Monthly Archives: February 2012

Administering Standardized Tests Are Standard for Everyone—Except Philly

by Christopher Paslay

Although dozens of school districts across the state are under investigation for cheating, it appears the Pennsylvania Department of Education has singled out the Philadelphia School District for special treatment.    

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook writes:

“In the wake of concerns about cheating on state exams, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has prohibited Philadelphia teachers – but apparently not teachers in other districts across the state – from administering the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test to their own students.”

This stinks for three reasons:

  1. The Philadelphia School District is being singled out, despite the fact that numerous school districts across the state are under investigations for cheating.
  2. These special restrictions on Philadelphia schools violate the uniformity of the administration of the tests and therefore keep them from being genuinely standard.
  3. The fact that the state waited until two weeks before the tests to make this announcement is unacceptable.  The logistical planning and training for the administration of these tests has been going on for weeks.  Now, Philadelphia public schools will be forced to change plans and procedures, and this may very well result in unforeseen organizational issues that could compromise the efficiency of the testing environment.  Was the state not aware of these restrictions before now?

Philadelphia School District officials, and perhaps even Mayor Nutter, must bring these equity issues to the attention of the state as soon as possible.  The city must demand that its schools be treated fairly, and not allow the state to make-up rules as it goes along.

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Bloomberg Makes Teacher Rankings Public, Nails Names to Church Door

by Christopher Paslay

The Bloomberg administration has made public the performance rankings of its city schoolteachers, despite limitations of the data and flaws in the evaluation system.   

It’s official: The New York City Education Department has won the legal right to make public the performance rankings of its teachers.  An article in Friday’s New York Times summed-up the situation:   

“After a long legal battle and amid much anguish by teachers and other educators, the New York City Education Department released individual performance rankings of 18,000 public school teachers on Friday, while admonishing the news media not to use the scores to label or pillory teachers.

The reports, which name teachers as well as their schools, rank teachers based on their students’ gains on the state’s math and English exams over five years and up until the 2009-10 school year. The city released the reports after the United Federation of Teachers exhausted all legal remedies to block their public disclosure.”

The fact that the New York City Education Department felt the need to warn the media not to use the scores to ridicule teachers is interesting because it provides a window into what is truly on their minds: The public shaming of city schoolteachers. 

Bill Gates, who has donated tens of millions of dollars to public education, agrees.  In a New York Times opinion piece headlined “Shame Is Not the Solution,” he wrote:

“Many districts and states are trying to move toward better personnel systems for evaluation and improvement. Unfortunately, some education advocates in New York, Los Angeles and other cities are claiming that a good personnel system can be based on ranking teachers according to their “value-added rating”—a measurement of their impact on students’ test scores—and publicizing the names and rankings online and in the media. But shaming poorly performing teachers doesn’t fix the problem because it doesn’t give them specific feedback.

Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system. But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness, like students’ feedback about their teachers and classroom observations by highly trained peer evaluators and principals.

Putting sophisticated personnel systems in place is going to take a serious commitment. Those who believe we can do it on the cheap—by doing things like making individual teachers’ performance reports public—are underestimating the level of resources needed to spur real improvement.”

Dennis M. Walcott, Chancellor of New York public schools, said his goal isn’t to shame teachers.  “I don’t want our teachers disparaged in any way, and I don’t want our teachers denigrated based on this information,” he said.  But if this is true, why make the information public?  Isn’t it enough that teachers, principals, and other school administrators in the city have access to the data to improve instruction?

Interestingly, on top of the controversial “shame” factor associated with the public rankings, there are other problems with this cost-cutting teacher evaluation system.  Here are several:

  • Only teachers of reading and math get rated, as do those who teach grades 4 – 8. 
  • The rating system—which is based on a score of 1 to 100—has an incredibly large margin for error, according to city education officials and statisticians.  On average, a teacher’s math rating could be off by as much as 35 percentage points, and in reading by 53 points. 
  • Some teachers are being judged on as few as 10 students.
  • One teacher received a ranking for a semester when she was on maternity leave.
  • Some teachers who taught English were ranked for teaching math.  
  • City officials said 3 percent of teachers have discovered that their reports were based on classes they never taught.
  • The rankings follow a predetermined bell-curve that dictates 50 percent of teachers must be ranked “average,” 20 percent must be ranked “above average” and “below average,” and 5 percent must be ranked “high” and “low”.       

