Teaching reading is rocket science! And Philadelphia’s citywide campaign to get all 4th graders reading at grade level, READ! by 4th, is committed to delivering that "rocket science" preparation for our city’s teachers. The campaign is working in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia to meet this major challenge.
This past summer, with support from the William Penn and Lenfest Foundations, the District embarked on a three-year effort to ensure that all K-3 teachers have access to the highest-quality professional development and instructional materials – the knowledge and materials needed to help students become proficient readers and writers. More than 500 teachers and principals participated in a weeklong literacy institute designed to support them in implementing evidence-based literacy instruction. Teacher feedback was strongly positive.
Pope Francis has spent much of his time in the United States talking about injustice. Injustice, in all its forms, touches a place in my soul and forces me to act or write, even when others choose to ignore something that is so big, as the prophet Habakkuk said, “a runner can see it” while speeding by.
Everyone has an opinion about Le Bok Fin — calling it everything from a form of symbolic violence to "Philly’s hottest new rooftop bar." This once-successful vocational school turned beer garden has become a source of disagreement and rage across our city, but we need to let it go and concentrate on the real problems facing Philadelphia public schools.
Yes, the images strewn across social media are not only insensitive and pretentious, but also deeply disheartening to educators, parents, and students who are fighting each day to resurrect a school system that has suffered severe disinvestment and societal neglect.
On Sept. 16, the drama surrounding education funding will take center stage as the Philadelphia Theatre Company, The Wilma Theater, and Arden Theatre Company will partner to stage a reading of School Play, a theater piece about Pennsylvania’s education crisis that was commissioned by Public Citizens for Children & Youth (PCCY).
The evidence is clear: When we fail to provide access to arts and culture for Philadelphia students, we put them at a severe disadvantage not just now, but also in a ripple effect that will continue the rest of their lives. That is the story that School Play tells.
Editor's note: Marsha Pincus retired several years ago after more than three decades of teaching in Philadelphia public schools. She wrote this as an entry on her blog, "On Her Own Terms," and it has resonated with teachers since. Almost everything bad that can happen to a teacher has happened to her, and yet she always dug deeper to tap into the common humanity she shared with her students, and, for that matter, with the higher-ups who were trying to hold difficult schools together. It is important reading in an era when good teaching is defined and judged mostly as helping students do well on tests. It is so much more complex than that. As the new school year approaches, we are reprinting it here, with the writer's permission.
Buried beneath the test scores, the rosters, the class lists, the attendance statistics, the roll sheets, the interim reports, the report cards, the serious incident testimonies, the counseling referrals, the truant officer’s legal briefs, the probation officer’s assessments, the lesson plans, the behavioral objectives and the specific learning outcomes, Bloom’s taxonomy of critical thinking skills, "directed reading activity," and the five-step writing process, the think-pair-share activity, the split-page notetaking method, the SATs, the APs, the PSSAs, the benchmark tests, and the core curriculum -- real people are gasping for breath.
Jasmine was one of my favorites.
She was one of the shortest, scrawniest children in our 2nd-grade classroom. Maybe 45 pounds with her coat on. Her tattered backpack seemed as big as she was. Somehow the tiniest children can hold the most energy, the most emotion, and somehow they manage to get the most compassion from me.
When you peek in our classroom, you may see Jasmine stealthily surveying the classroom for the child most likely to respond the most spiritedly when she gives them the finger, or when she gives them a freshly sharpened pencil in the side of the head perfectly thrown from 20 feet away.
I thought my first year at a "teacher-powered" school would be the perfect dream. After 10 years of teaching in fairly traditional settings, I was butting heads with my principal, chafing against school policies that didn’t seem right for my students or me, and itching for a new challenge. After several years of advocating for teacher leadership, I imagined myself gliding right into place at a school collectively led by teachers.
My first year has definitely been transforming, but it has also been a little unsettling. I’ve learned that a school powered by teachers is radically different from most schools. My school, the Workshop School in Philadelphia, was founded by teachers, and their vision for teaching and learning emphasizes relationships instead of content, projects instead of classes, and real-world problems instead of standard curriculum. Putting teachers in control doesn’t just change staff meetings: It changes everything.
School funding has played a central role in the state budget impasse and has shaped arguments from both sides of the aisle. For his part, Gov. Wolf has proposed adding $400 million to basic education spending to restore cuts enacted since 2010. But in exchange for greater state contributions to districts, some legislators and education organizations are calling for increased measures of school accountability, including the creation of an "accountability school district."
According to PennCAN founding executive director Jonathan Cetel, “The path forward seems as obvious as it is important: Combine more money for schools with more accountability.”
Reforms like accountability school districts have been gaining momentum across the country, with Tennessee, Louisiana, and Massachusetts often cited as examples. But before considering increased accountability, it is important to stress why funding should be the primary focus for state lawmakers.
During their primary campaigns, Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell Clarke both said community schools were part of their vision for improving public schooling. Their frequent allusions to this school model suggest that community schools will gain more attention as the November election nears and might even become a key part of Clarke’s and presumptive Mayor Kenney's education agenda in 2016.
For Kenney, "community schools" are educational facilities that house schools but also offer things like medical care, social services, and community educational resources. They create a single point of contact that can keep students from missing school for things like doctor’s appointments and can reach families where they are.
Pennsylvania’s education workforce has declined by more than 20,000 as a result of inadequate state funding and rising state mandates. A recent budget survey found that more than 40 percent of the state's school districts plan further staff reductions in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Rather than attack the core issue -- that the state has one of the nation’s most inadequate and chaotic school funding systems -- some Harrisburg legislators are fixated on a further hollowing-out of our public schools.
Sponsored by State Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), House Bill 805, which passed the State House on a mainly party-line vote on Tuesday, would scrap longstanding policy that requires school districts to base furlough decisions on reverse order of teacher seniority. Instead, districts would be compelled to make personnel decisions based on teachers' most recent performance evaluations.