Archives for category: Philadelphia

The state-operated school district of Philadelphia bluntly admitted it could not afford to provide a sound basic education to the children of the district. It sought court approval for continuing to short-change the children of Philadelphia.

The Education Law Center reports:

“In March, Philadelphia’s state-operated school district filed an extraordinary legal complaint with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The lawsuit asks the Court to approve changes in school staffing levels and the way teachers are transferred and laid off, effectively nullifying portions of a collective bargaining agreement between the Philadelphia School District and the teachers union.

“Much attention has focused on the district’s request for changes in teacher staffing and work rules. But unnoticed is the district’s stark admission of the deplorable conditions that Philadelphia’s school children must endure after 17 years of direct state control over their education.

“In the court filing, the district says it wants to ease lay-off and transfer rules caused by an “unprecedented gap” between available funding and what’s needed just to maintain services at “prior year” levels. The district then describes the services it hopes to maintain, levels so palpably inadequate as to fall far below even minimum education standards.

“The complaint details the sub-basic education programs and support services now in district-operated schools. The district describes teacher and support staff as “bare bones,” at levels “20 percent smaller than the year before and 33 percent than just three years ago.” The district concedes it has made “very steep” layoffs, a one-third reduction in employees in just three years, leaving schools with “barely adequate” staffing.

“The district goes on to catalogue a parade of resource deficits plaguing the system: over 40 schools with no guidance counselor of its own; three-fourths of schools with no librarian assistant; and “significant cuts” to instructional materials and supplies, enrichment opportunities for students, extracurricular activities, administrative support and school cleaning services. And, of course, as parents of Philadelphia children know all too well: closing 24 neighborhood public schools.

“The complaint also acknowledges the “short supply” of school nurses, a fact familiar to Philadelphians in light of the deaths of two young students in schools lacking a full-time nurse in recent months.

“Even more remarkable, the district pinpoints the state’s $300 million aid cut in 2011-12 as being at the “root” of these serious deficiencies. And the district presents no evidence that the relief it asks for — making teacher layoffs and transfers easier — will generate any real budgetary savings. The district doesn’t offer the Court a plan for bringing teacher and support staff back to reasonable levels, reducing class size, providing interventions to struggling students, and keeping neighborhood schools open, safe and clean.

“The district’s filing is the legal equivalent of asking the Supreme Court for permission to rearrange deck chairs on a fast-sinking ship.”

In this article, veteran journalist Dale Mezzacappa reviews the tumult in Philadelphia and interviews people who have known the issues for 20 years or more. Given the high poverty in the district and the state’s neglect, not much has changed for the better.

Mezzacappa says there are more choices than ever. But the district is in terrible trouble:

“The state took over the District’s governance. Charter schools proliferated. Dozens of neighborhood schools were closed, including such landmarks as the 99-year-old Germantown High.

“Despite the state takeover, the District’s financial condition has only become more desperate.

“State and federal pressure to intervene in schools with consistently subpar performance mounted; standardized testing became the major driver of school rankings. “

“All these changes have happened within larger shifts – demographic, political, social, and economic. Philadelphia has become the country’s most impoverished big city, with 13 percent of residents – an astonishing 200,000 people – living in deep poverty, or on less than $9,700 for a household of three.”

“As income and wealth inequality have worsened, the dividing lines in this region by race and income are starker than ever. Philadelphia school enrollment is mostly Black and Hispanic and low-income, while the surrounding districts are mostly White and middle- or high-income. Spending gaps between wealthier and poorer districts have never been bigger. Philadelphia schools struggle harder to overcome the effects of concentrated poverty – all while the District’s funding base has crumbled.”

Now charters and district schools compete for limited funds. Schools are stripped to bare essentials.

Read what the veterans say.

Lots of reform. Not much progress.

The Notebook is a reliable source for honest, balanced journalism in Philadelphia. If you are in the area, please celebrate its 20th anniversary, as well as its tribute to local high school journalists.

Please reserve your spot for the Notebook’s annual Turning the Page for Change celebration on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, from 4:30 – 7 p.m. at the University of The Arts, Hamilton Hall, 320 S. Broad Street. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary as well as honoring top local high school journalists.

Admissions are $75 per person. Those who are 25 and under may attend for $25. Membership on the host committee, which includes two event admissions, begins at $300. Those who are Notebook members at the Associate level or higher ($75 or more) may attend for $50.

To purchase an admission, please click here.

If you are unable to attend, would you please consider making a donation to the Notebook in honor of our achievements?