But still, the data can be used to improve instruction, right? 

Probably not.  First, the data is nearly two years old and no longer relevant.  Students have moved on to new classes and teachers have new cohorts of students.  Second, a portion of the data has been discredited by suspected cheating.  Third, only 77 percent of the 18,000 teachers ranked are still employed by the Education Department, and a number of those people have taken new jobs outside the classroom.              

So how do others in the education community feel about the newly developed public rankings?  University of Wisconsin economist Douglas N. Harris, who works at the school where the rankings were created, said that making the data public “strikes me as at best unwise, at worst, absurd.” 

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan loves the idea.  “Silence is not an option,” he said.    

Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch, although acknowledging the need for strong teacher evaluation systems, wrote that the rankings exist primarily to pin society’s problems on teachers, the universal scapegoat.    

“Of course, teachers should be evaluated. They should be evaluated by experienced principals and peers. No incompetent teacher should be allowed to remain in the classroom. Those who can’t teach and can’t improve should be fired. But the current frenzy of blaming teachers for low scores smacks of a witch-hunt, the search for a scapegoat, someone to blame for a faltering economy, for the growing levels of poverty, for widening income inequality.”

It’s still unclear how a flawed rating system that will ultimately shame many schoolteachers and hurt morale is going to effectively improve instruction.  Although the New York City Education Department insists otherwise, it seems apparent the new high profile evaluations exist primarily to satisfy the public’s urge to place schoolteachers in the stocks and nail their so-called “sins” to the church door.

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Filed under Standardized Testing, UFT

The mighty testing juggernaut

“There’s an old saying that weighing a cow doesn’t make it fatter. When it comes to educational testing in Pennsylvania, however, Gov. Corbett may beg to differ. His proposed 2012-13 budget calls for a 43 percent increase in funding for educational assessments, to $52 million, even as it keeps school funding generally flat and cuts spending on state-related universities.

The timing of this increase is interesting. Last year, a forensic audit of the 2009 state exams flagged 38 school districts and 10 charter schools for possible cheating; nearly half of them are still under investigation. This prompted state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis to order audits of the 2010 and 2011 tests and to require the Philadelphia School District, which had 28 schools flagged for suspicious results, to conduct an internal investigation. . . .”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “The mighty testing juggernaut.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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Why Charter Schools Exist Mainly Among Urban Poor

by Christopher Paslay

Outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, charter schools in Pennsylvania are virtually nonexistent.  One reason is that socioeconomically disadvantaged children and their families are easier to manipulate.      

Here are some basic facts about charter schools in the state of Pennsylvania.  In 2011, only 54.7 percent made AYP under the No Child Left Behind Law.  Stanford University’s CREDO report, which examined the performance of Pennsylvania charter schools from 2007 to 2010, concluded:

“Overall, charter school performance in Pennsylvania lagged in growth compared to traditional public schools. . . . Performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick and mortar charters with 100% of cyber charters performing significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts in both reading and math. . . . Charter schools of all ages in Pennsylvania on average perform worse than traditional public schools, and charter school students grow at lower rates compared to their traditional public school peers in their first 3 years in charter schools, although the gap shrinks considerably in math and disappears entirely in reading by the third year of attendance.”

There are 3,096 public schools in Pennsylvania, yet only 142 of them—one half of one percent—are charters.  Of these 142 charters, 80 of them (56 percent) are in Philadelphia, another 15 are in the Pittsburgh/Allegheny area, and the remaining 47 are sparsely scattered throughout the rest of the state.  Outside of poor urban areas, charter schools are practically nonexistent.             

If charters are the new fix for “failing” public schools, why haven’t they caught on in the suburbs?  Why haven’t they caught on in rural areas or mountain regions?  The answer is because charters are not better than traditional public schools, and there are heaps of data to prove this.  Most families outside of urban areas understand this reality, which is why charters and their enterprising operators have been unable to successfully set-up shop there.  Suburbanites don’t want charters, they don’t want business people with limited educational experience messing with their children and controlling their school resources (the head of the Philadelphia Parking Authority recently proposed opening a charter, if you can believe that).  Why, then, are charters so widely accepted in Philadelphia?        

One reason might be that 80.6 percent of families of public school children in Philadelphia are economically disadvantaged, and they are easier to take advantage of.  Yes, they are being taken advantage of, and here’s how. 

