Student Achievement and Support Committee: October 10, 2019

by Lynda Rubin

Present were Co-chairs Chris McGinley and Angela McIver, Committee members Maria McColgan and Julia Danzy,  and Student Representative Doha Ibrahim.

Doha Ibrahim is one of the two non-voting Student Representatives selected to sit on the Board of Education for this school year. Doha is a senior at Lincoln High School, President of the ESOL Ambassador Program (English to Speakers of Other Languages), and she identifies herself as the voice of non-English speaking students. She owns her own business, Doha Photography. Doha wants to increase student support at all schools throughout the District.   APPS welcomes Doha Ibrahim!

McGinley presided over the first half of the meeting. He stated that Action items on the agenda were posted publicly on October 3 to be voted on at the Board of Education Action meeting to be held Thursday, October 17.  When possible, agenda items will be posted approximately one week in advance of the Student Achievement Committee meeting. McGinley then announced that two Action Items were just added to this meeting and will be on the agenda of the Action Meeting: Action 34, Non-renewal of Aspira Olney High School Charter and Action Item 35, Non-renewal of Aspira John B. Stetson Middle School. McGinley invited the public to submit written items on any topic to the Committee by emailing them to

The minutes of the September 5, 1919 Student Achievement were approved.

Hearing Examiner Presents Report on Failing Renaissance Charters 

On December 14, 2017, the Student Reform Commission (SRC) voted for the non-renewal of Olney High School and John B. Stetson Middle, both managed by Aspira, Inc as part of the District’s Renaissance program. Under PA charter Law hearings must be conducted at which both sides present their cases to a Hearing Master. Hearing Master Rudy Garcia presided over those hearings, held last Spring, which lasted 16 days, heard from 26 witnesses, and submitted over 1000 exhibits.  APPS members attended all 16 days of the hearings. Garcia presented highlights of his report along with his recommendation that the Board vote again for non-renewal. Garcia reminded the Board of the many instances in which Aspira engaged in fraudulent financial activities. The Board of Education will now review the report and any submitted comments and make its decision whether to renew or non-renew these two schools.

District Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt and Director of Transitions Joseph Antonio outlined the process and timing to reopen the schools as District schools in the event that the charters were shut down. If Aspira, Inc. were to appeal the decision to the State Charter Appeal Board (CAB)  who are all former Gov. Corbett appointees, that could give Aspira, Inc. an untold amount of time to remain open at the expense of the students and the taxpayers.

Mr. Garcia’s full reports can be found here.

2018-19 Standardized Test Scores 

Chief of Evaluation Research Tonya Wolford  presented numerous pages of data results from PSSA and Keystone tests.  (The power-point presentation was not available to the public before or at the time of the meeting.)  The power-points had several graphs showing year-to-year Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced data for each of the last five years. Committee members expressed dismay at the statistics, even for years in which progress was made. Committee members expressed their concern and intention to follow up on how and why to increase these goals. Wolford later discussed the Keystone exams and the progress made with them. She said that the new statewide requirements for graduation are in flux; as of this year, they are still not a graduation requirement. Beginning in 2022 state regulations will have the Keystones as just one factor, but there will be four additional pathways to graduation.

Fix Lopez asked Dr. Malika Savoy-Brooks, Chief of Academic Support, about whether there was a difference between the students who used computers and those who used only paper books. Fix Lopez had heard from parents who wanted to restrict their children’s screen time, but had difficulty because they were being used for school work. The Committee members had many questions and concerns about whether the District’s priorities regarding methods of learning as well as approaches that teachers are directed to use are working or not. Julia Danzy asked about basic supports for staff. Fix Lopez said that we shouldn’t be afraid to “pivot” just because we had contracts before. “If it wasn’t working that doesn’t mean we have to continue with those methods,” she said.

Danzy also expressed her concern that the District is overusing technology. She stated that her visits to schools reveals that students on screens “don’t have a clue”. McGiver said, “We don’t ask teachers what they expect their children to be able to do when they come in to you.” She noted that teachers  are more than able to answer; they know the skills that students have and they’re not getting them from Common Core and testing. McGiver then said that the biggest take-away from top performing school districts is that “none of them rely on a single curriculum. That is what differentiates them from all other schools.”  Board members should understand that no matter which way they are given to students, standardized tests are not a good measure of student achievement, they cause anxiety in students, and they waste many instructional days.

