Archives for category: Philadelphia

A high school student wrote this letter to Mark NAISON of the BATS, who sent it to me:

Mr Naison:

Hello, my name is Madeline Clapier. I am a senior at Constitution High School which is a school in Philadelphia that focuses on law and history. Currently, we as a school are facing massive budget cuts and our student government is attempting to rally against the cuts. We have put together seven points that we believe are necessary to the “efficient education” due to us by the state constitution. I’m reaching out to you because you have been apart of working for the restoration of schools. I would like to know how to effectively rally for the education we believe is necessary for the future of our city. So, if you have any tips on how we should go forward with our mission that would be greatly appreciated.

Our seven expectations for our city’s schools are attached.

Thank you,
Madeline Clapier

Expectations for Philadelphia Public Schools

“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” -PA Constitution

A counselor should be a reality for all Philadelphia School District students. The counselors should be around for all school days, not just once or twice a month. They are necessary for not only emotional support, but a plethora of other things including (but not limited to) college help, peer mediation, working papers, SAT/ACT waivers, and college recommendations.

We should not be dealing with class sizes where students have to share desks or bring in chairs. It should not be a daily dilemma to find a seat in any classroom. Each and every classroom should be able to fit the expected amount of students and that number should not exceed 33 students.

If a school is a college prep school then students should be able to choose SAT prep classes or other college prep classes to help prepare the student body for their future. Likewise if the school is advertised as a science, history, or art school they should be able to afford their equipment.

After school activities are something that each college looks for on any application. They teach students to critically think, work together and much more.

There is something sickening about the fact that there is not a nurse in every school. It is very clear that students are only expected to get sick on certain days. What about the other days of the week?

Electives are an essential piece of every high school experience. Students should be given the opportunity to pick and choose some things that interest them. This way students have the classes like Spanish and Art History that colleges expect them to have learned.

Most of all we believe the state of Pennsylvania and the School District of Philadelphia need to follow their social responsibility of creating a proper learning environment for Philadelphia students.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, harshly criticized one of Mayor Bloomberg’s signature initiatives, the school support networks.

“Me, if I were going to take over the school system, I would look heavily to change the networks,” Tisch said during a panel discussion hosted by the nonprofit group, PENCIL.

“I think the networks have basically failed children who are [English-language learners],” added Tisch, who is due to defend the state’s education policies at a state senate hearing Tuesday. “They have failed children who have special needs.”

Under the $90 million network system, principals choose from about 55 Department of Education or nonprofit-run support providers, which assist schools with teacher training, budgeting and more.

This is important, as the Boston Consulting Group (a management consulting firm) advised the Philadelphia School Reform Commission to replicate the Bloomberg networks,

Why BCG was impressed by the geographically dispersed networks is anyone’s guess.

Earlier today, I posted Daniel Denvir’s article about the death of a 12-year-old who was having an asthma attack. The school in Philadelphia has a nurse only two days a week, and that day there was none.

This reader comments:

“I knew that this would happen. I taught in Phila for years and am now retired. Poor children seem to have high incidences of chronic ailments. Asthma is one. These children often share their inhalers with the rest of their families as the medications for asthma are quite expensive. Their diseases are not as well managed so they go into crisis more often than children who are able to keep up with the costs of the disease. Make no mistake. People die from asthma. The reason we don’t hear about that happening very often is that for most the medical establishment can manage it quite effectively, but it is expensive.

I have two stories. In one school, the nurse, who is excellent and has vast experience as an er nurse as well, made the call to send for a child’s parent’s due to the severity of that child’s asthma. Someone who was not a nurse decided that child should not go home. Thankfully the nurse knew it was her call and she did not have to listen to anyone else, including a principal to make that kind of decision. What if the nurse wasn’t there. What would have happened to that child.

