Category Archives: Charter Schools

Violent Students Coming to a School Near You

by Christopher Paslay

Alternative schools like HOPE Charter should be expanded, not closed. 

Attention parents, teachers, and students of the Philadelphia School District.  Come next September, with the closing of HOPE Charter School, dozens of violent students with behavior problems may be coming to a school near you.

These students aren’t just violent and dangerous.  They’re transient and unstable, and have a history of jumping around from high school-to-high school; they have lengthy suspension records; they have major attendance problems; and over three-quarters of them live with either one parent or no parent at all.

HOPE Charter School used to serve these high needs students, before the SRC swooped in and slotted HOPE for closure this June.  According to a HOPE Charter School Executive Summary dated March 16, 2012:

For 10 years, HOPE Charter School has served Philadelphia’s most challenged teens and their families—providing a school model unique to the City, with an equal emphasis on academic re-engagement and social-emotional stabilization. Since implementing significant leadership changes in 2008, HOPE has become a supportive and effective “last resort” for many Philadelphia students.

Since HOPE is closing, this “last resort” may now take place in a school near you.

Here is the population of students HOPE Charter currently serves by the numbers:

  • Over 1/3 of HOPE’s 250 plus students have IEPs, 3rd highest of all Philadelphia’s public or charter schools
  • More than 2/3 of HOPE students transfer into the school from other high schools
  • At least 50% of students were disciplined in previous schools for violent/dangerous behavior
  • 57% of HOPE students were suspended 3 or more days prior to coming to HOPE
  • Over 50% of students had major absence problems (20+ days/year) prior to attending HOPE
  • Only 16% of HOPE students live in a two-parent home, 23% live with neither parent

And HOPE is now closing.  This is something for parents to think about.  Come September (because HOPE’s low PSSA scores prompted the SRC not to renew its charter), a dangerous, emotionally disturbed and/or adjudicated youth could be sitting in a desk right next to your son or daughter.  Your child could be: 1—physically attacked; 2—influenced to skip school or engage in other self destructive behaviors; or 3—have his or her education robbed from them on a daily basis.

This is something for teachers to think about as well.  This fall, because the SRC doesn’t see the value in alternative schools like HOPE Charter (and because they don’t understand that an alternative environment is the best placement for wayward children regardless of the outcome of math and reading scores), you could be: 1—forced to spend a disproportionate amount of your energy and classroom resources addressing new behavior problems; 2—have the integrity of your classroom environment totally compromised; or 3—have your morale completely destroyed.

Not that these kids don’t have the right to an education.  HOPE’s student body is compromised of some of Philadelphia’s neediest students.  According to Andrew D. Sparks, a member of the HOPE Charter School board of directors:

HOPE Charter School was founded by administrators from JJC Family Services, a nonprofit agency with the mission to provide family/foster placements, care, and support to severely neglected, abused, abandoned or seriously delinquent children. The founders started a charter school in 2002 after seeing the unmet needs of the children and adolescents that JJC was serving. The school’s mission was, and still is, to “meet the unique needs of students who are not currently succeeding in their conventional school, may not be attending school, or attending sporadically, and/or may be in danger of leaving school prior to their graduation.” The goal was to provide these students with a safe and caring environment and an array of emotional, academic, and social supports.

Not anymore.  Because these troubled youth struggle on math and reading tests, the SRC just assumed that these kids would be better served in traditional schools around the city.  This backward thinking, of course, is not only unfair to HOPE’s most troubled youth in need of specialized assistance, but to our regular population of students who will undoubtedly have their educations once again compromised at the hands of the wayward few.

The SRC and the District’s Charter School Office needs to reconsider closing HOPE Charter school.  On the contrary, alternative schools like HOPE should be invested in and expanded, not shut down.

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Why Not Close Philly Schools by Lottery?

by Christopher Paslay

To keep things “fair” and “equitable,” School District officials should shutter schools by pulling names from a hat. 

The Philadelphia School District is planning to close 37 city schools by next fall.  This move has caused many in the community—from City Council to advocacy groups like Action United—to question the fairness of the decision.  A disproportionate number of minority children and neighborhoods will be affected by the closings, prompting the U.S. Department of Education to launch an investigation into possible civil rights violations.

Reverend Alyn Waller, the pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Northwest Philadelphia, recently joined the conversation about the school closings.  “I am not in favor of school closings without merit and without data to support such a drastic decision,” he said.

