Philadelphia, distinct among large urban districts for its long history of pursuing school turnarounds using outside management organizations, has been a real-world laboratory of reform experiments for more than a decade.
By studying the successes and failures of the District's recent efforts to turn around academically underachieving schools, a team of researchers wants to create a body of knowledge that all schools can use to improve.
A long, lively day of voting at Muñoz-Marín School in North Philadelphia ended with a decisive victory for the school’s current administration, with parents rejecting a proposed match with a charter provider, ASPIRA, and electing to remain under District management.
“It’s 223 for traditional public school and 70 for ASPIRA,” spokesperson Fernando Gallard announced at 7:45 Thursday night to a roar of delight from the school’s jubilant supporters and staff.
When District officials delayed the vote on the Muñoz-Marín School’s future one month ago, they hoped the extra time would allow parents to become better informed about the choice they faced.
Instead, over the last four weeks, the campaign for the North Philadelphia school has grown increasingly contentious, culminating with a complaint filed this week by charter school officials against the School Advisory Council (SAC), alleging that the SAC had undercut their efforts to reach out to parents.
The vote is scheduled for Thursday.
When Shereda Cromwell, mother of three, learned last year that her kids' school, Kenderton Elementary in North Philadelphia, would be converted to a charter, her heart sank.
As a parent of children with autism, Cromwell says she depends on predictability and routine to help her kids thrive in the classroom. Faced with the prospect of the unknown, Cromwell and other Kenderton parents stiffened in defense.
"When we heard about the change, we were kind of upset," she said.
In meetings over the last four weeks, the Philadelphia School District has been making a case for why it chose Edward Steel Elementary in Nicetown and Luis Muñoz-Marín Elementary in Fairhill for charter school conversion.
Parents at both schools were set to vote on Thursday, but Monday night, they learned that the District was going to push the election back a month at Muñoz-Marín (but not at Steel), saying that some have complained that the process was moving too quickly.
Some parents are suspicious the election is being delayed because voters would have rejected the charter. The School District and the proposed charter operator say it's about not rushing the process.
In a surprise move, District officials announced today that they will delay the vote scheduled for Thursday to determine the future of Muñoz-Marín Elementary in Kensington and are considering whether to postpone the vote at Edward T. Steel Elementary in Nicetown.
Spokesperson Raven Hill said the consideration was "due to the number of requests from parents." No new date has been set for the Muñoz-Marín vote.
Hill did not offer any details on those requests or on parents' specific concerns. She said the District can't say today exactly when it will make a final decision on the voting process or how long the delay might be.
Parents of the Edward T. Steel School face a choice: Stay with the District or become a charter?
For Lamaine Robinson, a Steel graduate and now a high school sophomore at Mastery’s Gratz campus, the answer is clear: The District shouldn’t mess with what he considers success.
by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
The stump speeches have begun, and the opinions are divided.
Parents at two North Philly elementary schools are fast approaching a vote that could forever alter the academic trajectory of their children.
Here the distrinction is not Democratic or Republican, but "District-run" or "charter."
Schools turned over to charter operators -- and to a lesser extent, District-run Promise Academies -- have shown improvements in academics and climate under the three-year-old Renaissance schools turnaround initiative, a new report has found, although big first- and second-year gains have started to slow down or reverse.
According to the study, conducted by the District's Office of Research and Evaluation, most Renaissance charters continue to have higher proficiency rates than those schools did pre-turnaround, despite the leveling-off of earlier gains.
The reported improvements occurred during a time when overall proficiency rates for District-run schools were declining after years of increases; the downslide began after strict test protocols were put in place in District schools in the wake of a statewide cheating scandal.
The School Reform Commission postponed scheduled votes on two charter schools Thursday, pulling one at the last minute for reasons related to an investigation of test cheating.
Philadelphia Electrical & Technology Charter High School was one of three city charters flagged by the state for potential cheating after analyses of test results for 2009, 2010, and 2011 showed statistical irregularities. The charter was directed by the state to conduct an investigation, which resulted in the dismissal of an assistant principal and the imposition of stricter testing protocols.
The renewal vote on PE&T was delayed, officials said, not because of problems with the school's own probe, but because the District is not yet ready to release its investigations into possible cheating at more than a dozen District-run schools.