Tag Archives: Imagine 2014

District spent its way into massive shortfall

“The French novelist Honoré de Balzac once wrote: “Finance, like time, devours its own children.” The Philadelphia School District‘s administrators should take a moment to ponder that. Their financial ineptitude and gross mismanagement of public money has put the children of Philadelphia in an unfortunate position.

The district’s budget deficit for the 2011-12 school year, which stands at $629 million, has prompted talk of doing away with full-day kindergarten; cutting athletic, art, and music programs; and laying off thousands of employees, many of them teachers. . . .”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “District spent its way into massive shortfall.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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Filed under Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, Inquirer Articles, PFT

Paul Vallas reincarnated?

 

 

by Susan Cohen Smith

 

On a sweltering September day in 2002, mad dogs and school teachers sat out in the midday sun, awaiting the arrival of Starship Vallas to descend on our wretched souls and breathe new life into the beleaguered Philadelphia public school system.

 

Paul Vallas sailed into the School District of Philadelphia promising sweeping reforms and a new day in public education. I clearly recall that even I, a seasoned, but somewhat cynical teacher, was so energized and hopeful by the dynamism of our new leader that I dropped everything I should have been doing to prepare for the new school year and spent precious time attending to his first directive.

 

I was asked to compile a detailed inventory of my classroom furniture: every desk, chair, cabinet, pencil sharpener, etc. and its age, condition and functionality. The incentive for the swift completion of this task was the promise of new equipment and furnishings because “Mr. Vallas is committed to world class arts programs in the high schools.”

 

I dutifully documented each student desk, teacher desk, shelf, bulletin board, sink, storage cabinet, etc. whose precise age I knew for certain because they were the exact same fixtures that existed in my classroom when I was a student at that school in the sixties!

 

When Paul Vallas left the system in 2006, those very same desks and furnishings were still in that classroom, the promise of their replacement left unfulfilled by the “surprise” multi-million dollar budget deficit that emerged toward the end of Mr. Vallas’ tenure as CEO.

 

Experienced Philadelphia teachers are understandably weary of the hoopla and lofty imaginings of the district’s current Superintendent. They have heard it all before—only to have it forgotten when funds do not materialize, or when the crisis du jour takes precedence over the implementation of new initiatives, or when the five years of the Superintendent’s contract are up, which ever comes first.

 

Our detractors will accuse us of institutionalized pessimism and failure to put the students first. It will take a lot more than a 34 page draft of recycled ideas to fire up the hearts and minds of those in the trenches in Philly schools.

 

What I would have liked to see in Imagine 2014:

 

Who exactly is going to evaluate teachers’ performance and effectiveness? Will they be the administrators who have achieved their goal of fleeing the classroom?

 

A rethinking of the absurd “Easy Pass” grading system of no grade under 50.

 

An exploration of the possibility of requiring administrative personnel to teach on a regular basis to give them first-hand understanding of how these initiatives should be implemented.

 

A new requirement of all Charter Schools to accept, educate and retain all students who choose to attend their schools, even those students who do not conform to their standards of behavior, attendance and academic success.

 

So much of Ackerman’s plan depends on the recruitment and retention of new and presumably better teachers. Veteran teachers wonder how she plans to stem the flow of enthusiastic, motivated, knowledgeable new teachers walking out the door after receiving their floating rosters or when the supports they’ve been promised fail to materialize.

 

One thing is certain. In 2014, there will be a new strategic plan with a new set of goals accompanied by a new lexicon of terms in the School District of Philadelphia.

 

Susan Cohen Smith is a retired Philadelphia public school teacher.  She taught Art and French for 36 years.  You can email her at retiredartteacher@gmail.com

 

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Filed under Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, Susan Cohen Smith

English classes respond to ‘Imagine 2014’

 

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

Yesterday, while the Philadelphia Student Union staged a predictable protest outside District headquarters to voice their concerns about “Imagine 2014,” Dr. Ackerman’s new strategic plan, I took time to discuss the school reform blueprint with students inside my 11th grade English classes. 

 

I introduced “Imagine 2014” by having students read an overview of it outlined in a recent Inquirer article, Ackerman’s plan for Phila. schools.

 

After we read the article, I instructed students to first write about the most controversial idea proposed by Dr. Ackerman: whether or not the District should shut-down 35 of its lowest performing schools and reopen them as charters or schools run by outside managers.

 

Of the 62 students who completed the exercise, 36 (58%) said failing schools should remain open, and be given extra resources to deal with low achievement on their own. 

 

“The District should keep schools open and try to solve the problems,” one student wrote.  “It doesn’t matter if the schools are under new management, it’s the way students act.  They need a couple more schools like CEP, so students that want to learn can learn.”

 

“I believe that schools should stay open,” another said.  “If we closed down 35 schools, they would be sending the worst students to better schools.  This would bring down better schools.” 

 

Still another stated, “They should keep schools open and try to solve the problems.  It’s better to deal with the problems then postponing them, because that’s what opening charter schools is really doing.”

 

26 students (42%) agreed that the failing schools should be shut-down. 

 

One student argued, “I think the District should shut-down failing schools and reopen them as charters or schools run by private managers.  If schools are not doing their jobs right, and students are not learning, then the superintendent needs to take action.” 

 

“I agree the District should shut the failing schools down,” another said.  “I think private managers or charter will run things more efficiently.”

 

There was one student who had an interesting perspective on closing the 35 lowest performing schools.  She felt that if the District voted to shut them down, all stakeholders should have an equal voice in the proceedings.

 

“I feel the District should allow all the staff, students and families of the 35 schools to decide if they want to reopen as a charter,” she wrote. 

 

At this point I asked the students to pull out three other ideas proposed in “Imagine 2014” and write about their strengths and weaknesses.

 

Most students liked the idea of lowering class sizes.  Many also thought it would be good to open three more career and technical schools, and offer music and art in every school.   

 

“I believe it is a good idea to let students move through school at their own pace,” one student wrote, referencing Dr. Ackerman’s proposed credit-acceleration program. 

 

One thing several students disliked was paying teachers more to teach in “tough” schools.  They reasoned that genuine educators should want to help kids no matter what, and that money shouldn’t be an issue.  

 

Imagine 2014 is an extremely broad plan.  Further dialogue is needed before it can be whittled down to a reform model that is both fair and practical.  

 

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Filed under Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, Philadelphia Student Union

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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Filed under Achievement Gap, Alternative Schools, Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, Holistic Education, Parental Involvement, School Resources

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

 

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Filed under Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, Parental Involvement, School Resources, SRC, Uncategorized