Rushed reforms fail our schools

This column by APPS co-founder Lisa Haver was published by the Philadelphia Daily News on Wednesday, October 21, 2015.

Lisa Haver

The school formerly known as Roosevelt Middle School in East Germantown landed at the bottom of the list of Philadelphia schools’ Pennsylvania System of School Assessment reading-proficiency scores this year. Math-proficiency scores are 0.3 percent. It pains me to say that, because I taught there for four years in the ’90s. It wasn’t a bad school then. We had a good principal who respected teachers, many of whom had been there almost 20 years. There was a full-time librarian, a full-time nurse and two full-time counselors. A committee of teachers developed a series of innovative project-based curricula.

Roosevelt has made it through serial budget cuts and district neglect. But the most recent, perhaps fatal, wound was inflicted by the School Reform Commission’s decision two years ago to convert it to a K-8. When community members protested that three schools in the same area – Germantown High School, Fulton Elementary and Roosevelt – were on the list of 24 neighborhood schools to be closed in 2013, the SRC came up with a last-minute scheme to add six lower grades in a matter of months. The district provided little support during the transition.

It appears, though, that disruption and failure are not a deterrent to repeating mistakes in the School District of Philadelphia. Superintendent William Hite unveiled a plan earlier this month to reform 15 district schools at an estimated cost of $15 million to $20 million. Some will be part of the Hite-created Transformation Program, in which curricular and personnel changes, including forcing out the entire faculty, can be imposed with no public hearings or vote by the SRC. Others will be placed into the Renaissance Network, which is the administration’s way of giving up on a school it has done little to improve and kicking it to the curb for a private company to pick up. Some will have several grades added at once, as Roosevelt did, changing its mission and climate overnight. Contrary to promises made by Hite at public meetings, two schools will be closed permanently. Enrollment and class size in nearby schools will almost certainly increase.

The hurried approval process will give parents little chance to have any say in the future of their children’s schools. Teachers and staff have been shut out of the process altogether, even though many will be forced out of schools whose communities they have been part of for years. But since the decisions about which schools will be overhauled, and how, have already been made at the top, what purpose do these meetings serve other than window-dressing – until the inevitable rubber-stamping by the SRC?

 Are these radical changes worth the financial and emotional costs to be extracted from those school communities? Looking at the latest standardized-test scores clearly shows that these rushed overhauls do not work.

Hite cites reading and math proficiency scores, which hover around 30 percent, as justification for placing three more schools into the Renaissance program. But the latest PSSA scores show that none of the 21 current elementary or middle Renaissance schools achieved a math score over 20 percent; only eight topped 30 percent in reading. Three have come up for nonrenewal proceedings in the past year alone. The School Performance Rating of Audenried High School, placed in the Renaissance program in 2011, was among the lowest in the state.

If Hite’s plan represented real reforms, maybe it would be worth the $20 million price tag. But the facts show they are not. Overnight expansion has been a disaster for Roosevelt and other schools. Transformation schools, so far, show little more than cosmetic changes. Data on Renaissance schools clearly show that the whole program should be scrapped. Hite is a lifelong educator, and he knows what real reform entails: smaller class size; one-on-one reading interventions; a library in every school; full support staff including classroom aides for students with special needs, English language learners and kindergarten. They have always been worth investing in.

Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.

Email: philaapps@gmail.com

APPS member Diane Payne responds to Hite’s Sweeping Changes

l_william-hite-2

The story by Kevin McCorry of NewsWorks titled District proposes sweeping changes for 15 schools reads as though it was interesting news rather than an alarming catastrophe.  The Philadelphia Public School District is being dismantled and it is being reported as though it is an interesting school feature by news outlets across the region.  The dismantlers are shrouded in cloaks of double-speak and everyone just nods their heads as though these double-speak words are their true intentions.

Let’s start with Dr. Hite, a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.  An academy instituted by the uber rich Eli Broad who has a mission to dismantle public education across the country and thwart the democratic process. See Who is Eli Broad and why is he trying to destroy public education and More on Broad in Philadelphia at Defend Public Education!

Broad trains like-minded individuals in this academy and sends them across the nation to further these goals.  Lucky for him, Dr. Hite secured a position right here in Philadelphia and has been furthering those goals of privatization ever since.  There are many takers in this privatization grab because there are trillions of dollars in education.  Where there are dollars there are grabbers!

Recently, Dr. Hite made a slew of new hires…did we notice they were out-of-town folks with strong charter backgrounds?  One even came under a cloud of suspicion.  Do we care?

Then there is Philadelphia School Partnership with a very influential seat at the school district table. PSP is shrouded in secrecy, most board members are not Philadelphia residents, they are pro-privatization and does anyone care?

Then there are the SRC meetings where teachers, parents, advocates and community members ask, beg, and yell week after week and never get answers.  Does anyone notice or care?

Then there are the frivolous lawsuits that the district engages in to continue to thwart transparency and the democratic process (even when there is no money for basic necessities for our children). Do we care how much money the district spends on these lawsuits?

Then there is the very real fact that the two-tier, double standard system of charters and public is costing a sh$% load of money and at the end of the day has no silver bullet fix to show for it. Does anyone care?

Then there is the churn, chaos, disruption that is ever present in this two-tier system that sucks the life out of our district. Does anyone care?

This is alarming! We are watching the demise of public education and we are reporting it like it just another news story.

Hype over Hite makes no sense

On July 15, 2015 the Philadelphia Daily News printed this letter from APPS member Karel Kilimnik which was a response to a Daily News editorial of July 10, 2015: Saving Private Hite: The superintendent got a vote of confidence. He deserves the Medal of Honor.

Superintendent William Hite, Jr.
Superintendent William Hite, Jr.

I am truly puzzled with your paper’s admiration for Superintendent William Hite. As an educator, I can tell you that he has been toxic for education in Philadelphia. He has brought churn and turmoil to a district that needs leadership and collaboration. Almost 50 percent of principals have been replaced, assistant principals are becoming extinct as are school librarians. Many of these new principals are inexperienced and have not worked in an urban district before. In efforts to divest of veteran teachers many are receiving low evaluation marks for the first time in their professional lives. Hite has presided over the destruction of school communities by closing schools (now he terms it consolidation or merger). He has opened a few new schools that serve under 1,000 students total. My basic question is: What about the rest of the students in our district? Don’t they deserve a great education, too?

The social fabric of this country has been shredded. Few think about the whole; they are concerned with their own child/children. Hite feeds into this mentality wholeheartedly. His policies are not about everyone, they are for the few.

His recent shake-up at school district headquarters is very disturbing. I have researched some of these outsiders being brought into high positions and my findings are unsettling. It appears as if Hite is seeking to put Philadelphia into the arms of charter operators (two out of three I researched come directly from charter organizations). He has not disclosed their salaries. How come there is not enough money for Bartram High School, a struggling neighborhood school, to keep its art program and yet there is money to hire all these new people and create more infrastructure via networks? Hite claimed there would be an annual savings after closing 24 schools – where are the numbers to show this? Now he has found $34 million to give to a private company to hire substitute teachers? I call it magic money because it appears when he needs it.

He is determined to sell off positions and services to private operators over whom he will have no control. These outsiders are totally unaccountable to taxpayers whose money goes to fund them.

Karel Kilimnik

Click here to read Karel’s letter in the Daily News.