Public School Notebook Advocates Compromising Rights of Many for Rights of Few

by Christopher Paslay

The Notebook continues to lobby to keep violent and unruly students in classrooms, suggesting that America’s discipline policies are racist and culturally insensitive.  

Despite recent accolades from the New York Times and the Philadelphia City Paper for their investigative reporting, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook remains committed to its roots: lobbying for the disenfranchised on the fringes of the educational system.  As a result, they often compromise the rights of the many to stand up for the rights of the few.         

This was the case when the Notebook supported the conclusions drawn by Youth United for Change’s two controversial reports—“Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia” and “Pushed Out”—both of which rely heavily on the testimonies of disgruntled youth to paint dropouts and chronic rule breakers as victims of an intolerant and racist school system.  Both lobby for keeping incorrigible students in classrooms where they consistently rob other children of their right to learn; the Notebook’s Winter 2009 article “A growing expulsion pipeline” did much of the same.       

Most recently, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity, the Notebook ran the story “Expulsion epidemic draws national attention,” which also lobbies to keep problem students in schools, calling for alternative forms of remediation that are often unrealistic or achieve limited success.  The story, like the YUC reports, portrays students expelled from schools across the country as victims caught in an oppressive and racist system, despite the findings of reports such as the Inquirer’sAssault on Learning,” which reveals how disruptive student behavior in Philadelphia schools negatively impacts achievement and learning. 

To protect the rights of the hardworking 90 percent of America’s children struggling to learn in environments tainted by the violent and unruly, I wrote a comment on the Notebook’s website trying to shed some light on the issue:   

“Expulsions in America’s public schools do not happen willy-nilly.  Students are given due process and granted a hearing before they are removed from the system.  In addition, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) protects students with anger management issues and the emotionally disturbed (many minorities are diagnosed as such) from being removed from a school, and the “Stay-Put Provision” law allows such students to remain in school even during the actual hearings.  In Philadelphia from 2002 – 2008, not a single student was expelled from the District.  Not that the District is free from violence, or those who perpetrate violence against other students; just read the Inquirer’s “Assault on Learning” series and look at the numbers.  It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to expel a student from a district (in Philadelphia, even the “permanently expelled” can reapply for admission after their punishment is served), and this is in light of the fact that many serious discipline incidents go unreported.    

[Your article] bills expulsion as an unfair “epidemic” gaining “national attention,” but it ignores the everyday offenses of troubled youth and focuses on the outliers.  The real victims in this situation are the 85-90 percent of America’s public school children who are being held hostage by the violent and unruly few.  Yet somehow the Notebook consistently fails to address THIS issue.  They campaign against a discipline system that is already lacking real teeth, which is counterproductive to establishing a culture of learning in all schools.  If we want to save the education of the masses, we should advocate for better parenting, call for a return of traditional values in our schools and communities, and demand that ALL children respect each other, as well as their teachers, parents, and other authority figures. . . .”

Paul Socolar, the Notebook’s editor, responded to my post by writing the following:

“Some quick comments from the editor to explain the Notebook’s continued interest in this topic of high rates of expulsion as an issue of educational quality and equity.

Philadelphians ought to be considering what approaches to discipline and to curtailing school violence are effective. We know that what many schools are doing now is not effective. There is a growing body of evidence in support of less punitive approaches to school discipline such as restorative justice. We are open to other topics for our reporting. We haven’t seen a similar body of evidence that more systematic implementation of the traditional approach of suspensions and transfers to disciplinary schools advocated here by commenters is effective.

In a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world (that hasn’t alleviated high crime rates), the issue of whether harsh school disciplinary policies not only mirror our ineffective criminal justice policies but also create a school-to-prison pipeline is a real concern to many in Philadelphia.

Study after study provides evidence that harsh disciplinary actions are not meted out in a color-blind fashion. This article points to the finding from North Carolina that Black students were more than twice as likely to be suspended for a first-time cell phone offense compared to White students. . . .”

I followed-up Socolar’s comments with the following post on the Notebook (Socolar never did address the fact that the Notebook compromises the rights of the many for the rights of the few):

“. . . Schools must do what they can to address and remediate the behavioral and psychological problems of their students, but there will come a time when a line must be drawn.  There IS a protocol that public schools follow, and by law, a series of interventions in most cases DOES take place before an expulsion.  But when these interventions meet with limited success (including Positive Behavior Supports and Restorative Justice, both of which can only be done effectively in small, one-on-one situations), there will need to be a policy in place to keep the learning environment safe and organized, a policy that allows the majority of hard working students to get an education, and that policy is expulsion. 

