Archives for category: Philadelphia

Lisa Haver, a retired teacher and current activist in Philadelphia, wonders why state and city leaders are so fearful of democracy. When state control of the public schools ended—capping a two-decade era of defunding and additional privatization of public assets—it was replaced by mayoral control. She argues that Philadelphia needs an elected school board.

We vote for our leaders in every election.

But not for Philadelphia’s school board.

Unlike voters in every other district in Pennsylvania, those in Philadelphia continue to be disenfranchised when choosing their local school board….

Philadelphia’s new hand-picked Board of Education was sworn in recently, immediately after City Council’s one mandated confirmation. The hearing, confirmation vote and swearing-in created nary a disturbance in the force, without coverage from any major newspaper, radio or television outlet, save the independent Public School Notebook.

In fact, little notice was paid to the nomination process itself. Although many Philadelphians believe that “local control” was restored after the abolition of the School Reform Commission, the District actually operates under mayoral control. Months ago, the mayor selected his nominating panel which, at his direction, held deliberations in closed executive session, arguably violating the state’s Sunshine Act and shutting out those with a heavy stake in the District—parents, educators, students and community members.

The Council hearing on the mayor’s choices offered one brief opportunity for the public to hear from the nominees. For some reason, though, all questions were directed to the incumbents, none to the one new candidate. Ameen Akbar was sworn in without having to explain his philosophy of education, his vision for the future of the District, or his work in the charter sector, in particular his affiliation with the Universal charter network, whose former CEO and chief financial operator were indicted in January on bribery charges, alongside one Councilmember and his wife.

Will this unelected board resist the sales pitches from purveyors of technology? Will they insist on transparency and accountability for charter schools?

Philadelphia needs an elected board.

The charter industry has lots of problems with stability. The charters open and suddenly close. Scandals and corruption are commonplace so much so that Carol Burris says there is a “crisis of corruption in the charter industry.”

Theft and fraud are predictable when non-educators, entrepreneurs and grifters get public money and can open or close their school without any accountability or oversight.

So in Philadelphia, the second-largest charter in the City is in trouble.

Philadelphia’s second-largest charter school has a large budget deficit, a CEO on leave, and some sort of problem related to the identification of special education students.

It’s the kind of financial and administrative turmoil that would draw major headlines at a large, traditional school district. But the K-12 school at the center of the tumult refuses to say much of anything — and only recently published a six-sentence letter on its website explaining that it had made a personnel change.

Despite repeated requests for comment, First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School in Bridesburg has declined to explain why or how it found itself in, what one official called, a “difficult time of transition.”

Here’s what we know.

Longtime CEO Joseph Gillespie is on a leave of absence and has been replaced, on an interim basis, by Carleene Slowik. The 1,850-student school sent a brief note to parents Wednesday explaining the change — only after WHYY contacted the school and asked for clarification about the leadership situation.
Before that note, the school would not divulge whether Gillespie was still working at First Philadelphia — or even who was in charge of the school, which is affiliated with a charter management company called American Paradigm Schools.

A lawyer representing First Philadelphia said the school had no comment on the situation. Nor would he say who was currently running the campus. Several attempts to reach Gillespie were unsuccessful.

No oversight. No accountability. No transparency.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Trump singled out a child from Philadelphia who, he said, was “trapped in a failing government school.” In fact, the child attends one of the city’s most elite charter schools. Didn’t Betsy DeVos realize she had given $1.3 million to the self-same charter school in 2019?

President Donald Trump turned a Philadelphia fourth grader into a poster child for the school-choice movement Tuesday when he told the nation that thousands of students were “trapped in failing government schools” and announced that the girl was at last getting a scholarship to attend the school of her choice.

But Janiyah Davis already attends one of the city’s most sought-after charter schools, The Inquirer has learned. In September, months before she was an honored guest at Trump’s State of the Union address, she entered Math, Science and Technology Community Charter School III.

MaST III opened in the fall in a gleaming facility on the site of the former Crown Cork & Seal headquarters in Northeast Philadelphia, part of a charter network so popular that the school received 6,500 applications for 100 seats next year. Like all charters, it’s independently run but funded by taxpayers — meaning that Janiyah and the other 900 students at the school do not pay tuition.

How she landed in the audience during Trump’s prime-time speech Tuesday remains a bit of a mystery even to Janiyah’s mother, Stephanie Davis.

In an interview Friday, Davis, a teacher’s assistant who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, said she received a call several weeks ago from the principal at Janiyah’s former school, Olney Christian School at 425 E. Roosevelt Blvd.

After attending public kindergarten, Janiyah moved to Olney Christian for first through third grades. Tuition there is $5,200 for elementary students. She received a partial scholarship, Davis said, but it was still a struggle to afford. So Janiyah transferred to MaST III after she was accepted there last summer.

