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Down to the wire on charter talks

By Connie Langland on Jun 13, 2013 02:59 PM

With their schools' mandates to operate running out in just a matter of days, leaders of 10 charters are deep into negotiations with District officials who are determined, at least for now, to defer plans by the schools to expand.

Citing the budget crisis, Superintendent William Hite last month announced he would not recommend any charter expansions in the coming year -- a setback to the publicized ambitions of 21 charter schools to add more than 15,000 students over the next five years. Such expansion would cost the District $500 million.

The charters of 16 schools were set to expire at the end of June, giving the District some leverage. Although state law bans the District from unilaterally imposing enrollment caps, it allows for joint agreement on the issue. So far, five charter schools have agreed to such caps, and their charters were renewed for five years in April. They are Antonia Pantoja, Christopher Columbus, Eugenio de Hostos, Maritime Academy, and Universal Institute charter schools.

One school’s future is in jeopardy. The School Reform Commission voted in May to begin non-renewal proceedings against Imani Education Circle in Germantown over concerns related to student academic achievement and finances.

And there’s a fierce dispute involving Discovery Charter’s bid for renewal. Earlier this spring, District officials recommended that the school be shut down for exceeding its enrollment cap by 73 students and successfully petitioning the state for more than $400,000 to pay for them. The state then docked that amount from the District, which wants its money back as a condition for charter renewal. Mariana Bracetti Academy, faced with a similar non-renewal threat after over-enrolling by 96 students, repaid $435,000 in April.

Generally, charter renewal talks appear focused on the enrollment cap issue.

Larry Sperling, CEO of Philadelphia Academy Charter School in the Northeast, said that Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn “reiterated” the District’s intent not to add charter seats.

“There are no hard feelings here,” said Sperling. “I did not get the feeling they were going to budge.”

Even so, Sperling said, he made his pitch. The school, with two campuses and total enrollment of about 1,200, is seeking to expand its high school by several hundred students to enhance the feasibility of offering more advanced courses. “If I had 800 students, that would be perfect,” Sperling said. His school, he said, would like to partner with the District to address what he described as overcrowded District schools in the Northeast.

For the KIPP North campus, the issue is winning permission to complete expansion of its elementary and a high school programs to offer a full K-12 program. Currently, there’s a 5-8 middle school but no 3rd or 4th grade at the elementary school and no 12th grade at the high school. The SRC has approved only grade-by-grade expansions the last three years.

“We’ve had positive conversations,” said CEO Marc Mannella. “We remain optimistic that the District and the SRC will fulfill the commitment that it made in 2010 and will come through for our kids and our families.”

Charter operators are aware of the District’s straits, said Lawrence Jones, president of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Public Charter Schools.

“As a community we have shown a willingness to be a partner going forward,” said Jones. “We understand the financial realities and we look forward to a time when the financial outlook of the District will improve and our charter schools can be a viable choice for more families.”

Attempts were made to reach the heads of all the charter schools seeking renewals, but most, including Discovery CEO Jacquelyn Kelley, did not respond.  There was no response from a District spokesman after several requests for comment.

Management of Mastery Schools, which operates Hardy Williams Academy Charter School, declined comment. The sticking point would appear to be plans to expand from 1,000 to more than 1,500 students in grades K-9 at that site.

Kelly Davenport, CEO of Freire Charter School in Center City, kept her remarks brief. “We look forward to what we hope will be a partnership with the District for the good of our students and our families,” said Davenport. With 1,000 students, Freire previously announced plans to add 3,000 seats over five years.

The District and the charter community have been embroiled for years in a legal dispute over the right to enforce caps on charter schools, even if the charter had agreed to them in writing.

So far, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and state courts have consistently sided with the charter community around enrollment caps, particularly in a case involving the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter. Palmer filed suit on the issue in 2010 when the District sought to impose an enrollment cap, and the case has been ongoing since then. At issue is some $5.5 million paid by the District to the charter.

But last week the state Supreme Court said it would hear arguments on a key point of dispute: whether the District could enforce a cap that was part of a charter agreement signed before 2008. A 2008 revision of the state charter school law included a phrase that said caps were not enforceable unless agreed to in writing by both sides when a charter is authorized. That is the basis for the District's current insistence on written agreements that include enrollment caps from charters up for renewal.

The next scheduled action meeting of the School Reform Commission is June 19. This year marks the first time charters have been asked to sign a renewal agreement before the SRC votes on that renewal.

Additional reporting by Dale Mezzacappa.


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Comments (77)

Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 13, 2013 5:22 pm
This issue of enrollment caps illustrates everything that is wrong with charter schools. The issue of enrollment caps brings out the win-lose mentality and competitive juices of charter school operators hungry to enroll students at the expense of the District and students in District-run schools. Many of these charter operators have no regard for transparency or the public good. They are completely self-interested. No decent person or organization could, in good conscience, ask the District to provide his/her school with more seats when District-run schools face the very real possibility of operating next year with only a principal, teachers, a few support professionals, a few support staff, janitors, and a building engineer. Some charter school operators have a conscience and understand the need for balance and shared sacrifice. Dr. Ayesha Imani of Sankofa Freedom Academy CS and the leaders of Folk Arts and Treasures CS are examples. Unfortunately, these civic-minded charter school leaders are the minority, not the majority. I have no sympathy for KIPP. They knew that there was a chance that the District would not allow expansion. KIPP could have been proactive adjusted the number of new students they admitted in order to expand their grade configuration without having to add seats. KIPP could still complete their grade configuration if they reduced the number of new students that they admitted each year in kindergarten, fifth grade, and ninth grade. In addition, KIPP could opt to not fill the slots of any students who depart the school. By contracting enrollment and leaving empty slots empty, KIPP could add these additional grades without forcing out any students and without having to expand its number of seats. Mark Manella, Scott Gordon, Jacquelyne Kelley, and others of their ilk are so cutthroat and hateful toward the District and the PFT that they put this hatred and business mentality above doing the right thing for children and above the common good. Listen to these people. Kelly Davenport, CEO of Freire CS talks about “for the good of our students and our families." I'm thinking, WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THE OTHER STUDENTS ATTENDING TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND CHARTER SCHOOLS IN PHILADELPHIA? If Jacquelyne Kelley, CEO of Discovery CS, was bold enough to go ahead with taking out bonds for a new building, and have these bonds be financially dependent on an expansion of enrollment that was never a guarantee, then let the bonds default and the building sit empty. Then there will be 2 empty school buildings on Belmont Avenue, the former Leidy ES building and Discovery CS's new building. I'm fed up with these charter schools whose CEOs have a dog-eat-dog mentality and no respect for the common good or the democratic process. These CEOs need to go back to kindergarten and relearn how to share! EGS
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on June 13, 2013 6:32 pm
Thank you for this post. The creation of charters has led to a "dog eat dog" attitude toward schooling. As you wrote, instead of the good of all Philadelphia students, it is for the good of the individual charter or charter operator. Freire's expansion goals are absurd and KIPP has more outside funding than anyone can imagine. Again, as you wrote, it is a corporate mentality that assumes their "product" is the best and therefore they will "beat" the competition. As a teacher in a school which has another year of cuts and a parent whose one son was told football practice is off because of the "budget," I have no sympathy for the charter operators. Next year my children and my students will be denied anything resembling an education while charter CEOs (and SDP 440 higher ups) make exorbitant salaries. Charters will have extra curricular activities while we will not. Charters will have counselors but there will be none in public schools. Enough is enough.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 6:32 pm
"Mark Manella, Scott Gordon, Jacquelyne Kelley, and others of their ilk are so cutthroat and hateful toward the District and the PFT that they put this hatred and business mentality above doing the right thing for children and above the common good. Listen to these people. Kelly Davenport, CEO of Freire CS talks about “for the good of our students and our families." I'm thinking, WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THE OTHER STUDENTS ATTENDING TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND CHARTER SCHOOLS IN PHILADELPHIA" >>> egs After 31 years with the SDP somethIngI do know EGS is that no PARA talks like this. Is there something you want to tell us, because your schooling/employment story is ever evolving. TIA.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 13, 2013 7:03 pm
Anonymous, I am in a period of transition right now, having recently graduated with my master's and looking for teaching positions for the fall. After finishing student teaching, I had to find work. (I don't have a car, and that really limits where I can work.) I would have applied to sub for the SDP, but they weren't taking applications at the time. I was also still applying for/awaiting my certificate. Some districts won't accept applications for subs without a certificate; pending certification isn't good enough. I applied for numerous positions with various organizations and programs, including a paraprofessional position with the SDP, and the SDP hired me. There are several other students in my program who were working as paraprofessionals, aides, classroom assistants, and nannies while in the graduate program. Some of my classmates have continued to work in these capacities after finishing student teaching and graduating. The job market for teachers is very tight right now, especially for new graduates who have 0 years of teaching experience. I hope this answers your question. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 7:31 pm
While they laid off PARAS they hired you? Is the SDP looking for new people for the Fall?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 13, 2013 9:49 pm
Yes, they hired me because I work as a Special Education Classroom Assistant. The posting for special ed CAs has been up since at least December and has stayed there continuously since then. And yes, the SDP is still hiring special ed CAs. A small number of the openings for special ed CAs are for designated special ed CAs who work with a particular teacher/class; every low-incidence class and Emotional Support class has its own CA. These CAs work with all students in a given class. However, the District hires the large majority of special ed CAs in order to be one-to-one assistants for individual students. As I understand it, in the large majority of cases, the District provides a one-to-one as a means of settling with (satisfying) a parent(s)/guardian(s) who has sued the SDP. There has to be a good justification for a one-to-one, e.g. significant behavior problems or need for physical support. The need for a one-to-one (or TSS) is always included in the IEP (Special Considerations section). EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 9:27 pm
Some are from an outside agencies and they are paid for by healthcare (or so I was told).
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 14, 2013 4:30 pm
Anonymous, You are right. A one-to-one assistant from an outside agency is called a Therapeutic Support Staff (TSS) and health insurance pays for the TSS. A TSS may provide more intensive services than a classroom assistant, such as doing home visits for providing therapy. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 10:35 pm
