Testimony of Deborah Grill To the Board of Education, April 25, 2018

Budget Meeting

In light of the revised charter applications and amendments now under consideration, I am here to remind you that the District cannot afford to approve any more charters or enrollment expansion amendments.

Your own CFO has stated that charter costs are the fasting growing item in the District’s budget. The SRC approved many charters on the assumption that they could not deny a charter based on the added costs to the District.

However, both David Lapp formerly of the Education Law Center, and Susan DeJarnatt of Temple University Law School, have both testified that the District can legally take into account, and is obliged to take into account the impact that the added costs of any new charters would have on District school students when considering new applications.

Last year Research for Action released a report that found that over a 5 year period charter growth could cost the District at best, over $22 million, at worse over $154 million. In the worst case scenario, the District would have to close 47 schools and lay off 1,200 teachers and 500 administrators. In the best case scenario the District would have to close 22 schools. That would be a tremendous strain not only on the District’s finances but on the education of its students.

Charter schools were supposed to be laboratories of innovation. That certainly has not panned out. Free market and corporate ed enthusiasts who believe schools should be run like businesses explain that the competition from charter schools would make public schools stronger. But what business can survive and thrive when it has to use its own assets to fund its competitors? That is basically what the district does when it approves a new charter or agrees to a charter’s enrollment request. You are using your assets to fund a competing business. Charter enrollment must grow in order for the business to profit.

Meanwhile, District students sit in crumbling and toxic buildings and do without basic resources, without adequate staffing and supports, while charter expenses consume more and more of the District budget. If you continue to approve new charters and allow existing charters to grow at the expense of District schools, you send the students for whom you are directly responsible the message that their needs are secondary to those of charter operators investors.

There is no real evidence that charters are any better than public schools. Almost all of those few that do better enroll students of a demographic that does not reflect the districts demographics. Charters are not a sure thing. You should not, like the SRC, continue to gamble the District’s limited funds on charter expansion under the guise of doing what is best for the children.

Action Meeting

I am hear to speak on the proposed contract with Relay Graduate School of Education to train principals and instructional coaches.

Relay is not affiliated with any legitimate college or university. It was founded by three charter school networks to train their teachers. Relay’s teacher preparation has been described by Ken Zeichner, Boeing Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington and member of the National Academy of Education, as “a very narrow preparation to engage in a very controlling and insensitive form of teaching that is focused almost entirely on raising student test scores.” It is based on Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion which focuses on practice to the exclusion of theory. According to Zeichner, “There is no credible research that supports the use of Lemov’s methods with students.”
Relay is not accredited in Pennsylvania. In 2016, the state Department of Education denied Relay’s application to offer its New York-approved Master of Arts in Teaching for a number of reasons. The first and foremost being “Relay failed to demonstrate a sufficient understanding of the requirements for approval to offer courses through an education enterprise that would lead to a MAT degree.” In other words, Relay’s understanding of the state requirements for approval was so lacking that they couldn’t fill out the application correctly, even after being given several chances. Yet, this is who you want to train your principals, coaches and teachers.

The DOE went on to cite insufficient evidence of the teaching of research techniques and results. Relay actually tried to pass off the teaching of classroom assessment techniques as academic research. Since Relay doesn’t teach research they have no need for a physical library. All of their resources are online with no access to resources that have not been digitized. According to the DOE, Relay failed to provide evidence that it would employ a sufficient number of qualified personnel for operating in Pennsylvania.

The Relay Philadelphia/Camden campus doesn’t include a list of the faculty and their qualifications on their website other than a short bio of the dean. Relay’s National Vice-Provost of Academic Programs, taught for 3 years in a business school and has a PhD in Resource Allocation Behavior; Decision Making Under Ambiguity. What exactly does that mean?

Relay has few leaders with a doctorate, engages in no research, has no library, and has no relationship to the advancement of knowledge in education. If Relay is a school of education, then it is the McDonalds of teacher/principal preparation with a limited menu and low overhead. Philadelphia’s students, teachers and principals deserve more that a diet of educational fast-food. I urge the Board to deny this contract.