Archives for category: Philadelphia

This is a powerful, deeply moving article by Kristina Riga about the loss of black teachers in the school districts that have embraced “reform.” It appears in Mother Jones, where Rizga has been a staff writer for many years.

Rizga focuses on the story of one teacher, Darlene Lomax. But the story she tells is about the widespread shedding of black teachers, women and men who were the backbones of their communities. In Philadelphia, almost 20% of black teachers are gone; in New Orleans, 62%; in Chicago, 40%; in Cleveland, 34%. School closings have been concentrated in historically black communities. Black teachers have been disproportionately displaced by “reform.”

She begins:

One spring morning this year, Darlene Lomax was driving to her father’s house in northwest Philadelphia. She took a right onto Germantown Avenue, one of the city’s oldest streets, and pulled up to Germantown High School, a stately brick-and-stone building. Empty whiskey bottles and candy cartons were piled around the benches in the school’s front yard. Posters of the mascot, a green and white bear, had browned and curled. In what was once the teachers’ parking lot, spindly weeds shot up through the concrete. Across the street, above the front door of the also-shuttered Robert Fulton Elementary School, a banner read, “Welcome, President Barack Obama, October 10, 2010.”

It had been almost three years since the Philadelphia school district closed Germantown High, and 35 years since Lomax was a student there. But the sight of the dead building, stretching over an entire city block, still pained her. She looked at her old classroom windows, tinted in greasy brown dust, and thought about Dr. Grabert, the philosophy teacher who pushed her to think critically and consider becoming the first in her family to go to college. She thought of Ms. Stoeckle, the English teacher, whose red-pen corrections and encouraging comments convinced her to enroll in a program for gifted students. Lomax remembers the predominantly black school—she had only one white and one Asian American classmate—as a rigorous place, with college preparatory honors courses and arts and sports programs. Ten years after taking Ms. Stoeckle’s class, Lomax had dropped by Germantown High to tell her that she was planning to become a teacher herself.

A historic Georgian Revival building, Germantown High opened its doors in 1915 as a vocational training ground for the industrial era, with the children of blue-collar European immigrants populating its classrooms. In the late 1950s, the district added a wing to provide capacity for the growing population of a rapidly integrating neighborhood.

By 1972, Lomax’s father, a factory worker, had saved up enough to move his family of eight from a two-bedroom apartment in one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia into a four-bedroom brick house in Germantown. Each month, Darlene and her younger sister would walk 15 blocks to the mortgage company’s gray stucco building, climb up to the second floor, and press a big envelope with money orders into the receptionist’s hand. The new house had a dining room and a living room, sparkling glass doorknobs, French doors that opened into a large sunroom, an herb garden, and a backyard with soft grass and big trees. Darlene and her father planted tomatoes and made salads with the sweet, juicy fruit every Friday, all summer long.

To the Lomax children, the fenceless backyard was ripe for exploration, and it funneled them right to the yards of their neighbors. One yard belonged to two sisters who worked as special-education teachers—the first black people Darlene had met who had college degrees. As Lomax got to know these sisters, she began to think that perhaps her philosophy teacher was right: She, too, could go to college and someday buy a house of her own with glass doorknobs and a garden. She graduated from Rosemont College in 1985, and after a stint as a social worker, she enrolled at Temple University and got her teaching credential.

On February 19, 2013, Lomax was in the weekly faculty leadership meeting at Fairhill Elementary, a 126-year-old school in a historic Puerto Rican neighborhood of Philadelphia where she served as principal. A counselor was giving his report, but Lomax couldn’t hear what he said. She just stared at her computer screen, frozen, as she read a letter from the school superintendent. She read it again and again to make sure she understood what it said.

Then, slowly, she turned to Robert Harris, Fairhill’s special-education teacher for 20 years, and his wife, the counselor and gym teacher. “They are closing our school,” she said quietly. They all broke down weeping. Then they walked to the front of the building in silence and unlocked the doors to open the school for the day.

Five miles away, as Germantown High School prepared for its 100th anniversary, its principal was digesting the same letter. In all, 24 Philadelphia schools would be closed that year. These days, when Lomax visits her father in the house with the glass doorknobs, she drives by four shuttered school buildings, each with a “Property Available for Sale” sign.