I'm confused here, so it's included in the IEP, or hired for means of preventing lawsuits?
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on June 13, 2013 10:37 pm
In order for a one-to-one to be hired, it must be written into the IEP. If the need becomes apparent for safety or medical reasons, the IEP is re-written to include it. This is often done to settle issues with parents and lawyers, and to keep at-risk kids safe.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 11:39 pm
An answer by someone who actually knows and expresses it well. I follow you on Twitter. K. R
Submitted by Anon, anon, we must go anon (not verified) on June 14, 2013 6:52 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 6:48 pm
I'm in agreement but I don't even get the point of the rant. Is OP asking Charter school operators to care?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on June 14, 2013 8:45 am
EGS, you are exactly right. I have been reading these comments including the absurd criticisms of you, by of course, an anonymous poster. You, and many others who have posted below, are in Joe's class of A number 1 perceptive people of what is really going on here, and you have the courage and fortitude to keep speaking what is obvious. We need more people like you in education so please keep the faith and keep speaking up. This is all getting so farcical. It has become "The Theater of the Absurd." These people are tripping over each other in their self-serving race to capitalize off of the mess which has been created by our politicians, the SRC, and the district leadership. A few charter operators are making the SRC, Dr. Hite and Mr. Kihn look like a bunch of chumps. Very little of this is about children or the common good. It is all about the adults making money off of their backs and the turning of schools into privately run businesses at taxpayers' expense. These people are also ruining it for the "true charter schools" who went into it for the right reasons. Lawrence Jones, a good man, needs to understand that, these groups of people, who are thumbing their noses at the SRC, are not friends of the true charter schools, or the people of Philadelphia. The answer is with the General Assembly. They are the ones who enacted the Charter School Law as it now stands. They are the ones who can rewrite it to eliminate the ills and ridiculousness it has begotten. The more I study the Charter School Law and the related court decisions, the more I see how poorly thought out it really is. Or maybe, I should not say that it was poorly thought out because those who wrote it, in the creation of its avenues for abuse, may have very well intended it to lead to the destruction of public education. The good battle for true public education for all can only be won in Harrisburg and only through the electoral process of those we vote into office. Only the General Assembly can cure the ills we see unfolding before our eyes. The underfunding of public schools is purposeful and political. Right now the privatizers are controlling the republicans who control the General Assembly as well as the governor's office. As Diane Ravitch said, "The privatizers have more money than us and they are giving it to the legislators." As Tom points out, Mayor Nutter is in the privatization camp. There is no federal forum which has found that any charter school in America is a "public entity." They are not, under any legal standard of a public entity, being operated as public schools. What the Charter School Law and Act 46 has created is a Pandora's Box of ills and ridiculousnesses. It is time for honesty. It is time for all good people to stand up and say enough is enough. It is time to stop using the schoolchildren and their parents and teachers as pawns in the political and self-seerving games that people are playing every day. And it is time for the SRC to have some courage and start standing up for all of the schoolchildren of Philadelphia, their families, and their communities and put a stop to this charade. The SRC needs to govern the district honestly and morally in the best interests of our schoolchildren and the people of Philadelphia. The credibility of our leaders, at every level -- is on the line.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 3:33 pm
EGS, you are exactly right. I have been reading these comments including the absurd criticisms of you, by of course, an anonymous poster. You, and many others who have posted below, are in Joe's class of A number 1 perceptive people ." I was a reading teacher and I'll continue to read literally and between the lines. EGS and Joe aren't i remotely in the same ballpark, but it's not of much consequence.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 15, 2013 1:36 pm
Thank you, Rich. I will continue to speak up, and appreciate your encouragement. This situation is, as you say, a theatre of the absurd. There is such a double-standard occurring here. Some of these charter schools and their CEOs support strict behavior standards in their schools and denounce any kind of defiance or insubordination from their students. Yet at the same time, these same CEOs are themselves being quite defiant and insubordinate toward the District's perfectly reasonable policy this year that there be no expansion. No charter expansion = not getting their way, and the CEOs do the equivalent of what children do when they don't get her way: - Stomp their feet (Pouting to members of the media about how difficult it is to work with the District): Marc Mannella: "This is why other charter operators don't want to come to this town," said a frustrated Mannella. "The rampant instability in the Philadelphia school system," he said, "makes it borderline impossible to operate here." (KIPP backs out of deal to buy vacant Philadelphia school: - Stealing (Breaking enrollment cap contracts with the District and then asking PDE to give them money for these "extra" students): Discovery CS and Mariana Bracetti Academy CS - Trying to be slick by "sweet talking" or putting their arm around you (negotiating with the District behind closed doors): Larry Sperling and Marc Mannella If adults expect children to behave in a particular manner, the adults must model this behavior for the children. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 10:26 pm
I am curious to know the names and whereabouts of the "true charter schools"! Do they exist?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 15, 2013 1:44 pm
Two examples are: Sankofa Freedom Academy CS Folk Arts and Treasures CS
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on June 16, 2013 8:31 am