So the student was NOT attending what Trump and DeVos call a “failing government school.” She attended a private Christian academy, then transferred to a highly selective charter school. But she was singled out as Trump’s example of a student “trapped in a failing government school.”  Was she trapped in a a failing public kindergarten four years ago?

WHAT LIARS!

Time to register for the best education conference ever! 

Meet your allies and leaders of the Resistance!

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Nimet Eren, principal of the public Kensington Health Sciences Academy, runs a public school for 465 students that is open to all and offers four career pathways. Recently the school learned that a new charter would open nearby offering the same program. 

The principal was told that the competition would “help” her school by providing a “model” of what her school was already doing successfully.

She writes:

During the summer of 2019, the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), a nonprofit organization that invests in educational projects across the city, met with me to discuss the goals we had for our school. We talked extensively about what we have learned from the partnerships we have created, especially in medical settings. Then, PSP asked to visit us on Sept. 25 for the morning. It was a wonderful visit, and our teachers and students were engaged in great learning, as they are every day. The day finished with an in-depth conversation about the challenges of building partnerships with settings such as hospitals and clinics.

Then, before Thanksgiving break, I received an email from PSP stating that they had “an exciting opportunity for KHSA” and that they wanted to share it with me. I was, of course, elated and scheduled a meeting with them on Dec. 2.

The news they wanted to share was that they were giving seed money to a potential charter founder to form a health sciences charter high school in North Philly. I was confused. How was this an exciting opportunity for KHSA?

It actually felt like creating unfair competition for my school for resources that are already scarce, especially because charters can manipulate admissions and enrollment policies to their benefit, and neighborhood schools cannot.

I asked PSP how this charter school would be helpful to KHSA, and they said that my school “could learn from their charter model.” I replied that we are trying to build a model for our neighborhood students and that we need support. They then explained what I believe is the real answer as to why they were not investing in us: Because KHSA is a neighborhood school and not a charter school, they cannot control enrollment for their dream school.

Although it might appear that KHSA does not want a health sciences charter school to exist just because they copied our school’s theme, that is not the reason. The reason actually is that many charter schools create the illusion that they are educating children better than neighborhood high schools. The reality is that neighborhood high schools are serving our highest-needs children and that society should be investing the most in them.

The children who come to my school each day are the most resilient, charismatic, and loving people I have ever known. Some of my students’ reading and math levels are not as high, but that’s not their fault. It is society’s fault for not better supporting the children who are most in need. PSP’s explanation of why it is not investing in a neighborhood high school perpetuates this inequity.

I testified at the school board meeting on Dec. 12 and a charter school hearing on Dec. 20. I have had countless conversations with colleagues and opponents and have thought tirelessly about the charter vs. traditional school debate. I have heard so many arguments for both sides of the story, but the idea that I find the most compelling is one shared by one of my teachers, Jenifer Felix: Parents want what’s best for their own children. Teachers want what’s best for all children.

The problem with school choice is that it creates segregation. Choice takes away limited resources from inclusive neighborhood schools and leads to even fewer resources being spent on our students who are most in need.

For the first time in 70 years, a third-Party Candidate was elected to the City Council in Philadelphia. 

Kendra Brooks of the Working Families Party just won a seat that has long been Republican.

Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks held an insurmountable lead of 10,000 votes over her nearest rival, according to unofficial election returns. The insurgent third-party candidate, who campaigned on ousting Republicans from City Hall, declared victory just after 11 p.m. on Tuesday night

With nearly 95% of votes tallied, the five Democratic nominees clinched the remaining at-large seats, with the five highest vote totals. Two of Council’s seven at-large seats are reserved for candidates from a minority political party — and it was that bottom-ticket contest that proved the most competitive on Tuesday’s ballot.

Brooks was endorsed by the “wildly popular” Helen Gym.

 

 

 

 

 

It is illegal for public schools to refuse admission to students with disabilities.

A charter school in Philadelphia admitted a six-year-old, then rejected her when the parent told the school the child had special needs.

 

An education advocacy group sued a Philadelphia charter school on Thursday, alleging it barred a 6-year-old from enrolling after learning she required services for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

The Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School in July accepted the girl for first grade this fall, according to the lawsuit brought by the Education Law Center. But when she and her mother, Georgette Hand, went to the school later that month with her documents, Veronica Joyner, the school’s founder and chief administrative officer, said she could not enroll the child because of her special needs.

Joyner told Hand the school “did not have the class or teacher to provide the services required” by the girl’s Individualized Education Plan, which specifies how schools must meet her needs, according to the lawsuit filed in Common Pleas Court Thursday. The suit seeks to have the girl immediately enrolled at the charter and awarded “compensatory education services” for the time she was excluded from the school. It also asks the court to order the school to include students with disabilities, and to contract with a provider to train staff on inclusion and diversity.