Waller’s choice of words, in particular, merit—is curious.  Since when does “merit” factor into the Philadelphia School District’s decisions?  Since when do things like work ethic, initiative, organization, motivation, prioritization, awareness, resourcefulness and the like factor into School District policy?  In fact, the concept of merit runs counter to school equity in general and social justice in particular; a meritocracy is often viewed as a system that advances the “privileged” on the backs of the “less fortunate,” allowing the poor and disenfranchised to slip through the cracks and fall further behind.

Take the controversy over the admissions to the Penn Alexander School in West Philadelphia, for example.  Last month, because of the school’s reputation for success, nearly six-dozen people lined up outside the school in the winter cold hoping to reserve a spot for their son or daughter in Penn Alexander’s coveted September kindergarten class.

According to the Notebook:

By Friday afternoon, 68 people were lined up outside the school in freezing weather, hoping for one of the 72 kindergarten seats. The first parent arrived early Friday morning, setting off a scramble. Registration starts Tuesday morning and was on a first-come, first-serve basis.

What did these 68 people have in common, besides the fact that they desperately wanted to get their child into the Penn Alexander School?  Obviously, they all prioritized education and felt that waiting in line in cold weather for days was more important than doing anything else.  They also showed initiative, were organized, motivated, and resourceful.  But to School District officials, this meant absolutely nothing.

After parents, friends, and relatives of the hopeful kindergarten children had already dedicated many, many hours of their time camping out in the cold, the School District decided to change the protocol for admissions and make the application process a lottery, to be held in April.  The School District’ reasoning: so it could be fair.  Apparently, not all the parents, friends and relatives of the kindergarten hopefuls in Penn Alexander’s catchment area had the means and opportunity to camp out in front of the school.  Some had to go to work (although this line was forming mostly over the long MLK weekend), and others simply didn’t have the resources to stand in the line.

Now, let’s examine this situation more closely and focus on the concepts of both “fairness” and “merit.”  First, fairness.  How fair was it to the people camped out in the cold for days that their chances of securing a spot for their child were no better than those who didn’t camp out for a spot?  Was that fair to them?

Now, merit.  Which individuals had more merit? The parents who were motivated, organized, and resourceful enough to camp out in the cold, or those who didn’t show up at all?  Those who made getting into Penn Alexander a priority, or those who didn’t?  Which parents will better serve as a driving engine of the school and better support its mission and the educations of all the children?

Social justice advocates will claim that just because certain parents didn’t show up and camp out in the cold doesn’t mean they lacked motivation, organization, work ethic, etc.  These no-show parents, some of whom may have been disabled, some of whom may have been single moms or dads working not one but two jobs . . . it’s always two jobs, despite the high numbers of disability claims in Philadelphia and unemployment numbers . . . these no-show parents may have been just as focused on getting their child into the school than the parents of those who had the opportunity to wait in the line.

To this argument I say balderdash.  In order to be a true stakeholder in something you need to make an investment.  Just because you breathe, just because you have a pulse doesn’t make you entitled to something.  Sure, maybe some parents did have to work a job (or two) and couldn’t wait in line, but some also didn’t care, or had other priorities.  Why should those who camped out be punished?  Is this the School District’s idea of fairness?

There is another issue at stake here, and it is called incentive.  If those parents who were organized, motivated, and resourceful enough to camp out in the cold are treated just the same as those who didn’t show up at all, what kind of behavior is this incentivizing?  Organization, motivation, and resourcefulness?  I doubt it.  It’s called dropping the standards to the lowest common denominator.  AKA: making everyone the same for the sake of making everyone the same.

The School District takes this same approach when it comes to discipline.  Last summer, they eased-up on the student code of conduct, making it harder for administrators to suspend and expel wayward and unruly students.  Now more than ever the rights of the violent few are more important than the rights of the hardworking many.  Is this fair?  Based on merit?  And what kind of behavior is this incentivizing for the kids?

The same thing is happening in academics.  Non-gifted, non-advanced placement students are being forced into gifted and advanced placement courses for the simple sake of “equity” and “fairness,” taking valuable resources away from those students who are there because of merit—dedication, organization, work ethic, and natural talent.  Is this “fair”?

Is it fair that Asian American students’ SAT scores, which are the highest of all races, are discounted on college applications just to give minorities a better chance at admission?  Is this based on merit?

