighborhood schools shuttered, public schools handed over to private managers, charter expansion and charter fraud, outsourcing union jobs, and a succession of superintendent/CEOs whose policies and practices opened up a marketplace for corporate education reformers and outside vendors.
The SRC will hold its final meetings this month. The SRC will go out the same way it came it—by withholding important information from the public. Up until last week, the SRC had posted two June meetings; one is tentative as action is contingent on the budget vote of City Council. On June 14, the SRC posted a small notice (the minimum notice required by law) in the classified section of the Philadelphia Inquirer of a Special Meeting to be held at 1 PM on June 21 for the purpose of voting on renewals of seventeen charters. Rather than put the charter renewals on the agenda of the regular 4:30 meeting, they decided at the last minute to have two separate meetings on the same day. Will working parents be able to attend a 1 PM meeting? Unlikely.
The notice on the district webpage (not on the homepage but on the inside SRC page) says that speakers who will be addressing items on the agenda will be “prioritized”. Here’s the problem: the SRC has not posted any resolutions for this meeting. We know which schools are up for renewal; they are listed on the Charter Schools Office page. So why aren’t they listed as resolutions? The actions of the SRC, particularly in recent years, leave little doubt about the district’s increasing accommodations to charter operators and investors at the expense of district schools.
A June 11 Philadelphia Public School Notebook/WHYY story, “Philadelphia School District Nears New Accountability for Charters”, offers a disturbing account of secret negotiations between the district and charter officials. The subject: how to lower the bar on charter achievement once again.
The School District of Philadelphia has a new tool for evaluating its charter schools, one that it hopes will help end a long and public tug of war with the city’s growing charter sector.
If charters accept the terms in this revamped rubric — known as the “charter school performance framework” — the District will have a clear and mutually agreeable road map for deciding whether a school should close when its term expires or remain open for another five years.
If charters blanch at the deal, the incoming school board will inherit a dispute fraught with political implications and real-world consequences for tens of thousands of children.
To be clear: the SRC has always had an accountability framework for rating charters. The fact that they ignored it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. When the SRC’s Charter Schools Office (CSO), citing over thirty reasons, recommended non-renewal in 2016 for two Aspira Renaissance charters, Olney High School and Stetson Middle School, the SRC voted to postpone the vote, ostensibly to allow Aspira Inc to get its financial house in order. Two years later, the SRC finally voted not to renew. That same year, the CSO recommended non-renewal for two Universal Renaissance charters, Audenreid High and Vare Middle. Those two votes were also tabled and have not been brought back for a vote, although both schools continue to operate with tax dollars, as do the two Aspira charters. The fact that the SRC ignores overwhelming evidence outlined by the CSO does not mean that there has not been a rating system. It means that the SRC has a history of caving to political pressure and selling out the best interests of the school children who attend actual public schools. The Notebook article states:
The new tool is an attempt to break this stalemate, and it was developed with substantial input from the charter operators themselves. District leaders say it is far more transparent and consistent about what schools must do to meet District standards in academics, operations, and financial stability. They also hope it will create an ever-increasing academic bar for charters, one that ensures these publicly financed, privately run schools are superior to their District counterparts and worth the financial burden they place on the system as a whole.
In that spirit, the standard charter agreement has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” over the past year, according to Estelle Richman, chair of the soon-to-be dissolved School Reform Commission.
“These charter agreements incorporate a revised performance framework which provides charter schools with transparent and predictable accountability and ensures charter schools are quality options for students and families,” she said in a statement.
SRC Chair Estelle Richman told reporters that the charter agreement has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” over the past year. We intend to ask the SRC directly:
- When were these changes negotiated?
- Who was present during these negotiations?
- Why were these meetings, about a major policy change, kept secret from the public?
- Charter operators maintain that charters are public schools. Why would policy changes about any public schools be conducted in private?
- Why does the SRC allow the charter operators—the entities who are regulated—to determine how they will be regulated?
The district and the charter operators say that charters are public schools. Then all dealings with charter operators must be conducted in public and all information about them made available to the public.
Next SRC Meetings:
Thursday, June 21 2018 at 1 PM. Call 215-400-4010 (NOTE: Different number) by 1 PM the day before.
Thursday, June 21 2018 at 4:30 PM. Call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM the day before.
Resolutions of Note
No resolutions for the special meeting at 1 PM have been posted as of this edition.
The SRC is expected to approve expenditures totaling $136, 365, 345.00 at the 4:30 Action Meeting.