Now that is a perceptive and intellectually provocative question. Good point. That would depend on how we would mutually define "true charter school." If we define it as "serving the original purpose and intent of the charter school concept," it could be very well argued, that none of them meet that original purpose. Under that definition, the class would not be large for sure. As you obviously know, the original intent of charter schools was to create teacher and community led schools where they would be responsible for the instructional program. They were supposed to be incubators of innovation and research on teaching and learning. They were supposed to give parents and community more rights and say in schools. Not many truly fit that description. But in deference to such original leaders as Lawrence Jones, and others, who went into it for the right reasons, I do believe that I could, in good faith, argue that many charter schools have strived to meet their mission. I personally have defined "true charter school" more in the legal sense as being a single school with its own independent board of trustees specific to that individual school as legally required by the Charter School Law. I also include in that definition whether the charter school was founded pursuant to the legally required "public processes" mandated by the Charter School Law. That definition excludes all Renaissance charter schools because they neither have independent boards of trustees particular to each school that they run, nor were they created pursuant to the procedures of the Charter School Law. Universal, Mastery, Young Scholars, String Theory, KIPP are all "Charter Networks" and have become in reality Educational Management Organizations. Nowhere in the Charter School Law does it say that its "legislative intent" was to create such organizations. But that is what it has begotten. Great question my friend.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 10:55 pm
I completely understand that most charter schools are not serving students that well, some are doing a downright horrific job (and should be shut down), while others are doing a decent job. I also understand the strain that already exists on the system and the continued strain that will evolve at an exponential rate over the years if we continue to allow charter schools to expand. That said, I have no problem with charter schools like Mastery getting access to more seats for some (not all) of their higher performing schools (getting students to and through college) if they are one of the better options in the area. I honestly don't know all of the high schools in the West Philly area, but if my options were just Overbrook or Shoemaker, I think the choice is clear, and as a result, we should allow a school like Shoemaker to obtain more seats (i.e. if they requested more).
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 16, 2013 5:58 pm
"Better option, higher performing, more seats, getting to college"- I smell reformer speak here, not someone who is really interested in the Shoemaker/Overbrook area . I attended both of those schools and they were good, but left to decline and decay over the years, We never heard those expressions, you went to your neighborhood school, and were treated like students, not "seats." I find this whole privatizing/charter /choice thing appalling, and if we had paid attention, funded our public schools, and not allowed EMOs in we wouldn't be in this mess.
Submitted by get fb ads cracked (not verified) on March 25, 2014 11:18 pm
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Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on June 13, 2013 5:18 pm
What nonsense !! The hooked up charters are going to get whatever they need by hook or by crook and all thinking people know it. The real charter schools, no graft etc., could be in trouble along with the real Public Schools. Anybody who can't see the agenda at work, isn't looking. Jerry, are you looking ?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 5:59 pm
He's looking Joe, he's just not talking and there's a difference. Actually that's the ace in the hole that all Districts and charters need funds (we are not alone in this), It's just the SRC that's offered up this bare bones budget based on no funds coming in.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on June 13, 2013 6:04 pm
"No, some pigs are more equal than others," as Orwell screamed. Most of the charters are NOT even remotely going to be touched, just the real Public Schools and the few real charter schools.
Submitted by Urban teacher (not verified) on June 13, 2013 6:26 pm
Does anyone know the answer? Contractors( both union and non-union) working in the public schools are required by state law to pay their trades personnel the prevailing wage rate. When Charter schools take out bonds for a new buildings and have the schools constructed or expanded, do the contractors pay their workers the prevailing wage rates?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 5:40 am
By law, charters construction projects must pay prevailing wage. Most charter projects use union labor and have to comply with the public bidding and four prime contractor regulations.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 6:48 pm
What I'm wondering about is what "no charter expansion " for this year actually means when some schools are opening up new campuses. Uh...
Submitted by Helena (not verified) on June 13, 2013 7:46 pm
Got the PSSA scores today. Not good. Resources bare and classes are large. Work selves to bloody bones. Get to hear principal ream us out tomorrow. Don't want to give too many details for fear of retribution from principal. I'm grateful to have a job, but so tired anymore.
Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on June 14, 2013 5:50 am
Where can we find the preliminary results? Are they available online?
Submitted by Helena (not verified) on June 14, 2013 7:27 am
The parent letter are available. Your principal has the password.
Submitted by Sienna (not verified) on May 5, 2014 5:32 pm
During this time, suspected enemies of the French state (usually enemies of the Jacobins) were arrested, tried quickly (and often unfairly), and handed harsh sentences. Unfortunately, “clearing” them won’t actually remove the characters from your party. You'll find that facing the door instead of facing a wall can immediately make you feel more stress-free and productive.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 8:17 pm
My queston is- what student, PARA, or transitional person knows all these names ,who is in what positon, and who runs what school?
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on June 13, 2013 9:13 pm
It is all public information, easily available on the internet, in the Notebook and other sites if you want to do the research.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 13, 2013 9:44 pm
Thank you for pointing that out, Kristin!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 9:32 pm
It's refreshing to know a colleague who isn't plugging their ears and covering their eyes when it comes to the district's business. I commend you EGS! Hoping you find a permanent position when the dust settles.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 13, 2013 10:23 pm
I took a test to be a CA ages ago, I'm curious if the interview format has changed much.
Submitted by Former Life Skills Teacher (not verified) on June 14, 2013 6:42 am
This comment is ridiculous. When I worked as an LSS teacher my Classroom Assistant was likewise a Masters-level practitioner seeking fulltime employment as a teacher. She had earned her Masters while working as a CA and continued to work while waiting to find a teaching position. With 20+ years experience in the District (to my 3) she was far more knowledgeable about political players and the history of the District than I was. What exactly about being a CA prevents someone from knowing what he or she is talking about?
Submitted by tom-104 on June 13, 2013 11:53 pm
At the heart of this push for charters is Mayor Nutter. Last week mayors from all over the state were in Harrisburg to lobby for funding for education. Mayor Nutter took the occasion to say Philadelphia needs more funding to expand "charter seats." On the Chris Hayes show on MSNBC, when he was asked about Governor Corbett spending $400 million dollars for a new prison outside Philadelphia, Nutter ignored the question and talked about needing more charters. See Will Bunch's column for the video of Mayor Nutter on the Chris Hayes show:
