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A chorus of concern over Great Schools Compact

By Benjamin Herold on Mar 9, 2012 05:27 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

The Notebook/NewsWorks' coverage of the Great Schools Compact continues
with a preview of Monday's SRC meeting. Last week, we took a look inside a
charter on the verge of expansion and talked to Mark
, the executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership.

Proponents of traditional public schools are expressing growing concern that the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact could end up favoring charters and being a raw deal for the School District.

On Monday, they’ll get the chance to voice their worries before the School Reform Commission, which plans to highlight the compact at its March strategy, policy, and planning meeting.

On paper, the far-reaching Great Schools agreement calls for closing or transforming low-performing schools and supporting and expanding successful schools, whether District-run or charter. But many are worried that in practice, the compact, led by a committee that some accuse of being “charter-heavy,” is functioning primarily as a vehicle for expanding charter schools.

“I see [the compact] as just another way of punishing traditional public schools,” said teachers’ union President Jerry Jordan. “This is about increasing the number of charter schools in the city of Philadelphia.”

Lori Shorr, the city’s chief education officer and the chair of the “Great Schools Compact Committee,” hopes that Monday’s discussion before the SRC can help allay some of those concerns. 

Shorr said she expects a “messy” conversation in which the SRC will welcome a wide range of input. 

But she was firm in dismissing the notion that the compact is a “vast conspiracy” to expand the District’s already significant charter-school sector.

“That expansion has already happened,” said Shorr, pointing out that one in four Philadelphia public schoolchildren already attends a charter.

“What we’re trying to figure out now is how do we manage all these different schools for better outcomes, not just for [continuing] an ideological war among the two sides.”

Pushed along by the Gates Foundation

Last November, the SRC joined the city, state, District, and two of Pennsylvania’s largest charter umbrella organizations in signing on to the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact. In December, the group was awarded a $100,000 planning grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They are now preparing to compete with 13 other cities for millions more in implementation funds.

The crux of the compact, said Shorr, is replacing or transforming 50,000 seats in low-performing schools with better options, without regard to whether the schools involved are operated by the District or a charter organization.

“We’re trying to get to good schools vs. bad schools instead of charter schools vs. District schools,” said Shorr. “We’re trying to get people focused on what is showing good outcomes for kids and how do we expand on that.”

The current version of the compact spells out several clear strategies for growing high-performing charter options:

  • Issuing new charters.

  • Expanding the enrollment of existing charters.

  • Continuing conversion of traditional public schools to charters via the Renaissance Schools Initiative.

But parent Gerald Wright of Parents United for Public Education is among those who are worried that the compact holds no similar vision or plan for replicating successful District-managed schools.

Wright pointed to the District’s recommendation to close, rather than expand, a successful neighborhood public school like E.M. Stanton as cause for skepticism about the compact’s real intent.

“How do you close a school that’s doing well in an environment where we’re saying we don’t have enough good schools?” Wright asked.

Shorr acknowledged that conversations within the compact group about expanding high-performing District schools are “early.”

“The District started their work around closing their lowest-performing schools,” she said. “The first two or three years of their effort has been there, and now they’re starting to look at the other end of the spectrum.”

But the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ Jordan isn’t buying it. 

“They haven’t been closing down charters that are underperforming, and there’s nothing that leads me to believe they’re going to start now,” he said.

Next month, Jordan will see if his prediction is correct. The SRC is expected to vote on more than two dozen charter renewals, and sources have told the Notebook/NewsWorks that District staff are recommending that a few be denied.

Shorr said she has yet to see any such recommendations, but acknowledged the significance of the decisions the SRC will have to make.

“If any low-performing charters come up for renewal, that will be an important vote,” she said.

A central tenet of the compact, she stressed, is that “something happens” to any school that chronically underperforms. One option, she suggested, could be to turn low-performing charters over to new operators rather than close them.

‘No voice for the District’

Inside District headquarters, meanwhile, there is growing skepticism as to whether the District will benefit from the compact.