Action Item Discussion

McGiver asked about Action Item 15, Coded by Kids and JobWorks for $74,000. Bird  replied it was part of a past year’s vote via grant money.

The issue of Action Item 29, Ratification of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with KIPP Philadelphia, was raised. This is a program for which the Neubauer Foundation is providing a grant through KIPP Philadelphia for a college counseling assignment for three years. Neubauer will donate the money through KIPP. Chief of Schools Shawn Bird stated that the program will start at Ben Franklin HS.  At first he denied that KIPP wanted to expand its operations but a simple reading of the Action Item description shows otherwise. He then admitted that if successful, Neubauer and the District would share the costs to spread this program throughout the District.

APPS members have testified against this MOU at Committee meetings, including today’s, and will testify against it at the Action Meeting. KIPP is a national chain of education reformers and their investors whose schools are run as No Excuses schools using rigid behavior programs that is demeaning and designed to force students to comply without question.  KIPP is looking to spread its brand further into Philadelphia, and one way to do it under the radar is as a “gift” to the District. Dr. Bird spoke as if this was a wonderful program being granted to us. However, research has shown that KIPP is the way in for this QuestBridge College Match program that promises giving kids information and support usually reserved for more advantaged children, but a deeper dive finds that the requirements to become a finalist are what more advantaged kids can meet. This program has all the makings of a wannabe franchise operation. KIPP  is looking to get its foot into the door to be able to then spread itself throughout our District from within. APPS strongly opposes our District have anything to do with the KIPP business model.

Postponed Renewal of Math, Science, and Civics Charter School 

The renewal was another last-minute addition to this agenda that will be presented to the Board for approval on October 17.  Charter Schools Office Interim Director Christina Grant stated that the school’s operators had agreed to all of the “conditions” negotiated with the District and were expected to sign on October 14. Like similar renewals, the conditions, agreed to in private meetings with the charter officials, will not be made public until AFTER the Board votes to approve or deny. This school’s most recent Renewal Evaluation for this grades 1-12 school assigned “DOES NOT MEET” ratings to all major categories. The list of serious problems also includes a need for “complete overhaul of special education” and problems with Board structure. The school has been operating without a signed contract agreement for two years. A previous proposed contract with conditions included a Surrender Clause in the event that metrics in areas stated above were not met. When APPS member Lisa Haver called out asking why Grant had not mentioned the Surrender Clause, Grant said that the clause had been removed.

APPS remains concerned about the last minute add-on to the Committee’s agenda. Dr. McGinley noted that the Board hasn’t seen anything yet in writing for the Board to consider, perhaps implying that it’s not ready for a Board vote. The Item will be presented to the Board by the CSO who will add it to next week’s Action meeting agenda. Most concerning was when Board members asked questions about what the District could do if the school doesn’t meet the conditions after the approval, Grant carefully worded her answer that the Board could vote to revoke the charter if the school is in direct violation of charter school law. Much of the conditions and progress have nothing to do with charter school law. Therefore the Board could be tied into another bad charter school contract for another 5 years.

 APPS is also concerned with how the Charter School Office has been cleaning up the charters that the operators refused to sign because they feel the District does not have the right to oversee their progress. It seems that almost every charter school who refused to sign their agreements have now done so with very few of the original conditions included in the new agreements. In fact, of the five Mastery schools originally recommended by the CSO  for renewal with conditions, all of the conditions disappeared just before the Board votes.

 Public Speakers

Teacher Kristin Luebbert is a PFT member and member of the Caucus of Working Educators. She told the Board that they were absolutely right to deny spending $1.5 million on Newsela, yet another digital learning tool, at the September Action Meeting. Luebbert said there is “device inequity” because of the lack of access many students have outside of school to devices and internet. As a reading teacher, she has found that students prefer to read books on printed paper. She suggests the District provide teachers with more books and paper as well as school libraries, reading specialists for grades above 4th. McGiver responded that buying her 4-year old  son, an avid reader, a Kindle was the worst money she’d ever spent. After only one month her son came to her asked if he could have real books back.