Event honorary committee (members of the original Notebook Working Group and Advisory Board): Colleen Davis, Cindy Farlino, Kathy Fleming, Helen Gym, Myrtle L. Naylor, Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, Len Rieser, Wilfredo Rojas, Chip Smith, Paul Socolar, Debbie Wei, Mary Yee.

Your organization or company may become a sponsor of the celebration for a donation of $600 or more. Please review our sponsorship package and contact Tim Cravens at for more information.

Parents at the Luis Munoz Marin public school in Philadelphia voted overwhelmingly to oppose a charter takeover of their school.

“After a bitterly fought battle, parents at Luis Muñoz Marín Elementary have voted to keep their school a part of the Philadelphia public school system, rejecting a charter organization’s takeover proposal.

“According to results announced Thursday night by Philadelphia School District officials, 223 parents wanted Muñoz Marín to remain a traditional public school and 70 voted for ASPIRA of Pennsylvania to take control.

“In a separate vote, 11 members of the school’s advisory council wanted to remain with the district. None voted for ASPIRA.

“Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has the final say on the fate of the struggling North Third Street school, which has 700 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. A decision is expected soon.”

This is the second Philadelphia school where parents rejected a charter takeover. “Steel, an elementary school with 540 students in Nicetown, faced possible conversion by Mastery Charter Schools, but its parents overwhelmingly said they did not want that affiliation. Hite approved the parents’ choice.”


When people write Pennsyvania Governor Tom Corbett to complain about the devastating effects of his budget cuts on the children of Philadelphia, he responds by blaming the teachers’ union for not accepting even deeper cuts. A few days ago, a first-grader died; there was no school nurse on duty. Her position had been cut from five days a week to one day a week plus another occasional day. This was the second child to die in a school where Corbett’s budget cuts had eliminated the full-time nurse. Corbett blames the teachers.

Governor Corbett accepts no responsibilty. His response to critics betrays a guilty heart, or a man without one.

This teacher, Steven Singer, describes what happened when he wrote a letter to Governor Corbett.

“Wow! I am flabbergasted by PA Gov. Tom Corbett’s reaction to the second Philadelphia student dying at school without a nurse on duty! As many of you did, I wrote him a letter asking him to please increase funding so tragedies like this are not repeated. He must be getting some heat because this is the first time he’s ever actually answered any of my correspondences.

“His answer was basically: (1) how dare the Philadelphia Teachers Union intrude on the family’s suffering to make a political point and (2) if only the teachers union would take concessions and work for less money, the state would have enough to pay for nurses!

“The deaths of these two students are direct consequences of Corbett’s education policies! He slashed education funding by close to $1 billion every year for the last 3 years! This resulted in 20,000 teachers being laid off, class sizes skyrocketing, the elimination of art, music and extra curricular activities – and, yes, school nurses! If this is not the time to address the issue of his malfeasance, when is!? Once people have time to forget? He did nothing after the first student died. Hadn’t the time come yet to address that issue before the second one died!? Will there be time to address the issue before another child dies? Would rushing to judgement after three years be too uncouth!?

“And then he blames teachers for asking to be treated fairly! Sure if we all just accepted sweat shop conditions, think of the money the state could lavish on our schools – to Pearson and Common Core!

“We had very low voter turnout during the primary that put Democratic candidate Tom Wolf as Corbett’s November challenger for governor. If people don’t show up to kick this bum out of office, we will all deserve what we get! Correction: we’ll deserve it, but the kids who mostly aren’t old enough to vote, will continue to be the innocent victims of this poisonous political hack!

“Here is Corbett’s letter:

“Putting the safety and educational needs of our students first must continue to be our top priority. There is an appropriate time and place to call for education policy discussions. Right now, our thoughts should be with the child’s family, friends, school and community who have all been through an extremely traumatic situation.

I am deeply troubled that the union leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers – and by extension the American Federation of Teachers – would use the recent tragedy at Jackson Elementary as an opportunity to make a political statement. For more than a year, we all have asked the union leadership – who are disconnected from the great teachers in Philadelphia who are in the classroom every day – to come to the table and engage in meaningful negotiations to assist in the financial recovery of the Philadelphia School District.

The Commonwealth, the School District, the School Reform Commission and City Council are all working to contribute to the success of Philadelphia’s schools and students. I will continue to ask the union leadership to put the children of Philadelphia first and engage in a meaningful dialogue and a shared vision for the future of the children of Philadelphia.

Tom Corbett”

A first-grade student died in a Philadelphia school whose nurse was not on duty because of budget cuts.