“There’s a real fear that our interests aren’t really being looked out for as a District,” said one well-placed District source who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

On paper, the compact committee currently consists of four District and four charter representatives:


  • SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos

  • SRC Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky

  • Special Assistant Leroy Nunery

  • Deputy for Strategic Initiatives Thomas Darden (non-voting)


  • Lawrence Jones, CEO of Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School

  • Naomi Booker, president of Global Leadership Academy

  • David Rossi, president of Nueva Esperanza Academy

  • Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Charter Schools (non-voting)

In that group, Nunery, the former acting superintendent recently demoted to special advisor, has an extensive background in the charter school sector. Darden’s chief responsibility is overseeing the District’s efforts to convert traditional public schools to charters as part of the Renaissance Schools Initiative.

“We don’t have the right people there,” said the District source. “There is no real voice now for the District.”

Some outside advocates, like Wright of Parents United, agree. 

“People who have an interest in seeing the District divest itself of schools appear to be in the majority” on the compact committee, said Wright.

Shorr strongly disputed the notion that charter interests are overrepresented on the compact committee, pointing out the balance in the group’s numbers. She also added that new Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon, who began attending compact committee meetings about a week ago, will soon join the group formally. 

It is unclear, however, if Nixon will be a voting member.

And for some, Nixon isn’t enough.

The Cross City Campaign for School Reform has been lobbying for almost a month to get parent and community representation on the compact committee and its five working groups.

“They’re making huge decisions for our city and our schools, but there’s not community representation,” said TaiMarie Adams, education policy co-director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

Adams said the public perception that the compact committee is “charter-heavy” has been exacerbated by the fact that it and its working groups have been meeting strictly behind closed doors, with only limited “updates” made public afterwards. 

“Every major player in the city is part of this compact…and we believe it is creating policy,” said Adams. “But because the meetings are private, nobody knows what’s going on.”

Shorr said she recently met with Cross City representatives. She signaled that a change could be coming.

“I think we do need a broader array of people on these [working groups],”she said.

'Don’t let us make a mistake.'

In the meantime, said Shorr, Monday’s SRC meeting will present a prime opportunity for public input on not just the compact, but on how it connects to the other major shifts now taking place in the District as the result of budget cuts, the facilities master planning process, and the organizational restructuring currently underway inside 440.

“There’s a lot of big new ideas that have come out in the last two months,” said Shorr. “I know that this is a big switch for people.”

The changes, she said, all boil down to the need for the District to downsize its infrastructure in order to better align its operations with its declining student population.

While she understands the anxiety being generated, Shorr said nothing is done yet, and the SRC’s desire for input is genuine.

“Getting insight from those [inside schools] is helpful for what can inform policy,” said Shorr. “Help us think about this, tell us what we are missing, and don’t let us make a mistake.”

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Comments (28)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 9, 2012 5:30 pm

Let's focus on what works, regardless of whether it's a traditional charter school or a public school. The system needs to primarily benefit Philadelphia taxpayers and residents with school-age children, nobody else.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 14, 2012 9:25 am

These are serious issues we are discussing which will have far reaching effects on the welfare of our children, their families, our communities, the profession of teaching and the viability of public education itself. These issues also effect the "fiber of democracy" itself if we think about them deeply and reflectively.

In that vein, I have to again give the SRC props for holding the public discussion in the manner they did. It sure did look and seem to me that they wanted to seriously and sincerely listen and learn from the concerned citizens who expressed their views and raised the issues poignantly. It certainly was a vast improvement from anything I have witnessed over the last ten years within the District. It was a beginning of much needed dialogue and discussion on many crucial issues. Commissioner Dworetzky did a good job of leading the discussion.

There is a significant difference however, between giving stakeholders a voice and giving them a "true voice." If the SRC is to earn the trust of their followership, they must listen to us and act in accordance with what we say -- that is a true voice.

If they hold these sessions, and then carry out political agendas in spite of what is said, they will lose the trust of those they lead and thereby lose their ability to lead.

"Leaders, in the eyes of the followers, " are judged by their actions. Followers, listen to their leaders and give them "positional respect" -- but they wait to be shown. (Citation: "Leadership in the Eyes of the Followers" by Kouzes and Posner).

I believe the SRC members are good and sincere people who want to do the right thing for our community and the children. I also believe they, and we, are just beginning the learning process in many of these areas and much more discussion and learning needs to be facilitated. I have placed my faith behind them, and I surely hope they do not let me down.

But most importantly, I hope they do not let our children and our community down, because we, our community and our students, have been let down so many times in our recent past.

