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A school's value cannot be so easily calculated

By Frank Murphy on Feb 26, 2013 02:08 PM

Superintendent William Hite has changed a flawed school-closings plan, and the revision was an encouraging sign. Hearing the concerns and suggestions of individual school communities was exactly what Dr. Hite needed to do in order to demonstrate that he is pursuing a school reform agenda responsive to the best interests and needs of city neighborhoods. It is time that the members of the School Reform Commission do the same.

To fully grasp the impact that a school has on the children it serves, one must first understand the neighborhood where those children live. A school is not an island. It is part of the social web of a community. With schools operating in economically distressed areas, they can, and often do, serve as beacons of hope. They are lighthouses, so they shouldn’t be judged in the same way as other institutions.

Stand united: An appeal to commenters

By Frank Murphy on Nov 27, 2012 04:50 PM

I have been troubled by the negative tone of several comments posted in response to Notebook articles over the last few months. Anonymous posters have increasingly engaged in highly critical and often sharply worded personal attacks on individual Philadelphia School District employees and union personnel. Though I can understand the depth of emotion that motivates people to make such remarks, I do not support this course of action.

Commentary: The SRC leaves Creighton school behind

By Frank Murphy on Jun 12, 2012 01:05 PM

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission recently chose to ignore a great opportunity to encourage and support authentic grassroots school reform efforts in the District. They did so by rejecting a self-governance school reform plan submitted by the Creighton Elementary School community.

School autonomy for curriculum to return

By Frank Murphy on Feb 17, 2012 02:36 PM

Earlier this week the District announced a shift away from mandated, scripted curricula in favor of autonomy for individual schools. Over the past decade, the amount of autonomy a school has over its curriculum has repeatedly changed as the District leadership changes. Let's review that recent history.

Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action

By Frank Murphy on Jul 27, 2011 04:57 PM

This Saturday, the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action will take place in Washington D.C. The rally, which will be staged at the ellipse, starts at noon.  Around 1:30 p.m., participants will march to the White House where the demonstration will continue.

Many readers will recognize that most, if not all, of the issues that we regularly discuss in the comments of the Notebook blog are represented in the march's guiding principles.

Comprehensive plan needed for school violence

By Frank Murphy on Apr 28, 2011 03:48 PM

The Inquirer’s recent series on school violence has sparked comment from many quarters. The response of Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioner Ramsey, in particular, has provoked some controversy. They have suggested that it might be time to place Philadelphia police officers in some of our more dangerous schools.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers was quoted as favoring this idea. Jordan cited his own experiences as a teacher at University City High School where at one time city police officers were assigned.

70,000 vacant seats: A convenient truth?

By Frank Murphy on Feb 2, 2011 02:18 PM

During its recent January planning meeting, District staffers presented a preliminary facilities usage report to the School Reform Commission. At this time, the SRC was informed that there are 70,000 vacant seats in the District’s schools. This was almost double the number quoted in an earlier report. In their PowerPoint presentation, staffers portrayed excess space in District schools as being greater than the number of seats in Lincoln Financial Field.

The staffers’ use of the term “vacant seats” to describe underutilized space is an interesting choice of words. Even more intriguing is how they compared this number to the amount of seating available at a football stadium.

Everybody's children; Other people's money

By Frank Murphy on Jan 19, 2011 03:32 PM

In the 2011 school year and going forward, the probability that a major financial shortfall will cripple the operations of the School District of Philadelphia is increasingly becoming a certainty.

Circumstances beyond the control of the District’s money managers will soon significantly reduce the operational income needed to fund essential instructional programs.

In order to balance a much-diminished budget, it is likely that services will be slashed. These cuts will be deep. It may be necessary to increase class sizes, reduce staff, and close schools in order to cope with the impact of this impending crisis.

In hard times, how should the School District spend its money?

By Frank Murphy on Dec 13, 2010 04:28 PM

The recent financial bounty we have enjoyed in the School District of Philadelphia is coming to an end.

A decrease in state revenues, the end of federal stimulus funds, and a newly elected governor who has pledged not to raise taxes all suggest that the District will soon face a bleak financial future. 

Add to this the fact the education transition team chosen by the governor-elect includes many charter school and voucher advocates. It is conceivable that they will recommend diversion of public school money to fund more school choice options.

Make it better in schools right now

By Frank Murphy on Oct 26, 2010 12:41 PM

“I’m afraid my whole life is going to be like this. People will always be calling me names.” -Jordan, 8th grader, in Confessions of an Urban Principal: October

Asher Brown recently committed suicide. He was 13 years old. He shot himself in the head with his stepfather’s gun. According to media reports, he was relentlessly bullied and tormented by other students in his school. Earlier in the day on which he died, he had told his parents that he was gay.

As I read and followed the numerous media reports related to this recent rash of youthful suicides, I couldn’t help but note the lack of response on the part of educators. 

Negotiating the high school admissions maze

By Frank Murphy on Oct 19, 2010 04:07 PM

In 2005, when Meade School’s first 8th grade class moved up to high school, less than 10 percent of those students were accepted to schools other than their neighborhood high school. This was a disappointing result for the many students who had sought admission to special admission schools. It was also disappointing for our teachers. Our staff decided that this was not an acceptable outcome. We resolved to do better in future years.

Take a stand. Speak up. Insist on being included in the discussion.

By Frank Murphy on Oct 11, 2010 01:46 PM

During the third annual Symposium on Equality hosted by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) I kept thinking: if only there were more of these types of events being offered to a wider audience of participants within our city.

The event was a model of what civic engagement in educational policy discussions should look like. 

Parents are our partners after all

By Frank Murphy on Sep 29, 2010 12:03 PM

This piece originally appeared on

Right now schools throughout the city are hosting back-to-school nights. At these events, parents and teachers are provided with the opportunity to meet one another for the first time. This occasion, in addition to report conference nights, is usually the only time that most parents will have face-to-face contact with their children’s teachers. 

Introducing City School Stories

By Frank Murphy on Sep 24, 2010 03:56 PM

Evaluating the success of America’s public schools has become a national focus. Elected officials, business leaders, wealthy philanthropists, and a host of educational entrepreneurs are typically the individuals who have been most active in characterizing the performance of today’s public schools for the American media.  These non-educators generally do not speak well of the effectiveness of our public schools and systems.

In August of this year I launched my own blog

Sharing credit for AYP gains

By Frank Murphy on Aug 30, 2010 03:46 PM

AYP imageA hearty congratulation is due to everyone who is responsible for the continuing increase in the Philadelphia School Districts PSSA test scores. The continuing improvements that our students have demonstrated during the last eight years are a result of several different converging factors.

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