Approval of Official School File: Grade Organization and Grade Changes FY2018-2019
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby approves The School District of Philadelphia’s school grade changes and grade organizations for the 2018-19 school year, as set forth on the official School District school list attached hereto as Exhibit A and made a part hereof; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to make adjustments as needed to the School District’s school list, attached hereto as Exhibit A, no later than August 15, 2018 and to notify the Pennsylvania Department of Education as necessary.
This resolution with its accompanying exhibit will serve as the official record for The School District of Philadelphia with respect to school changes and grade organizations for SY 2018-19.
Each year, the District submits to the state a list of significant changes to the organization of its schools, including new school openings, school closings, school name changes, school relocations, and school grade reconfigurations. This resolution officially authorizes the submission of these changes.
The changes being submitted for the 2018-19 school year are:
Franklin S Edmonds expanding from grades K-7 to grades K-8
Samuel Pennypacker expanding from grades K-7 to grades K-8
Science Leadership Academy at Beeber expanding from grades 9-12 to grades 5, 9-12
Science Leadership Academy Middle School expanding from grades 5-6 to grades 5-7
Strawberry Mansion High School truncating from grades 9-12 to grades 10-12
Vaux High School: A Big Picture School expanding from grade 9 to grades 9-10
APPS Analysis: The outgoing SRC proposes the expansion of five schools in 2018-2019. Strawberry Mansion High School, for reasons yet to be explained to the community, is being “truncated” with the proposed elimination of its 9th grade. Those students will be distributed to Roxborough High School, Ben Franklin High School, and Vaux High School (a Big Picture Company school). The claim is that ninth grade will be restored in 2019-2020, but the school has been so starved of staff and resources for many years it is highly unlikely they will return. The slow starvation of the school is to prepare the way for a corporate education reform take over of the school by privatizing interests. The Strawberry Mansion community has been fighting to keep their comprehensive high school. There is no social or educational reason to justify the school being used to bring in private contractors. At the June 21stSRC meeting, community members will be presenting a proposal demanding the enrollment of two 9thgrade classes in September.
License Agreement with KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School – Use of Portion of John P. Turner Middle School
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes the School District of Philadelphia, by and through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a license agreement with KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School (“KIPP West Prep”), contingent upon the renewal of the KIPP West Prep charter, for use of part of the John P. Turner School (approximately 32,185 square feet), as a charter school facility from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019, at a license fee of $358,025.94 per year (cost of $11.12 per square foot- $29,835.50 per month) to be paid monthly, which amounts include the School District’s operating costs of all utilities, snow removal, trash pick-up, a building engineer, a custodial assistant, facilities maintenance and supplies. Such license agreement shall terminate in the event that the charter is nonrenewed or revoked. KIPP West Prep shall be responsible for any costs related to security and repairs due to vandalism. The terms of the license agreement must be acceptable to the School District’s Office of General Counsel and Office of Risk Management.
The School Reform Commission (SRC) granted a charter to KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School (Charter School) to operate a charter school beginning July 1, 2009. The SRC renewed the Charter School’s charter in 2012 for five-year term through June 30, 2017. The School District has agreed to allow the Charter School to use approximately 32,185 square feet, including use of part of the gym and part of the cafeteria, at the John P. Turner Middle School, 5900 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19143, for a one-year period under a License Agreement at a license fee of $358,025.94 per year at a cost of $11.12 per square foot, to be paid monthly.
APPS Analysis: It’s interesting that in this resolution the SRC still identifies 5900 Baltimore Avenue as the John P. Turner Middle School as Turner Middle School was closed by the District in 2009. The School District’s Motivation High School moved into 5900 Baltimore Ave in 2013 without ever referring to it as the John P. Turner Middle School building. Additionally, on Wikipedia’s site: List of schools of the School District of Philadelphia, Turner Middle School is listed as: “Turner, John P. Middle School (School Closed and is now KIPP-West Charter School). We don’t know when this notice was made. As KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory opened in 2009, it is possible that the district leased KIPP the space upon its opening.