As for The Notebook’s obsession with race and their need to keep reminding everyone that expulsions “are not meted out in a color-blind fashion,” I’d like to ask what they are insinuating by this?  It seems clear that they are suggesting that teachers and administrators in public schools are either racist, or culturally ignorant or insensitive.  As an urban schoolteacher of 15 years, as a coach, as a mentor, and as a citizen of Philadelphia, I would have to beg to differ.  Although this may have been the case 30 years ago (or in very limited situations today), I think the disparity in disciplinary measures by race has more to do with environmental factors such as poverty, education and employment; it’s documented that a higher number of minorities are impoverished, have a higher incidence of out-of-wedlock births, have poor nutrition, etc.  These factors all impact a student’s behavior.  Likewise, these factors impact a student’s ATTITUDE when responding to authority, which may explain why a cooperative student, who surrenders his cellphone with little resistance, may not get suspended for the infraction, while another student, who has a difficult home life and has not learned to deal with authority in a positive manner, might get hit with a suspension for a simple cellphone violation. 

The hardworking motivated students should have a right to learn.  Generally speaking, expulsions are the only reasonable way to accomplish this, in light of the tragic condition of American families, poor parenting, society’s attitude of entitlement, and the overall decline in respect for authority.”

This comment was not rebutted by the editor.

Why Renaming a ‘Dropout’ a ‘Pushout’ Will Save No One

by Christopher Paslay

Recently, there has been a grassroots movement by progressives in education to rename a school “dropout” a “pushout.”  Groups such as Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, and most recently the blog Voice of Philadelphia, have all been throwing around the term “pushout” with the clear purpose of hoping it will catch hold and grow roots in the world of education as well as the popular culture; tragically, it appears the term has started to take root, as is evidenced by its frequent mention in the media and on the internet (google the term “pushout” and you can see for yourself).

A closer look at the two terms reveals that although their denotation is the same—they both define children who leave school and fail to graduate—their connotations are quite different.  A dropout connotes an individual who knowingly quits school of his own freewill and accord.  A pushout, on the other hand, defines someone who is forced out of school by forces beyond their control.  More simply put, dropouts are drivers while pushouts are passengers; the latter is active, the former is passive.          

There are several reasons why progressives are fighting to rename a dropout a pushout.  The most obvious is to bring about school reform—to blame poor graduation rates on schools in an effort to improve them.  This indeed has merit.  In the 21st century, no student can afford to be left behind without a solid education. 

To quote Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, in his 2006 report, Educating School Teachers, “The fact that all students are expected to achieve these outcomes means that drop-outs, once viewed as the cost of doing business in schools, can no longer be tolerated. The low skilled jobs once available to them have moved abroad. So teachers must now be able to educate every child in the class to achieve the same learning outcomes at a time in which the student body has changed economically, racially, geographically, linguistically, and academically.”

In addition to reforming schools, however, progressives have other reasons for renaming dropouts pushouts.  At the heart of the movement is the notion of victimhood and the liberal left’s obsession with it.  Put another way, coining a dropout a pushout fits their classic mode of operandi: the existence of oppressors and oppressed.  It is within this structure that social responsibility can be promoted over personal responsibility, that children can be programmed to be lifelong passengers who are always acted upon rather than drivers who do the acting; this in turn translates to their reliance on social programs as opposed to private enterprise.

This is a great philosophy if you believe in socialism and government regulation over capitalism and competition.  The only problem is, of course, is that teaching children that they are victims is doing nothing to empower them to take control of their educations; the fact that a large graduation gap between urban and suburban students exists is proof that preaching victimhood is not the answer.

Instead of teaching students to blame their failures on the system, education advocates should be encouraging children to make intrinsic paradigm shifts that will help them live principle-centered lives that will keep them on the path to graduation; they must be taught change starts from within.

The lessons taught in Bill Cosby’s 2007 book, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors would be a great place to start.  In it Cosby and his longtime friend Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint discuss ways families and children can turn around their lives and make the most of their educations. 

With subchapters named “Acknowledge the problem,” “Face the Facts,” “Tone Down the Culture,” “Give Fatherhood a Second Chance,” “Reject Victimhood,” “Replace Victimhood with Neighborhood,” “Talk to the Police,” “Turn Off the TV,” “Back Off the Rap,” “Respect Our Elders,” “Overcome the Past,” “Lose the Guns and the Rage,” “Get All the School You Can Get,” “Help the Poor Help Themselves,” “Take Care of Our Own,” and “Break the Chains,” among many others, the book replaces excuses with traditional values that urban youth can use to stay in school and remain on the path to achieving a better quality of life.        

