Commentary: Charters not really a good choice for parents and kids


The following Commentary by APPS co-founder Lisa Haver was published by the Philadelphia Daily News on October 3, 2016. Read the comments.

School choice is one of many issues that illustrate the stark difference between the two major candidates for president. While Hillary Clinton, supported by teachers’ unions, has expressed support for charters within a robust public system, Donald Trump promises to use the power of the presidency to promote school choice policies and replace “the failed tenure system” with merit pay for teachers. Trump recently proposed a massive voucher system in which over $20 billion in federal funds would be distributed to states so that parents could choose among “public, private, charter or magnet” schools.

While the promise of “choice” – placing education in an unregulated free-market system of winners and losers – has been sold by reformers as the answer to the underfunding of public schools for over a decade, the power of those in struggling districts to make decisions about their public schools has been stripped from them as a result of “interventions” imposed by governors and legislatures across the country. An analysis by News21 found that lawmakers in at least 20 states have either eliminated locally-elected school boards or stripped them of their power. African Americans make up 43 percent, and Hispanics 20 percent, of those disenfranchised by these takeovers. Philadelphia lost control of its school district when Harrisburg imposed the appointed and unaccountable School Reform Commission on the city in 2001.

School choice has been sold as a way to give opportunities to those painted as trapped in “failing” urban public schools. But a recent brief by the National Education Policy Center has found “an unsettling degree of segregation – particularly in charter schools – by race and ethnicity, as well as by poverty, special needs and English-learner status.” And studies continue to show that charters do not, even with additional resources, outperform public schools.

The truth is that when school districts under state control decide to privatize public schools, parents end up with fewer choices – or none. As a result of the SRC’s surprise vote last January to allow Mastery Charters to take control of John Wister Elementary School as part of the districts “Renaissance” program, families in that East Germantown catchment area no longer have access to a truly public school. Wister students feed into Pickett Middle/High School, which was taken over by Mastery nine years ago. Unless given special dispensation by district officials, their children must attend a charter school, with its rigid “no-excuses” discipline policy, from kindergarten through senior year of high school. The same dilemna faces those in the Mastery Cleveland Elementary catchment area, where students feed into Mastery Gratz Middle/High School. The only other option is to move, although some parents who have done that found themselves in the same position when their new school was targeted for takeover.

This is a precarious position for families to be forced into. Charters can and have unexpectedly shut down midyear, as Walter D. Palmer Charter did two years ago. Young Scholars Charters has walked away from two North Philadelphia elementary schools, Kenderton and Douglass, in the past two years, forcing the district into a hasty decision to take back management or find another provider. Kenderton parents organized an emergency meeting, but soon realized that they had no say in that decision.

Two years ago, Superintendent William Hite allowed parents at two North Philadelphia schools to vote on whether to allow a charter company of the district’s choosing to take control of the schools. Parents at both schools voted overwhelmingly to remain public. Thus, in 2015, parents and students at three more district schools were given no vote, but simply informed that their schools were to be placed in the Renaissance program. The choice had been made for them.

Education reformers continue to argue that opening more charters at the expense of public schools means increased “choice” for parents. Is this really a choice for parents – to send your children to a charter school or pull up stakes? Parents don’t want to go school shopping any more than consumers wanted to pick an electric company. They want districts to distribute resources equitably, so that children in every neighborhood have access to safe and stable schools.


APPS members respond to more hype from Hite about progress in the Philadelphia School District.


Philadelphia School Superintendent Dr. William Hite addresses the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation at the Union League. Photo by Darryll Murphy.

Despite challenges, Hite optimistic about future of District | The Notebook – September 28, 2016

Notebook comments by APPS members Lisa Haver and Rich Miglore to Superintendent Hite’s speech.

Rich Migliore

There are many many things the district still needs to do to provide every child with a first rate instructional program that meets all of their needs. A prime example is that the district educates thousands of children who suffer from Dyslexia. Yet the district does not provide those students with certified reading specialists. Nor do charter schools.

If we really care about those children, we would provide them with certified reading specialists in every school. School Librarians, too. Dyslexic children need the services of a highly qualified certified professional to learn to overcome their disability. And please, do not even begin to say that sticking them on a computer program neets their needs. That notion is — purely ridiculous.

There are also many things the district could do to save costs and provide more money to direct services to children. Every month advocates read the resolutions list and wonder why the district wastes so much money on outside contracts with suspect organizations which provide no worthwhile services to the district, nor its children.

