Philadelphia's independent Renaissance school operators are bringing families back to struggling neighborhood public schools that they have "turned around" -- with one notable exception.
Universal Companies, the city's second-largest manager of Renaissance charter schools, is lagging behind its targets for serving students from the surrounding community at most of its schools.
As part of its Renaissance Schools turnaround initiative, the School District of Philadelphia has outsourced management of 17 struggling public schools over the past three years.
The result is a transformed educational landscape in which a patchwork of seven independent charter school management organizations has replaced the traditional school system in large sections of the city, as shown in this graphic by NewsWorks, the Notebook, and geospace analysis firm Azavea.
School closings. Private providers running public schools. Downsizing the central office while giving principals the reins to hire, budget, and set curriculum. Rapid expansion of charters.
Not too many years ago these might have been radical ideas. Now, they are commonplace, with two dozen urban districts – including New York City, Washington, New Orleans, and Los Angeles – embracing what is called the portfolio model.
Cierres de escuelas. Proveedores privados a cargo de las escuelas públicas. Recortes de personal en la oficina central mientras a los principales se les da control sobre la contratación, el presupuesto y los planes de estudio. Expansión rápida de escuelas chárter.
Portfolio management is a hot trend in school reform, and Philadelphia school leaders have embraced the concept. Nationally, Democrats, Republicans, and big foundations are on board. It’s a strategy for cities like Philadelphia that have many students in low-performing schools and want them in high-performing ones.
How is it supposed to work? For starters, shrink the size and role of the central office. Shift its focus to identifying and closing poor performing schools and finding managers who can operate better ones.
In Philadelphia, gaining admission to a charter high school sometimes involves a scramble to gather burdensome paperwork – not to mention the luck of the draw.
But obstacles or not, thousands of students pursue the charter option. Notebook data show the city’s 35 charter high schools this year expected to enroll more than 15,000 students in grades 9-12.
The School Reform Commission held one of its in-the-round monthly strategy meetings Monday evening, looking at District academic performance and Renaissance Schools. It was the first such meeting for new Superintendent William Hite, who praised the format.
The Accountability Review Council (ARC), which has tracked student performance in District and charter schools since the state takeover and creation of the SRC in 2002, reported on its findings for the year.
By Benjamin Herold and Dale Mezzacappa
for the Notebook/NewsWorks
Updated: see note below
In 2009, Strawberry Mansion High School appeared to be something of a miracle.
A neighborhood high school in a rough part of North Philadelphia, Mansion saw more than two-thirds of its students score "proficient" or above on that year's state standardized tests.
This guest commentary comes from Christine Carlson. She is a public school parent, a member of the Philadelphia School Partnership advisory committee on Great Philly Schools, and a founder of the Greater Center City Neighborhood Schools Coalition.The Notebook invites guest blog posts on current topics in Philadelphia education from its readers. Contact us at email@example.com to make a submission.
Last month, the Philadelphia School Partnership announced that it had received significant new funding, propelling it closer to its goal of raising $100 million so that it can award grants to increase the number of “high-performing seats” in Philadelphia schools.
PSP’s stated mission is to contribute to the expansion of all high-performing schools, whether private, charter, or District-run. So far, however, the only schools that have been awarded PSP grants have been private and charter schools.