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on June 13, 2013 11:04 pm
Nutter aligned himself with the charter operators long before his latest fiasco. Nutter was mayor with the Ackerman / Archie pillaging of the School District. He was reelected because his opposition was Milton Street. Nutter, under Lori Shorr, has aligned the city with the so-called "reformers" (usual suspects - Philadelphia School Partnership, Teach for America, Students First / Rhea, Walton Fd., Broad Fd., Gates, etc.) Nutter also is a product of Catholic schools - including St. Joe's Prep. So, I am not surprised. I guess you can "take the guy/gal out of private schools but can't take the private school out of the guy/gal."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 3:00 pm
Exactly! I saw the interview with Chris Hayes, Nutter was downright hostile.
Submitted by Frankie Pants (not verified) on June 14, 2013 12:53 am
How many of the "anonymous" comments here attacking EGS are from the same person? I will readily admit that I have disagreed with EGS at times, and posted my disagreements, but the general questioning of someone for merely knowing the names of big-time players in charter schools of which so many people claim to know so much about is disheartening. I truly hope the person with 31 yrs in the district is not the same person trying to understand the need for 1-to-1 aides, as that is a very simple special education fact one would learn in undergrad at this point. I understand special Ed was not a requirement many moons ago, and I was grandfathered in myself with a limited number of credits of special Ed, but to not have any idea how the 1-to-1 works (again, assuming this is the same person), is troubling.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 6:57 pm
I don't think "need" was the issue.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 10:30 am
Win-Lose, dog eat dog all the new code words for the union force, why not stop the wining. Is having a charter school become a success that disturbing? Is calling a person a scab for working at a charter school that fulfilling? I am a parent of two public school children, what bothers me is the focus should be on better educating the future leaders of the world. Let's not preach hatred but a better way to communicate with people we disagree with. As someone once said " Can't We All Just get Along ".
Submitted by tom-104 on June 14, 2013 10:12 am
Do you really think we should " just get along" with this?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 5:04 pm
Heck no! thanks for this I just posted it on Twitter
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on June 14, 2013 11:52 am
I too come from a long tradition of working to "get along" with people who may not agree with me. I will continue to endeavor to do this during these challenging times. Here is where things fall apart and here is where I cannot agree to "just stop my whining and try and get along". I cannot "just get along" with a corporation as opposed to an individual. I cannot live in a world in which the money, power, and well honed bully tactics of a corporation are assumed to be handled in the same way as the "one on one" relationships. Let's agree that individuals with diverse interests sharing a diverse planet need to seek ways to get along. When the corporate takeover of our education system has the backing of such powerful monied interests as the Broads, the Waltons, The Gates- by definition we are dealing with an uneven playing field. This is why the privatization of our public schools will ultimately fail. Or if is does happen to win, we will, by definition no longer continue to exist in a democracy. These issues are worth duking out. These issues are worth being misunderstood by those who are just entering the arena of educational "choice". For inspiration I keep this quotation in my office, "What is worth doing even if I fail?" Fighting for a free and appropriate education for all Philadelphia students is a worthy goal. I can sleep at night if I give 100% of my effort to this cause. Please try and see this in a new way today. Please try and extend your love for your own children for all our children to negate the continued deterioration of educational rights which have been hard fought and hard won in this country. Recently Tom 104 posted a link to an Anthony Cody article highlighting why teachers aren't enamored of Bill Gates. It is an excellent reference for why the resentment is just not going to disappear.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 14, 2013 12:30 pm
Your ideals are admirable. The "fuel" behind the "fire" however is not so clear. If it is corporate control we are fighting, why are we not meeting the challenge/reasoning that is being used? That is why not show that the District is offering "choice": Push to expand the seats that Masterman offers for example? Hold the reformers to their platform: If it is "high performing seats" that is the goal... first add seats to Masterman and Central. before expanding charters. If they can't do this, they are exposed for fraudulent language/reasoning.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 3:31 pm
They are fraudlent as they stand right tnow because their criteria keep changing.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 14, 2013 6:24 pm
Ms. Cheng, There are fundamental flaws to the entire notion of school choice. School choice assumes that every parent can choose the right school for his/her child. The reality is that some parents don't have a choice of schools because their child(ren) are high-needs students --- special ed students, ELLs, or have behavior problems. We have a federal law, IDEIA, which establishes the principle of Zero Reject, that public schools must educate all children with disabilities regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. School choice, as well as the models and philosophies of many charter schools, are incompatible in many ways with Zero Reject. I work with children whose parents have little or no choice about where their children go to school. Most of my students don't live in our school's catchment area, and thus, don't even have the choice of receiving a Free Appropriate Public Education at their neighborhood school. School choice is not accessible to all. EGS
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 15, 2013 12:53 pm
EGS the choice that is being used as a platform of reform is a little different. The premise is that there are children "trapped" in "underperforming" schools, and that these, their parents/caregivers, need to be given options that is choice. Yes there are all kinds of generalizations and assumptions in the definition of an "underperforming" school and the use of charters to offer a "choice". The "performance" of a school is not entirely due to the "quality" of a school, but a mix of both the management and who is enrolled. As pointed out, it appears even to be weighted more towards who is enrolled. The ability to establish behavior or academic standards for enrollment is controversial. It appears that this is "rejecting" children, but it could be seen as enabling more "appropriate" education. Would Masterman be able to offer the programs it does if children who have behavior issues were accepted?; Would these children benefit from a method of instruction that relies heavily on an ability to listen to, and trust authority? So we can easily call out the "bluff" of "high performing seats" by demanding adherence to the banner. Increase the seats of the SDP's "high performing" schools BEFORE increasing charter seats. This adheres to the solution of offering more "choice" in the defined "high performance" far more than expanding seats of unproven or borderline "performing" charters. This being said, it is wrong for those who are demonizing charters and even corporations, to do so, and not offer any solutions to the mismanagement and corruption that currently exists in the SDP. To do so only shows a selfish concern for self employment. No one can ignore when families given an alternative, choose not to enroll their children in the neighborhood school. Does this not prove that they were unhappy with their neighborhood school?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 15, 2013 8:19 pm