Back when Lomax was a student in Philadelphia in the 1970s, local, state, and federal governments poured extra resources into these racially isolated schools—grand, elegant buildings that might look like palaces or city halls—to compensate for a long history of segregation. And they invested in the staff inside those schools, pushing to expand the teaching workforce and bring in more black and Latino teachers with roots in the community. Teaching was an essential path into the middle class, especially for African American women; it was also a nexus of organizing. During the civil rights movement, black educators were leaders in fighting for increased opportunity, including more equitable school funding and a greater voice for communities in running schools and districts.

Dora Taylor, parent activist in Seattle, describes that city’s battle to prevent the mayor from taking control of the public schools. She notes that the reason for mayoral control is to avoid the messy business of democracy, where parents and ordinary citizens get the opportunity to influence decisions about their schools and their children. Mayoral control and the establishment of state or local “emergency managers” are flimsy but powerful means of eliminating democracy and allowing politicians and elites to exert total control of decisions. Mayoral control and emergency managers clear the way for school closings and privatization. Parents don’t like school closings, but under mayoral control, schools are easily closed and replaced by charter schools.

Philadelphia, under the autocratic School Reform Commission, is constantly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and collapse, as the SRC closes schools, fires teachers, cuts costs, and opens charters. Its attempt to void the union contract was recently tossed out by the state supreme court. Philadelphia’s public schools have been stripped bare, while its charters are thriving (except the ones led by people who have been indicted).

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made history in an invidious way by closing 50 public schools in one day, claiming they were under enrolled, at the same time that he continued to open new charter schools.

One of the worst examples of the autocratic seizure of control occurred in Michigan under Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. She led the way to the establishment of an emergency financial manager for Detroit, under whose watch the district’s deficit tripled and charter schools proliferated. Detroit is now a worst case scenario, where there is plenty of choice, but none of them are good choices. The recent New York Times article about Detroit schools was titled, “A Sea of Charter Schools in Detroit Leaves Students Adrift.”

Dora Taylor writes in The Progressive:

The most egregious example of a politician’s undemocratic control of public schools can be seen in the state of Michigan with the decision by former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to hire Emergency Financial Managers. The emergency managers have the power to take control of a city’s government, reduce pay, outsource work, reorganize departments and modify employee contracts. Emergency managers can also deem school districts “failing,” close public schools and convert them into charter schools.

The first appointed emergency manager, Robert Bobb, took over the Detroit Public School system in 2009. The County Circuit Court in 2011 found this takeover illegal but soon after, emergency managers were appointed in mostly minority communities around the state, including the city of Flint. In several of these towns, such as Highland Park, Michigan the public schools were closed and taken over by charter operators.

Darnell Earley, the unelected manager of Flint, presided over the devastating decision to switch the city’s water supply to the Detroit River resulting in lead poisoning of residents throughout the city. After the water disaster, Mr. Earley was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to become the CEO of Detroit Public Schools.

Now the Emergency Managers are being named CEOs, as in Chicago, and given tremendous powers. These CEOs can:

Assume the financial and academic authority over multiple schools;

Assume the role of the locally elected school board for those schools they have been assigned;

Control school funds without the consent of the locally elected board;

Permanently close a school without the consent of the locally elected board;

Sell closed school buildings without the consent of the locally elected board; and

Convert schools into charter schools without the consent of the locally elected board.

The people have no voice or control over how their children are educated or by whom. The same holds true for mayoral control. That’s why, in Seattle, people are fighting back.

This is the kind of nondemocratic governance that organizations like ALEC love. Governor Rick Snyder loved it too, since it gave him control of so many districts. The emergency manager gambit blew up in his face when his own appointee, Darnell Early, was responsible for the decision to switch the water in Flint from a safe source to one that was not safe.

All of this matters because the fight for democracy is being waged in state after state. Georgia, for example, will decide in November, whether to allow a state commission to open charter schools against the wishes of the local community.

Let’s hope that former Governor Granholm recognizes that her decision to allow the appointment of emergency financial managers was a disaster. She is a member of Hillary Clinton’s transition team.

In a major victory for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the state Supreme Court ruled that the city’s School Reform Commision may not unilaterally cancel the teachers’ contract, as it sought to do in 2014.

“This is a total and complete repudiation of the position taken by the SRC when it surreptitiously met on Oct. 6, 2014, and passed a resolution to cancel the terms and conditions of the PFT contract,” said PFT president Jerry Jordan. “It means that the SRC has to honor the contract, and it’s my hope the SRC will return to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract with the PFT.”