Renaming a dropout a pushout will save no one.  In the end, the only viable way for a student to get an education is for him or her to actively pursue one.     

Philadelphia School District graduation rate betters America’s college graduation rate

by Christopher Paslay


In a recent Inquirer article headlined “School proposal targets dropout problem,” writer Kristen A. Graham describes the Philadelphia School District’s graduation rate as “among the worst in the country—about 50 percent.” 


I find her choice of words quite interesting.  For starters, the district’s graduation rate isn’t among the worst in the country.  According to Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap, a report prepared for America’s Promise Alliance by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, Philadelphia’s graduation rate is well over half. 


Listed at 62 percent, it was tied for 12th out of America’s 50 largest urban districts in 2005.  Only six percentage points separated Philadelphia from #5 ranked Colorado Springs School District, which graduated 68 percent of their students within four years.


12th out of 50 is hardly “among the worst in the country.”


It doesn’t appear that the Inquirer gives much credence to the Cities in Crisis report, however.  The Inky seems to prefer statistics compiled in a 2006 Johns Hopkins University study which put the city’s graduation rate at 54 percent (according to Cities in Crisis, there were 26 schools under 54 percent, which would still put the district in the top half).


But even at 54 percent, the district still has a higher graduation rate than America’s colleges.  According to the American Enterprise Institute, only 53 percent of college students graduated in six years with a bachelor’s degree from schools they enrolled in as freshmen. 


Several local colleges and universities graduated even less.  Widener University graduated 52 percent; Delaware Valley College and Philadelphia University graduated 50 percent; Lincoln University graduated 38 percent; and Cheyney University graduated only 29 percent.         


Education officials offered reasons for the low numbers.  Among them were the fact that some schools enroll first-generation Americans and low-income students who are in need of extra support. 


Cheyney spokeswoman Antoinette Colon also gave reasons for the low graduation rates.  “We traditionally take students who come from underestablished educational systems in Philadelphia and the Chester area,” she said.


Very interesting.  College graduation rates are low because of first-generation Americans (English language learners) and because they take kids from poor neighborhoods. 


Sounds a lot like the Philadelphia School District.


Of course, there are some major differences between America’s colleges and our city’s public school system.  For starters, colleges and universities get to pick-and-choose their clientele—they can weed-out and reject students because of low academic performance or behavioral problems or any other reason they so choose. 


Because of Pennsylvania’s Compulsory Education law, the Philadelphia School District must accept all children—even those who don’t want to be in school, those who are violent, emotionally disturbed, or here in this country illegally. 


Other differences between America’s colleges and our city’s school system: colleges have abundant supplies and resources; Philly schools don’t; colleges can throw failing and unruly students out to preserve order and control; Philly school can’t; colleges are headed by prestigious “high quality” educators with doctoral degrees, Philly schools, to quote the Inquirer, “are straddled with bad teachers” and are run by Teach for America transplants.    


All in all, I think the district is doing a bang-up job for keeping pace with America’s colleges and universities. 


After all, they could be worse.  They could be Lincoln or Cheyney University, whose graduation rates are 38 and 29 percent, respectively.


Philadelphia School District leads nation with improved graduation rate, new study shows



by Christopher Paslay


Out of America’s 50 largest city school districts, guess which one improved their average graduation rate the most over the last 10 years? 




It’s true.  According to Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap, a report prepared for America’s Promise Alliance by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, the Philadelphia School District raised their graduation rate 23 percentage points from 39 percent in 1995 to 62 percent in 2005, making their gains the highest of all major urban school districts in America. 


Unfortunately, the district’s achievement has been largely ignored.  When Philadelphia’s graduation rate is mentioned it’s only in a negative context, with numbers being rounded down—to a convenient and quite inaccurate 50%. 


Half of the students in Philadelphia don’t even graduate, is the familiar line spoken by newspapers looking to churn out editorials, and by politicians hoping to use Philadelphia public schools as a means to win votes.       


But in 2005, the district’s graduation rate was well over half.  At 62 percent it was tied for 12th out of America’s 50 largest urban districts; only 6 percentage points separated Philadelphia from #5 ranked Colorado Springs School District, which graduated 68 percent of their students within four years. 