A similar resolution (A-17) was passed by the SRC at its June 15, 2017 meeting for $347,598, however, nowhere in the current resolution (A-26) does it say that this is a lease renewal. The resolutions specifically state that the lease includes part of the cafeteria and part of the gym. KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory’s (5-8) website lists 5900 Baltimore Avenue as its address. Ultimately, it appears that there is not only co-location of a middle school (KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory) with a high school (the district’s Motivation High School), there also is going to be possible co-mingling of these age groups from different schools at least in the gym and cafeteria. KIPPs expansion plan is curious. KIPP appears to have a strategy of opening several schools with similar names, starting them out with incomplete grades and then letting them languish without expanding them to their stated grade goals. Instead they plant their flag in new locations under new names. We do know that in 2015 KIPP backed out of an agreement with the District to buy the then-closed Rudolph Walton School at 28th& Huntingdon Streets and to move in other KIPP schools into the building. Their stated reason for backing out was that they wanted the district to rescind its cap on their student enrollment.
Operating Budget: $130,000 Amendment of Contract with Time Advantage, Inc. – Biometric Time and Attendance Reporting System
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a third amendment of a contract, originally entered into with Time Advantage, Inc., pursuant to Resolution No. A-55, approved by the School Reform Commission on June 18, 2015, and amended by Resolution No. A-28 approved by the School Reform Commission on June 16, 2016 and Resolution No. A-8 approved by the School Reform Commission on May 18, 2017, by increasing the amount of the contract by an additional $130,000, from the $390,000 authorized by Resolutions A-55, A-28 and A-8, to an amount not to exceed $520,000, subject to funding, and by extending the term of the contract from its amended scheduled expiration date of June 30, 2018 through June 30, 2019.
Facilities Management uses a bio-metric time and attendance system, which is designed to verify an individual’s identity based on unique personal characteristics, as an essential management tool to monitor more than 1,100 field-based employees in Facilities Management. The Department uses the bio- metric time-clock system to view each employee’s attendance and process payroll. This proposed amendment will allow the School District to maintain the current level of service for this system, including the hardware maintenance.
[ORIGINAL RESOLUTION (JUNE 2015) NOT AVAILABLE ON SDP WEBSITE]
APPS Analysis: The district has been paying $130,000 per year since 1999 to use a bio-metric time and attendance system. As described in the resolution this is designed to verify an individual’s identity based on unique personal characteristics. What is not described is how this system works. This system is being used on 2,500 employees from Facilities, Operations, and Capitol Programs. Are these employees using finger scanning or face recognition to maintain our grounds and buildings? Have questions of privacy been adequately answered? The school district is not a security-based operation—is bio-metric measurement truly necessary? Perhaps, but it would be nice to be sure that the privacy and security of employees is being safeguarded by their employer.
Capital Fund: $2,754,000 Contract with Weatherproofing Technologies, Inc./Tremco – Roof Replacement and Resurfacing at Wister and Finletter Schools
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 Weatherproofing Technologies, Inc./Tremco, to provide roof replacement and resurfacing services at John Wister Elementary School and the Thomas K. Finletter School, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $2,754,000, subject to funding, for the period commencing July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.
This contract establishes a source for the roofing materials and installation services needed to replace the roofs at John Wister Elementary and the Thomas K. Finletter School. Both projects were approved as part of the FY2018 capital budget. The roof at Wister has exceeded its useful life and is causing leaks throughout the school. While a Renaissance Charter School operates in the Wister building, the District is the building owner and per the license agreement is responsible for capital improvements. The roofs covering the Finletter School’s auditorium and little school house are also deteriorating and causing leaks. As part of the project, the main building’s roof, which is in average condition, will be resurfaced with a 20-year warranty.
APPS Analysis: The SRC handed over management of John Wister Elementary as a Renaissance Charter after a last minute walk on resolution by then Commissioner Sylvia Simms.This vote went against the recommendation of Superintendent William Hite, who had reversed his initial position after it was pointed out by APPS member Coleman Poses that the district was using faulty data when it suggested Wister for the Renaissance Program. Dr. Hite subsequently recommended that Wister remain under district control. As Wister now is a Renaissance school and not a stand-alone charter, the district, not Mastery, is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the building. The question is: will the district ever get Wister back after continuing to spend taxpayer dollars on the building?
Various Funds: $1,560,000 Amendment of Contract with Carnegie Learning, Inc. – Professional Development for Summer Math Institute and Additional Math Institute Specialists
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. 0654/F16, originally entered in to with Carnegie Learning, Inc., pursuant to Resolution B-3, approved by the School Reform Commission on March 15, 2018, by increasing the amount of the contract by an additional $1,560,000.00 from $9,616,174.03, approved by Resolution B-3, to a total amount not to exceed $11,176,174.03.