“At that meeting, when the District said it was facing a funding shortfall of $71 million the following year despite closing dozens of schools and eliminating thousands of jobs, the commission announced that it was restructuring teachers’ health benefits to save $44 million. Commissioners said they would use the money to restore counselors, teacher aides, language classes and other services that had been drastically cut back.”

Joseph Batory, former superintendent of public schools in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, says it is time to abolish the School Reform Commission that has governed Philadelphia’s public schools since 2001. It has presided over the destruction of public education. Having failed, it is time to replace it with an elected board. At least, it will be accountable to the public. It can’t be worse than the SRC!

 

Batory writes:

 

“It is clearly time for Philadelphia to rid itself of the State-imposed School Reform Commission (SRC) overseeing the city’s public schools. This politically appointed board, with three members appointed by the Governor and two by the Mayor, has been a colossal failure. The SRC has presided over an educational disaster in Philadelphia.

 

“Given the priority goal of establishing better fiscal oversight for the schools in 2001, the SRC’s legacy has been perpetual budget deficits in spite of the fact that Philadelphia’s public schools have been stripped of many teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors as well as basic supplies. Incredibly, a 12-year-old child died because she dared to have an asthma attack on a day when the school did not have a nurse. In terms of services to and opportunities for students, Philadelphia schools are running far behind their suburban counterparts. What sort of formula for public school success is this?

 

“The SRC has regularly has demonized the teachers union, limited parent, student and community voices, and promoted the expansion of the charter school sector, despite the fact that these actions have only worsened the District’s fiscal problems.

 

“On top of all of this, the Boston Consulting Group was paid more than $2 million by the William Penn Foundation via an incestuous relationship with the SRC to create a biased “Blueprint for Reform.” This plan laid out a five year course of privatization which would close one-fourth of Philadelphia’s schools, placing 40% of students into charters, and dividing up the remaining schools into NYC-inspired “achievement networks” run by third party operators (editor’s note: they were unsuccessful in NYC).

 

“The SRC’s two most famous CEO/Superintendent appointments were little more than “top down” dictators rather than “enablers” who demeaned principals and teachers, robotized teaching, and produced minimal school improvements at best. Yet each of them was well rewarded with generous salaries, including a $65,000.00 bonus in just one year to one of them on top of her annual salary.

 

“The SRC’s policies have provoked broad and sustained opposition from the public over the last two years. On numerous occasions, parents, students, and educators have taken to the streets and to City Council and SRC meetings to register their dissent.

 

“Thankfully, at least one State Senator is trying to do something. Senator Mike Stack (D-Northeast), is now calling for Philadelphians to elect school-board members. His proposed Senate Bill would return a locally elected school board to Philadelphia.

 
“Stack told the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Education recently. “The SRC fails the accountability and transparency test because it is not elected by the taxpayers. Therefore, it is not accountable to parents, students, and certainly not the taxpayers. It is only accountable to the Governor or Mayor who have appointed them.”

 

“Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education agrees. The SRC is “a body that has refused to commit to transparency,” she said. “SRC policy denies people an adequate opportunity to speak to the issues. It is a serious imposition on the public.”

 
“Make no mistake about it. An elected school board is no panacea. However, the School Reform Commission has had its opportunity to create positive change for Philadelphia’s schools and failed miserably. Tragically, Philadelphia’s public school children have been and continue to be victims of this political abuse and neglect. The School Reform Commission needs to be abolished.”

 

 

Three law professors studied the discipline codes at Philadelphia charter schools and concluded that these punitive codes are used to push out students who are “non-compliant or challenging.”

 

The article, which will be published in “The Urban Lawyer,” was written by Susan DeJarnatt,  Temple University – James E. Beasley School of Law; Kerrin C. Wolf, Stockton University; and Mary Kate Kalinich, Temple University – James E. Beasley School of Law.

