Archives for category: Philadelphia

EduShyster had a conversation with Ruby Anderson, a high school senior who belongs to the Philadelphia Student Union.

 

If you read this interview, you will be astonished at how knowledgeable and insightful Ruby is.

 

She explains why and how the students disrupted the SRC showing of a pro-charter, anti-union film.

 

She understands that Governor Corbett cut the education budget in the state by $1 billion.

 

She doesn’t think that teachers should have to sacrifice to make up the state’s neglect of the Philly schools.

 

She knows that the School Reform Commission’s ultimate goal is to get rid of public schools and she knows it is wrong and she knows why it is wrong.

 

Ruby thinks that Philly should have democratic control of its schools.

 

This is a wise student. If only the grown-ups on the SRC and in the Legislature were as wise as she.

Thanks to readers for sending this YouTube video of the Philadelphia Student Union at “School Reform Commission” headquarters.

 

The students chanted “Philly is a union town! The SRC has got to go! Save our schools!”

 

Watch it and feel good about the future.

 

The students disrupted the showing of the anti-union, pro-charter, anti-public school film “Won’t Back Down,” which was produced by Walden Media. Walden Media also produced “Waiting for Superman.” It is owned by Philip Anschutz, a rightwing billionaire who has many corporate interests, including the nation’s largest film chain and a fracking business. Odd that the School Reform Commission was showing that particular film, which was a total bomb when it was released commercially. The union is evil in this film, and a teacher and parent combine to use the parent trigger to convert their public school into a charter school.

The Philadelphia Student Union held a demonstration in support of their underfunded, beleaguered schools and their teachers, whose contract was summarily terminated by the SRC. According to this story, a member of the School Reform Commission–the state-appointed board that runs the schools–shouted at the students that they should be in jail, that they probably go to failing schools. Wow.

Meanwhile, the SRC screened the anti-public school, pro-charter propaganda film “Won’t Back Down” as part of Parent Appreciation Night. The film, produced by rightwing billionaire Philip Anschutz, depicts a parent and a teacher using the parent trigger to turn their public school over to a charter operator. The teachers’ union is portrayed in the film as the bad guys. Not only was Anschutz a producer of “Waiting for Superman,” he is a major player in the fracking industry, which is huge in Pennsylvania. He doesn’t like unions or public education. “Won’t Back Down” was a total bomb when it was released a few years ago. It disappeared from the nation’s screens within 30 days with the worst box office of any national film in decades. Funny that the SRC disinterred this stinker to show appreciation for parents.

According to the story:

“Things turned ugly when members of Philadelphia Student Union interrupted a film screening at the School District of Philadelphia’s headquarters with School Reform Commissioner Sylvia Simms.

“In a video posted on YouTube, Simms began shouting at students sitting-in on the screening of “Won’t Back Down,” chanting, “SOS, save our schools,” and, “Philly is a union town.” While in the video there is too much noise to make out what Simms said, students reported that the SRC commissioner told them, “you all probably go to failing schools,” and, “you belong in jail.”

How stupid and outrageous is this? How low can they go?

A rightwing think tank in Harrisburg has paid a dozen people to hand out flyers against the union in Philadelphia.

Can’t they find anyone who actually agrees with them instead of paying people?

The School Reform Commission of Philadelphia, controlled by the state, recently canceled the teachers’ contract to extract savings from the teachers’ benefits to plug a huge budget gap created by Governor Corbett’s $1 billion in cuts to education in the state. Corbett apparently hopes to privatize as many public schools as possible during his tenure. He likes to blame teachers for budget crises instead of his budget cuts. He is up for re-election in a few weeks. He should lose. He is a disaster for public education.

For Immediate Release
October 15, 2014

Contact:
Kate Childs Graham
202-615-2424
kchilds@aft.org
http://www.aft.org

American Federation of Teachers Launches Political Ad Buy on Philly School Crisis

WASHINGTON— The American Federation of Teachers Committee on Political Education has launched an ad buy that tells the true story of the teachers’ contract in Philadelphia. The six-figure radio ad buy—which features Philadelphia educators Steve Flemming and Sharnae Wilson—started airing in the Philadelphia media market Oct. 14.

“You have to wonder why Gov. Corbett’s School Reform Commission is more determined to misrepresent contract negotiations as a pretext for imposing concessions than to work with the teachers and support staff in Philadelphia who have been the glue holding schools together,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Gov. Corbett has been blaming and attacking them for months on end. Now, weeks before he is up for re-election, his School Reform Commission pulls this stunt. It’s unacceptable and voters won’t stand for it.”

