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Dungee Glenn: The real issue is equity

By the Notebook on Mar 6, 2013 08:14 PM

Thursday's School Reform Commission vote on the recommended closure of nearly 30 schools will undoubtedly have a major impact on the future of the city's public school system. In advance of the vote, the Notebook asked prominent Philadelphians to offer their thoughts, using new data and maps on school attendance patterns in the city as a starting point.

Read the responses from: 
Mark Gleason and Mike Wang of the Philadelphia School Partnership
Helen Gym, a co-founder of Parents United for Public Education

by Sandra Dungee Glenn

At the heart of school closings and school choice in Philadelphia is the question of equity -- or lack of it. For the last three decades, parents have been migrating to what they perceive as better options for their children, largely as a result of the neglect of schools in neighborhoods of color.

As urban districts around the country, including Philadelphia, have gone through major shifts and changes in population, we have seen large disparities among different schools, depending on where they’re located and who attends them. As various neighborhoods in Philadelphia became majority African American, and later Latino, their schools received less attention, support, and investment from “downtown.” Across the country, 70 percent of African American children still attend schools with high teacher turnover and a disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers. Their schools are more likely to have outdated facilities, constant principal churn, more safety issues and inadequate access to technology, libraries, counselors, and extracurricular activities.

Why wouldn’t parents seek alternatives?

But, practically, different communities have long had different options. In myriad ways, the District and local institutions invest in schools that mostly serve the middle class. Take Penn Alexander. The University of Pennsylvania created an upper-middle-class enclave in West Philadelphia by investing an extra $1,300 per child in a special neighborhood school. It has small classes, music, art, teacher coaches, and many other amenities. Housing prices doubled and tripled; many poor residents, mainly renters, were forced out. Middle-class families, mainly White, flocked in. I would argue that the Penn Alexanders don’t help the children who need it most. 

And then, mainly at the high school level, there is an extensive magnet system, which existed well before charters. The map shows that middle class families -- I’d argue particularly White middle class families -- have taken advantage of magnet schools. The Northeast, upper Northwest, Center City and gentrifying areas of South Philadelphia have the highest rates of attendance in magnets. You don’t see this in the poorest neighborhoods of North and West Philadelphia, Germantown, and Southwest Philadelphia. 

As a result, for families in these neighborhoods, charter schools have become a very important option. And that has exacerbated the situation for their neighborhood schools. Often, the neediest students are the ones left behind in them.

Even though these schools have students who require more services, they have less. They often lack active parent organizations, and community and business partnerships. The building often looks decrepit, classrooms are worn out, materials are outdated, teachers and principals come and go -- is that where you’d want to send your child? I don’t think so. The few that defy the odds -- I’m thinking of schools like Andrew Jackson in South Philadelphia and Overbrook Elementary (which nevertheless briefly made the closing list) -- generally have stability in teaching and leadership.

The proposed closings in neighborhoods like Germantown and Southwest, West, and North Philadelphia, are just the final chapter in a story of neglect that started years ago.

One of the legacies of Arlene Ackerman was an attempt to turn this accepted practice of neglect on its head. She hasn’t received fair credit for it. Through Promise Academies and Renaissance charter conversions, she directed more resources and attention to the students, families, and schools that needed it the most. 

Ackerman took a lot of heat for that, especially as the District’s financial picture worsened. But that’s exactly what should be done: Figure out what it will take to get our children to benchmarks of the 21st century, then make the investment we need.

The leadership in Philadelphia and the state must take a different approach to how we support and fund public education and how we align a system of public schools in a way that distributes talent, resources and quality of facilities more equitably. 

What’s important is that we have enough good options for every child, and for young children, those options should be close to where they live. All parents want and deserve safe, high-quality elementary schools in their neighborhood. We must prioritize creating the conditions that will make this a reality.

Nor can we simply write off the concept of the neighborhood high school. If we think of them as places of rote learning and rigid credit collection, then yes, they are obsolete. Instead, we must transform them into flexible centers of learning with broad offerings, as the community convinced Superintendent William Hite  to do at Strawberry Mansion. We can create neighborhood high schools that are eclectic, innovative. and dynamic. 

Which brings me to my last point. Doing this will require investment. We cannot constantly cut our way to better schools.