Reverend Alyn Waller’s use of the word “merit” in regard to the School District’s proposed school closings is interesting indeed.  Too little in education today involves merit, not just in Philadelphia, but across the nation.  With this said, the Philadelphia School District should consider using the same process it did with the Penn Alexander School when it comes to the dilemma of closing 37 schools next fall: it should go to a lottery.

Dr. Hite should simply embrace the social justice mentality lock, stock, and barrel and just put every single school in the city into a hat—Masterman and Central included—and start pulling names.  The first 37 schools that get drawn get shuttered, plain and simple.  White neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods and schools in the Northeast as well as the Southwest would have an equal opportunity to get cleared-out and sold.

This might not be Reverend Alyn Waller’s idea of merit, but it would sure be “fair,” and fairness is right up the Philadelphia School District’s alley.

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Filed under Charter Schools, Multiculturalism, Parental Involvement

Tide Seems to be Turning Against Charters

by Christopher Paslay

The state’s forced reassessment of charter school performance data indicates the charter school movement may be losing its momentum.   

After the Pa. Department of Education was forced to reassess the performance rates of charter schools on standardized tests, dropping the controversial calculation method it used last fall, the number of charters making adequate yearly progress across the state in 2011-12 went from 49 percent to 28 percent. All that math and science and literature parents thought their children knew, well, now they apparently don’t know it.

Or so says the new calibration of the testing data.

The whole notion that such a large portion of the state’s charter school students can go from smart to not-so-smart, or vice versa, with one punch of the calculator is disturbing.  Those who oppose the expansion of charters are undoubtedly delighted by this new information, and will highlight the fact that charters indeed play by their own rules.

Not so much anymore.  The tide seems to be turning against charters, especially here in Philadelphia. City Council recently approved a nonbinding resolution calling for a one-year moratorium on the closings of 37 public schools, some of which could be replaced by charters.  The newly formed Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) is now fighting to stop the expansion of all charters in the city that are not proven to be educationally innovative and superior.

Even Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite understands that charters may be at a natural saturation point in the city. “We have to rethink using charter seats that may not be adding value,” he said in a recent interview, “and how we re-craft those charter seats into something different.”

The crazy part is how things in education can change so quickly.  As recent as three years ago, with the release of the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” charters were the answer to all of our nation’s educational woes.  Remember the Harlem Children’s Zone and Jeffrey Canada’s plan to revitalize poor neighborhoods through a holistic system of charter schools?  Remember the praise charters received from people like Oprah Winfrey and noted education scholar Diane Ravitch and the editorial boards of our local newspapers?

Well, forget all that now.  The new word on the street is that charters are bogus, just like their test scores.  They play by their own rules, fail to serve an adequate number of English language learners and special needs students, and take away valuable resources from struggling neighborhood schools.  But most of all, they are moving in on other people’s political capital.

That’s what the recent local uprising against charters, and the forced recalculation of their performance data, is really about: politics.  It’s a flat out turf war, and the education of our city’s children is caught up in the mix.  On one side you have charters, capitalists, and “school choice” conservatives looking to set-up shop in enemy territory. On the other side you have neighborhood public schools, teachers unions, and the traditional liberal urban education establishment fighting to hold on to their own.

In between you have the 55,500 students attending city charter schools because they are safer and cleaner and in many cases, have a higher level of parental involvement.  You also have the 149,500 students attending traditional neighborhood schools, kids who are often robbed of resources at the hands of charters, kids who are forced to attend classes with violent and unruly students because the Philadelphia School District’s discipline policies have no teeth, and because the rights of the wayward few outweigh the rights of the hard working many.

As for the quality of education students receive in charters as opposed to neighborhood schools?  This depends on which politician is requiring which test, and on how that politician decides to calculate—or recalculate—the performance data.

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School District Turf War: Capitalist Pimps vs. Marxist Hustlers

by Christopher Paslay

On the surface, the battle over school closings and the expansion of charters is about the kids.  In reality, it’s about money and power. 

Here are some facts about the residents of the City of Philadelphia:

  • 21 percent over the age of 25 have not graduated high school
  • 78 percent over 25 do not have a college degree 
  • 21 percent speak a language other than English at home
  • $36,251 is the median household income
  • $500 million are owed in delinquent property taxes
  • 81 percent of students attending public schools are economically disadvantaged

What do these facts indicate?  Simply stated, they show that the engine driving Philadelphia’s public schools—families and communities—is weak and sputtering.  Unlike the more affluent suburban districts where families use their knowledge and clout and power to micromanage nearly every aspect of their child’s education—successfully influencing policy and arranging for the dismissal of teachers, administrators and school board members if things don’t go according to their wishes—the majority of families at the core of the Philadelphia School District are, to put it bluntly, passengers instead of drivers. 