So why has the press not covered this achievement?  Why hasn’t the mayor and district officials thanked our city’s teachers and shown their appreciation for raising the graduation rate 23 points in the last 10 years? 


Where is Kristen Graham, the Inquirer’s education beat writer?  Did she miss this one?  Maybe we should call her (215-854-5146) or email her at and request that she make public this good news. 


Kristen Graham has written about the district’s dropout rate before.  In a recent article, she detailed how dropouts cost the economy millions, and used statistics from a 2006 Johns Hopkins University study which put the city’s graduation rate at 54 percent; nowhere in her article did she acknowledge the fact that the district has raised its graduation rate 23 percentage points since 1995, however.        


The one newspaper that is covering this topic is the New York Times.  Of course, the Times mentioned Philadelphia’s improved graduation rate as part of a larger article that compared the graduation rates of large urban school districts (53 percent) with those of the suburbs (71 percent). 


The article surmised that school districts in the suburbs are graduating far more students than those in the city.    


Marguerite Kondracke, executive director of the America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit group that works to reduce the nation’s dropout rate, said the urban-suburban gap exists because of bad teachers.


“So improving teacher quality is crucial to raising graduation rates in these inner-city schools,” Kondracke told the Times. 


What a shocker Kondracke’s conclusion is—that kids are dropping out of school in America’s big cities because of teachers.  Not because of an urban street culture that preaches that schools are for fools; not because of the breakdown of the family and the lack of father figures in the inner-city; not because of violence and drug addiction; not because of poverty; not because of crumbling urban communities, not because of an instant gratification society that places education at the bottom of the totem pole; no. 


Teens are quitting school because of bad teachers.


People say the community is the result of the educational system, but I believe it’s the other way around: The educational system is the result of the community.  


Take a look at these statistics from a 2006 US Census Bureau survey: 


Families headed by two parents: 82.5%
Residents with High School Diploma: 90.7%
Residents with Bachelor’s Degree: 35.2%
Residents Who Speak a Language Other Than English: 9.8%
Unemployment Rate: 4.3%
Residents Who Are Not a
US Citizen: 3.5%


Families headed by two parents: 83.5%
Residents with High School Diploma: 91.6%
Residents with Bachelor’s Degree: 45%
Residents Who Speak a Language Other Than English: 9.5%
Unemployment Rate: 4.1%
Residents Who Are Not a
US Citizen: 4.3%


Families headed by two parents: 80%
Residents with High School Diploma: 92.2%
Residents with Bachelor’s Degree: 43.4%
Residents Who Speak a Language Other Than English: 10.5%
Unemployment Rate: 3.9%
Residents Who Are Not a
US Citizen: 3.7%


Families headed by two parents: 51.8%
Residents with High School Diploma: 77.5%
Residents with Bachelor’s Degree: 20.7%
Residents Who Speak a Language Other Than English: 19.8%
Unemployment Rate: 12.4%
Residents Who Are Not a
US Citizen: 6.3%


1 in 2 families in Philadelphia are headed by a single parent; 1 in 4 Philadelphians don’t have a high school diploma; 1 in 5 speak a language other than English in their home; 1 in 9 are unemployed; and 1 in 17 aren’t even a US citizen. 


When it comes to parenting, education, employment, citizenship and the English language, Philadelphia is way behind the suburbs. 


That’s a major reason why kids are dropping out in large urban school districts.


But hey, at least Philadelphia is correcting the problem. 


The next time you hear that half the kids in Philadelphia drop out of school, know this: If it weren’t for the city’s hard working school teachers, the dropout rate would probably be double what it is today.


Cutting the Drop-Out Rate: A Plan That Makes Sense

Here is an excerpt from an interesting story recently published in the New York Times by Winnie Hu: 


Governor Jon S. Corzine and state officials announced a yearlong multiagency initiative to boost the state’s graduation rates.  Called the New Jersey High School Graduation Campaign, it will be led not by the state’s Department of Education, but by the state attorney general’s office, with funds from businesses like Verizon and Prudential, among others . . . .


Wow!  Businesses getting involved in children’s educations!


. . . As Governor Corzine put it in a news release, “the aim is to ensure that kids are headed in the right direction and not falling into the trap of a life of crime. Staying in school is one of our best crime prevention tools, and it requires the collaborative efforts of all of us to make it happen.” . . .


A collaborative effort from everyone!