Pennsylvania has underfunded education for more years that I can remember. A 2008 “costing out study” determined that the state’s funding system is so unfair in terms of guaranteeing adequacy of resources that some districts are being shortchanged by thousands of dollars per student (Philadelphia lags by more than $4,000 per child per year). Gov. Corbett and the General Assembly have a responsibility to all the Commonwealth’s children, including those in its largest city. Their failure to implement a fair school-funding formula makes it impossible for Philadelphia to keep up with advances in technology, do needed maintenance and repairs, adequately support teachers, upgrade science labs, teach students a second language, or recruit and train teachers and principals with new competencies. Simply, we are failing to exercise political will to make the investment we know is needed in our schools and in our children in order to move them to success.

If we think that we can cut so deeply and be left with better schools, we are only fooling ourselves. Yes, we have to be efficient and effective, and some school closings are inevitable. But we must also determine how much money and talent it takes to educate the typical Philadelphia child in 2013 and each year going forward. Once we figure that out, we must do it.

Sandra Dungee Glenn was a member of the School Reform Commission from 2002 until 2009 and chaired the SRC from 2007 to 2009. She was also a member of the U.S. Department of Education’s commission that recently produced the National Report on Education Equity and Excellence.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (20)

Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on March 6, 2013 7:17 pm
This is what Ackerman created in her "empowerment," neighborhood high schools: "Nor can we simply write off the concept of the neighborhood high school. If we think of them as places of rote learning and rigid credit collection, then yes, they are obsolete." There was nothing more rigid, "dumbed down" than Ackerman's "empowerment" high schools curricular and resources.
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on March 6, 2013 7:12 pm
Sweeping charges of magnets "for whites" doesn't fit with the stats: Academy at Palumbo - 51.4% African America, 15.7% white, 21.3% Asian, 8.5% Latino Bodine - 54% African American, 11.7% white, 12.8% Asian, 19.8% Latino Central - 31.1% AFrican American, 31.9% Asian American, 25.1% white, 8.7% Latino Constitution - 65.4% African American, 14.4% white, 7.3% Asian, 11% Latino Engineering and Science - 77.9% African American, 2.8% white, 9.9% Asian, 7.2% Latino Girls High - 66.2% AFrican American, 6.8% white, 15.1% Asian, 11% Latino SLA - 42% African American, 35.9% white, 9.4% Asian, 9% Latino There are other schools with more lower admission requirements which are not "white." The two "whitest" magnet schools are GAMP (5 - 12) - 27.5% African American, 48.8% white, 16.3% Asian, and 4.4% Latino Masterman (5 - 12) - 25.5% African American, 40.9% white, 23.2% Asian, 6% Latino (In other words, we don't know the percentage for the high school. )
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on March 6, 2013 8:41 pm
1. The division is not only by race, but also by income, and she made it clear that mainly middle class families of any race use the magnets. 2. Whites are minority in the city, and a lot of them use Catholic and Quaker schools. So, you have to show, what percentage of the district students are white to see if they are over or under represented at the magnets.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on March 6, 2013 8:23 pm
Ms. Glenn was right overall though some stats are incorrect. Anybody who doesn't see the inequity coming from Harrisburg is not looking and/or not thinking. Corbett has been poison for Phila. and his disdain for our children is stunning and diabolical but the inequity issue itself has been around forever. I am surprised Ms. Glenn was so honest and didn't play the charter lie card. I enjoyed this article very much.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2013 9:43 pm
I think Ms. Dungee Glenn had enough of a say already.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2013 10:39 pm
She writes this as if she were just a bystander. Does she take responsibility for any of this?
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 7, 2013 4:11 am
Dungee Glen brought Ackerman to Philly.
Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on March 6, 2013 11:07 pm
The notebook is not obliged to publish propaganda from the wrong side of history.
Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on March 6, 2013 11:39 pm
Whitewashing ackerman is the same as whitewashing George Bush. Ya'll lost and don't even know it!
Submitted by tom-104 on March 6, 2013 11:56 pm
There is no question that the state has inequitably funded Philadelphia schools for decades. As a previous commenter illustrates, however, to say that the disparities within Philadelphia were based solely on race is too simplistic. She was just another in a long line of Superintendents who, not being from the city, put forth an agenda with limited knowledge of the city or its neighborhoods. Her Promise Academies and Renaissance charter conversions were done at the expense of the public schools regardless of their ethnic composition. Why is it that Ms. Dungee Glenn and others in the administration inner circle will not acknowledge that Dr. Ackerman sat on the board of the Broad Foundation at the same time as she was Superintendent in Philadelphia? One of the favorite methods of the Broad Foundation is "disruptive force" and "churn" to promote their privatization agenda. Was the way she handled the the violence at South Philadelphia High School really to the benefit of anyone involved? Was taking a $1 million buyout knowing she was leaving behind a district with a massive fiscal crisis, which she played a role in, really showing concern for the children? To understand the situation we are in you have to know about the Broad Foundation.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 7, 2013 4:21 am