The child was given CPR and sent by ambulance to a hospital, where he died.

In a story by Daniel Denvir, nurse Amy Smigiel said:

“There is no net for the staff or the children,” she says. “There’s no requirement to have any kind of medical team. It’s my job as the nurse to make sure there’s an emergency plan, and basically it is 911…The equipment isn’t there, nothing is there for them.”

“Smigiel works at Jackson only on Thursdays and every other Friday. Until five years ago, Smigiel says that she was present at Jackson every single day. Smigiel says that she has worked at Jackson for 12 years, and worked for 15 years prior in an emergency room…..

“Philadelphia public schools have long lacked necessary funding, but recent cuts by Gov. Tom Corbett have sent the District into an increasingly dire fiscal crises. As of last fall, there were 179 nurses working in public, private and parochial schools, down from 289 in 2011. In September, sixth-grader Laporshia Massey died of what her father described as an asthma attack after falling sick while no nurse was on duty at Bryant Elementary School. The death caused an outcry against school budget cuts, and Corbett soon released $45 million for the District that had been withheld on the condition of teachers union concessions. Corbett denied that the funding was related to Massey’s death.”

How many more children will die before the Governor and the Legislature are held accountable? Who will press criminal charges against those who endanger the lives of children? Isn’t that what accountability is all about? The officials with the power to safeguard the lives of these children abandoned them. Surely the preservation of lives is more important than test scores and budget savings.

Authorities are closing in on educators who cheated on tests in Philadelphia. But columnists Will Bunch predicts they will never touch the real culprits, the people who designed the system of high-stakes testing. He favors punishing those who cheated, and he agrees tat cheating should never be tolerated.

But the true malefactors of test cheating will walk away scot-free:

“Let’s be clear: While their higher-ups placed these teachers and principal between a rock and hard place — commanded to improve test scores in schools that are starved of resources, in poverty-stricken neighborhoods where kids cope with hunger and crime just to make it to class — the appropriate response was not cheating…it never is. Some punishment should be meted out, although from what’s happened to so-called justice in America it’s pretty safe to assume the punishment — certainly the proposed punishment, anyway — will greatly exceed the actual crimes.

“What’s worse, it’s guaranteed that the real moral offenders will get off scot-free, since the biggest crime here is the system, the whole rotten-to-core standardized testing racket in this country. I’m talking about the pompous education commissioners (and the governors who appoint them) who think it’s a great idea to replace days and days that could be dedicated to actual learning with the mindless rote memorization of “teaching to the test,” the politicians who refuse to acknowledge a connection between well-prepared urban students and the anti-poverty programs they are decimating, the charlatans making millions of dollars off the testing racket, and the school administrators who pressured teachers to cheat and who then touted the results knowing full well that many of them were bogus.

“Jail for them? Are you kidding? Their punishment will be high-priced consulting gigs and foundation posts. Is this a great country or what?”

If you created a jail for the test pushers, you would have to open cells for some of the biggest names in Congress, as well as high-level officials in the Bush and Obama administrations.


Helen Gym sent the following report. The parents at Steel Elementary School voted to remain a public school, despite an aggressive campaign to turn the school over to a charter chain. But the school’s advisory council voted 9-8 to hand the school over to privatization. The final decision will be made by the city’s School Reform Commission.

“Happy news for Monday morning!

“On May 1, 176 parents at Steel Elementary School – the last public school in Nicetown – voted on whether to remain a District public school or be turned over to the city’s largest charter operator, Mastery Charter Network. More than 70 percent of parents – 121 vs. 55 – voted to keep the school public. Mastery Charter Network did not even muster one-third of the popular parent vote, despite an aggressive year-long effort to claim Steel for itself. A botched School Advisory Council vote resulted in a split 9-8 vote in favor of the charter. At least two grievances have been filed against this vote. The School Reform Commission will make a final determination on the school May 29.

“Parents statements are below. A video about Steel is also below that:″

Philadelphia has experienced a long string of charter school failures.

Here is another one, in trouble both financially and academically.

Yet The business and civic leadership, egged on by the Boston Consulting Group, wants to close more public schools and open more charter schools.

Haven’t they figured out that deregulation and lack of supervision are not strategies for education reform, but opportunities for malfeasance?

A report released by Representative James R. Roebuck, chair of the House Education Committee, found that one of every six charters in the state is “high-performing.

None of the state’s cyber charters is high-performing.

Pennsylvania has 162 brick-and-mortar charters, with 86 in Philadelphia. It has 14 cyber charters.