My second story is this. Phila schools were taken over by the state over a decade ago. We are all aware that among all of the other cuts, there was to be only one nurse for every 1500 kids. That meant that there were schools that did not have any nurses. The pronouncement from on high was that each principal was to appoint a teacher to be the nurse, and that if a teacher did not take that job, they were to be written up as insubordinate. Thankfully there were some principals who had the brains to understand that this was a very dangerous call. I don’t know if that rule still applies, but I know that there are still not enough nurses and am very surprised that many more children have not either died or been hospitalized due to this ignorant and callous policy.

Kids go outside and fall or hit their heads all the time. What layman knows the signs of a
traumatic head injury? How can a teacher tell if a child’s asthma warrants a visit to the emergency room? What if an adult in the school is having a stroke and the nurse is the only one to recognize the signs.(it happened).”

Governor Tom Corbett’s budget cuts may have claimed their first victim.

Daniel Denvir writes:

“Sixth-grader Laporshia Massey died from asthma complications, according to her father, who says he rushed her to the emergency room soon after she got home from school on the afternoon of Sept. 25. He says Laporshia had begun to feel ill earlier that day at Bryant Elementary School, where a nurse is on staff only two days a week. This day was not one of those days.

“Daniel Burch, Laporshia’s father, is angry and wants to know whether Philadelphia’s resource-starved school district failed to save his daughter’s life.”

Every school should have a school nurse on duty every day, but Philadelphia has a $300 million deficit. The district has been under state control for a dozen years. The State Constitution says that maintenance of education is a state responsibility but Corbett does not agree with the state constitution.

Ani McHugh, who blogs as TeacherBiz, wrote about the book after she heard me speak in Philadelphia on September 16. She was impressed that despite my age, I still spoke with “the energy and passion of a much younger woman.” She doesn’t realize that 75 is the new 55.

She brings to her review the unique perspective of Philadelphia, a city under siege, trying to maintain a semblance of education despite massive budget cuts by the state, which takes no responsibility despite the clear language of the state constitution.

Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are home to many of the misdeeds described in the book. The collapse of public education in Chester-Upland, where the governor’s biggest campaign contributor opened a thriving charter. The proliferation of virtual charters. The failure of a privatization under Paul Vallas.

Philadelphia is in extremis. The state’s willingness to preserve free public education in that city will be a test of our society a test of our commitment to equality of educational opportunity.


Jenny Shanker, the wonderful daughter of legendary labor leader Al Shanker, alerted me to a very important protest planned for Monday in Philadelphia.

The Gates Foundation and their showcase Mastery Charter, plan to meet at the Union League Club, the symbol of elitism in Philadelphia. How appropriate.

Read the link and do your part.

I wrote to Jennie and said, “We live in a mad time, where billionaires are treated as royalty, teachers are disdained, and unions are scapegoats.

This is a democracy. Do your part

This was written by Raniel Guzman, who is a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia and an adjunct professor at Esperanza College of Eastern University:

May 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014.            

An attributed Chinese proverb is often wished upon one’s enemies by asserting, may you live in interesting times… This understated “curse” levied upon one’s enemies has a restrained Buddhist sensibility even as one wishes ill toward others. Educators today are indeed living in interesting times. Students and parents are certainly living in interesting times as well. However, the curse placed upon us all is not restrained but rather overt.

The curse is well known to educators and asserts the following, may 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014. So then, who has placed this “curse” upon us all? I am certain we can think of obvious enemies. Nonetheless, I am not certain many of us are thinking about the less obvious and thus more lethal enemies. They give politically correct speeches, and radiate a fatherly presence. Their threat resides precisely in the proximity to their victims, namely us. We often develop a blind spot for such figures and hope that they will protect us from sorcerers and things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, simple examination of deeds, rather than speech, proves otherwise.

Their “curse” is characterized by dilution and diminution. Teachers, students, administrators and parents are diluted in endless paper chases disguised as tests, assessments and reports. Conversely, the edification of concepts and individual free will are systematically diminished. The combined effects may elicit the maddening image of a hamster running endlessly in a caged wheel. However, a more accurate image of these effects is more akin to desperate victims racing to the top of an inextinguishable inferno.