Unfortunately, this leaves the district and its families open to all manner of opportunists looking to funnel money or push political agendas.  In broad terms, these opportunists fall into two major categories: Capitalist Pimps and Marxist Hustlers.   

Capitalist Pimps

The main goal of the Capitalist Pimp is short term: to make money, and lots of it.  Their mindset is to get in and get out.  Profit comes first, even before politics, even before power.  In fact, politics and power only matter in terms of the net effect they have on money.  The bottom line is the bottom line is the bottom line.  Such is the mind of the pure Capitalist Pimp.   

There have been a number of Capitalist Pimps who’ve managed to extract large amounts of cash money from the Philadelphia School District in recent years (and some continue to do so).  I won’t name names, but I’ll give a basic character description: they are in positions of power, either lawyers, politicians, business owners, private consultants, charter operators, or academic elites.  They have a knack for showing up at just the right time, and schmooze and manipulate their way to lucrative paydays.  They always promise big results but end up delivering the status quo (or worse, they destroy what they were claiming to save).  They are of all races, genders, and political affiliations.  Their motives are simple, linear, and direct.  They are curt, shrewd, and standing in plain sight in front of our children and schools.    

Capitalist Pimps have brought us the following: corrupt charters; ineffective education management organizations (EMOs); out-of-touch consultants; scripted curriculum; a “Facilities Master Plan” that recommends closing 40-50 District schools in the near future and ensures that charters make-up 40 percent of the PSD; performance pay; achievement networks; a Shared Services Organization that cuts the pay of union workers; outright union busting; a proposal to end teacher tenure and seniority; and the Great Schools Compact, among other goodies.     

Marxist Hustlers

The main goal of the Marxist Hustler is long term: to sow his political oats in such a manner as to lay claim to the land for eternity.  Their aim is to grow roots and infiltrate the school system with orthodoxy.  “Social justice” comes first, and drives every decision, every breath, every movement.  The kind of curriculum taught in school is rooted in social justice, the types of tests given are about social justice, pedagogy and instruction stem from social justice.  Grading is about social justice.  Discipline is about social justice.  The spoken word itself is about social justice.  And yes, even thinking is about social justice.  Social justice is, of course, a means to an end: power.  Power to control curriculum, testing, pedagogy and instruction, grading, discipline, speaking, and thought.  Why?  Because the Marxist Hustler at his core is a guilty elitist (and privileged) control freak who thinks he knows better than everybody else. 

What does the Marxist Hustler think he knows?  That things are unfair, and that everything—everything—must be done to make things “equal.”  The Marxist Hustler operates out of a postmodern perspective that preaches there are no universal human truths, that all things are a matter of cultural perspective and the result of a social construct, an oppressive construct that is ultimately dominated by 1.—the Rich, and 2.—the White Western Establishment.  The Rich and the White Western Establishment are inherently the root of all injustice and must be deconstructed at all costs (any skeptic of the Marxist Hustler agenda need only to enroll in any university multicultural education course or read academia’s educational canon of Paulo Freire, Jonathan Kozol, and the like).

Since the early 1990s (until the Capitalists Pimps showed up, that is), Marxist Hustlers have ruled the PSD and its surrounding communities.  I won’t name names, but I’ll give a basic character description: they are the radical grass roots activists who block traffic and engage in political street theater; they are the civil rights advocates who habitually pull the race card; they are the academic elitists who push postmodern progressivism; they are the privileged whites who romanticize ethnic poverty and whose guilt drives a well-intentioned yet patronizing interaction with the disenfranchised; they are the bleeding heart law firms that have a fetish for the incarcerated.         

Marxist Hustlers have brought us the following: a toothless school discipline code that puts the rights of the unruly few over the rights of the hardworking many; detracked classes; student-centered instruction; fuzzy group work; A.P. classes that take non-A.P. students; gifted classes that take non-gifted students; the erosion of real deadlines; the erosion of real grammar; the erosion of real math; the erosion of real literacy; fuzzy project-based learning; hip-hop in place of real science; credit recovery; grade inflation; the erosion of respect for authority; the erosion of family, religion, and traditional values; Ebonics; Whole Language; ethnomathmatics; the erosion of student accountability; identity politics; the fantasy known as “coded racism”; race-based school discipline; and an all-round socialist education system that attempts to make everyone equal, keep all students and their families “on the plantation,” and attacks any outsider who challenges their collective suffocating group-think mentality. 

