In response to the flurry of articles and social media messages I received regarding my defense of cursive writing in our schools, I, as vice chair of City Council’s Committee on Education, feel compelled to respond and share my reasons for caring so deeply about this issue.
Far from it being a “bizarre fixation on irrelevant minutiae,” as one Philadelphia magazine article described it, cursive is central to the ability to write, and it has broad influence over many other parts of our children’s learning. That we have discarded the teaching of cursive writing without a public discussion is akin to discovering that we no longer find multiplication and division necessary in mathematics; we will not apologize for finding this discovery alarming.
I've removed my family pictures from the wall and taken home my nameplate. As much as I've loved my job, it is clearly time for me to go. As I head into retirement, I thought I’d take a page from David Letterman's playbook. I present to you my own "Top 10 Things Necessary for School Nursing to Work," based upon my 25 years as a nurse in the School District of Philadelphia.
A superintendent like former boots-on-the-ground leader, fellow Philadelphian, and educator par excellence Dr. Constance Clayton, who was driven by the needs of children rather than by data. Data, as you know, can prove whatever you want it to prove.
In education, there are two stories. One story is told through numbers, often painting a picture of schools as under-resourced. Then there is the story told through personal experience, where students, parents, teachers, and other educators share anecdotes about the challenges of ensuring a quality education for all.
In many cases, particularly in urban schools like Julia de Burgos Elementary School, a K-8 school in North Philadelphia, these accounts are contradictory. Educators know it, and at times they appear to be the only ones who truly understand the real stories behind some of the city’s schools.
Every spring, parents of 4th graders anxiously wonder whether their child will be accepted into Masterman or GAMP or another of the city’s seven special admission middle schools and programs. What follows when the letters finally arrive are either triumphant smiles or downcast eyes.
Then begins the exodus, as neighborhood schools across the city are stripped of their top students.
The primary election was, among other things, a referendum on what kinds of schools Philadelphians want and how they think they should be governed.
Taken together with polling data, the election results show that the forces for corporate education reform, headquartered locally in the Philadelphia School Partnership, are losing the fight for hearts and minds, despite a seemingly limitless amount of money, a well-oiled public relations machine, and many friends in high places, including the media.
The PSSA booklets have been batched and packed. The No. 2 pencils are back in their boxes. The sheets of paper covering every inch of bulletin board have been removed. Everyone is breathing a little better now that schools are no longer paying homage to The Test.
Watching the annual ritual, I was struck by mind-boggling incredulity. Many schools even held extraordinary rallies designed to spur Test Warriors on to success. How could anyone believe that bravado, cheers, and songs about overcoming adversity would somehow make up for years of meager funding, skeletal staffing, and few instructional materials?
When an increasing number of parents in school districts as different as Philadelphia and Lower Merion opt their children out of standardized testing, it's clearly time for state and federal education agencies to rethink whether testing, as it has been practiced, drives better instruction or undermines fundamental educational values.
Unlike many who are philosophically opposed to standardized testing, I believe that we need objective measures beyond grades from teachers to assess student growth. I also believe that the punitive use of standardized testing results has led to the crippling of creativity in the classroom, the elimination of art and music and sports and recess, the departure of good teachers from the profession, the discouragement of talented young people from entering the profession, and the temptation to cheat.
It’s time to end the charter vs. District school schism in Philadelphia. The horse is out of the barn. The deal is done. Get over it.
If Philadelphia’s public schools are going to get adequate funding, there needs to be a “united front” of charter and District leadership marching arm in arm to City Hall and Harrisburg. Supporting one or the other should not be a litmus test for mayoral or City Council candidates. Division won’t bring victory in Harrisburg.
Since I came to South Philadelphia in 2008, the demographics of my neighborhood have changed constantly. I see American neighbors move out because of the increase in property prices. Then I see new immigrant refugees move in with the support of a resettlement agency that pays their rent for a few months. After that time, they move out because they need to stand on their own, and they need to look for cheaper rent.
My newest neighbors are refugees from Burma, like me, and refugees from Nepal who have the same refugee experiences as us. We also have neighbors who are Chinese American, African American, Latino, and White.
Once again the School District is moving ahead with a school closure plan that excludes the community and fails to look at other options.
This time it’s Kensington Urban Education Academy, which the District wants to close and merge with Kensington International Business, citing low enrollment and poor academic performance. Both high schools are housed in the old Kensington High School building.