The money and legal costs the district wastes on its failed and suspect renaissance school program is astounding and misplaced. The primary concern raised at the recent Pa. School Board’s Association “Education Summit” was the outlandish cost of charter schools. They explained that their districts could provide the very same thing for less than one quarter of the costs of their charter schools.

The costs the district expends on legal fees to outside counsel is also horrendous and is unnecessary.

If we just efficiently minded those costs, there would be millions more dollars which could and should be appropriated to children. We have few early childhood “early intervention” programs for children who are on the “autism spectrum.” Early intervention programs are crucial for those children. They should begin at age 2 and school district early intervention programs should be provided for them at age 3.

Mayor Kenney should be “on top of that.” So should Dr. Hite.

Dr. Hite knows I speak from the heart.

Lisa Haver

Another massive misappropriation of district funds is the Renaissance program. The renewals of two Aspira schools and two Universal schools have been put on hold for months now, without explanation. We know that members of the SRC have taken part in private negotiations with Aspria representatives. Why? The SRC’s Charter School Office unequivocally recommended non-renewal for these schools. What is going on with the Universal renewals–are they also in negotiations with them? Hite and the SRC has a responsibility to explain why they have, in effect, rejected their own reports.

The renewal of three Mastery Renaissance schools has also been postponed. Why? A quick look at the data for two of these schools shows that they have not succeeded in making them anything close to “high-quality”.

Part of Hite’s job is to let people know that public education should be supported. Fine. But someone needs to ask him some hard questions, including how he justifies continuing to turn over neighborhood schools to charters when the district’s own data shows that this very expensive program is not working.



Ears on the SRC–September 15, 2016


by Diane Payne
September 25, 2016

Inside Track

Titles of resolutions for charter renewals of Aspira, Mastery, and Universal schools were posted–but not the resolutions themselves. This is a deliberate move on the part of the SRC to make sure the public does not know what they intend to vote on.

We expected a packed house of charter school families to support their respective schools but found a sparsely filled auditorium instead. It would seem that the charter schools had the inside track on that one – again.  (More on this later.)

Dr. Hite was absent due to a death in the family. His Chief of Staff, Naomi Wyatt, sat in for him.

APPS Speakers

Nine APPS members used their three minutes at the mic to continue to advocate for public schools against the ongoing assault by the SRC and the Hite administration: Karel Kilimnik, Diane Payne, Lisa Haver, Rich Liuzzi, Tonya Bah, Kristin Leubbert, Eileen Duffy, Barbara Dowdall, and Lynda Rubin.  APPS members spoke on charter renewals; support for early childhood teachers in light of the SRC’s decision on suspensions; lack of transparency from the SRC; the shuttering of a neighborhood and its reopening as a “contract school”; and the lack of respect for teachers and school professionals shown by certain members of the SRC. (Click here to  view or to read the APPS September 15th SRC testimony,)

If not for Lisa Haver’s testimony, there would have been no mention of the disturbing reports on Fox 29 News about the sexual harassment lawsuit against Aspira CEO Alfredo Calderon, which was settled by Aspira Inc. for over $300,000 plus attorney’s fees. The complaint, filed by a former Aspira administrator, alleged that Calderon bragged about “sexual conquests of parents, teachers and students.”

Who’s Out, Who’s In?

Click here to read the entire article.

APPS members testimony before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission – September 15, 2016


On September 15, 2016 the Philadelphia School Reform Commission met for its monthly Action Meeting.

This is testimony of members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools at this meeting.

All nine videos can be viewed here.

Click on the pictures below to view individual videos. Speakers are in order of appearance at the SRC meeting

Video of APPS member Karel Kilimnik testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.

Karel Kilimnik SRC 9-15-16.jpg

Click here to read the transcript of Karel’s testimony.

Video of APPS member Diane Payne testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.


Click here to read the transcript of Diane’s testimony.

Video of APPS member Lisa Haver testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.


Click here to read the transcript of Lisa’s testimony.

Video of APPS member Rich Liuzzi testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.


Click here to read the transcript of Rich’s testimony.

Video of APPS member Tonya Bah testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.


Video of APPS member Kristin Luebbert testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.


Click here to read the transcript of Kristin’s testimony.

Video of Bill Green attacking Philadelpia teachers which Kristen refers to in her testimony.

Video of APPS member Eileen Duffey testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.


Video of APPS member Barbara Dowdall testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.


Click here to read the transcript of Barbara’s testimony.

Video of APPS member Lynda Rubin testifying before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing – September 15, 2016.


Click here to read the transcript of Lynda’s testimony.