“Something doesn’t add up,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan. “We put $24 million in healthcare savings and $10 million in wage freezes on the table 14 months ago. The School Reform Commission refused the money and then stopped negotiating altogether in July. If they were serious about helping kids, they would work with us, not try to break us.”

Ad script

Steve: My name is Steve and I teach third grade. I absolutely love teaching.

Sharnae: My name is Sharnae. My passion has always been teaching.

Steve: The budget cuts are having a huge impact.

Sharnae: There are too many students in the classroom. We have to buy our own supplies.

Narrator: From old textbooks to outdated equipment to overcrowded classrooms, our Philadelphia teachers are up against many challenges … and yet they keep going.

Steve: We teach our hearts out every single day.

Sharnae: Hoping things will get better.

Narrator: Gov. Corbett cut $1 billion from Pennsylvania’s schools. Fourteen months ago, Philadelphia teachers put millions in healthcare savings on the table. But Gov. Corbett’s School Reform Commission refused to accept their offer. And now? The School Reform Commission is trying to pull the plug on our teachers’ contract. Choosing to spend money in the courtroom instead of the classroom.

Sharnae: The students are suffering.

Steve: Something must change.

Narrator: Send a message to Gov. Corbett and the SRC. Tell them to stand with our kids, our schools and our teachers. Vote Nov. 4.

Paid for by American Federation of Teachers Committee on Political Education. The American Federation of Teachers is responsible for the content of this ad.

Click here to listen to the ad.

###

Philadelphia has been under state control since 1998, imposed in the midst of a financial crisis. A School Reform Commission was created to govern the schools. The city schools have been in financial crisis ever since, with the state providing little financial support. Under the current administration of Governor Tom Corbett, the Philadelphia public schools have been stripped to the bone, lacking essential resources. Corbett has slashed the state budget for education while lowering corporate taxes and refusing to tax the corporations that are hydrofracking across the state.

At one point, the state-appointed superintendent was Paul Vallas, who launched an experiment in privatization. The district’s public schools outperformed the privately run schools. Currently, the business and civic leaders of the city have advocated for more charters, even though several of the city’s charters have been investigated for financial misdeeds. They seem sure that privatization is the cure, despite the absence of evidence for their belief.

The School Reform Commission, trying to close the deficit created by Governor Corbett, canceled the teachers’ contract unilaterally. This follows on thousands of layoffs. The SRC will increase teachers’ payments to their health care and phase out benefits for retirees. Salaries will not be cut. State and city officials defended the action, saying it would save money and help balance the budget. It is not clear whether the SRC has the legal authority to cancel the contract unilaterally.

It is not bad enough that Governor Tom Corbett and the Pennsylvania legislature are starving the Philadelphia public schools of basic necessities. Here comes the charter lobby to launch an expensive media campaign to persuade parents to pull their kids out of the public schools and put them into charters.

Politico reports:

“SCHOOL CHOICE HITS THE AIRWAVES: Proponents of school choice have launched a major PR blitz in Philadelphia. For the next four weeks, they’ll saturate both morning TV and the evening news, on all four major channels, with 30-second spots featuring parents talking about why their kids are thriving in charter schools. Similar messages will pop up on Twitter and in web ads, and organizers are considering adding radio, too. The goal: Prod civic leaders and school officials to open up the system by making it easier for students to transfer among district-run schools – and, above all, by authorizing more privately-run charters. The campaign is organized by Choice Media, a nonprofit news service that focuses heavily on school choice. Executive director Bob Bowdon won’t name his funders; he told Morning Education that he wants to keep the focus on parents and students, not the money behind the (decidedly pricey) campaign. Watch the ads:http://bit.ly/1s9H2rw and http://bit.ly/1pkXhKG”

Bob Bowdon is a choice zealot. in 2009, he produced a movie called “The Cartel,” mostly about public education in New Jersey. He portrayed the teachers’ union as akin to a mafia-type organization and the public schools as rife with corruption. His solution: vouchers and charters. He surely won’t mention the 18 Philadelphia charter schools that were the subject of federal investigation for financial mis dealing.

In an interview with “The Notebook,” civil rights attorney Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia explains why previous litigation failed and what should happen now to assure that all children get a “thorough and efficient system of public education,” as the law requires.

Here is a small part of a very informative exchange:

Q.: What other legislative or policy fixes could help settle the District’s long-term finances?

A. There are lots. The charter funding formula is absolutely crazy, one of the worst in the country.

But that’s small potatoes compared to our single biggest problem – the state puts in too small a share of funding. Pennsylvania appropriates about 35 percent of the cost of public education. Pennsylvania needs to get up to about 50 percent of the cost of education.

And while they’re figuring that out, they need to calculate real costs – like the cost of educating kids in poverty. When you do that, you’ll take care of the problems. Everything else is just cosmetic – moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic, as people like to say.