 

The authors found that: 38% of the Philadelphia charter school codes use the phrase “zero tolerance,” 74% specify offenses for which suspension is mandatory, and 38% of the charter codes mandate expulsion for certain offenses. Approximately three-quarters of charter schools have no-excuses policies in their codes. They learned that a student may be expelled “for repeated failures to recite the school pledge on demand in English by November of the 9th grade year and in Latin by the end of the 10th grade year, for having missing homework, and for failure to upgrade a failed test.” (p. 41) They found that students may be expelled for “failure to disclose on the application that a student is a currently enrolled special education student” (p. 41). One code permits expulsion for “inappropriate facial gestures” (p. 42)

 

You can read the article in full. Here is the abstract.
Exclusionary school discipline can steer students away from educational opportunities and towards the juvenile and criminal justice systems. As many public school systems have turned to exclusionary school discipline practices over the past two decades, they have also increasingly adopted charter schools as alternatives to traditional public schools. This research is examines the student codes of conduct for the charter schools in the School District of Philadelphia to consider the role of their disciplinary practices and the potential effects on charter students.

 

We analyzed every disciplinary code provided to the Philadelphia School District by charter schools within Philadelphia during the 2014-2015 school year. Our goal was to examine the provisions relating to detention, suspension, and expulsion, along with other disciplinary responses, to determine what conduct can result in disciplinary consequences, what responses are available for various types of misbehavior, and whether the code language is clear or ambiguous or even accessible to students or potential students and their parents or caregivers. We conclude that too many of the codes are not well drafted, and too many follow models of punitive discipline that can be used to push out non-compliant or challenging students. Some codes grant almost complete discretion to school administrators to impose punitive discipline for any behavior the administrator deems problematic.

 

We hope that this work will spur future research on implementation of charter school discipline policies to illustrate how charter schools are using their codes. Further, we hope to see the charter sector develop model disciplinary codes that move away from a zero tolerance punitive model towards disciplinary systems based on restorative principles.

 

The question it implicitly poses for the reader is why it makes sense to run two public-funded school systems: one that accepts all students, the other with the power to exclude or expel those it doesn’t want. This question has strong pertinence in Philadelphia where the public school system has been stripped of funding and resources over the past decade, so that the two systems are separate and unequal.

 

 

Sarah Garland writes in the Hechinger Report about a change of direction for the Mastery Charter chain in Philadelphia. The CEO of Mastery, Scott Gordon, has decided to ease up on the strict rules of “no-excuses.” Garland believes that what Mastery does and how it works out might affect no-excuses charters across the nation.

 

I am not convinced that what happens in the Simon Gratz High School, a charter school in Philadelphia, will change the direction of no-excuses charters nationally, but it is an interesting story anyway.

 

Garland acknowledges that critics blame charters for the near-collapse of the Philadelphia public school system, but she leaves unresolved whether Mastery is the solution or the problem.

 

Garland writes:

 

 

More than 40 percent of the high school’s 280 freshmen show up reading below a fifth-grade level. Several city special-education programs are located at the school, so about a third of students also have special needs, ranging from cognitive disabilities to emotional disorders. In 2011, the year before Mastery took over, the graduation rate was 58 percent.

 
Administrators started out by instituting the no-excuses playbook, as Mastery had done at several of its other institutions. Under this approach, students are held to high expectations no matter what circumstances they come from – or what happens at home at the end of the school day. The strategies typically include strict discipline, extra time in school, drilling in math and English, and accountability for teachers and principals, usually based on testing. Administrators adopt a rigid set of rules and punishments. A top-down lecturing style is followed in the classroom.

 
At Simon Gratz, students began raising their hands in class, tucking in their shirts, and racking up demerits and detentions for the smallest infractions.

 
The new administrators also dismantled the metal detectors guarding the entrance of the building. The idea was to make it seem more like a scholarly institution and less like a prison. But in this case students and parents balked. They didn’t feel safe without the detectors, security guards, and bag checks. The school, nevertheless, came off the state’s “persistently dangerous” list as the hallways calmed down and fewer fights broke out.

 
Teachers drilled students in note-taking strategies and the standards they had to master. Test scores rose at first. But then they stalled. Gratz still wasn’t the friendly, dynamic place Mastery administrators had imagined.

 
The high expectations and rigid rules weren’t enough to erase the trauma that has scarred many kids. In the years after Mastery took over Gratz, one student witnessed her father shoot and kill her mother. Another saw his uncle shot in the head and had to drag his best friend’s body to a police car after he was gunned down in the street. An honors student was hit by a stray bullet and died. Another student accidentally shot himself.
Related: How to educate traumatized students

Gordon worried that Mastery was in danger of confirming what many critics often charge about charter schools: That while many of them may do a good job of preparing kids to do well on standardized tests and get into college, their students founder once they arrive on campus. That the mostly white leaders of urban charter networks are, at best, out of touch with the mostly black and Hispanic communities they serve, or, at worst, guilty of a paternalistic racism that undermines their mission of uplift.