First, charters falsely advertise they are superior academically, despite all the research showing otherwise.  Many urban poor are not in a position to access research on charter school performance, so they simply believe what they hear or are told; the propagandistic film Waiting for Superman is a case in point.  In short, the urban poor are being misled.    

Second, charter schools discriminate and play by their own rules.  It is a documented fact that charter schools fail to serve the neediest population of children.  KIPP charters (Knowledge Is Power Program) are a prime example.  Because KIPP schools have extended school days and hold classes on weekends, the student turnover rate is extremely high for Black males—over 40 percent dropout between grades 6 – 8.  As a result, these students are sent back to neighborhood schools.  In addition, KIPP is criticized for not serving more English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

Although there’s yet to be any noteworthy litigation in Pennsylvania against charter operators (the key word is yet), parents of school children in Louisiana have filed a class-action lawsuit against the New Orleans school system, arguing that their charters exclude special-needs students.  The Miami Herald recently wrote a series titled “Cashing In on Kids” which highlighted the fact that South Florida charter operators are getting rich on “school choice” by admitting very few special needs children and minorities into their schools.  This discrimination is widespread and very real.  I’ve personally met numerous parents whose children are on waiting lists to get into a charter—or have been removed from a charter—because they couldn’t pass the muster.                 

Third, charters take money away from struggling neighborhood schools.  Interestingly, it’s not academics that attracts many urban parents to charter schools.  The lure of charters seems to be the fact that many are cleaner, safer, and smaller than big, decaying neighborhood schools.  This is true in some cases, but there’s a reason: charters weed out dysfunctional children and their struggling families, and siphon money away from traditional neighborhood schools that could be used for upgrade and repair.

This is a clear civil rights violation, and sets in motion a cycle of 21st century school segregation.  As time goes on, as charters continue to expand, there will be more and more separation between charters and traditional schools, until the neediest 30 – 40 percent (made up of primarily English Language Learners, the disabled, and those children with social, emotional, and behavioral disorders) are left completely behind.  In other words, despite the big promises, charters by their very nature will never help a large population of the urban poor.                           

And many socioeconomically disadvantaged parents don’t understand this.  They view clean, neat, nifty new charters as a lottery ticket, and jump at it.  Little do they know that there’s a good chance that their child won’t get into that school, that their son or daughter will be left behind in the forgotten neighborhood school, which has been further weaken by the existence of the charter. Sure, those lucky enough to get into a charter may have a cleaner, safer, more appropriate learning environment, but this is only achieved at the expense of the neediest 30 – 40 percent of children plagued with disorders who are weeded out and left behind.  This might be acceptable in a private school using private funds, but it’s unconstitutional when it’s being done with public tax dollars.   

If only urban parents could see that making a commitment to their neighborhood school—like parents do in most other parts of the state—would be a better solution in the long run.  If only they could team up with elected officials to generate the resources needed to complete building renovations and repairs, upgrade materials, and invest in technology.  If only they could convince educational policy makers to revamp curriculum to make it more individualized and authentic, and expand alternative schools and programs to remediate troubled youth.  If only they could convince local leaders to invest in families and communities in order to create a culture of learning available to all children within the bounds of a neighborhood, instead of running away.                             

Although charters in Pennsylvania don’t outperform traditional neighborhood schools academically, they do turn a large profit.  Privatization of public schools (and tax dollars) is a big business, and unlike the more advantaged populations of Pennsylvania, the urban poor are prime real estate.

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SRC Favors Corporate Community Over True Stakeholders

by Lisa Haver

Philadelphians still have little say in the workings of the School District.  Too often the agenda of the corporate community outweighs the interests of true stakeholders.      

Although the new-look Philadelphia School Reform Commission is making headway into the issues facing city schools, a number of their recent decisions have some Philadelphians wondering whether they are really living up to their self-described “transparency”. 

One troublesome development was the SRC’s signing of the Great Schools Compact at its November 23, 2011 meeting—held the day before Thanksgiving—after offering limited opportunity for public discussion on it.  The millions of dollars in possible grant money attached to the Compact, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, come with a number of mandatory provisions which seriously compromise the SRC’s ability to make its own decisions.  These include expansion of the number and size of charter schools, the evaluation and pay of teachers, the closing of neighborhood schools, and the transferring of 50,000 students over the next five years to “high-performing” schools. 