Ms. Cheng, If the quality of a school is weighted more toward who is enrolled, then doesn't it make sense to address the underlying issues, such as poverty, low background knowledge, and lack of parental involvement? For children being "trapped" in underperforming neighborhood schools, there are plenty of tuition-free options in Philadelphia, including charter schools, special-admit schools, and the ability to voluntarily transfer to another neighborhood school. The voluntarily transfer process doesn't receive enough publicity. At a certain point, too many choices become overwhelming: Masterman is an elite school. What works there won't work at other schools precisely because Masterman has barriers to entry. It's possible to establish universal high expectations for behavior and academics at neighborhood schools, but it takes the cooperation of all the adults in the building to be on the same page and consistently implement these expectations, as well as appropriate consequences (reinforcement and punishment) and replacement behaviors. The positive behavioral interventions and supports should make the most use of reinforcement and positive recognition. PBIS are research-based. Bringing parents on board helps, too. However, a well-functioning PBIS would take more personnel than most District schools have. There should be a dean or assistant principal who coordinates the PBIS/school-wide expectations. There needs to be some leeway in school-wide expectations in order to fit the needs of various students. For example, the staff may come up with appropriate modifications for special ed students in Emotional Support and Low Incidence programs, consistent with the IEPs of the students. There are ways to accommodate other students as well. If the administration wants a strict uniform policy, it makes sense to keep some extra uniforms in the office for kids who can only afford to have their clothes washed once per week. As for parents not choosing the neighborhood schools, I don't like to make assumptions about why it happened. It's important to keep in mind that many of the students attending charters didn't previously attend District-run schools, but private schools (mainly parochial schools). Each parent has his/her own reasons for selecting a charter. As I understand it, these reasons are often related to safety as much as if not so than academics. Instead of assuming, I would rather have there be some sort of research in which someone surveys/interviews parents about why they chose the charter school over the neighborhood school, about their experiences, about their perceptions, and so on. There are many reasons for why kids leave a school. Sometimes it's due to where a parent works; it may be easier for the parent to have their child attend a school closer to work. Perhaps a parent works at another school and wants the child to attend there. Sometimes the child lives closer to a charter school than the neighborhood public school. Sometimes, children attend the charter or traditional public school in the neighborhood where a grandparent or other caregiver resides because this caregiver watches the children before or after school. Perhaps the child has a disability and there is not an appropriate special education program at the neighborhood school. By signing an IEP, a parent may choose to allow the child to attend the appropriate special education program at a school outside of the neighborhood. However, the parent can always choose to keep sending the child to the neighborhood school even if the appropriate special ed program isn't present by insisting that the child stay at the neighborhood school. The school system in Philadelphia is rigged in favor of charter schools. Many charter schools have been allowed for years to have illegal barriers to entry, such as requiring report cards, requiring parents to re-enroll every year, requiring parents to pick up and submit the application, or requiring parents to fill out the application on-site. In addition, many charters such as KIPP and Mastery receive hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of extra outside funders such as the Gates Foundation and the PSP. Also, charter schools receive money based on the District's budget from the previous year. Thus, charter schools have a year to plan and prepare for budget cuts whereas District-run schools have three to four months to do so. I agree with your suggestion of opening more slots in District-run magnet schools rather than expanding charter school seats. I also believe that the District should put some of these magnet programs in neighborhood school buildings. I often question the very underpinnings of having special admission schools for the "elite" students. Except for the children with the most severe disabilities who attend approved private schools at public expense, special education students could not be placed in segregated schools. Masterman, Central, Girls High, and other elite schools are segregated schools for the gifted and the best students. Why are gifted students allowed to be segregated but special education students cannot be segregated? Shouldn't gifted students have to have exposure to kids who aren't as gifted as they are? Masterman and Central would never close because there is too much support for them, but I raise these points as food for thought. In terms of school improvement, common sense tells me that there has to be trust and adequate funding. If people don't trust the process, they won't trust the results. Establishing trust starts with allowing for people's voices and perspectives of all kinds to be heard. There has to be transparency and openness instead of closed-door decision-making. There should be democratic processes for electing people to School Advisory Councils and other positions of power and a site selection process for principals which includes community, parent, student, and teacher input. Adequate funding is a must. Schools cannot improve if funding for core personnel and resources is not there. Right now, there is a major deficit of trust from the public toward the District. Negotiations are happening behind closed doors with outside organizations and charter school CEOs. There are new administrators receiving six-figure salaries while the District asks for teachers to take on more responsibilities and take a pay cut. The District is appointing principals without taking input from communities. The Philadelphia Schools Partnership has a lot of clout and, through its grants, is making decisions that should be the prerogative of the SRC. And the Commonwealth is breaking its constitutional duty to provide the funding requisite for a "thorough and efficient system of public schools" in Philadelphia. A good start for finding solutions would be to build trust and provide adequate funding. EGS
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 16, 2013 9:40 am