 
“A mistake that we made was the assumption that schools were not successful because they weren’t well run, or they weren’t well organized, or that teachers weren’t trained and supported.”

Gordon was ready to make a change. “We were frustrated that we couldn’t break through,” he says. “We got feedback from our graduates that the … support structure that we had created for students – ‘kids will not fail’ – was not serving them once they got into the real world. The real world was not as supportive. They had to really develop the independence to manage themselves.”

 
Gordon tinkered with parts of the model, but after struggling to get it right, he decided to start over.

 
Mastery administrators introduced a new curriculum, new teaching methods, and a new disciplinary system. They hired more social workers and brought in more assistance from community organizations that help kids deal with trauma. They made training in racism and “cultural context” mandatory for all of Mastery’s teachers and administrators, across every school in the city.

 
“Often you see people who are really bold as those who might not listen,” says Kathy Hamel, a partner at the Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit that supports Mastery. “But [Gordon] is a very good listener, and he’s learned to listen and adapt.”

 
Mastery administrators decided that to serve their students best, they should make sure all had the option to go to college, but not insist on it. They began developing programs to support students headed into the military or to technical programs and immediate jobs. Even the charter network’s motto – “Excellence. No Excuses.” – is under review.

 
“We still believe there are no excuses for this country not to be able to provide a great education for every kid,” Gordon says. “There is no excuse; every child can learn and be successful. But I’m not sure it speaks to the soul of Mastery right now. That’s part of our job: to prepare our kids for the real world, and to recognize that there’s great promise in the world. It’s also a broken world.”

 

What do you think?

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Philadelphia School Reform Commission has repeatedly exceeded its legal authority by ignoring parts of state law. The head of the SRC said the ruling was a disaster, but others hailed it as a sign that state control of the city’s school was a disaster. The suit was brought by a charter school that objected to the SRC’s cap on its enrollment. Both charter schools and public schools saw the decision as a victory.

 

On the day that the Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved three new charter schools, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling Tuesday that could have grave implications for the cash-strapped district’s finances and operations for years to come.

 

The court ruled that the SRC had no legal power to suspend portions of the state charter law and school code. The ruling strips the commission of extraordinary powers it believed it had – and used.

 

It was too soon to say exactly what the fallout for the school system would be – district lawyers offered no official comment – but early indications were ominous.

 

By declaring unconstitutional a portion of the takeover law that the SRC has relied on heavily, many of the major actions the commission has taken in recent years – up to and including bypassing seniority in teacher assignments – could be subject to reversal.

 

Helen Gym, a parent activist who was recently elected to the Philadelphia City Council, saw the ruling as a rebuke to state control of the city’s public schools and the underfunding of public schools:

 

 

“Yesterday’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling makes unmistakably clear that the School Reform Commission and Pennsylvania’s fifteen-year experiment in state takeover have been a disaster for students and schools.”

“Since its formation, and particularly in recent years, the SRC has used its unprecedented powers to impose new rules that allow schools to operate without essential staff, slash programming, close schools, and violate key sections of the teachers’ contract. The SRC has also continued to recklessly expand the charter sector by approving new charters and ceding control of dozens of schools to private operators. Charter payments have rapidly become the District’s largest cost burden while underfunded, understaffed neighborhood schools languish in disrepair.”

“After years of administrative overreach and failed experimentation, with no end in sight to the ‘fiscal distress’ the Commission was supposed to alleviate, the time has come to dissolve the School Reform Commission and finally give control of Philadelphia’s schools to Philadelphians.”
“Furthermore, with the Court’s declaration that Harrisburg may not abdicate its responsibilities to the SRC, it has become urgently necessary for the General Assembly to fix the state’s broken system for funding and regulating public education. Specifically the legislature must address its deeply-flawed, nineteen-year old charter law, which prevents school districts from exercising full control over charter school authorization and growth. Without action, Philadelphia’s school district will not remain solvent and is at grave risk.”

“Both in Philadelphia and across the state, it is abundantly clear that our system of public schools, so many of which are struggling to provide the most basic services to students, cannot be called ‘thorough and efficient.’ It is now up to the Courts to weigh in on the need for a fair funding system, and to ensure that the legislature does its job.”

