by Karel Kilimnik
March 13, 2017
This month’s resolutions show the continued privatization and outsourcing for professional development and other services that historically have been provided by district employees. Instead of recruiting and supporting educators who are knowledgeable about their subject and able to provide support to all schools, Dr. Hite and the SRC continue to pay vendors with no ties to Philadelphia or any commitment to long-term service to the students or the community. Not only is this a questionable use of taxpayer dollars, it is insulting to the district’s teachers and school professionals. Look around and see the amazing things that teachers are doing without adequate resources. They nurture and support each other as collaborative projects are created for their students. Teachers are holding this district together with ingenuity and determination and yes, grit. We see so many stories in the local press about the remarkable work teachers are doing every day—yet the “cash-strapped” district’s dollars continue to flow to the private sector, depriving our students of the experience of dedicated district educators.
SRC Delivers Public Assets to Private Interests
Resolution A-10 continues the selling of vacant school buildings. Rapid gentrification is taking place in many Philadelphia neighborhoods. Shuttered school buildings are prime targets of developers and realtors driving this gentrification. The W.S. Peirce School sits at the edge of one such area in South Philadelphia. The Alterra Company is listed as the buyer. Many questions go unanswered in this tersely worded resolution. What is the asking price? What has Alterra offered? What is the market value? Communities are seeing that these vacant properties can either be given the tools to strengthen their neighborhood or be priced out of current residents’ reach.
WHAT IF… ?
What if that $150,000 for Relay Graduate School of Education, $3 million for Carnegie Learning, and $15 million for the Children’s Literacy Initiative were spent in classrooms? Let’s look at what $18 million could buy instead of putting it into the pockets of private companies. After all, there have been no raises or steps increases for PFT members since 2014. With that $18,150,000, the district could hire 160 counselors or nurses, 105 assistant vice-principals, or 428 school aides. This would help to build a thriving school district where the focus is on meeting every child’s needs instead of the yearly piecemeal diversion of funds into a few selected schools.
Note: The next two SRC meetings are Thursday March 16 and Thursday March 23 at 4:30 PM. Call 215.400.4180 by 3:30 the day before to sign up to speak.
Resolutions of Note
Categorical/Grant Fund: $150,000 Contract with Relay Graduate School of Education – Teacher Residency Program
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 Relay Graduate School of Education, for tuition and fees for 20 teacher residents, for an amount not to exceed $150,000, for the period commencing April 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.
Description: The School District of Philadelphia is seeking a quality teacher pipeline program that will allow us to recruit, select, develop, and build a diverse pipeline of teachers to enter the profession, first as teacher residents and, after a successful teacher residency year, as District teachers of record. Teacher residency programs are ground-breaking teacher-preparation programs that offer unique and powerful pathways for aspiring teachers to begin long-term careers in the classroom. Working with a teacher residency program provider to support teacher residents will improve the following:
– teacher diversity,
– teacher effectiveness as measured in accordance with Pennsylvania Department of Education standards,
– teacher retention
This initiative aligns with Anchor Goal 3: 100% of schools will have high quality teachers and leaders.
APPS Analysis: Relay is not accredited in Pennsylvania. The PA Dept of Education just denied Relay’s request in October 2016.
In denying accreditation, the state remarked that Relay has no one on its faculty with a doctorate, engages in no research, has no library, and has no relationship to the advancement of knowledge in education. Relay’s proposed Pennsylvania advisory committee did not have a “background in higher education administration or in the assessment of higher education program quality.” Two of the three proposed advisors are “employed at Mastery Charter school, the proposed site for the operation of the Relay education enterprise” presenting a possible conflict of interest.
[For a more detailed report on Relay, read Kate Peterson’s article on the APPS website. Other articles about the corporate background of Relay’s founders and philosophy can be found below.]
Declaration of Unused and Unnecessary Land & Buildings; Sale of former W.S. Peirce Elementary School to The Alterra Property Group [Note: the SRC has provide no text or description for this resolution. It is a violation of the PA Sunshine Act for the SRC (or any governmental body) to take action on any resolution before it is presented to the public.]
APPS Analysis: W.S. Peirce School, 2400 Christian Street, has been vacant for ten years. It sits on the edge of a rapidly developing neighborhood. In a December 16 Inquirer article the District claims to have been saving the building “in case it was needed due to an emergency or other issue at another school.”
According to a listing from the Flynn Real Estate Company, the district is seeking $3.75 million for the four-story, 76,630-square foot Gothic Revival-style building on 33,000 square feet of land at 2400 Christian St. Where is the description for this Resolution with the sale price? Will this be yet another secretly negotiated deal? The District sold 14 acres of prime real estate to Drexel University for a mere $25 million. Drexel expects to attract $1 billion to develop that site, which included University City HS, Charles R. Drew ES, and the Walnut Center, all of which were torn down. We need to examine the impact development, whether by real estate concerns or universities, has on the closing of schools in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Last November, a number of Eastwick community organizations spoke out at a SRC meeting to challenge the sale of the Pepper Middle School. They sent a letter to the SRC, before the meeting, listing the many reasons for delaying the sale. The resolution was withdrawn. Many shuttered school buildings are being zoned for mixed use, which means removing the structure as a school and allowing commercial ventures to open with housing. The SRC must continue to listen to the community members affected by these school closings and sales. They don’t consider these buildings “unnecessary”.