Zoe Rooney–Parent, Educator and APPS member–encouraged the Board to talk to teachers at schools across the city about PSSA data and how to use these statistics. “Teachers are the professionals who know the standards and instructional strategies and mandates given by the District,” she said.  Teachers could provide the District with a lot of the information they’re looking for. She also suggested that if we are truly looking to improve learning and scores, the Board should rethink the contractually too-high class sizes that deny our students sufficient teacher support. She spoke against Action Item 7 using ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) grant for special education students. If approved, the District should make sure that parents have the right to opt out. McGinley noted that anything that’s not in the IEP should not be used. But Rooney pointed out that if teachers are being trained in how to use something, they can’t evaluate its value if they don’t use it in classrooms. She cautioned that if ABA is used, there should be extra precautions to have it included in students’ IEPs.

Cheri Micheau, APPS member and expert on English Language Learners (ELL)  needs, spoke about the under representation of ELL students in acceptance to special-admit schools as is required under the LeGere Decree to provide equity to ELL and special ed students. She noted that there are no consequences for non-compliance of the 7% minimum that LeGere mandates. Micheau pointed out that at the last Student Achievement Committee, District personnel who are responsible for monitoring all high school admissions had not analyzed the data on special-admit schools for their presentation and were unable to answer any questions put to them. Micheau noted that equity concern deserves more than an overview. After her testimony, Fix Lopez asked for a copy of her testimony that included statistics for the percentages of ELL students admitted to special admit schools. Micheau ended with the comment that more attention should be given to admission results rather than the number of applications made.

APPS co-founder Karel Kilimnik spoke in opposition to Action Item 29, the KIPP MOU. She pointed out that Neubauer may pay for the program this year, but the District will pay for the program’s extension. She stated that a District funding priority should be abating the toxic school crisis to ensure that every building is healthy. Kilimnik suggested that rather than outsource a college career program, the District should hire more counselors. She noted that KIPP’s one high school in Philadelphia is in the Watch Category. Shawn Bird responded that Dr. Borelli, principal at Franklin HS, is a Neubaur Fellow which is why Franklin was selected. Bird still resisted that the program would be expanded, although the language is right in the Action Item description.

APPS co-founder Lisa Haver also spoke about KIPP’s motives. She recounted that a few years ago, Mastery Charters came up with a way to make more money, in addition to opening new charter schools, by getting Mastery into public school classrooms because they claimed to know better than public school teachers how to teach. That program was a disaster and no longer exists. She strongly spoke against any contract with KIPP because …“KIPP is a repugnant organization that abuses children psychologically, which is another reason to not give them any more public money.” Regarding Math, Science and Civics Charter, she noted that it was stated a few months ago that there was a Surrender Clause because they met NO academic, organizational or financial standards. Regarding Aspira, Haver pointed out that the school has been open and failing for ten years. From the beginning they did less well than district schools. Charters have claimed that they could do anything better than public schools, then want to make excuses when they remain substandard. Haver asked the Board to not approve Aspira, telling the members that APPS members will go with them, as they did in the Eastern University non-renewal, to the CAB hearing.

District teacher Sarah Vargas described her “Day in a Life” experiences in a building where student and teacher bathrooms are often closed, where the water is yellow and physical conditions are appalling. She described trying to get through a day without being able to use the toilet or get a drink. She invited the Board to walk with her in her Day in a Life world. She ended by noting what educational studies consistently show is that SAT scores are more related to wealth and status than teaching and learning.

APPS member Lynda Rubin also spoke against Action 29. She cited many of the same statistics and information that others had about KIPP’s unacceptable methods of making money at the expense of students. She pointed out that by googling “KIPP College Match” it was easy to locate the connection to MDRC, another non-profit long on PR terms and business speak. She noted that the program is actually done through QuestBridge College Match, a “non-profit” from LA. Rubin pointed out the dissonance between their promises to help disadvantaged kids with the program’s admission that  finalists generally get all A’s, have honors classes and SAT scores of 1310. It’s simply another bait-and-switch sales pitch.

Next month’s  Student Achievement Committee meeting will be held on November 14  at 5:00 PM.