Ted Kirsch, now the head of the statewide teachers’ federation, AFT Pennsylvania, sits at his desk surrounded by a wall of pictures spanning his four decades as a teacher unionist.
The former longtime president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers points with pride to a youthful, slimmer version of himself with Martin Luther King Jr. and talks of past struggles and victories.
“Of course they’re public records,” said Kayne Deissroth, board secretary of the Philadelphia Electrical and Technology (PE&T) Charter High School in Center City, ushering a Notebook reporter back into her office and pulling a slender manila folder filled with documents out of a file cabinet.
A day earlier, a set of similar documents was emailed to the Notebook by the KIPP Philadelphia Charter School, marked “Right-to-Know request granted.”
When Irene Bowie’s grandson attended New Media Technology Charter School, he did not come home with textbooks.
That’s not something she anticipated, having chosen charters for their academic excellence. So Bowie shelled out $200 a week for tutoring. Then in December, her grandson came home and said that his teacher had left. A security guard was now teaching the class.
In the wake of reports of questionable financial practices in more than a dozen Philadelphia charter schools, state legislators are considering how or whether to overhaul the 13-year-old charter school law to strengthen oversight, tighten accountability, and increase transparency.
The Rendell administration and some legislative leaders disagree over how broad any reform should go – whether to stick to measures designed to prevent financial abuses or wade into deeper waters as to how charter schools are authorized, funded, and renewed.
While providing educational options to students, Philadelphia’s charter schools have also been the subject of what is probably the most concentrated set of investigations of financial mismanagement, conflict of interest, fraud, and other irregularities involving such schools in one city. Here are some of the major stories from recent years:
Ericka Morris, better known to her 4th-graders as Teacher Ericka, knows how to engage her students. On this day at Independence Charter School, they stand in clusters outside the U formed by their desks.
When the charters burst onto the scene in Pennsylvania in 1997, the promise was not just to create a handful of good, new schools.
By giving charter founders freedom from excessive regulation, we were told, untapped entrepreneurial energies and innovative models would flourish. Communities would create more responsive educational institutions. Market forces would be unleashed and competition would force bureaucratic schools to change. Eventually bad charters and failing District schools would shut down.
In 13 short years, the charter school movement in Philadelphia has grown from nothing to a network with 67 schools and more than 36,000 students, financed by $400 million in taxpayer dollars.
Counted together, they would be the second largest school district in Pennsylvania.
But today, the work of many dedicated educators who eagerly seized the opportunity to create successful learning communities has been nearly overshadowed by revelations about profiteering, excessive CEO salaries, mismanagement, and nepotism at several charters.
To the editors:
One year ago, in a meeting with the principal of a Philadelphia K-8 school, a group of alumni heard that getting into one of the District’s special admissions high schools fundamentally shapes a student’s educational outcomes. But with the publication of Research for Action’s recent study of the freshman year transition, we now know that high school choice is an illusion.
Philadelphia’s high school admissions process is complex, stratified, inequitable, and further destabilizes already struggling neighborhood high schools, according to a series of reports released this winter by Research for Action.
The District could take some immediate action that would improve the situation: speeding up the admissions timeline for selective schools, making the process more informative for families, and improving record-keeping so that neighborhood high schools can plan better for their incoming class, the reports said.