May 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014 is particularly stressful when father figures emphasize the deadline, by 2014. This has been the curse that has dominated the bulk of my teaching career. A curse so powerful it has decimated all attempts to render it inoperative. This “super curse” has brought forward other conjurers, who with wands in hand have temporarily waved away some provisions yet, have not been able or willing to undo this “super curse”. What would motivate someone to place such a curse?  Let’s entertain some thoughts.

Many profess that a goal as noble as ensuring that all students score proficient at the same time and place is beyond reproach. Well, it is simply reprehensible. This cynical goal suffers from a pernicious pathology, which advocates forgive as a delusion for perfection. Shamefully, these apologists hide the correct diagnosis. It is not a delusion of perfection that motivates the jinxers, but rather a pathology of exclusion. We all know the consequences of not scoring proficient and obtaining AYP, -they close your (our) school. However, 2014 can’t seem to arrive soon enough for some hexers. Hence, the rush by officials –this year-, to close as many public schools throughout our country under the convenient excuses of “austerity” and “scores” is well afoot. The unprecedented shuttering of dozens of public schools particularly in largely African American communities, as in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. etc. are justified under the rationale of budgetary challenges.

This rationale anchors itself on the operational premise of right sizing. Irrespective of the fact that we are talking about children and their development -this thinking may have legitimate administrative basis in the private sector. However, the current juxtaposition of private sector practices and public sector commitments, such as providing an adequate and free education as stipulated in the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, have dissimilar agendas and unequal strengths. Why then the rush if the “super curse” will effectively close thousands of public schools all across our country within a year? We will surely have the right size and number of schools soon enough. Could it be that the proponents’ zeal for the “super curse” is waning? Hardly.

In fact the “super curse” is going very well. The political party, pardon, -the political parties, both of them, have put away their “profound pedagogical partitions” to unite in this effort. Likewise, the industrial testing complex continues to redact tests, assessments, practice workbooks, study programs, while hiring consultants, garnering ever greater budget allocations, and accumulating data all aimed to ensure that scores comply with targets of soon to be imposed common core standards. But above all of these machinations, one supersedes them all, the president’s silence on these matters is the best indicator that all is truly going well among the jinxers and hexers. Conversely, hope for a change is sequestered. So again I ask, why the rush? Could it be that the “super curse” itself is waning? Hardly.

In fact, the jinxers are emboldened by their powers and lack of meaningful restraints, -why wait? “Let’s exclude NOW!” they demand. What we have in front of us now is a turn to Kronos, but an inverted Kronos. We have all seen the depictions of Kronos devouring his children. His filicides are motivated out of fear, a fear of competition from his children. Thus, he eats them. In our case, our Kronos is not committing filicide, but rather devouring the children of others. One can imagine a repented titan with a renewed paternal instinct and displaced fear of competition in the presence of other children asking another titan, “How do we devour the potential competitors of our children?” The other titan may respond, “Well, one way is to be proactive. For example, you offer your children greater pedagogical and assertive experiences and opportunities. In addition, you enroll your children in a school that is free of stigma, for example, one that does not administer standardized tests, say a private school or a divinity school. In other words, enroll your child in a school that does not partake in omens or curses.”

Nonetheless, there is still another way, a more reactive way, to devour your children’s potential competitors, -you close their schools and in doing so -eliminate the competition. Once shuttered, you place stigma upon the displaced children and adults. Moreover, you place a scarlet tattoo on both and you never lift the curse. The calculation is the following; the failure of some children will ensure that mine will thrive. This charter is an open collusion devoid of formalities.

I am well aware that we live in highly secular times, which are dominated by facts and figures. But for some of us who recognize the evil that lurk in men’s hearts, we cannot ignore the immutable. Those who conspire against children are devoid of judgment. Consequently, their motivations are drawn from an irredeemable well. They practice technical numerology, model apparitions, and consult conjurers. Some of them believe in curses. Others still are weary of omens. Some even fear children, often their own. I believe in God. Evil may cause great pain and destruction, but evil never prevails. Evil’s harvest never mature and eventually in its rage devours its own seed.