Recently, an eight-member committee was appointed by the SRC to coordinate implementation of the Great Schools Compact. This committee includes representatives from the Mayor’s office, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Philadelphia School District, and administrators from three charter schools.  No community members, teachers, parents or students are represented.

There has yet to be a chance for any of the true stakeholders of city public schools to weigh in on the Great Schools Compact, an agreement that will change the landscape of the Philadelphia School District for many years to come.  However, the Philadelphia School Partnership—a newly created organization whose board is top-heavy with investment bankers—has become a major player in advancing the cause of privatization as “reform,” and has managed to place Mark Gleason, PSP’s Executive Director, on the Great Schools Compact committee as a “non-voting” member; Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Charter Schools, is also a non-voting member.    

This Great Schools Compact Committee was not elected by the people and is not directly accountable to them.  One wonders how investment bankers and charter school operators have become such heavy hitters in deciding the future of city public schools.  How has the corporate community come to overshadow the district’s true stakeholders? 

Another issue with transparency was the recent restructuring of the School District’s administration.  At the January 16th SRC meeting, not once did any of the SRC members feel compelled to mention to those in attendance that the administration of the school district was about to be completely reconfigured.  That was announced three days later, along with the shocker that they had named Thomas Knudsen, former director of the Philadelphia Gas Works, the District’s new Chief Recovery Officer and interim superintendent with no set limits on his range of powers.     

Now taxpayers must cough up $25,000 a month to pay yet another businessman to oversee the district.  Now we find out that Mr. Knudsen plans to hire even more costly consultants to straighten-out the financial and administrative mess left by Arlene Ackerman.  Apparently, that’s his prerogative; we were never told what his prerogatives would be.

Unfortunately, it is hard to figure out how and when the public will ever have a chance to weigh in on any of these issues.  Previously, the SRC convened on Wednesdays; official proposals were distributed and discussed at one meeting and voted on the next.  The new SRC now has one formal meeting each month, and they have yet to explain how anyone can view its agenda prior to that day.  How can the public comment on or question proposals they don’t get a chance to see?

It seemed, initially, that one exercise in transparency might be the SRC’s decision to schedule a series of meetings at neighborhood schools where parents and community members could discuss their criteria for finding a permanent superintendent.  A 10-member committee has been designated by the SRC to conduct the search and vote for its choice; no parents, teachers or students have been selected to be part of that body, either. 

The first of these forums, held at Simon Gratz High School last week, was not run by School District personnel but by facilitators from the Penn Project on Civic Engagement.  The gathering of about one hundred people was immediately divided into smaller groups, and a printed list of talking points was given to each to discuss.  No time was allotted for the whole group to ask questions of the four committee members who were present.  Can a meeting with a pre-determined agenda, run by paid facilitators, truly be described as an opportunity for Philadelphians who have a stake in this system to be heard?

When will Philadelphians have a chance to be heard on the critical issues—academics, finances, school safety and climate—which now face our schools?  And why are they being pushed aside to make room for those who largely represent corporate interests?  It seems that the true stakeholders in the Philadelphia School District have neither the money nor the power to get a seat at the table.

Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and education activist.  She can be reached at:  lhaver1039@yahoo.com.

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Fox 29 School Bullying Video is an Invasion of Privacy and Puts Minors at Risk

by Christopher Paslay

The airing of video of minors inside a classroom is a violation of Philadelphia School District policy.  It also compromises the safety of middle school children.     

Although the Philadelphia School District explicitly forbids videos of their students to be published on the internet, Fox 29 News has gone ahead and posted cellphone video clips taken by a 12-year-old middle school student inside a District classroom on their website.  

The clips, edited around the melodramatic commentary of Fox 29 News broadcaster Chris O’Connell, show several incidents of rough-housing inside a classroom in Samuel Huey Middle School in West Philadelphia.  O’Connell sets the scene at the start of the Fox 29 News Exclusive by saying, “This video is a starting look at what’s going on inside a Philadelphia school classroom, from a student’s perspective.”  He emphasis the word student’s, as if this makes the video somehow ethical, as if a 12-year-old shooting the video makes it fall into compliance with privacy laws and School District policy.

O’Connell says the video shows “violence” and “complete chaos.”  He says that in one scene, “a classroom erupts in a fight, completely out of control, while a teacher tries in vain to stop the brawl.” 