 
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20160217_State_Supreme_Court_rules_against_SRC__fallout_unknown.html#wdR0HtKqi4wMVyxz.99

 

 

The ex-principal of the Franklin Towne Charter School has filed suit against his former employer, charging that he was fired because he objected to improper activities.

 

A federal whistle-blower suit claims an elementary principal at the Franklin Towne Charter School in Bridesburg was hired under false pretenses and then terminated after he raised serious concerns about its operations.

 

Todd A. Dupell alleges that he was wrongfully dismissed as principal last August after he complained to the board chair that the charter was billing the Philadelphia School District for full-day kindergarten even though the program was not full day; the charter was awash in nepotism; and the school was paying the wife of a former board member $80,000 for a nonexistent job because otherwise her husband could “make noise.”

 

Dupell also alleged that the charter was violating state law because it was not providing required services to students who were learning English….

 

Dupell gave up his tenured post as a principal in Bucks County to work for the charter school. He was told by staffers that the former principal had been removed because of improper activities, including charges of shoplifting and using excessive force against a student. Then Dupell learned that the former principal would be his supervisor. Dupell said that when he met with the chair of the charter board to express his concerns, he was terminated.

 

 
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20160208_Ex-principal_of_Franklin_Towne_charter_files_whistle-blower_suit.html#RzXdREHwHCei8ZmD.99

Matthew L. Mandel, a National Board Certified Teacher in Philadelphia, is dumbfounded that Superintendent William Hite got a new contract when the district is in disarray. Please note, when you open the article, that the newspaper/website added a photograph with a caption that contradicts what Matthew wrote. In the article, he explained why it was too soon to give a new five-year contract to the Superintendent but the caption reads: “Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. deserved to have his contract extended.” The point of Matthew’s article is: No, he doesn’t.

 

Mandel writes:

 

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. referred to a recent education bill passed by the Pennsylvania Senate as a “recipe for disaster.” That phrase also describes the School Reform Commission’s decision to extend Hite’s contract by five years, with two years remaining on the original.

 

In a statement, SRC Chair Marjorie Neff said it was the right time to lock in Hite for the long term, lauding him for demonstrating “strong leadership through an extraordinarily difficult time.” I wonder if she feels the same about losing scores of superb classroom teachers who left to work somewhere they feel valued and respected, or the many more who retired because they couldn’t take the conditions and mistreatment in the School District of Philadelphia anymore.

 

Neff, a retired teacher and principal, nearly discarded 50 years of collective bargaining progress when she supported cancellation of the teachers’ contract last year. She called that decision one of the most difficult of her life. She doesn’t appear nearly as troubled, however, that a district on financial life-support has spent millions on bad contracts and the endless pursuit of judicial relief from its obligations.

 

One could argue that Hite has achieved everything he was hired to do and, thus, has earned another contract….

 

 

I’m puzzled by the apparent urgency to get this contract extension done now, with no state budget, stagnant test scores, unhealthy and deplorable conditions in school buildings, and taxpayers who believe they have no voice in education decisions. Could it be that the district was afraid of losing him? If so, it points to another troubling pattern that has festered under state control of Philadelphia’s schools.
In a district with the highest child poverty rate in America – and dedicated but demoralized employees that have gone four years without a raise – the unelected and unaccountable SRC continues to place its emphasis on meeting the needs of central office management and charter-school operators rather than of the children and educators who spend their lives in Philly’s public schools.

 

“This contract extension is just the latest example of how the SRC’s priorities don’t align with what’s important to the district’s educators, children, and caregivers. And the latest example of this dichotomy should serve as a rallying cry to return to local control of our schools.

 

“Our district educates some of the nation’s neediest children, but lacks even basic supplies and enough critical staff to compensate for the unfair hand dealt to many of our kids. Yet, the SRC has prioritized a contract extension that affords Hite the security that Philadelphia’s teachers, children, and caregivers can only dream of.”

 
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20151221_Hite_contract_deal_shows_SRC_s_misplaced_priorities.html#qubrOcQL8XRcy17G.99

 

 

Steven Singer is a teacher in Pennsylvania. This is a moving post, and he gave me permission to post it in full. It has many links. If you want to read them, open the article.

 

 

Pennsylvania lawmakers are ready to help all students across the Commonwealth – if only they can abuse, mistreat and trample some of them.

 

Which ones? The poor black and brown kids. Of course!