Note: The PA Commonwealth Court, on March 7, issued a decision to allow the sale of five closed Philadelphia school—including Charles Carroll and Germantown high schools, along with the Robert Fulton, Walter Smith and Abigail Vare elementary schools— for a $6.8 million package deal to a private real estate group. The vocal Save Smith School community group has been the focus of publicity for its proposal to return the Smith building to a neighborhood school, possibly with mixed-use community development, instead of being a part of private development for re-gentrification. The Germantown High community has fought since its closure to re-open that building for similar community purposes. APPS expects the SRC to resurrect the sale of those buildings to appear on the agenda very soon. APPS further notes that the price tag for these and other closed school buildings is far below what the SRC predicted they would bring to help plug the district’s deficit when they first introduced the concept years ago.
Operating Budget/Categorical Grant Fund: $3,140,674.03 Contract Amendment 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-9, approved by the School Reform Commission on March 17, 2016, by increasing the amount of the contract by an additional $3,140,674.03 from $2,925,500.00, approved by Resolution B-9, to an amount not to exceed $6,066,174.03, and by extending the term of the contract from its original scheduled expiration date of June 30, 2017, through June 30, 2018, to provide six additional Math Institute Specialists during school year 2016-2017 and to provide professional development services to K-8 and Algebra I teachers in support of the District’s math initiative.
Description: This resolution seeks authorization to amend Contract No. 0654/F16 with Carnegie Learning, Inc., by increasing the amount of the original contract by an additional $3,140,674.03 from $2,925,500.00, approved by Resolution B-9 on March 17, 2016, to an amount not to exceed $6,066,174.03, in an effort to acquire six additional Math Institute specialists from Carnegie Learning, Inc., to provide ongoing support to teachers representing 70+ schools, during the 2016-2017 school year, who participated in the 2016 Summer Math Institute. This resolution also seeks authorization to amend the aforementioned contract with Carnegie Learning, Inc., as indicated in the current approved SRC Resolution B-9, whereby Carnegie Learning, Inc., will provide professional development services to approximately 1500 K-8 and Algebra I teachers in support of the District’s annual summer mathematics initiative (2017 Summer Math Institute).
As part of an effort to ensure that teachers have access to the highest quality professional development in mathematics, The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) is launching its second annual summer math institute for approximately five hundred (500) teachers of grades K-2, five hundred (500) teachers of grades 3-5, and five hundred (500) teachers of grades 6-8 and Algebra I, on June 26 – June 30, 2017. The goal of this intensive, evidenced-based, professional development effort is to significantly improve mathematics instruction and students mathematics achievement. Each day will begin with a 45-minute plenary session for all participants, followed by three training sessions per day, a scheduled lunch, and 30 minutes of school planning at the end of the day. Each training session will last 90 minutes, instructing a class-size of 20 to 30 educators (including teachers, school principals, assistant principals and itinerant education staff such as teachers of special education and English language learners). Participants will cycle through 14-15 sessions, total during the week.
Carnegie Learning, Inc. will provide intensive standards aligned mathematics workshops for K-12 educators that are designed to expand teachers understanding of content and pedagogy during the week of June 26-June 30, 2017. The three main elements are: grade appropriate content; problem-solving in a learner-centered environment; and heightened awareness of teaching practices.
In addition to the five-day professional development, Carnegie Learning, Inc., will also:
-Provide three (3) project managers for up to 50 schools during school year 2017-2018.
Project Management will include three (3) full-time Carnegie Learning, Inc., certified Project Managers providing job-embedded support from the first day of school in the 2017-2018 school year; approximately 36 weeks. In collaboration with the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, the Project Managers will work directly in schools with teachers and administrators, four days per week, to plan, prepare, organize data, and provide actionable support to school administrators. One full-time Project Manager can support up to 25 schools.
-Provide professional development to the designated school-based math leads times starting in June 2017 and continuing into the 2017-2018 school year. The ten custom math lead professional development workshops will be customized to meet individual school-based needs.
-Provide registration and scheduling services, plus keynote speakers for each day of the 2017 Summer Math Institute.
-Provide 12 Math Institute Specialists to support the participating schools for the 2017-2018 school year. The Math Institute Specialists will be contracted solely through Carnegie Learning, Inc. They will not be recruited or hired as employees of the The School District of Philadelphia.
APPS Analysis: This resolution increases the district’s already existing contract with Carnegie by $3 million. Again, the “cash-strapped” district pays an outside contractor when there are many highly-qualified math teachers already working in the District who could ensure “that teachers have access to the highest quality professional development in mathematics”. This is another example of the outsourcing of public sector positions to private companies—a tenet of the ideology taught at the unaccredited superintendent training Broad Academy attended by Dr. Hite. The substitute debacle last year demonstrated the cost of following that ideology.
