Archives for category: Philadelphia

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%.

I previously commended Helen Gym for her activism as a parent advocate for public education in Philadelphia.

She is on the honor roll as a hero and an exemplar. And, boy, Philadelphia needs her now!

Philadelphia is Ground Zero for the fake reform movement.

The fake reformers are well on their way to obliterating public education in that great American city and proud of it.

With all the wealth and power concentrated in that city and state, the power brokers and financiers have decided to extinguish public education.

One person standing in their way is Helen Gym.

Read about what she has done these past few weeks.

She gave a TED talk (and look at that slide over her head: $26,000 per child in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, vs. $14,000 in Philadelphia).

She was named one of the most powerful people in Philadelphia.

She was selected by the White House as a “champion of change.” (Ha! fighting the Obama administration’s rightwing education policies.)

She helped other parents fight the parent trigger.

She joined me at AERA and chastised the nation’s education researchers for abandoning cities like Philadelphia.

Helen Gym is a hero and an inspiration for us all!


Some districts, thinking that they have latched on to new thinking, have adopted the idea of a portfolio model.

This means that they pretend that their community’s public schools are akin to a stock portfolio. They keep the winners and “dump the losers.”

This is truly a dumb idea. It turns out that the “loser” schools are the ones serving the children with the highest needs, who get the lowest test scores.


Closing their school doesn’t help anyone learn to read, doesn’t help immigrants learn English, doesn’t help children with disabilities.


But some exceptionally thoughtless district leaders have adopted this as the newest, most indispensable fad.


As it happens, there was a discussion at AERA about the portfolio model


One of the panelists explained what it was, and another–who has the ear of the district’s power brokers–endorsed the idea of “dumping the loser schools.” 


Mark Gleason, CEO of the Philadelphia Partnership Schools, said  it was time to dump the “loser schools.”


And that is what his organization advocates. It has said nothing about the massive budget cuts that the Philadelphia schools have absorbed.


It has been silent about the systematic stripping of the public schools by Governor Corbett and the legislature. It has thrown its weight behind the idea of charter schools and stripping teachers of due process. Then policies of the PSP are no different from those of the extremist rightwing ALEC.


“You keep dumping the losers and over time you create a higher bar for what we expect of our schools,” Gleason said Friday while speaking on a panel at the American Educational Research Association conference, which has been held in Philadelphia over the last week.


Last year, Philadelphia closed 24 schools in the wake of massive state budget cuts and the rapid expansion of charter schools.
Parents United for Public Education leader Helen Gym said that Gleason held “extremist” views on public education.


“Mark Gleason is not an educator, and I think that’s one thing that should be pretty clear. He has been a relentless promoter of questionable reform models that have really wreaked havoc in other places. And he has unprecedented access to the Mayor’s Office of Education, to the School District, to push his agenda,” she told City Paper.


PSP, which issues large grants to schools that it wants to see expanded and lobbies policymakers, has become a lightning rod for criticism by public-education advocates since its 2010 founding. The group backs the expansion of charter schools and frequently opposes the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. It has quickly become a major force in city education politics, thanks to millions of dollars of funding from The William Penn Foundation. Controversially, PSP’s board includes conservative figures Janine Yass, the wife of voucher-advocate and investment-fund manager Jeffrey Yass, and Republican powerbroker Chris Bravacos.


Someday, our policymakers will look at ideas like portfolio districts and review the havoc they have created. They are hurting children. They are destroying communities. They should stop calling themselves “reformers.” They are destroyers of the lives of children, families, and communities. Mark Gleason, I mean you. Have you no shame?



Helen Gym, one of our heroes of public education, will be honored by the White House as a “champion of change.”

“Gym has been named a Chesar Chavez Champion of Change – one of 10 community leaders nationally who have “committed themselves to improving the lives of others in their communities and across the country,” people who “represent the values and steadfast determination of Cesar Chavez to organize ourselves for a more just tomorrow.”

Gym and the other Champions will participate in a discussion about how to expand opportunities for all Americans, according to a White House news release.”

We have no doubt that Helen will tell President Obama about how Race to the Top, high-stakes testing, budget cuts, and privatization are hurting children and destroying public education in Philadelphia.

Helen and I will be on a panel at AERA on April 3.


The Philadelphia public school district is being aggressively starved of resources by Governor Corbett and the Legislature, and its Broad-trained superintendent now proposes to shrink the district still farther to save money. He is offering parents a choice of converting to charter status or remaining in the district, where they cannot count on having a library, a school nurse, reasonable class sizes, the arts, basic supplies, or anything else. Thousands of teachers, school aides, nurses, social workers, and nurses have been laid off. This is reform-by-attrition. Last fall, a 12-year-old child died of an asthma attack in her public school in Philadelphia because there was no school nurse on duty that day, due to Corbett’s budget cuts.

Before Superintendent William Hite offers to turn more students over to charters, he should conduct an investigation of the charters and their records. Philadelphia was the first city to try a massive experiment in privatization in the early part of this century, an experiment that failed because the district schools outperformed the privately managed ones. Nearly a score of Philadelphia charters have been investigated by federal authorities for various kinds of misdeeds. What is their record? Who do they accept? Who do they refuse?

