While principals and teachers get publicly reprimanded, the SRC continues to pay firms for failure.
by Christopher Paslay
How many education management organizations does it take to screw in a light bulb?
At least that’s how many private firms currently run schools in Philadelphia. The troubling part is not that numerous studies have shown that these private firms fare no better than traditional public schools (of the 16 elementary and middle schools private managers operate, 10 performed worse than district-run schools). But that after years of service, the SRC still doesn’t seem to know exactly what these firms do.
In the spring of 2007, the district’s Office of Accountability, Assessment and Intervention submitted an internal report to the SRC on the district’s contracts with the EMOs (there were six in 07).
According to a May 2007 article published in the Notebook, the District report offered a list of recommendations to ensure a more thorough accounting of how the EMOs used their funds if any contracts were renewed.
The Notebook article also said that the report found fault with the contract language, and noted that the EMO contracts lacked adequate terms and compliance mechanisms to ensure the delivery of mandated services to special education students and English language learners.
Two years later it still doesn’t seem like the SRC knows what these private managers are doing. Associate Superintendent Benjamin W. Rayer told the Inquirer that there was confusion with the current EMOs and that some services were being duplicated.
“There was inconsistent direction for principals and teachers, and confusion over exactly what the providers were doing for their $500 per student,” the Inquirer reported.
This confusion hasn’t kept the SRC from continuing to give EMOs large sums of money. The district recently recommended spending $9 million to keep the private managers next year.
But the role of the private firms will be changing: They will go from managers to “consultants” providing “supportive services”.
What will these “supportive services” be? No one knows. The district wants to pay these providers the same amount of money as last year, regardless of services provided.
If these services look anything like what ReslTech offered Communications Technology, Parkway Center City, and Philadelphia High School for Business in 2006, the SRC might want to reconsider.
Hired by district officials to maximize effective teaching and learning, ReslTech was paid a large sum of money (the word on the street was $1 million). But faculty and staff were less than thrilled with their performance.
Principals felt short-changed, and teachers agreed that the consultants were inexperienced, and recycled old ideas.
The risk with hiring consultants like ResulTech is that their services are often vague, and hard to measure.
The district insists that this won’t be a problem with its current EMOs. According to the Inquirer, the district will “sit down with all the providers and determine what exactly they will work on in each school.”
But there is still a giant kink in this plan. If the fiscal year starts July 1st, this means the district will be paying for planning and meeting time with the private providers (which could take months). If and when the plans are ever implemented—and the “supportive services” are ever agreed upon—a sizable portion of the school year will be over.
And more money will be wasted.
And what about results? Will these “consultants” in their new roles be held accountable, much the same way principals and teachers are? Will the district impose specific goals and ways of measuring improvement? Perhaps a 10 percent increase in PSSA scores? A notable increase in attendance rates or a decrease in discipline referrals? Or will performance goals be vague, like the “supportive services” themselves?
At a time when the district is negotiating with both the principals’ and the teachers’ union (among others), they should be extra-cautious with their money.
In short: The district should know what they’re getting before they pay for it.