Carnegie Learning is currently contracted to facilitate our week long intensive summer Mathematics Institute which provides intensive grade-level mathematics professional development to over 800 teachers and approximately 45 principals. The Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment provides Mathematics coaching (12 coaches), through Carnegie Learning, for all teachers from participating schools.
This resolution seeks authorization to amend the contract with Carnegie Learning, Inc. to allow schools that are no longer supported by the Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment (OCIA) the option to purchase a Math Institute Specialist to support teachers during the 2018-2019 school year.
This amendment also funds two Math Institute Specialists to support GEARUP Schools. The Math Institute Specialists will be contracted solely through Carnegie Learning, Inc. and will not be recruited or hired as employees of The School District of Philadelphia.
Schools will be able to purchase a Math Specialist out of their own budget for either half a year or a full year. Two Math Institute Specialists will support the teachers of the following GEARUP schools: Edison, Fels, Penn Treaty, Kensington HS, Kensington Health Science, Kensington CAPA, Ben Franklin, Overbrook, West Philadelphia, School of the Future, Frankford, and Martin Luther King.
Categorical/Grant Fund/Operating Budget: $3,160,000 Amendment of Contract with Carnegie Learning, Inc. – Professional Development for Summer Math Institute and Math Institute Specialists [Previous Resolution approved MARCH 15 2018]
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. 0344/F18, originally entered in to with Carnegie Learning, Inc., pursuant to Resolution B-9, approved by the School Reform Commission on March 15, 2017, by increasing the amount of the contract by an additional $3,160,000.00 from $6,326,174.00, approved by Resolution B-16, to an amount not to exceed $9,486,174.00, and by extending the term of the contract from its original scheduled expiration date of June 30, 2018, through June 30, 2019, to provide professional development services to K-8 and Algebra I teachers in support of the District’s math initiative.
Operating Budget/Categorical/Grant Fund: $650,000 Amendment of Contract with Carnegie Learning, Inc. – Professional Development – Summer Math Institute and Additional Math Institute Specialists [Previous Resolution: OCTOBER 19 2017]
APPS Analysis: The district has been outsourcing its Math Summer Institute since 2016. Carnegie Learning’s contract has increased tenfold, from $1,362,000 to $11, 176,174 over the course of just two years. The district does use Carnegie Learning’s online math tutoring programs. https://www.carnegielearning.com/products/software-platform/mathia-learning-software/ However, the district could use teachers who have been trained at the Math Institute or those professionals in The Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment to conduct the summer professional development and in-house coaching. That way the district could build in-house expertise within the system. There are few people now at 440 that have the curriculum expertise and deep experience with and knowledge of this school system. Continued outsourcing of services and training weakens the district and destabilizes it. But, isn’t that what corporate education reform is all about?
Categorical/Grant Fund/Operating Budget: $800,000 Contract with College Board SAT/PSAT and Advanced Placement
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 The College Board to deliver and score the PSAT 8/9, PSAT, and SAT as well as Advanced Placement Assessments in all School District of Philadelphia high schools for an amount not to exceed $800,000 for the period commencing July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.
The College Board is a mission driven organization that was created to connect students to higher education opportunities. The company will provide School District of Philadelphia students in grades 9 through 11 with the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) and students in grade 12 with the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). In addition, College Board will provide students participating in Advanced Placement (AP) classes with the assessment for the course and professional development for teachers and administrators.
During the fall of 2017 over 30,000 School District of Philadelphia students in grades 9 through 12 participated in taking the PSAT or the SAT exam during the school day district wide. This opportunity provided students with early exposure to college readiness exams and gave them the ability to be one step closer to college preparedness. In addition, students were able to receive free personalized online resources and practice exams tailored to their strengths and weaknesses based on their SAT/PSAT scores. The PSAT results also assisted schools in identifying students who had the potential to pass advanced placement courses and score a 3 or higher out of 5 on an AP exam, which qualifies them to receive college credits.
The District recognizes the importance of this initiative and the benefits of students taking the SAT/PSAT exams at their school, in a familiar environment during the day. School day testing helps ensure that all students have equal access to preliminary college exams and helps remove barriers that students face around weekend test administration.