"Trust formation" -- the ability to earn the trust of the followers is the most critical element of effective leadership.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on March 9, 2012 6:30 pm

 When did they decide to do this?  A well kept secret up until now.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2012 8:53 pm

By far, the biggest issue locally is where is Jerry Jordan in all this? Does he know something we don't and is that a good thing? Is he complicit? Are people around him asking the same questions? Is he waiting to see what happens to the union question in Wisconsin before he takes a stand one way or the other? Last time I looked he was the head of the PFT, not just a worker bee like me. He won't take or return any calls either which is very frustrating.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 9, 2012 8:53 pm

Hopefully, this is the beginning of the clear thinking people mobilizing against this obvious corporate takeover of the schools. Chester Upland is also galvanizing against the fiasco there too. We have to fight this in a big way.

Submitted by tom-104 on March 9, 2012 9:35 pm

First, we cannot trust them if we do not have full transparency about all charters and about the Greater Schools Compact. These are business people for whom education is secondary.

Just look at the composition of the Philadelphia School Partnership Team which will be implementing the Great Schools Compact. Their careers are primarily in marketing. Look at the Executive Director Mark Gleason. His education experience is very slim. His education experience was being President of the South Orange-Maplewood, N.J., Board of Education from 2007-2011. Who knew him and why was he brought here from Maplewood, New Jersey with so little education background?

Not one of them has classroom experience or degrees in education. Bill Gates whom the SRC goes to hat in hand for money for the Greater Schools Compact, is a college dropout. Last summer, he said he didn't think a Master's degree for teachers mattered. As the privatizers make clear again and again, they do not believe education or experience matter. Yet, they want to run our educational system!

Lori Shorr is being disingenuous when she says there is a need for the "District to downsize its infrastructure in order to better align its operations with its declining student population." The student population isn't declining. Parents are moving students to charters. She herself says they want 50,000 more students in charters. This is because for decades the schools have been inequitably funded because right-wing politicians said funding urban schools is a waste of money. Governor Corbett made this inequity much worse when his almost one billion dollars in education cuts fell hardest on urban and low income school districts. Charters are held up as a hope for desperate parents because regular school are being starved of resources.

This is all by design. Governor Corbett is part of the American Legislative Executive Council, a right-wing group that is spearheading many rightwing causes across the country. See this article from The Nation magazine which details their goals in education, including Pennsylvania.

See this recent Diane Ravitch column in the Washington Post to see what ALEC's agenda has done to schools in New Orleans.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2012 8:06 pm

WE ALL GET IT----Now for the 52nd. time---what should we do and why isn't Jordan in the front of this protest??

Not to be fresh, but we all can and do google about ALEC and Diane Ravitch. We all know not to trust these corporate types. We all know their agenda is selfish and will further decimate our kids' futures. We all know Corbett is a bigoted bastard. We all know our school population is NOT decreasing in the traditional sense. We all know the Great Schools Compact is really The Great Charter Compact. Lori Shorr isn't trusted by her neighbors let alone any of us. SO..............................WHAT should we do??

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on March 10, 2012 8:10 pm

Hey Anonymous" WE ALL GET IT".   There is no magic bullet.   Stop asking for it.   Don't mourn, organize.  Occupy 440, Teacher Action Group, the Occupy Philadelphia Labor Work Group, PCCY, PSU, YUC, are all groups that are trying to build some kind of fighjt back.  It takes time and effort to build the kind of unity that is needed to reverse the tide.  No one person or group has all the answers.   The point is to bring your own insight, experience and committment to the process.

Submitted by tom-104 on March 11, 2012 2:43 pm

For more information about ALEC view this video:

For more information about The Nation series about ALEC go to this link:

For more information about Bill Gates' views on teacher education, go to this link:

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on March 9, 2012 9:34 pm

 I would love to attend an open, public meeting of the GSC. If invited I would be more than happy to help them not make any mistakes. 

Submitted by former teacher (not verified) on March 10, 2012 6:31 am

I cannot believe they are still perpetrating the lie that none of this is final. The community has had NO say in this and they have continued to go forward with it.

Why are there FOUR charter school representatives on this committee but no parents and no teachers?

Please come out to the SRC meeting. We must stop this.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2012 9:39 am

I am a teacher.....I'll be at the meeting. We must put a stop to this!!!!
Why isn't Jerry Jordan asking all PFT members to attend the SRC meeting?