[Note: A resolution to enter into a contract with Carnegie, posted for action at the February meeting, was withdrawn just prior to the meeting without explanation.]
Carnegie Learning was created in 1998 by cognitive and computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University. The company is known for “Cognitive Tutor” and “MATHia,” an adaptive online program for middle school mathematics that employs cognitive science and artificial intelligence. The MATHia program is featured in Volume 2 of “Design Recommendations for Intelligent Tutoring Systems”, copyright 2014, by the US Army Research Lab. Carnegie Learning’s products are touted as offering data-driven “personalized” learning for students, but in reality they reduce student access to human teachers. These systems are designed to push teachers into the role of data-managers. See this quote from their website:
“Today’s technology-enabled classrooms are flooded in data like never before. But data is only valuable if it translates into action. Our in-house team of cognitive scientists and learning experts are here to help you organize and decipher your data so you can effectively guide, measure, and adjust instruction.”
It appears the Philadelphia School District is increasing a contract for professional development with Carnegie Learning so that teachers can familiarize themselves with automated instruction programs ultimately intended to replace them.
Categorical/Grant Fund: $15,305,269.68 Contract with Children’s Literacy Initiative – Early Literacy Specialists 2017-2018
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 Children’s Literacy Initiative to identify, recruit and provide qualified Early Literacy Specialists to deliver early literacy professional development and related programming for eligible elementary schools that have participated in the District’s Early Literacy Summer Workshop Series, for an amount not to exceed $15,305,269.68, for the period commencing July 3, 2017 through June 30, 2018.
Description: The purpose of this resolution is to seek authorization to contract with Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI), a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, to recruit and hire up to 116 (111 ELSs + 5 Floater ELSs) Early Literacy Specialists who will have the responsibility of working directly with the school leader and the teachers and instructional professionals serving PreK through Grade 3 in the designated schools to support and improve early literacy instruction. The 2017 – 2018 school year will represent the third full school year of these supports, which have been designed to support the District’s overall work towards meeting Anchor Goal 2, ensuring all students are reading on grade level by age 8.
Each of the designated schools will be staffed with one full-time Early Literacy Specialist (ELS). The ongoing content, structure and deployment of the ELSs’ work with schools will be managed through the Early Literacy Directors who report to the Deputy of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, with support and input from the Deputy of Early Childhood Education as appropriate. The ELSs will provide direct training and professional development as well as job-embedded coaching with individual teachers to enhance teacher knowledge of early literacy content and practice. ELSs will also work with teachers, teacher teams and grade groups on a regular basis to track and measure the impact of early literacy professional development and inform future programming needs by generating and reviewing student progress data, including but not limited to AIMSweb and Developmental Reading Assessment results.
Required skills, knowledge and abilities of the ELSs include:
– Thorough knowledge of standards and current curriculum frameworks
– Thorough knowledge of literacy development
– Demonstrated ability to differentiate instructional practices for a full spectrum of learners – Familiarity with academic coaching methodology and practices
– Ability to support training and analysis of early literacy assessments
– Clear and succinct written and verbal communication for targeted audiences
– Effective presentation skills in various settings, both formal and informal
The contract being proposed through this resolution will enable the continued placement of ELSs in the 40 schools who completed the 2015 Summer Early Literacy Summer Workshop Series (known as Cohort 1), as well as the additional 52 schools who will complete the 2016 Summer Early Literacy Summer Workshop Series (known as Cohort 2), plus 1-2 additional ELSs to provide coverage when any ELSs are absent and to provide additional support to larger schools. The remaining 59 District elementary schools will become the third and final cohort, and will receive ELS supports in the 2017-18 school year.
In order to be eligible to participate in the Early Literacy Summer Workshop Series and receive ELS support, schools had to apply and commit to ensuring that the school principals and at least 65% of their K-3 teachers would attend the entire weeklong Early Literacy Summer Workshop Series. For Cohort 1, 77 elementary schools submitted applications, and 40 were selected for participation in this first year, with priority given to the schools with large proportions of third graders scoring below grade level in reading on the PSSA. For Cohort 2, 62 elementary schools submitted applications, and available funding permitted the District to select 52 of those schools for participation in this second year.
APPS Analysis: Children’s Literacy Initiative does impressive work, but again the issue is the SRC’s spending priorities. Most schools have had Literacy coaches; many had the very effective Reading Recovery programs. RR is a school-based, short-term intervention designed for children aged five to six who show low achievement after their first year of school. The intervention involves intensive one-to-one lessons 30 minutes a day, for ten to twelve weeks, with a trained literacy teacher. Research shows that this early intervention program results in substantial success for children. The question is: why isn’t the district doing what has been proven effective to improve literacy? Isn’t one of Dr Hite’s goals is to have children reading on grade level by fourth grade? Why not use that money to support programs and staff already embedded in the District?