Moreover, during the 2017-2018 school year over 3,000 high school students across the district are enrolled in advanced placement courses and will participate in upcoming advanced placement testing provided by The College Board. AP exams provide students with an opportunity to measure their knowledge of the rigorous coursework they learned throughout the year in specific subjects. In addition, students will have the opportunity to earn college credits based on the results of their of their exams. The College Board will also provide professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators that will focus on specific content areas as well as best practices around instruction. This will allow educators to stay abreast of the ever-changing educational landscape and provide students with the most up to date and accurate information.
APPS Analysis: The increased use of SAT and ACT assessments have engendered much controversy. Claims have been made of race, gender and class bias in the content of the tests and more and more colleges, including Temple University, are making an optional admission requirement. The tests have also come under scrutiny for collecting unnecessary personal information on each student.
The president of the College Boards is David Coleman, one of the architects of the Common Core. Under his leadership the tests have been realigned to the Common Core Standards. There have been complaints that the math section is even more biased now.
While the district claims testing every student is a means of providing them with “early exposure to college readiness exams” in a familiar setting, Bob Schaeffer, the public-education director of FairTest sees this trend more to the advantage of College Board: “This is a marketing war between two companies who have figured out correctly that it’s a lot more cost-efficient to sell tests to state education officials and use taxpayer money to pay for testing every kid in this state rather than signing up parents and kids one-on-one and having to process 1.8 million credit cards each year.” The free online personalized learning resources that College Board provides are the courses that are already available for free at Khan Academy.
Categorical/Grant Fund: $48,545 Contract Amendment with Render Circus, LLC – Video Library of Excellent Teaching Practices
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. 064/F18, originally entered into with Render Circus, LLC, pursuant to Resolution B-17, approved by the School Reform Commission on August 18, 2016, to increase the number of video clips in the Video Library of Excellent Teaching Practices, by increasing the amount of the contract by an additional $48,545 from the $80,960 approved by Resolution B-22, to an amount not to exceed $129,505, and by extending the term of the contract from its original scheduled expiration date of August 31, 2018 through August 31, 2019.
In 2016, the District contracted with Render Circus to create the Exemplary Teaching Video Library. Taylor Krauss of Render Circus is a freelance filmmaker with over 15 years experience filming in classrooms around the country for The College Board, Yale University and other educational institutions. An RFQ process was used in April 2016 to identify this vendor based on capacity/ bandwidth, experience, quality of services, pricing and IT compatibility.
The Exemplary Teaching Video Library is a professional development tool launched in August 2017 that is accessible via the School District of Philadelphia’s website. It isolates discrete skills through short video clips and provides educators with concrete examples of best teaching practices in the context of the District. During the 2017-2018 school year, featured video clips were shared with principals and teachers weekly to encourage them to use the library. As of March 2018, there have been over 4,000 views of the 75 videos.
Extending the contract with Render Circus will cover the cost of additional filming, including several videos for the Office of Specialized Services (OSS) that capture evidence-based teaching practices in literacy and behavior support. Each OSS video will consist of three clips. The first clip will begin with the educator introducing the focus area, summarizing the relevant research, and discussing the classroom implications. In the second clip, the professional will briefly demonstrate a classroom strategy related to the focus area. In the third clip, we will capture a classroom teacher implementing the evidence-based strategies with students in real time. Lastly, OSS staff will utilize each video in a blended learning format. During face to face training and professional development with Professional Learning Communities, staff will showcase the videos to enhance instruction.
APPS Analysis: Both the name of this company (Render Circus, LLC) and the title (Video Library of Excellent Teaching Practices) raised questions. Who or what is Render Circus, LLC? Who is making the determination about what is excellent teaching? Are district teachers being filmed, and if so, does anyone beyond district employees benefit from those films? When you Neither the name of the company nor the name of the independent filmmaker listed in the resolution (Taylor Krauss) can be found in a basic internet search. This resolution increases the original amount ($80,960 approved in Resolution B-17 from August 18, 2016) for an additional $48, 545. The original resolution listed the following as references for this filmmaker: The College Board, The Character Lab, and Relay Graduate School of Education. These are Charter School and corporate reform-related companies. APPS has testified and written extensively about Relay. The Character Lab was founded by some of the worst of the “drill and kill” school of education: Angela Duckworth (Author of Grit), Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania; Dave Levin, co-founder of the KIPP public charter schools (KIPP schools are notorious for their no excuses, drill and kill, work to the bone method of educating children); and Dominic Randolph, Head of Riverdale Country School. Should the district spend a total of $129,505 on a company that touts questionable references, can’t be located on Google, and lacks any reference in the resolution as to who and how “exemplary” is determined?