Hardly.  If you watch this clip, at 1:10 on the tape, you hear a male teacher say, “Stop horsing around.  Let’s go.”  This ten second snippet is taken out of context, with no frame of reference as to time.  It’s relatively playful and without malicious intent—similar to the stuff you’d see outside on plenty of schoolyards around the country; listen to the laughter of the students in the background.  Granted, it was taking place in a classroom, but again, we don’t have a frame a reference.  The bell may have just rung.  Even more likely, some of the students may have been playing to the camera and completely hamming it up.  In fact, to a seasoned teacher’s eye, it almost looks staged.

But O’Connell and Fox 29 want their “exclusive”.  Never mind that the School District’s Computing and Internet Acceptable Use Policy states that students “may not post personal information on the Internet about themselves or other people.”  Never mind that airing videos of minors on television and the internet puts them in harm’s way of possible child predators.  Never mind that the parents of the children in the video never signed release forms.  (How do I know this?  What parent in their right mind would sign a release form allowing their child to be shown on television and the internet in such an extremely negative light?)              

“She wants the world to see the place she’s supposed to be getting an education,”  O’Connell says in reference to the 12-year-old girl who took the illegal cellphone video inside a classroom.  This is indeed noble, but it doesn’t give her the right to violate the privacy of her peers, or the privacy and reputation of her teacher, who is clearly identifiable by his voice in the background of the video.        

If I were the School District of Philadelphia, I would not kowtow to pressure from the public and go into damage-control mode for the situation at Samuel Huey Middle School.  In fact, I would do the complete opposite: I would confront Fox 29 News for breaking privacy laws and violating the District’s explicit policy which forbids the publishing of any picture, audio, video, or school work of any District student on the internet without written parental consent. 

I would also inform the parents of all the students shown illegally in the video—especially the parents of the students who were shown in an unflattering light—that they have the right to sue the parents of the student who shot the illegal video and that they should contact a lawyer and pursue a civil suit against Fox 29 News.  (Would Fox 29 have tried this in the suburbs?)       

Before all of this, of course, I would call a meeting with the teacher whose classroom is featured in this illegal video and demand an explanation.  What was the situation, exactly?  What was the real-time context?  Was it during class, or after the bell?  Were students simply screwing around in your classroom during your preparation period?  Either way, I’d most likely take some form of disciplinary action against the teacher, and require him to undergo some kind of peer assistance/mentoring program.  The bottom line is that this kind of student behavior, regardless of the context, is completely unacceptable. 

Then I would inform the teacher that he should think about pursuing legal action against the parents of the student who shot the illegal video, and of pursing legal action against Fox 29 News.          

There’s no disputing that schools such as Huey Middle School in West Philadelphia have issues with classroom management.  Principals and teachers who are unfit to do their jobs should be removed.  However, this doesn’t give disgruntled students or the media the right to invade a person’s privacy by filming them without their consent, and then posting this film out of context on the internet.

Imagine if everyone, at school and the workplace, pulled out their cellphones and shot video of their peers and coworkers at any particular time in any particular context, without their consent, and posted it on the internet? What would happen to all of our reputations?  What kind of chaos would ensue?          

I myself would not want to live in this kind of world.   

Cellphone videos and social media are not above the law, even if the current trends dictate that they are.  Fox 29 News should do the decent thing and take down the video of the Huey Middle School minors and apologize to all those involved.

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Phil Goldsmith for Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools

 

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District can call off its elaborate search for the next superintendent.  The best person for the job is sitting right under our nose, and his name is Phil Goldsmith.      

The Philadelphia School District has officially started its search for a new superintendent, and the token ritual of “making public voices heard” has begun.  For the next three weeks, at various locations around the city, citizens have the opportunity to tell the School Reform Commission the leadership characteristics they feel the next superintendent of city schools should possess.  These public forums are being sponsored by the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, in partnership with the Penn Project for Civic Engagement.  The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has also invited its members to take a superintendent search survey on the PFT website.     

This gesture—giving teachers and taxpayers a voice in the selection process—is kind, but for all intents and purposes, worthless.  The general population has as much say in hiring a superintendent as school children do in designing curriculum; allowing citizens a so-called “voice” is a public relations tactic to make a very undemocratic process appear democratic.   