Margie Wakelin, a staff attorney for the Education Law Center, called the case “explicit” discrimination.

Charter schools say they are “public schools,” but they act like private schools.

Back in the early days of school choice advocacy, it was often claimed that school choice would “force” the public schools to compete and they would get better because of the magic of the market.

Now we know that was a selling point, and it was not true.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the civil rights group Education Law Center-PA, writes about the negative effects of “school choice” on the public schools of Philadelphia. 

The publics schools in that city have long been severely underfunded, and school choice has stripped them of both students and funding, leaving them even worse off.

Klehr writes:

A study of charter schools in Philadelphia published by the Education Law Center earlier this year is a stark reminder that many parents don’t get to choose and that ultimately it may be the school and not the parent doing the choosing. More charters and more slots haven’t cured an ailing school system.

This is not to discount the successes we know exist for students in many city charters. But Philadelphia’s 22-year history of rapid charter expansion coupled with inadequate oversight is entrenching new inequities in an already unequal landscape.

Sometimes the problem is blatant discrimination: For instance, a recurring pattern we see among families who contact us is charters telling students with disabilities, after they have been accepted, “We cannot serve you.” As public schools, charters are prohibited from discriminating against students with disabilities. And yet, we see this pattern persist.

Sometimes the obstacles to enrollment are more subtle; for example, enrollment documents may only be available in English. The results, however, are clear. The population of economically disadvantaged students is 14 percentage points lower in the traditional charter sector (56%) vs. the district sector (70%). And, the percentage of English learners in district schools (11%) is nearly three times higher than in traditional charters (4%), with nearly a third of traditional charters serving no English learners.

Few of the special education students in traditional charters are from the disability categories that typically are most expensive to serve. And, the vast majority of traditional charter schools serve student populations that are two-thirds or more of one racial group – a significantly higher degree of segregation than in district schools.

In short, the city’s traditional charter schools (excluding “Renaissance” charters charged with serving all students from a catchment area) disproportionately enroll a student population that is more advantaged than the students in district-run schools; as a sector, charters are shirking their responsibility of educating all students.

No independent observer could look at the Philadelphia schools—public, charters, and vouchers—and say that any problems have been solved by privatization.

 

 

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Marc Mannella opened the first KIPP middle school in Philadelphia in 2003.

He started with 90 students in fifth grade.

KIPP promised that students who stuck with the “no-excuses” regimen would go to college.

Avi Wolfman-Arent of WHYY in Philadelphia tracked down 33 of those students to find out what happened to them.

The former KIPPsters are now about 25.

Of the 90, 25 dropped out in the first year of middle school.

The students entered a world of incentives and punishments, of strict rules administered strictly.

It wasn’t right for everyone.

Of the 90 students who enrolled in KIPP Philly’s first middle school class, about half were boys. By the time 8th grade graduation arrived, enrollment was whittled down to 34 students — and only 11 boys remained….

Almost none of the KIPP alumni we interviewed did four years at one high school followed by four years at one college. All of them seemed to flounder or grow restless or get sidetracked somewhere along the journey up that mountain.

KIPP propelled them to high school — usually a Catholic school or a private school or a magnet school — but they didn’t stick there. KIPP’s lessons didn’t always follow them out the door…

Here’s what the numbers say.

Six years after high school graduation, 35 percent of the original KIPP Philly class had an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. At the seven-year mark, that number was 44 percent.

What does that mean?

In Philadelphia, about a quarter of students who graduate high school earn a college degree by the six-year mark. That overall Philly number would be lower if you tracked students back to eighth grade, like KIPP does.

There’s a prominent nationwide study that tracked students starting in 10th grade.

It found that eight years after high school graduation, about 14 percent of students from the lowest income quartile had a degree.

KIPP Philly students almost all came from poor neighborhoods, and the results suggest that they earned degrees at much higher rates — rates that are about the same as middle-income students.

“And that feels like we did something that was real,” said Mannella, the school’s founder.

There are serious caveats, though.

KIPP’s number doesn’t count all the kids who left over those four years. Some of those kids did graduate college. Some didn’t. It’s quite possible that the 34 who made it through KIPP were more likely to have long-term academic success for a whole host of reasons, no matter what school they attended.
Frankly this project is incomplete, too.

We talked with 24 of the 34 alum from the original class — as well as nine students who attended KIPP Philadelphia but didn’t finish. The ten graduates who chose not to talk may have very different experiences than the 24 who did

The author wonders what is the best way to evaluate KIPP. Graduation rates? College entry? College persistence? Employment?

KIPP is now the largest charter chain in the nation.

One thing we learn from this piece is that its strict discipline code helps some students, turns off others.

Its methods are not a panacea. Most kids who enter do not persist. For some, it is a lifesaver.

Perhaps the same might be said of the public schools that were closed to make way for KIPP and the public schools that accepted the KIPP dropouts and pushouts.