. . . New Jersey’s campaign is part of a national effort to reduce dropout rates by America’s Promise Alliance, a Washington-based children’s advocacy group founded by Colin L. Powell in 1997. Since April, the group has awarded grants of $25,000 to 14 states, including New Jersey and New York, to hold summits to develop communitywide plans for reducing dropout rates. The group’s goal is to have summits in all 50 states by 2010.


Communitywide plans!  Let me say it again: COMMUNITY!


Colleen Wilber, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said that dropouts are more than just a problem for schools, because those students are more likely to become a burden to society — ending up in jail, on welfare rolls or without any health insurance. According to the group’s research, dropouts from the class of 2007 will cost the nation more than $320 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetime.


“We think that solving the dropout crisis is going to take the entire community,” she said. “Not only is it important to have the schools and the parents, but it’s also critically important for the business community, the faith community and the nonprofit groups to be there.”


Businesses!  The church!  Nonprofits!


Creighton Drury, an assistant attorney general who is overseeing the campaign, said that at least four regional meetings would be convened for school, community and business leaders to brainstorm about specific strategies for keeping students in school. For instance, he said, they will focus on reducing truancy by tapping into community resources to provide mentors or support programs, among other things.


Mr. Drury said the campaign would culminate in a statewide summit next October to promote the most effective practices, and to recommend educational policies to raise graduation rates. “We want to make sure that we’re getting input and ideas from everyone so that this can be a true community and comprehensive effort,” he said. “Raising awareness is the first step to addressing the problem.”


Raising awareness! A comprehensive effort!


William Firestone, an education professor at Rutgers University, said that community leaders could bring more financial resources to a school, run after-school programs that provide tutoring and develop skills, and promote stronger family ties. “There’s a lot of evidence that family support is critical to success in schools,” he said.


Evidence that family support is critical to success in schools!


No wonder New Jersey has one of the lowest drop-out rates in the nation (only 2 percent of the high school population dropped out in 2007 according to the NJ Dept. of Ed.).   Maybe Governor Corzine can give Margaret Spellings a call, and show her how it’s really done.


Sounds to me like Corzine and the state of NJ have their heads screwed on straight.  This is a breath of fresh air–a nice break from the typical teacher bashing that goes on so often in America.  Maybe Barack Obama will appoint Colin Powell as his Secretary of Education, and Powell can expand his Promise Alliance and continue to get communities more involved in children’s educations.

U.S. Secretary of Ed. Plans to Humiliate Schools with High Drop-Out Rates

by Christopher Paslay


U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has a new plan to cut drop-out rates in America: Publicly humiliate high schools with poor graduation rates by placing them in the spotlight.  She plans to do this by forcing states to use a uniform reporting system to track drop-outs, graduates and transfers (this will allow states to better compare rates and thus hang poor performers out to dry).  She will also use No Child Left Behind to raise the goals for graduation rates in the 2012 school year, and penalize schools who don’t meet these goals by firing principals and forcing them to pay out of pocket for extra tutoring (if only the drop-out rate could be fixed by more tutoring!).


The power of the spotlight is what’s important about No Child Left Behind,” Spellings said.  “We haven’t really tracked high school accountability, and this is a giant step toward doing that.”


Spellings vision is interesting indeed.  Hold the school accountable for students dropping-out, not the child or the parents.  I wonder how this is supposed to work?  Are we going to make every public high school a boarding school so teachers can keep 24 hour tabs on wayward teenagers and eliminate truancy?  Are we going to send out the National Guard on camouflage trucks every morning to yank disillusioned students out of bed, hose them down and haul them off to school? 


Are we supposed to use mental telepathy like Carrie White from that Stephen King novel?  Wiggle our noses and make students show up for class?  Tap out feet and make them get off drugs, put down their cell phones and iPods and come into the building all smiles, motivated and ready to learn?


These new requirements initiated by Margaret Spellings are further proof that her grasp of public education in America is tragically limited.  It’s one thing to hold schools accountable for the content being taught inside classrooms (such as English and Math), but it’s another thing to hold teachers and principals accountable for the values a student is suppose to be learning at home—their desire to take advantage of a free public education.


Everyday hard working educators across America do their best to offer students a top notch education.  And how does Spellings thank us?  By threatening to publicly humiliate schools because unappreciative teenagers from dysfunctional families throw their educations out the window.   


Spellings and her logic are as broken as our nation’s drop-outs.  Let’s just hope President Elect Barack Obama has more sense when it comes to schooling America’s children.