This is another sorry chapter in the ongoing privatization of American public education. A superintendent selected by an unelected board–a board appointed by the state–turning over more schools to private management.

There was much buzz on the Internet yesterday because Governor Tom Corbett announced his intention to visit a public school in Philadelphia! Imagine that!

But today, after hearing that protestors might show up, he canceled the visit and retreated to the local Chamber of Commerce.
He boldly announced that he never runs away from anything as he ran away.

Jake Blumgart reports:

““I don’t run from anything,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said on Friday, after running away from a planned event at Central High School in North Philadelphia. Speaking at a press conference several miles to the south, held at the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s headquarters in The Bellevue, a swanky Center City office building, Corbett insisted, “I make decisions head on, but I was not going to be a distraction to the school day or the school students.” The students may well have been distracted by the fact that they had waited for a speaker who cancelled at the last minute.

“Education has dogged Corbett since the early days of his administration, when he proposed a $1.2 billion cut to public school funding in his first budget. A crippling reduction exceeding $865 million made it through the legislature, with the poorest school districts bearing the brunt thanks to the elimination of a mechanism that provided more money for schools with greater needs. (As the Education Law Center put it, “the cuts have been up to 10 times larger in poor districts on a per-student basis.”) Now, in a difficult election year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that his budget address early next month will contain between $100 million and $200 million in restored education dollars, funded by pension reforms.

“Friday’s event at Central could have been another aspect of Corbett’s attempt to improve his image on public education. At the planned presentation ceremony, he would have given the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Academics to three high schools: Central, Masterman, and George Washington Carver. This comes during a school year where the Philadelphia School District faced a budgetary gap of more than $300 million, forcing deep cuts. Now many schools are forced to share nurses, counselors and other essential support staff. Funding for most extracurricular activities has been zeroed out, while arts, music and physical education have been decimated.”

Parents might understandably be unhappy with Corbett since his budget cuts have stripped the Philly schools of basic staff and resources. Last fall, a 12-year-old student died of an asthma attack because her school lost funding for a full-time nurse.

Corbett’s poll numbers are very low, giving one hope that voters across the state want a change.

Did you hear about the budget crisis that stripped Philadelphia’s public schools of teachers, nurses, librarians, supplies, and many other things? Did you read that the school district has a budget deficit of $300 million and that Governor Corbett wants teachers to take salary cuts and layoffs to save over $100 million? Did you read about the 12-year-old child who died because she had an asthma attack on a day when the school did not have a nurse?

Surely, the city of Philadelphia must be in dire straits if it can no longer pay for public education?

Think again. Read this eye-popping account of the great financial success of Philadelphia’s corporate sector. Read about the salaries of Philadelphia’s university presidents (in one case, $2.1 million–job well done!). Read about how Philadelphia’s elite is thriving but unwilling to pay for decent schools for the city’s children.

Here is one corporation that is very successful indeed:

Higher education in Philadelphia is doing very well indeed even if the city’s teachers and public schools are not:

2013, however, wasn’t a bad year for all educators in the city – just for those who choose to work with society’s poorest and most vulnerable members. While the School District demands that we public school teachers take a 13% pay-cut, make 13% contributions to our healthcare, and forego all cost-of-living adjustment until 2017, other educational institutions in the city such as the University of Pennsylvania gave their professors and administrators exorbitant raises. PENN’s President, for example, was given a whopping 43% raise in 2013 and now earns nearly $2.1 million… God forbid these educators who sacrifice themselves in order to mold the privileged future Wall Street gluttons of Wharton should not be properly compensated. 

The chairman of Penn’s board of trustees is David Cohen, vice president of Comcast. He is a key player in the negotiations over the future of the Philadelphia school district:

David Cohen, by the way, is also the same person who recommended that Philadelphia public school teachers make the aforementioned 13% concessions in order to help solve the District’s budget issues while he brokered a deal with Harrisburg. I suppose that, unlike PENN, he doesn’t think we have the best public school teachers in Philadelphia — nor should their salary “reflect that reality.” What qualifies Cohen to make recommendations about Philadelphia’s public schools? Well, apart from giving Gutmann a 43% raise and demanding teachers take a 13% paycut, here’s what else he accomplished in 2013:
  1. As Vice President of Comcast, he cashed in an annual salary of $16.2 million (Pulling in that kind of money, I’m sure he’s a public school parent with vested interest.)
  2. He held a $32,400 a plate dinner fundraising event for the Democratic Party at his Mt. Airy mansion. President Obama was in attendance as well, and why wouldn’t he be? Cohen helped raise over $500,000 for Obama’s re-election campaign back in 2012.
  3. He held a Republican fundraising event at that same Mt. Airy home to help kick-off Governor Corbett’s re-election campaign. Who cares about political ideology when you have the money to pay off both sides?

With so much money and power at the top, who is protecting the interests of the children of Philadelphia? Don’t they deserve to be in schools with libraries and librarians, with experienced teachers, with social workers, with guidance counselors to help them prepare college applications, with teachers of the arts and foreign languages, with reasonable class sizes?


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