No Winners

Unfortunately, the turf war between the Capitalist Pimps and the Marxist Hustlers for the hearts and minds (and dollars) of Philadelphia public school students and their families will wage on for years to come.  Who comes out on top remains to be seen.  Although both sides will ultimately tell you that they are fighting for the good of the people, there are no winners; the kids are the ones who suffer.  Until our children and their families accept change on an individual basis (and adopt the principle that all change is self change), they will remain the raw materials that the aforementioned pimps and hustlers are fighting to possess.

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Filed under Achievement Gap, Charter Schools

Why Students Feel Entitled to Grades they Haven’t Earned

by Christopher Paslay

Social justice is fueling our student’s entitlement mentality.

It’s the middle of November–report card time.  Students are now going through the ritual of approaching their teachers and asking if there is anything they can do for extra credit to get their grade where they want it to be.  My stock answer to this question is, Yes, and you can start by doing the classwork that is due today.

On a rare occasion, a student who is up to date with all his work and is looking for that extra assignment to give him that extra edge will request additional work, and it is then and only then that I agree to give extra credit.

It’s interesting how today’s youth feel entitled to certain grades, regardless of whether or not they have earned them.  I’ve been privileged over the past 16 years to teach a wonderful and motivated group of students, but I’ve also had the other extreme–the slackers and game players who spend the majority of their time trying to work the system; if they spent half as much time doing their work as they do trying to avoid it, they’d all be on the honor roll.

I often wonder where this entitlement mentality comes from.  How in the world do they think they deserve an “A” or “B” when they haven’t completed a third of the work to earn such a grade.  More puzzling still, where do they get the notion that they can make up a semester’s worth of papers, projects, oral reports, journals, etc. with one lousy extra credit assignment?  (The best is when a student misses a week’s worth of classes–96 minutes a pop–and demands all the make-up work . . . ASAP, if you please . . . as if it’s even possible to make up so much lost class time by taking home a text and copying the information from a classmate).

If I had to speculate, however, I would guess this mentality stems at least in part from a concept known as social justice–or put another way, the liberal orthodoxy that places “fairness” over merit, the idea that in the end, everyone must be equal and that it doesn’t matter how we make it that way (the ends justify the means).

The protest over the admission tests given at eight New York City elite high schools is a case in point.  In September, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a federal complaint attempting to lower the admission standards of these schools claiming the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is too difficult and discriminates against black and Latino students.

Another example took place last August, when the SRC eased The Philadelphia School District’s student code of conduct in an effort to keep teachers and administrators from suspending or expelling too many students.

The Most recent (and troubling) example of “fairness” over merit is the new movement to lower the admission standards of charters and other special admit schools.  Operating under the guise of eliminating “significant barriers to entry,” this movement puts a double whammy on Philadelphia’s high achieving students and their families by attacking the applications of exemplary schools such as Green Woods Charter and Eastern University Academy.

Our city’s motivated, academically advanced children and their families are now being swarmed by marxist social justice advocates at both ends: they can’t get an education in their neighborhood schools because civil rights groups are fighting to keep their wayward and unruly peers in classrooms where they rob them of their right to learn; and they can’t distinguish themselves in charters or special admit schools because liberals are fighting to water-down applications and admission tests so the not-so-motivated and/or academically inclined can take up an equal amount of seats.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to have dawned on such advocates that if a student and his family can’t pass the muster on the application, the chances are they won’t pass the muster on the advanced curriculum; social justice folk operate under the false notion that if you put an average student with average intelligence and motivation into an elite school, he will somehow become elite overnight–presto change-o.

The notion of “justice” under social justice is also interesting.  Social justice for whom, exactly?  The 85 percent of hardworking students who get their educations compromised on a daily basis because the rights of the violent 15 percent are more important?  Is there social justice for the mathematically and linguistically gifted child who gets bumped out of an academically elite school because he wasn’t the right skin color and ruined the quota?  Is it socially just to discount the planning and wherewithal of organized families who have done their homework and research and have completed the rigorous application to the special admit school by accepting someone less qualified via a watered-down application?

But it isn’t the fact that this so called “fairness” is grossly unfair to a whole group of people (ahem . . . educational socialism . . . ahem . . . the ends justify the means), but the most worrisome part is that instead of raising the bar for everyone, instead of calling on the mediocre to raise their expectations, the opposite happens: we set our sites on the lowest common denominator.