EGS, when the SDP was adequately funded (as in Gov. Rendell), parents were choosing to leave. They did not leave overnight. Money, adequate or inadequate, is not the key to trust. How that money is used along with transparency and integrity however, is. You cite reasons other than being dissatisfied for why parents would transfer their children, but for how many families would these other reasons likely apply? The sheer number of transfers, and the fact that charters are not located strategically in all neighborhoods (see Notebook article on how they are clustered) suggests it is not for location alone. The voluntary transfer out of a neighborhood school within the SDP for elementary and middle school, is not easy nor a given. There must first be an opening in the desired receiving school. In addition the caregiver must give a substantial reason, e.g. bullying, and then also obtain the permission of both schools' principals. There are also the admission requirements of some schools, e.g. the highly desired magnet schools. Having charters has made transferring out more accessible; and it appears from looking at the waitlists of many, that this was/is a much desired option. Repeat, these were before this financial crisis, not because of it. The accusation that charters are not suffering as well from this crisis is false (search Notebook article on topic). Did we need charters to offer this "choice", or did we need to simply increase the seats of the desired SDP schools and make the Voluntary Transfer process easier/more accessible? The SDP chose the former, but in so doing contradicted their stated overall/overriding objective of increasing "high qality/performing seats", because of course they are increasing the seats of unproven or "lower performing seats" charters. (Of course I know that a great deal of Masterman's "good school" status relies on keeping their student body select - We need to stop the deception, and expand the seats. Move Masterman to a location where they can have a larger student body. This will free up seats in the highly crowded Northeast, and schools as Hill Freedman or Central. More children who can benefit, will; and there will be less need for charters.) You must look a little deeper at some of the categories of learning disabled vs gifted to understand why it may not be advantageous to segregate the former. High functioning autistic benefits from positive nondisabled peer interaction for example. The ability to function amongst their nondisabled peers is considered part of their necessary education. For those who are not learning disabled or gifted, academic learning does not seem to be connected to diversity of in-school socializing. In addition, in the SDP, the category of gifted is skewed towards "academically motivated". If you have a child that is ADD and gifted, they will not qualify for the gifted category/IEP, because they may test high on IQ or standardized exams, but are not completing their schoolwork. The SDP can't help these children (I know from my own experience with my oldest who ended up dropping out. ) I do support diversity of social exposure, but not if it means that quality of academic work will be sacrificed. It is sad this charter "witch hunt". That will not lead to any solution. Fix the broken house here before going to Harrisburg.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 16, 2013 9:48 am
Sorry, the wording, "For those who are not learning disabled or gifted," is not clear. It should say, "For those who are not learning disabled and also for those who are gifted,". The reference to gifted was not in the negative/exclusion.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 16, 2013 11:47 am
Also sorry, in reply to your first comment about addressing underlying issues listed, including poverty. This is the purpose of Title I, massive massive Federal grant. The SDP has not effectively or even properly used this at all. Good grief, an "Instructional Reform Facilitator" (for all the teachers that needed instructional reform of course) rather than take-home manipulables for qualifying bad as any corporation in my opinion.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on June 16, 2013 12:50 pm
Ms. Cheng, although you are right that there are many problems with the voluntary transfer process (EH-36), you are confusing it with the EH-36 E transfer for "extenuating circumstances". The EH-36 does NOT need a reason or the permission of the sending (or even receiving) principal. The parent simply fills out the paperwork and waits for assignment from central office. You are right that there are fewer spaces than kids, and there have been many principals who played games with the process over the years. For example, letting in highly motivated families and students using "principals prerogative" was a time-honored practice. The EH-36E is given when there is bullying, neighborhood fights, or other reasons. Frankly, many parents got really good over the years at abusing this process and the principals at the sending schools were usually quite happy to lose a student they viewed as a "problem". I think all voluntary transfers for both district and charters should use a Common Application and a Common Lottery.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 16, 2013 1:48 pm
Thank you Ms. Luebbert for this clarification. So it turns out I was handed an EH-36E and was never told there was another form. Once more, we have the issue of trust. I wonder what the chances were I would have been offered a space at a school I would have wanted for my younger son anyway. I ended up enrolling him for a year at Agora Cyber. I also support the Common Application and Lottery. This should reveal which schools parents are choosing first, whether SDP or charter.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on June 16, 2013 1:27 pm
Trust is crucial, and some principals and others have gamed the system for years!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 16, 2013 2:04 am
This is the problem with the ed establishment- the mentality that if something is not available to everyone it is "exclusionary" and should therefore not be available to anyone. It is better, more fair and just that 10 people get rubbish than that 8 get something better and 2 get rubbish. In a large urban district, this sets a lowest common denominator standard that is unacceptable for most educated parents. This is so painfully obvious- kids whose parents care and value education have an advantage. It's not your (or the districts) responsibility to create equality by neutralizing that natural advantage. It is your responsibility to try to provide a decent (which is NOT THE SAME) education to everyone. Of course, those with money always have had choice and always will. Very few people will sacrifice their kids to validate some Ed Phd's flawed theories.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 14, 2013 5:23 pm
Eileen of 'Nurse Duffey' fame? Your comments at the meeting were awesome, second to none!
Submitted by Anon, anon, we must go anon (not verified) on June 14, 2013 5:48 pm
Yes, she is the best!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 15, 2013 8:09 am
