To Mayor Nutter: What happened to stopping contracts with outside managers?

by Christopher Paslay

 

“As Mayor, I will call for a reduction in contracts with outside contractors unless there is a compelling educational purpose for renewing the contract.”

 

Mayor Michael Nutter, Putting Children First

 

In an educational reform plan dubbed Imagine 2014, Philadelphia schools’ chief Arlene Ackerman announced her intention to shut-down 35 of the city’s lowest-performing schools and reopen them as charters or schools run by outside management.

 

Although I agree that the District’s failing schools need additional help and resources, I don’t believe the answer rests with outside contractors.  Studies show that educational management organizations (EMOs) such as Edison Schools, Foundations Inc., Victory Schools, and Universal Companies are not producing results.  In 2007, Research for Action, a nonprofit organization working in educational research and reform, conducted a survey on the private managers.  The report stated: “We find little evidence in terms of academic outcomes that would support the additional resources for the private managers.”

The Bulletin wrote an article based on these findings as well.   In it they concluded, “EMOs receive an additional $18 million per year, approximately $768 more per pupil, to run their schools with no measurable difference in test results.”     

 

But Dr. Ackerman assures us this time around things will be different.  Only successful organizations with proven track records will be given opportunities to run Philadelphia’s failing schools.

 

One organization Dr. Ackerman touted was the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).  KIPP schools are praised around the country for high student achievement, especially with minorities in high poverty areas. 

 

However, KIPP schools are not always what they seem.  A three year study by SRI International, a Menlo Park, CA-based research institute, found that many KIPP schools have an alarmingly high rate of student attrition, which in some cities was as high as 60%.  The same trend was true for teachers, who had a turnover rate of almost 50% in some districts. 

 

In other words, the time and energy required to work or attend a KIPP school is overwhelming for many adults and children alike; at KIPP, the school day begins at 7:30 and runs until 5:00, and classes are held every other Saturday.

 

So the question remains: How are we going to staff these schools?  Also, what do we do with the high number of students who transfer out of KIPP schools because the work load is too difficult?          

 

As Mayor Nutter announced in his education plan outside Samuel Powel School in the fall of 2007, “We know that contracting out to the education management organizations—the EMOs—are not producing results that are any better than many of our regular public schools. So instead of allowing consultants to profit, we should return some of the consultant money to the classroom.”

 

Amen.

 

So what are the solutions?  How do we save the District’s lowest-performing schools? 

 

By not shutting them down or giving up on them.  By investing in HOLISTIC education, and funding programs that help struggling parents and neighborhoods gain some stability.  By not only holding principals and teachers accountable, but also parents and the students themselves.  By actually ENFORCING the District’s policy on zero tolerance for violence—going into unruly schools and systematically weeding-out the bad apples—permanently removing the students who are ruining everyone’s educations. 

 

Outside management is not the answer for Philadelphia’s failing schools.  The research proves this, and the Mayor himself has acknowledged this reality.  My only question is, when will Michael Nutter step in and challenge Dr. Ackerman’s new reform plan?  When will he fulfill his campaign promise and stop contracts with outside managers?     

 

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Imagine 2014

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

(Re: Imagine 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine there’s no insults
It’s easy if you try
No blaming just the teachers
No waving 30 schools goodbye
Imagine the SRC
Giving us what we need

 

Imagine no outside managers

It isn’t hard to do

No wasting millions of dollars

And no consultants too

Imagine all the parents

Pulling their own weight

 

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday the SRC will join us

And every child will be someone   

 

Imagine no betrayal

I wonder if you can

No inside agenda

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the politicians

Doing what they say

 

You may say that I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday the SRC will join us

And every child will be someone

 

Eye on The Notebook: Are Philadelphia School Teachers Really Bigots?

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

To help The Philadelphia Public School Notebook bring quality and equality to all public schools, I am posting a regular forum here on Chalk and Talk called Eye on The Notebook.  Its purpose is to provide The Notebook and its readers with constructive feedback from teachers who work day-to-day in real classrooms and experience the district’s problems firsthand.  Although The Notebook analyzes a wide variety of educational issues, too often their conclusions are limited in scope and perspective. 

 

Eye on The Notebook will attempt to bring a more grounded analysis of issues that face our city’s public schools.  I will dissect selected Notebook articles and add depth to their findings.  In tandem with The Notebook, this blog hopes to uncover the true root causes of problems concerning the Philadelphia School District and offer practical, realistic solutions.

 

***

 

In their recent article, “A national trend: Black and Latino boys predominate in emotional support classes,” the Notebook explains that a disproportionate number of black and Latino boys are placed in special education.  Although they effectively shine a light on this issue, they oversimplify the problem by blaming it primarily on racism. 

 

“Many say racial biases among those who refer and evaluate students for special education are a factor,” the Notebook writes.  They also suggest there is an “unconscious racial discrimination by school authorities.”

 

As an experienced, hard-working teacher in the Philadelphia School District, I find this reasoning off-base and offensive.  There may exist a cultural gap between students and teachers, but to insinuate that minority students predominate in emotional support classes because they are being discriminated against by racially prejudiced teachers and counselors, most of whom are white, is insulting and intentionally misleading.     

 

The Notebook is too far removed from the day-to-day reality of urban classrooms to accurately diagnose problems, and as a result, they offer generic solutions. 

 

There are two layers to the problem of minorities and special education.  First is the fact that black and Latino males are “acting out” too often in school.  Second is that teachers are sometimes misinterpreting this behavior.  The Notebook does a marvelous job of overlooking the former and highlighting the latter.  Even if we succeed in reducing the number of black and Latino boys in emotional support classes, their unruly behavior will still remain.  And where will we be then?   

 

In the end, the student’s behavior is everything.  No employer is going to put up with a young man who continues to act out.        

 

So how do we change a student’s behavior? 

 

One solution is providing students with Positive Behavior Supports.  According to a plan designed by the Institute for Human Development at Northern Arizona University, “Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is an approach to helping people improve their difficult behavior that is based on four things:

 

1.  An Understanding that people (even caregivers) do not control others, but seek to support others in their own behavior change process;

 

2.  A Belief that there is a reason behind most difficult behavior, that people with difficult behavior should be treated with compassion and respect, and that they are entitled to lives of quality as well as effective services;

 

3.  The Application of a large and growing body of knowledge about how to better understand people and make humane changes in their lives that can reduce the occurrence of difficult behavior; and

 

4.  A Conviction to continually move away from coercion – the use of unpleasant events to manage behavior.     

 

PBS is effective because it treats the problems (poor communication and anger management skills)—not the symptoms (a false label).  If used correctly, it can literally change a student’s entire life. 

 

Instead of making sweeping generalizations and pulling the race card, The Notebook should focus its attention on a process that can rectify misbehaviors and give students back control of their educations.  Doing so might be more beneficial for students, and less offensive and insulting to teachers.     

 

Phila. schools are overdue for more holistic approach

“Public schools are not free-floating, self-contained cities cut off from human civilization. They are rooted in communities and neighborhoods. They are supported not only by teachers and principals, but also by parents, businesspeople, counselors and clergy.

 

No one understands this better than Geoffrey Canada. In 1991, he started the Harlem Children’s Zone, a network of educational and social-service programs aimed at reducing poverty in Harlem. The program, which has been featured on Oprah and 60 Minutes, is groundbreaking because it takes a holistic approach to education.”

 

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Phila. schools are overdue for more holistic approach”.  Please respond by clicking on the comment button below.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

–Christopher Paslay