Think about.  Lower the admission standards at NYC’s elite schools.  Ease the student code of conduct in Philadelphia public schools.  Water down applications to charter and special admit schools.  Lower, lower, lower; it’s no wonder that showing a photo ID to vote is too daunting a task for people of this mentality.

People who believe in incentivizing success, raising expectations, and living in a society based on merit rather than on grievances and the mantra of victimization (ahem . . . conservatives), would fight to teach these students and their families that with determination, they can overcome any obstacle; what they wouldn’t do is throw in the towel and lower the standards.

It’s the middle of November–report card time.  Time for students to seek out that game changing extra-credit assignment our socialist education system has promised them that they are all entitled to.

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Filed under Charter Schools, Standardized Testing

Three reasons why Philadelphia public schools fail (and what can be done about it)

by Christopher Paslay

Acknowledging three key problems—and providing solutions—can save the Philadelphia School District.

Thursday the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a report detailing “key findings and recommendations” on how to improve the workings of the Philadelphia School District (PSD).  Titled “Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools,” the BCG was paid $4.4 million from private donors to produce it. 

Here are three “commonsense” findings and recommendations not included in BCG’s multimillion dollar report:  

 COMMONSENSE FINDINGS: WHY THE PSD CONTINUES TO FAIL

1.  The PSD remains unable to remove the violent and unruly 15 percent of students who cripple the entire school system and ruin the educations of the hardworking 85 percent. 

Despite “School Safety Advocates” and “zero tolerance policies,” the fact remains that Philadelphia public schools are rife with violence and inappropriate student behavior (see the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series Assault on Learning).  Unfortunately, in today’s politically correct environment where a suffocating brand of educational socialism is promoted, the rights of the incorrigible few supersede the rights of the admirable many.  In other words, it is near impossible to remove students from PSD schools (even “permanently expelled” students can file a right to return to their neighborhood schools after their “sentence” is served). 

One reason is that under PA’s Compulsory Education law, school districts are responsible for providing alternative placements to students they remove from schools, and this can be quite expensive; as a result, troublemakers are forced to coexist with their peers and negatively impact classroom learning environments.      

Another reason is that social justice lobby groups (such as the Education Law Center) and student activist groups (such as Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Student Union, and the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools) play the race card and fight to keep violent students in schools instead of putting their resources behind the educations of the majority of their hardworking peers struggling to learn.  (This is why charter schools are able to thrive in poor urban districts: instead of removing the bad to save the good, charters simply remove the good from the bad).        

2.  Too many PSD parents are “passengers” and not “drivers,” and feed off of the school system instead of fueling it. 

In the PSD, 81 percent of families are economically disadvantaged.  But this isn’t simply a financial issue; it is a cultural one as well.  In the suburbs, parents and communities drive the school system—they are the core that makes the schools run.  They parent their children and teach them that education is a priority.  They understand that being a stakeholder in their school means making an investment (chaperoning trips, helping with homework, attending teacher conferences, instilling core values in their children, etc.). 

Tragically, too many families in the PSD want to be a stakeholder without making any real investment; they suffer from an entitlement mentality, and believe that the district owes them despite the fact that they have only taken from the system and never carried their own weight and produced their fair share. 

The cycle of poverty in the PSD is tragic, but undeniable: out-of-wedlock teenage births; domestic violence; crime, drug addictions; etc.  This kind of environment is a drain on the PSD, not a force that fuels and propels the system.        

3.  Too many Philadelphia residents do not pay their property taxes.   

Why is the PSD suffering from money problems?  A major reason is because Philadelphia residents owe over $500 million (a half a billion dollars!) in property taxes.  What has the City done to address this problem?  Increase the property taxes of those residents who already pay their fair share!    

 COMMONSENSE RECOMMENDATIONS:

1.  Expedite the removal of the PSD’s violent and unruly 15 percent by building alternative schools that specialize in remediation and alternative curriculum instead of expanding charters. 

In short, remove and remediate the maladjusted and don’t let civil rights or social justice groups bully policy makers into keeping troubled students in classrooms and continuing to rob our hardworking children of a quality education. Do this by building alternative schools instead of pumping more money into charters (or require charters to service the alternative population).      

2.  Run a grassroots campaign to strengthen the culture of PSD families and communities.

The PSD should fight to instill traditional values into its students and their families.  Community leaders should preach that citizens are the captains of their own ship rather than fostering the idea that they are victims of an unjust system.

