Monthly Archives: February 2013

District’s Contract Proposal to PFT Not Insulting Enough

by Christopher Paslay

 To demoralize Philadelphia’s hardworking teachers even further, the District should consider ten addendums to its recent contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. 

Last week, the Philadelphia School District made a preliminary contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch called the proposal “the most insulting, most demeaning contract ever offered in any school district” to her knowledge, and added that “the terms seem more appropriate to a prison than to a school, although it seems that both teachers and students are treated as wards of a cruel, harsh state.”

According to documents circulated by the PFT (I urge everyone reading this to click here to read them for yourselves), the District wants to: cut teacher pay by 13 percent; eliminate all raises including “step” increases and raises for educational attainment; eliminate counselors and librarians; raise class sizes and the length of the school day; and nix teachers lounges and water fountains, among other bizarre, draconian measures.

My response?  Is that all you got, guys?  You can sink lower than that!  Here are 10 addendums to the District’s already absurd and farcical proposal to make it that much more demoralizing to Philadelphia’ hard working educators:

  • Use of Air

School District-owned air, e.g. air circulated through District-owned furnaces and/or air conditioning units, shall be breathed by teachers free of charge during school hours and District sponsored conferences, such as Report Card Night; teachers, however, shall contribute $20 per hour for consuming District Provided Air (DPA) during non-school hours.

  • Dental Plan

Any veteran teacher with 35 or more years of service, and who has a gold and/or silver filling in his or her teeth, shall have it extracted by the District, without the use of Novocain, with a rusty pair of pliers.

  • Doctor Visits

Teachers shall be required to take the place of parents and take each of their students on three (3) annual doctor visits, including: a comprehensive yearly physical; a diabetes screening; and a tuberculosis test.  Each visit shall be paid for by the teacher.

  • Gas “Reimbursement”

Any teacher who uses his or her own gas to transport children to a school-sponsored event shall no longer get reimbursed for fuel.  Rather, the teacher shall be required to report to 440 N. Broad Street on Saturday and Sunday mornings and on national holidays, and instead pump (“reimburse”) the gas of District administrators.

  • Pay Raises

Teachers shall receive an annual cost of living raise, step raise, and educational attainment raise; as used herein, the term “raise’ shall mean being physically “raised” off the ground by the neck with a rope or piano wire.

  • Phones

Landline based phones, as well as cellular phones, shall no longer be provided to teachers by the District.  Campbell’s Soup cans, tied together with fishing line, shall replace traditional District phones, but will be purchased and assembled by teachers.

  • Toilets

Teachers who need to urinate and/or move their bowels during school hours will be limited to one (1) bathroom break per day, subject to RRAT (Rest Room Accrual Time); there will be one toilet per 50 staff members; the rule If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down will also be in effect and enforced via bathroom security cameras.

  • Unsatisfactory Records

Teachers with an unsatisfactory record shall be required to fasten his or her employee file around his or her neck with either 1—an iron staple; 2—garlic cloves; or 3—sheep intestine.  The file shall remain around the employee’s neck for a minimum of five (5) years.

  • Use of Reasonable Force

Teachers may use reasonable force in the event of a physical attack by a student or hostile staff member so long as they lead with their face and use either their head, chin, cheek, nose, eyes, and/or mouth to launch the counterattack.

  • Work

As used herein, the term “work” shall refer to all the physical, social, and emotional labor required to effectively run District schools; as such, teachers shall be required to do all of the “work,” and the District shall be required to do none of the “work.”

As Sinclair Lewis once said, “There are two insults no human being will endure: that he has no sense of humor, and that he has never known trouble.”

The District’s recent proposal to the PFT is both: laughable, and full of trouble.

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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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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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