Good questions, tom-104. Since Dungee Glen was responsible for bringing Ackerman to Philly - and then left the SRC (voluntarily?), the rest of us had to live through the Ackerman hurricane and now pick up the pieces. Ackerman's "empowerment school model" was as dumbed down and insulting an approach to teaching / learning as I have ever experienced. The level of top down terror also permeated throughout the schools.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 7, 2013 4:11 am
My disagreement with Dungee Glen re: Ackerman's philosophy/conduct in Philly does not diminish her point regarding underfunding and lack of equity. Penn Alexander is one example of inequity (new building, full array of electives, gym facilities, open outside space, etc, etc.) Every day my children and my students live with this inequity. It is more than ironic to study school segregation in the South and compare it with school inequity today. I'm thankful for organizations like Youth United for Change and Phila. Student Union because they provide ways for students to challenge adults and have a voice.
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on March 7, 2013 11:58 am
Thanks Tom for reminding notebook readers that responding to attacks on our schools requires commitment to a deeper understanding of the forces behind education reform. I have been reading about the Broad foundation. Whatever the motivation behind the Broads of the world, the effect is disproportionate power given to persons/corporations who are far removed from the classrooms and the communities they seek to "reform". I have a jaded view of the motivations of these folks. Whether I am right or wrong in this view does not matter. What is beyond dispute is that our traditional public schools have no chance to improve if we as a society continue down this path. I appreciate your posts and your commitment to this topic.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 7, 2013 7:27 am
Both the Promise Academy and Renaissance model includes the dismissal of most faculty members. This creates instability in those schools and takes beloved teachers from students for no reason. Well, except for union-busting. It is way off the mark to say that Ackerman used these models to bring more resources to the neediest students--for many reasons. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Santo (not verified) on March 7, 2013 7:14 am
The NCLB law mandates that underperforming schools replace at least 50% of their staff when taken over or changed to a charter school.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 7, 2013 8:43 am
The NCLB does not mandate reconstitution of schools. Reconstitution is an option under NCLB. It has never been shown to improve any school in America. Neither has turning schools over to private entities ever shown any significant gains. They just cost us more money which would be better spent on direct services to children. Reconstitution is a "blame the teachers" mentality that is destructive of "the community of schools." It is also a tool of the corporate raid on public schools and teacher rights. The blame for the mess we have today is purely because of the mismanagement of those managers who have been "imposed" upon our school district. Stop blaming the teachers -- they do heroic work under ridiculously oppressive conditions.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 7, 2013 8:14 am
Really? No acknowledgement of her own role in the current state of the district. She was responsible for Ackerman, who was largely responsible for the mess everyone is now facing. She went out and courted Ackerman. Ackerman seemed to operate on the assumption that poor children of color are only good enough for drill and kill, basic skills programs like Corrective Reading and Corrective Math. She subjected students to a form of education I am sure differed greatly from what she would have wanted for her own children and grandchildren.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on March 7, 2013 8:12 am

Sandra Dungee Glen's strong call for equity is  on the mark, but, as others here have pointed out, her endorsement of the polices of Arlene Ackerman weaken her overall argument.  While Ackerman did champion investing in schools that historicallly have been under served, the concrete initiatives she took raise serious problems.    Reconstitution of school staff, turning over schools to charters, and, in the case of the Promise Academies and Empowermanet schools, introducing a top down, one size fits all, model of reform, including a mind numbing, scripted curriuculum doesn't take us where we need to go.   Ackerman's profligate spending on public relations and ill advised contracts, ending with her own golden parachute, are not the kind of increased public investment in schools that we want to see. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 8, 2013 10:56 am
Isn't Sandra Dungee Glen on Mastery's Charter Board?
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on March 9, 2013 3:01 pm
Dungee Glen also conveniently forgot to mention the evidence of broad cheating on the PSSA under Ackerman. Ackerman awarded unrealistic test score jumps and threatened administrators that didn't "get results." What has happened to the 2012 cheating allegations at Wagner? What about the cheating since 2009? Again, there is silence from Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

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