Representative Roebuck recommended that public schools might learn from the practices of the state’s 28 high-performing charters.

Public schools outperform charter schools. Cyber charters perform worst of all schools. Charter schools, with a few exceptions, do not improve their performance over time. The report says:


“In terms of school performance, in 2013 the state changed how it measures academic performance of schools from Adequate Yearly progress to a School Performance Score on the new School Performance Profiles. Although the measures have changed on average, charter schools, particularly cyber charter schools, still perform academically worse than other traditional public schools. For 2012-2013, based on a scale of 100, the average SPP score for traditional public schools was 77.1, for charter schools 66.4 and for cyber charter schools 46.8. None of the 14 cyber charter schools had SPP scores over 70, considered the minimal level of academic success and 8 cyber charter schools had SPP scores below 50.

These results mirror results in both the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school year where traditional public schools performed better than charter schools and significantly better than cyber charter schools in terms of achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the federal school performance standard established under the federal No Child Left Behind law. AYP is determined by student academic performance on state reading and math assessments (PSSAs).

For 2010-11, while 94% of school districts met AYP, 75% of public schools met AYP. In contrast, only 61% of charter schools met AYP and only two of the 12 cyber charter schools met AYP.

The percentage of students performing at grade level in Math and Reading in order for a school to achieve AYP increased from 67% of students in Math in 2010-2011 to 78% in 2011-2012 and increased from 72% in Reading in 2010-2011 to 81% in 2011-2012. This resulted in reducing the percentage of all public schools achieving AYP in 2011-12 with larger declines for charter and cyber charter schools.

For 2011-12, while 61% of school districts met AYP, 50% of public schools met AYP. In stark contrast, only 29% of charter schools met AYP and none of the 12 cyber charter schools met AYP.

Performance of Charter Schools Based on How Long They Have Existed

In looking at the performance of just brick-and-mortar charter schools, their results do not significantly improve the longer that a charter school has been open. Fifty percent of brick-and-mortar charter schools have now been open for ten years or more. Unfortunately, for 2012-2013, a majority, 51%, of the charter school open 10 years or more have SPP scores below 70. While this is better than those charter schools opened within the last 3 years, where 85% have SPP scores below 70, these results are not encouraging and it raises concerns about renewing many charters with poor performance over so many years.

Charter schools in the Philadelphia school district do slightly better that charter schools located outside Philadelphia the longer that they have been opened, with 52% of charters open 10 years or more in Philadelphia having SPP scores above 70. In contrast, none of the 10 Philadelphia charters open 3 years or less has an SPP score above 70.

For cyber charter schools, no cyber school, no matter how long they have been open has an SPP score above 70.


The report recommends that the state’s 28 high-performing charters might serve as a model. It says:

“Twenty-eight of the 163 charter schools had SPP scores of 80 or above. When examining the characteristics of these high performing charter schools there are certain common characteristics amongst the 28 charter schools. What is most common is that they offer innovative education programs with most of them focused on a specific approach to education instruction or a specific academic area of instructional focus. Three offer the Montessori approach to instruction, many offer longer school days and more days of schools and many offer more individualized education programs. These charter schools also tend to be smaller with less than 1,000 students in part because more of them are elementary schools. Only seven out of the 28 had enrollments more than 1,000 students and only two of the 28 schools serve only a high school population, though there are five charter schools that serve K-12 grades.

“These charter schools also serve significantly fewer special education students than traditional students. Only two of these 28 high performing charter schools have a special education student population greater than the 15% average of traditional public schools. Further, as noted in the 2013 Special Education Funding Commission report, charter school enroll significantly less special education students with severe disabilities than traditional public schools.”

Half of the 28 high-performing charter schools enroll 10% or fewer students with disabilities.

Two interesting findings emerge from this report. One, it echoes the 2009 CREDO report that found that only one of every six charters was high-performing. Two, it echoed previous studies that found that cyber charters get abysmal academic results. It also found that a significant number of students in cyber charters were previously home schooling, meaning that money is siphoned out of the districts’ budgets to pay the sponsors of the cyber charter for their low-quality services to homeschooled students.

Representative Roebuck recommends that the state’s schools can learn from the examples of the 28 high-performing charters. One lesson: accept small numbers of students with disabilities (nothing is said about the nature of disabilities, as many charters do not accept those children with the most challenging disabilities). Given the large proportion of low-performing charter schools, it would have seemed apt to recommend that the charter sector might learn from high-performing public schools. One lesson from high-performing public schools: it is better to have 100% of your teachers certified, not 75%.


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