But I’m not writing this to advocate democracy or transparency.  I’m writing to tell everyone—the District, the city, the PFT—to save it.  Save the elaborate search process for a time when it is warranted.  The next superintendent of the Philadelphia School District is sitting right under our noses, and his name is Phil Goldsmith.

For the record, I don’t know if Goldsmith has even considered applying for the job, but he should.  He’s by far the best fit for the position, and I have yet to hear of another person who can come close to matching Goldsmith’s vision, knowledge, and expertise when it comes to the city of Philadelphia and it public schools.  Here’s why:             

He’s a local with experience

Goldsmith was the interim CEO of the Philadelphia School District in 2001, and is a former managing director of the city.  In essence, Goldsmith already knows the inner workings of the District and city, so there would be no need to waste time or money on getting him “oriented” or established, of setting up costly “transition teams,” of getting acquainted with the teachers union or other local politicians.  Likewise, taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay to have him relocated as would be the case if the District hired an outsider. 

He’s a leader with values

As Goldsmith wrote in a commentary for the Notebook about school district leadership, “What really matters is the quality, expertise, character, and courage of the people who serve. They need expertise in overseeing a vast governmental organization, the willingness and smarts to ask tough questions, the courage to speak truth to power, and a deep commitment to the mission of public education.”  Goldsmith also stated that there are four primary functions of a body governing a school district: Fiscal stewardship, leadership, integrity, and fairness. 

Goldsmith also advocates local control—that the state should relinquish power of the District—and believes that citizens and taxpayers should have a stronger say in the workings of their schools. 

He has common sense with dollars and cents

Goldsmith wrote about the Philadelphia School District’s impending financial crisis months before it became reality.  In a July 2010 Daily News article, Goldsmith criticized superintendent Arlene Ackerman for bringing in high-priced administrators in light of the “fiscal tsunami” looming ahead for the District:

“The federal stimulus money the district has been relying on for operations will soon disappear, tax revenues remain weak, the state’s educational budget is smaller than anticipated, and Gov. Rendell, who has been generous to the school district and education in general, will be leaving office in five months.  And yet, administrative salaries at the district, which have gone up since the state takeover in 2002, continue to rise under Ackerman. . . .”  

In a Daily News column in June of 2011, when the extent and magnitude of the Philadelphia School District’s deficit became public, Goldsmith detailed how the oversight of District finances should become a priority:

“. . . whatever taxes are raised should not go directly to the district. The money should go into a dedicated education fund that the city can allocate to the district once it meets certain criteria and answers specific questions and a legitimate oversight process is ensured.  Should the district be expanding programs like Renaissance Schools before there is credible evidence that those schools are producing the desired results?  How is money being spent, department-by-department? What are the staffing levels compared with comparable school districts? And salary levels, for that matter?”

He understands the complexities of school safety

When it comes to school violence, Goldsmith can think outside the box:

“Schools don’t manufacture guns or produce and sell drugs,” Goldsmith wrote in an article for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, “they don’t make violent movies or television shows, write misogynist or violent lyrics to rap music or create single-parent homes with high unemployment. And yet, we expect our teachers, principals and administrators to right the wrongs of society. It simply isn’t going to happen.  There are many things a school district can and must do to fight violence: It needs to maintain accurate records, report incidents to the appropriate people and provide a safe learning and teaching environment. But by focusing solely on the school district, we absolve others of responsibility: Parents who aren’t providing—or aren’t capable of providing—proper parenting; faith-based leaders who may have to do more to step into the parental and spiritual breach; corporate leaders who, with advertising dollars, support some of the violent programs on television; politicians who reach for quick sound bites rather than explore substantive solutions.”

Does the district want a solution?      

Unlike Arlene Ackerman, Phil Goldsmith is not a mindless yes-man who can be manipulated by money and politics.  He’s a free thinker whose ideas sometimes run counter to education trends and what has come to be known as the “national reform model”.   This could very well pose a problem for those in charge.  The recent overhaul of the District’s leadership, along with the signing of the Gate’s Compact, suggests Philadelphia’ power structure is more interested in dismantling the Philadelphia public school system rather than trying to fix it from within.  It has become clear that the goal of the District is expedited privatization, and the dividing-up of all the resources that go along with it.

But while there’s still a public school system left to run, Goldsmith is the man to do it.  Here’s to hoping he’ll officially apply for the job, and that if he does, the District will have enough wisdom to take him on.

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