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.”
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?