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on March 11, 2012 11:14 am

He has.

Members like to talk and complain, but not do the "boots on the ground work" It's easier to sit at home and yell at Jordan, who is supposed to be a "one man" Army." You get the Union you desrve folks, because YOU are the Union.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 11, 2012 6:54 pm

OK, Jerry, right back at ya.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 11, 2012 6:43 pm

Considering Jerry is the leader he IS SUPPOSE to lead the troops. Nobody is asking him to be a "one man army", but he has been suspiciously absent when he needs to be vocal. Time to get off your butt, Jerry and start shaking up things. Why do you allow CASA thugs to bully your troops?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2012 8:59 pm

I never thought I would say this because I know Pedro Ramos a little bit but this version of the SRC is likely more coldblooded than the previous group of slithering types. The People have no say in any of this because money talks and everything else walks UNTIL MASSES OF PEOPLE USE THEIR POWER OF NUMBERS WITH VIGOROUS INTENT to stop this abuse of the inner cities. Small groups won't work but can't hurt but huge numbers are our only weapon against theses deep pocket people who have dollar signs in their heads.

Submitted by former teacher (not verified) on March 10, 2012 10:41 am

Teachers reading this should contact all teachers, former teachers, nurses, etc. by email, Facebook or other means to get them out. Send them a link to this article. Try to make them understand how many more union positions we will lose if this goes forward. Show the SRC that we can fight back.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 11, 2012 12:06 am

Why is Jerry Jordan so silent or close to it???

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2012 11:30 am

When and where is the meeting? Do people get to voice their concerns?

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on March 10, 2012 1:57 pm

Monday's School Reform Commission meeting is at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at School District headquarters, 440 North Broad Street.  Speakers do not need to register.  

According to the District, the focus of the meeting will be:

“The Great Schools Compact set a goal of turning 50,000 low performing seats in District and Charter schools into high performing seats. There a number of potential strategies that may be employed to accomplish this goal, including 1) Creation of in District turn-arounds (Promise Academies); 2) Renaissance Charters; 3) Replication/expansion of high performing District schools and programs; 4) Improving existing District and Charter schools through principal and teacher development 5) Expansion of high performing Charter schools; 6) Granting new Charters; 7) Closure of low performing District and/or Charter schools. No one of these strategies can accomplish the goal. Some are more costly than others. How do you think we should prioritize among them? What conditions determine which strategy should be applied to a given school? Are there other approaches that should be employed? What are your recommendations?” 

Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on March 10, 2012 3:00 pm

There are several school communities who have tried in vain to get successive administrations to just leave them alone and let them implement strategies tailored to their kids, but they are rarely trusted with the authority to make it happen. Stop giving away community's public schools - let the people who know the kids and understand their schools take a shot at shaping their effort to get better, instead of being forced to implement yet another canned 'solution'...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2012 7:54 pm

There's no money in your proposal for the crooks so why would they allow that??

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2012 9:05 pm

Lori Shorr may be the most ignorant person not named Linda Wayman or Katherine Donahue. Even Penny Nixon is more courteous. I will be there at The SRC but likely will be asked to leave again. I just can't take their bull and will probably say so. The people have no real say in this unless we band together and fight this by any means necessary. They fear that, of course but nothing else.

Submitted by tom-104 on March 11, 2012 11:31 pm

Louisiana public schools under siege!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 12, 2012 5:14 pm

The PFT needs to speak up LOUDLY but Jordan whispers at best. WHY??????

Submitted by Autumn.X on March 14, 2012 6:44 am

It is easy to see where this is a major concern. There will no doubt be more talk on this in the future. Charter schools are good but there needs to be the proper balance in funding and support.


    Charter schools of royalty and public schools all need the right funding to do the job of educating our children in the proper manner or else we all lose.

Submitted by Jim H. (not verified) on March 14, 2012 10:13 pm

How do you know they're good? On what are you basing that statement? On their transparency which is non existent? THINK !!

Submitted by Hines (not verified) on September 3, 2014 8:16 am

If a school is open to the community, then the same rule also applies to other areas. What makes a school become the best? All schools have their own characteristics. Perhaps demographics affect school performance, we understand that maybe they have better test scores, but this does not become a reason to close other schools, for example, if a child's academic performance is not good, then we have to deprive him of the right to education, the answer is clearly NO . texans jersey home

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