As it happened, Michelle Rhee and I nearly crossed paths in
Philadelphia. This
article describes our contrasting visions
for the public
schools of Philadelphia. She spoke on September 16, in a panel that
included George Parker, the former head of the Washington Teachers
Union, who now works for Rhee, and Steve Perry, ex-CNN commentator.

Governor Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from the schools in 2011, while cutting corporate taxes. He later added back a small part of the cut, but he left many districts in terrible fiscal trouble.

Philadelphia public schools have a deficit of $300 million, and
thousands of staff have been laid off, including teachers, guidance
counselors, social workers, librarians, and many others. Bear in mind that the Philadelphia public schools have been under state control for more than a decade. During that time, Superintendent Paul Vallas launched the nation’s most sweeping privatization experiment, which failed, according to independent evaluations.

According to this article (and in an op-ed published in the Philadelphia
Inquirer), Rhee saw the fiscal crisis as an opportunity to
introduce performance pay. How that would close the budget deficit
was unclear.

In my presentation at the Philadelphia Free Library, I read the language of the state
constitution, which unequivocally assigns responsibility to the
state of Pennsylvania to support a thorough and efficient education
for every child. That is not the case today. Governor Tom Corbett
expects the state-controlled School Reform Commission to squeeze
savings out of the teachers’ contracts, cutting salaries, benefits,
and laying off more teachers. That is not the way to go.

Someday the children of Philadelphia will be the voters of Pennsylvania or
some other state. They must be educated to choose their leaders
wisely. Someday these children may sit on a jury where YOU will be
judged. Just hope that they have the wisdom, knowledge, and
compassion to judge you fairly. My view: The children of
Philadelphia are as worthy of a good education as the children in
the nearby suburbs. They need small classes, experienced teachers,
arts programs, well-maintained facilities, guidance counselors,
libraries staffed by librarians, up-to-date technology. They need
what the parents in the suburbans want for their children. And they
deserve nothing less.

Michelle Rhee penned an article about how to fix the public schools of Philadelphia. She says it is time for performance pay, so that there is “a great teacher” in every classroom. She apparently is unaware that merit pay has been tried for nearly a century and has never worked, not in any district. It causes teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, gaming the system, rivalry among colleagues, and cheating. It does not improve education.

She says that there is no point in pouring more money into a “broken” system, but does she know that the public schools of Philadelphia have been under state control for a dozen years? Who “broke” the system?

Nowhere does she mention that the district is underfunded as compared to the surrounding suburbs, nor does she mention that Governor Corbett cut the budget across the state by $1 billion, which had a disproportionate impact on struggling Philadelphia.

There is no way to avoid the state’s responsibility to fund the district adequately.

If you are anywhere near Philadelphia, you will have a chance to hear Michelle Rhee on September 16, and to hear me on September 17 at the Free Library.

As you may know, Michelle Rhee is holding three “teacher town halls” in which she and Steve Perry and George Parker talk to an audience who are allowed to submit questions.

George Parker was previously the head of the D.C. teachers union; he now works for Rhee.

Steve Perry, once a commentator for CNN, runs a magnet school in Hartford. Earlier this year in Minnesota, he spoke at a public forum and called unions “roaches” and accused teachers of being responsible for the “literal death” of children.

The first was held in Los Angeles, the second in Birmingham, and the third will be held in Philadelphia on September 16. (Ironically, I will be speaking in Philadelphia on the next night at the Free Library.)

G.F. Brandenburg, retired D.C. math teacher, explains here how the “teacher town halls” work.

Philadelphia is a great place to have a genuine conversation with teachers.

The governor cut the state education budget by $1 billion.

Thousands of teachers and other school staff were laid off last spring.

Many schools are opening without guidance counselors, social workers, teachers of the arts, basic supplies.

Teachers should try to attend Rhee’s “teacher town hall” and see what solutions the panel offers.


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