I go on this website and read comments all the time. But as a parent of two children in the City of Philadelphia the choices for schools are not very good. I have one child going into high school and we went the route of the school district. We were placed on the waiting list for two schools. So being placed on the waiting list my options were to wait for the schools to call me or go the my neighborhood school. I was not very happy. My other problem was finding a kindergarten for my youngest. My neighborhood school is Universal CS. They are ok but not my first choice. Just to hear all the hate toward the charter schools are very sad. I want to believe in the SDP but how can you have faith in a district that has so many FINANCIAL PROBLEMS. I am really considering paying a tuition because the waiting list to get into the charter schools are so crazy. Remember this is kindergarten that you are trying to get into. Wait list for every school that we applied . Very sad but this is the new way of getting your kids into schools. The options in neighborhood are not many. So my point is as a parent what would you do. You only want the best for your children. Everybody deserves an education. But if the options that you have are very slim than what. I have no problems with the charter schools. If they are willing to educate the children they have my blessing. Go Charters!!!! :)
Submitted by tom-104 on June 15, 2013 9:21 am
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 15, 2013 12:50 pm
Be encouraged that Philadelphia offers some outstanding cultural outreach resources. Much of your children's education can happen outside of school. The Free Library offers some great summer programs for example. Settlement Music School has expanded the reach of their scholarship assistance. Temple Music Prep offers a low cost Saturday morning community music program that matches their performance majors with children for one-on-one instruction. As you state, charters are not all "out for profit at the expense of the children". Some have done a far better job at spending their Title I funding where it was meant to go, to enrich the children directly. The answer I sought was to try and improve my neighborhood school directly with my own volunteer involvement. Unfortunately there were not enough like minded parents there to make my efforts successful. There needs to be a certain "critical mass" before this will work. It is a "work in progress" at many neighborhood schools, so try by all means :)
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 15, 2013 8:08 pm
Ms. Cheng, Opening more slots in charter schools and special-admit schools further decreases the possibility for forming a critical mass of parents at neighborhood schools in order to drive changes. Thus, opening more slots in the special-admit and charter schools will only further deplete the more involved parents from neighborhood schools. There will always be a need for neighborhood schools. There are too many kids whose lack of parental involvement, special education needs, and behavior problems will keep them in neighborhood schools which must accept any student. Rather than luring the engaged parents to charter and magnet schools, why not put the magnet programs in some of the neighborhood schools and help create this critical mass in the neighborhood schools? EGS
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 16, 2013 7:27 pm
If you take the populations of Masterman and Central, for example and return them to their neighborhood schools, you would not have enough students in each (neighborhood school) to be able to offer the programs now offered to them grouped as they are. Being able to study a year ahead in Math and English for example or being able to study Italian or Mandarin alongside Spanish and French. Having enough students able to play their instruments at a certain level to be able to offer Orchestra daily at the school is another example. In my neighborhood school, the Gifted offering was slim (and pathetic) and eventually went away for lack of enough students. There were a few students, but not enough. Even if those who transferred to Masterman had stayed, they were spread out over different grade levels and would not have created the necessary group size.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 16, 2013 7:09 pm
One further response: If you open more slots in special-admit schools, you will deplete the attendance at charters more than you will the attendance at neighborhood schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 16, 2013 5:03 pm
This is exactly the problem we have ,the lack of good choices, but you don't sound like you're doing any better with "go Charter" than you are with the public schools. The powers that be in this reformer endeavor don't want you to have faith in teh Philadelphia School District so they are making that choice as unattractive as possible.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 15, 2013 11:21 am
Thanks for the link! But my mind is not changed! Do you have kids that are going to schools is the SDP! If the answer is YES are you really satisfied! Just curious!!!!!!!!!
Submitted by tom-104 on June 15, 2013 11:39 am
What makes you think I find the condition of the public schools acceptable? I do not criticize or judge any parent who is looking out for their child. Each of us has our own circumstances to deal with. However, it clear that one of the purposes of charters, besides making hefty salaries for a few people and profits for corporations, is to divert parents and the general public from fighting for full, equitable funding for the public schools. This chaos and the starvation of the public schools are by political design, not an act of nature.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 15, 2013 12:53 pm
tom-104 you aren't offering any solution, only the villainization of something which is threatening the status quo. I say we push the SDP to expand the seats of their "high performing" schools, so that there are no waitlists for these, BEFORE expanding the seats of experimental charters.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 15, 2013 8:13 pm
Ms. Cheng, Tom does offer a solution --- fully fund the public schools. Also, when most children in a neighborhood attend the neighborhood school, the school serves as a true community institution. This is a city of neighborhoods and neighborhoods do matter. When more people have a stake in the outcome of the neighborhood school, more people will be inclined to work together for the common good of the school in order to benefit the interests of their own children. The whole idea of school choice encourages people to be more individualistic instead of working simultaneously for the interests of their own children and the common good. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 16, 2013 5:11 pm
BINGO EGS! very well said. Ms. Cheng you might want to revisit that statement "questioning the status quo."
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 16, 2013 7:22 pm
EGS Philly is a city of segregated neighborhoods. A neighborhood school is a segregated school here. The special admit/magnet schools here are working (and proving that District union teachers and staff are doing their jobs just fine). If we increase their seats, you will have more than just the elite who can attend. Remember the Notebook article in which there was mention of the need of a "critical mass" of involved parents in order to lift the group. In addition, you will not have as many parents transferring their kids to charters. Was this not one of the objectives, to lessen the flight to charters or even out of the City? The schools were "fully" funded and more when Rendell was governor and parents still left. The Federal Stimulous funds gave the SDP a surplus even. I would revisit your ideals when you have your own children, and have had the chance to test them against some real world experiences. Philly is not the suburbs, or a homogeneous community where I'm guessing you likely went to school.
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