In addition, the PSD should: rail against teen pregnancy; promote the importance of two-parent families and call for men to father their children; promote personal responsibility and individual achievement; speak out against misogyny, violence and materialism; encourage students to cooperate with police and law enforcement officials; bring back the abstinence only message in sex education; reinforce speaking Standard American English; launch a campaign to cut down on TV watching, internet surfing and video game playing; promote exercise, good diet and proper nutrition; and make Bill Cosby’s book Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors part of PSD required reading for 9th graders.    

3.  Collect the $500 million owed the PSD by seizing and auctioning-off the property of all Philadelphia residents who do not pay their property taxes.

Tax delinquents, whether rich or poor, should not be allowed to deprive the PSD of money and rob our city’s hardworking children of their educations.  If residents don’t pay their property tax, their homes or businesses should be confiscated by the city and sold at auction.   

Implementing these straightforward commonsense solutions will go a long way in reclaiming Philadelphia’s public schools.

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Filed under Charter Schools, Holistic Education

The end of public education in Philadelphia

If the School Reform Commission and Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen have their way, we may witness the end of public education in Philadelphia. A five-year plan proposed by Philadelphia School District officials calls for the overhaul of virtually every element of the system — from finances to academics to central management. These drastic changes suggest to many that the district is intent on expediting the privatization of its schools, despite its promises to stay the traditional route and invest in neighborhoods and communities. . . .

This is an excerpt from Lisa Haver’s commentary in today’s Philadelphia Daily News, “The end of public education in Philadelphia.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  It is an adaption of the piece she wrote for Chalk and Talk on April 25th headlined, “Is the End of Public Education in Philadelphia Near?”  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for Reading.

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Filed under Charter Schools

City schools need reform, not revolution

Like Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum, the Philadelphia School District is about to be blown up. The School Reform Commission announced plans last week to close 40 schools next year and two dozen more by 2017. It also plans to allow outside organizations to make proposals to run groups of schools.

The idea of breaking the district into smaller, more manageable chunks is not new. Former schools chief David Hornbeck broke the system into “clusters” in the 1990s. Unfortunately, that created all kinds of unintended bureaucracy, which is why the next schools CEO phased them out.

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “City schools need reform, not revolution.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  It serves as a brief counterpoint to School Reform Commission chairman Pedro A. Ramos’ commentary in yesterday’s Inquirer headlined “Phila. children deserve better.”  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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Filed under Charter Schools, Inquirer Articles

Is the End of Public Education in Philadelphia Near?

by Lisa Haver

The five year plan proposed by School District officials may mark the end of democratically run neighborhood schools.     

The end of public education in Philadelphia seems to be upon us.  A five-year school reform plan proposed by Philadelphia School District officials calls for massive overhauls in virtually every aspect of the school system—from finances, to academics, to central management.  These drastic changes suggest to many that the District is intent on expediting the privatization of its schools, despite its promise to stay the traditional route and invest in neighborhoods and communities.

Here are some changes the District proposed at a news conference Tuesday:

  • The closing of 40 “low-performing” and underused schools next year, and six more each additional year until 2017.
  • The movement of thousands of students from traditional neighborhood schools to charters.  The district estimates that 40 percent of public school students will attend charters at the completion of the five-year plan.  This comes as a result of the School Reform Commission’s signing of the “Great Schools Compact” as outlined by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • “Modernizing” custodial, transportation, and maintenance services by threatening district workers with layoffs if they don’t agree to accept LESS than what the outsourcers are asking.
  • District officials have also proposed a major transformation in the management of the school system.  The current structure would be completely scrapped and replaced by “achievement networks,” each overseeing groups of about 25 schools. These networks could be made up of school district personnel, a charter management organization, or an education management organization (such as Edison or Universal). A bidding process would determine who controls these networks. Most school services—presumably curricula, discipline, staffing and supplies—would be controlled by each network.  The District has not explained how this new system would save money.  This would spell a return to the patronage system which plagued Philadelphia schools just a few generations ago.

How, pray tell, have we arrived at a point where the public school system can be auctioned off to the highest bidder? 

Those who have followed the actions of the current SRC shouldn’t be surprised by the announcement of this draconian plan.  The SRC members, while billing themselves as more transparent and open to the public, have conducted business in a way that observers have come to realize is, on many occasions, just the opposite.