We do actually have a commission to look into a new funding formula that’ll start this summer. But we know the solutions. It’s not a mystery. What’s lacking is political will.

Q.: What about the city? Is it contributing enough?

A. Philadelphia used to be near the bottom of local contributions. Now we’re contributing above the median of the rest of the state. This is clearly now a state problem, not a Philadelphia problem.

Q.: Last time we had a funding formula, it didn’t last. Is there any way to compel legislators to use whatever they create?

A.: Most other states have found that the judiciary will step in and say that the constitution [which in Pennsylvania requires a “a thorough and efficient system of public education”] has to be upheld.

In the 1990s, Pennsylvania’s judiciary decided they would not step in. They had some reasons why, but many of those have changed.

For example, we don’t have local control at the level we used to. The state now sets graduation standards. The state sets testing standards. The state tells districts how they have to spend money.

Therefore, there are much stronger grounds for judicial intervention to make sure that the state is providing adequate funding. That’s my thought on the matter. We’ll have to see whether the judiciary agrees.

And here is another exchange:

Q.: Let’s go back to charter finances. What are some policy changes that could stabilize the whole system?

A.: There’s a whole range of numbers that need to be looked at so that there’s some relationship to cost.

For example, charters have been paid for special education at a rate that’s completely phony, year after year. Chester gets paid $36,000 per special-ed student. But most of them are getting “language and occupational therapy” once a week. That’s a minimal expense.

The cyber charters, which are the fastest-growing section of the charter movement, don’t have any of the same costs as brick-and-mortar charters, but they get the same money. The state hasn’t been able to fix that one, even though the auditor general has been writing reports about it for six years. It’s a complete waste of valuable resources.

And then, there needs to be a complete new set of transparency rules, so we know what charters are spending and accomplishing, and we don’t have the kind of waste and fraud we’ve seen.

Q.: What’s your plan to influence the governor’s race this fall?

A.: I believe that by the fall, we’ll be engaged in the kind of litigation like we talked about, to lay out the facts as to why 50 percent of the schools in Pennsylvania do not meet the standards the state has set for itself.

That’s a massive failure, and it’s closely related to underfunding – which has been known since 2007, when the state issued a report about real costs. We’ll bring that to the attention of the courts and the public.

Q.: The counter-argument is that we need to reduce costs, not spend more. Why shouldn’t Philadelphia be thinking about strategically increasing charter enrollment? Would that drive costs down?

A.: There’s no evidence that that really does, or that it’s sustainable over any length of time. That strategy relies on churn — lots of young teachers who turn over constantly. That is the enemy of a slow-and-steady progress model.

In Chester, for example, they have the largest charter population of any district in the state [by percentage], but they’re no further ahead than other students. But it does cost a great deal more, and a lot of that money is being funneled off into private payrolls.

I think everybody’s been surprised at some of the good things we’ve seen in charters that can be used in regular schools.

But we need to find ways that we adapt those, rather than create so much change that it sets back progress. We don’t want a two-tiered system. We don’t want public schools to be only for those who can’t figure out how to get out of them. What happens inevitably as you privatize is, things become stratified. To me, that would be far too high a price to pay.

Meredith Broussard, a professor of data journalism at Temple University, was helping her son with his homework, and she made a discovery: he could not find “the right answer” to homework questions unless they were in the textbook. But on further investigation, she learned that the public schools of Philadelphia don’t have a textbook budget. So not only do students not have access to the answers that will be on the test, they don’t have a chance to succeed.

In an article that she wrote for “The Atlantic,” she concluded that after $1 billion in state budget cuts, the Philadelphia public schools had a budget of $0 for textbooks. These students don’t have a chance.

In 2013, the National Council on Teacher Quality offered its advice on how to fix Philadelphia’s financially beleaguered public schools. Retired teacher Lisa Haver reviewed its counsel to the city. Haver is a founder of the grass-roots advocacy organization Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.

In this article, Haver wrote:

“”Thank heavens,” you’re thinking. The district is so broke it’s looking for loose change in the corner of desk drawers; thousands of students and teachers whose schools will close forever in June don’t know where they’ll be in September; parents wonder whether their children will have access to a nurse or counselor, or remember what a school librarian is; Harrisburg says don’t call us – we’ll call you.

“What does the Council [NCTQ] recommend that the district do to solve these problems? Crack down on teachers who get too many sick days, don’t deserve collective-bargaining rights, are too hard to fire and waste time getting advanced degrees in their field.”

This is the same organization that recently “rated” the nation’s teacher preparation programs without going to the trouble of visiting the campuses.

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