I was in attendance when the SRC voted on November 23, 2011—the day before Thanksgiving—to take part in the Great Schools Compact. I asked the Commissioners why they were voting on a matter that would have major implications for the future of the District without any opportunity for the public to adequately read, comprehend, and discuss the agreement.  I was assured that this was only a preliminary vote and that there would be many occasions for Philadelphians to have their say.

Since then the SRC, along with other city officials, have made clear their intentions to make any change necessary (in management, teacher evaluations, and in the number of additional charters), in order to comply with the Compact.  However, the issue has not been on the agenda of any of the five subsequent formal meetings.  There has been virtually no opportunity for parents, teachers, or anyone in the community to make any contribution on this issue, let alone hear the SRC discuss their reasons for signing on.  (One informal SRC meeting, which was billed as a forum to find out about the details of the Compact, was actually a discussion on the merits of charter schools).

The truth is, the District’s adoption of the Compact was a decision based on finances, not academics.  Bill and Melinda Gates do not bestow grants; they issue a contract.  If you don’t comply, you don’t get their money.

This SRC has also changed its schedule for formal meetings (those with an agenda which includes resolutions to be voted on) from once a week to once a month.  Those in attendance have seen meetings last until 11:30 p.m., with a speakers list exceeding 80 people.  At February’s meeting, I objected when the commissioners proceeded to vote on their list of resolutions after most people had left.  There was no way for those in attendance to know what was being voted on, since the five pages of resolutions had not previously been distributed or discussed.

What is the point of speaking on a resolution which has already been passed? I was assured by Chairman Pedro Ramos that the Commission would take steps to rectify the problem.  They have not.  The self-described transparency of this SRC is a sham.  It is an insult to all of the parents, teachers, students and members of the community who are involved in trying to make this school system better.

So what is the answer?

Organized opposition.

Last year, school district nurses organized themselves when threatened with layoffs.  They have held rallies every Wednesday (some in the rain and snow) on the steps of 440 since December in an effort to truly involve all of the people—parents, teachers, students, community members—in trying to save our schools.  I have been at most of these rallies.  I go because I know that the School District sees a group of educators and community members who will not give up.

This five-year plan, which could spell the demise of public education in this city, must be challenged by the people.  We must do everything we can to speak out against it.

Lisa Haver is an education activist and retired teacher.

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Despite ‘Putting Students First,’ Michelle Rhee Has Some Very Adult Agendas

by Christopher Paslay

The former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools launches statewide political lobby group in New York.     

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools who was forced to resign because of her draconian style of management, is back and ready to settle old scores.  Last year she launched studentsfirst.org, a so-called “movement to transform public education.” 

According to its neatly packaged website, its goal is to cut through politics and adult agendas in order to give America’s children a first-rate education.  Ironically, its policies are driven by politics (privatizing public education to put public tax dollars in the pockets of charter operators), adult agendas (union busting to get back at those who had Rhee fired in D.C.), and Rhee’s own misguided and elitist reform ideas (discounting teaching experience in favor of keeping on novice teachers, which Rhee claims are the nation’s “best”).

But now it appears as if Rhee is no longer trying to hide behind the “interest of students”.  She’s just recently launched a statewide political group in New York called StudentsFirstNY.  Anna M. Phillips wrote about the group in a recent New York Times article

. . . On the board are some of the most well-known and polarizing figures in public education, including Ms. Rhee; [Joel] Klein, now a News Corporation executive; and Eva S. Moskowitz, the former councilwoman who now runs a chain of charter schools. Also on the board are former Mayor Edward I. Koch; Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone organization, a network of charter schools; and a number of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who have served as the movement’s financial backers.

Aside from promoting changes throughout the state, members of the group hope to neutralize the might of the teachers’ unions, whose money, endorsements and get-out-the-vote efforts have swung many close elections. . . .

Those paying close attention to Rhee’s agenda, however, understand that her lobbying is nothing new.  Last November, in a Huffington Post article, Joy Resmovits wrote about another politically motivated arm of Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization:

. . . In New Jersey, StudentsFirst, a new reform group founded by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, spent $400,000 on two successful Democratic legislature candidates through its local arm Better Education 4 Kids New Jersey, a group recently founded by hedge fund managers that backs Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s education agenda. . . .

According to the policy agenda on Rhee’s StudentsFirst website, “In too many American schools, current laws, policies, and practices put adult interests ahead of students.”

It appears Rhee and her group’s political backers clearly have a few “adult interests” of their own.

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Filed under Charter Schools, Teacher Bashing, UFT