 

That seems to be the lesson of a school code bill passed with bipartisan support by the state Senate Thursday.

 

The legislation would require the Commonwealth to pick as many as 5 “underperforming” Philadelphia schools a year to close, charterize or just fire the principal and half the staff. It would also allow non-medically trained personnel to take an on-line course before working in the district to treat diabetic school children. And it would – of course – open the floodgates to more charter schools!

 

It’s a dumb provision, full of unsubstantiated facts, faulty logic and corporate education reform kickbacks. But that’s only the half of it!

 

The bill is part of a budget framework agreed to by Governor Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature necessary to finally pass a state-wide spending plan. The financial proposal has been held hostage for almost half a year!

 

The major sticking point has been school funding. Democrats like Wolf demand an increase. Republicans refuse. And the worst part is that the increase would only begin to heal the cuts the GOP made over the last four years.

 

Republicans just won’t clean up their own mess.

 

They slashed public school budgets by almost $1 billion per year for the last four years with disastrous consequences. Voters who could make little headway against a GOP legislature entrenched in office through gerrymandering rebelled by kicking the Republican Governor out of Harrisburg and voting in Wolf, a new chief executive who promised to support school children.

 

But for the last 5 months, the Republican-controlled legislature simply refused to spend money on – yuck – school children! Especially poor brown and black kids who rely more on state funding! Barf!

 

Finally a bargain was struck to put the money back, but only if it screws over more poor black and brown kids.

 

As usual, Philadelphia Schools are the state’s whipping boy.

 

For decades saddled with a host of social ills yet starved of resources, Philadelphia Schools simply couldn’t function on funding from an impoverished local tax base. The 8th largest school district in the country needed a financial investment from the state to make up the difference. However, in 2001 the Commonwealth decided it would only do this if it could assume control with a mostly unelected School Recovery Commission (SRC). Now after 14 years of failure, the state has decided annually to take a quintet of Philly schools away from the state and give them to – THE STATE! The State Department of Education, that is, which will have to enact one of the above terrible reforms to turn the schools around.

 

Yet each of these reforms is a bunch of baloney!

 

Hiring non-medical personnel with on-line training to treat diabetic kids!? Yes, two children died in Philly schools recently because budget cuts took away full-time school nurses. But this solution is an outrage! Try proposing it at a school for middle class or rich kids! Try proposing it for a school serving a mostly white population!

 

More charter schools!? Most new charter companies aren’t even interested in taking over Philly learning institutions. There’s no money in it! The carcass has been picked clean!

 

Privatizing public schools has never increased academic outcomes. Charter schools – at best – do no better than traditional public schools and – most often – do much worse.

 

Closing schools is a ridiculous idea, too. No school has ever been improved by being shut down. Students uprooted from their communities rarely see academic gains.

 

And firing staff because the legislature won’t provide resources is like kicking your car because you forgot to buy gas. You can’t get blood from a stone.

 

But this is what Republicans are demanding. And most of the Democrats are giving in. Every state Senator from Philadelphia voted for this plan – though reluctantly.

 

Is this really the only way to reach some kind of normalcy for the rest of the state? Do we really need to bleed Philadelphia some more before we can heal the self-inflicted wounds caused by our conservative legislators?

 

The bill includes a $100 million increase for Philadelphia Schools. But this is just healing budget cuts made to the district four years ago. Until Republicans took over the legislature, Philadelphia received this same sum from the state to help offset the vampire bite of charter schools on their shrinking budgets. Now – like all impoverished Pennsylvania schools – that charter school reimbursement is only a memory.

 

So this money only puts Philly back to where it was financially a handful of years ago when it was still struggling.

 

It’s a bad bargain for these students. Though some might argue it’s all we’ve got.

 

A sane government would increase funding to meet the needs of the students AND return the district to local control.

 

Republicans demand accountability for any increase in funding but how does this new bill do that exactly? Charter schools are not accountable to anyone but their shareholders. The School Recovery Commission has been failing for over a decade. Since most are political appointees, who are they accountable to really?

 

A duly elected school board would be accountable to residents. If voters didn’t like how they were leading the district, they could vote them out. THAT would be accountability. Not this sham blood sacrifice.

 

The state House is set to vote on this bill soon and will probably pass it, too. Maybe that’s just as well. Maybe there really is no other choice in the twisted halls of Pennsylvania politics.

 

However, let’s be honest about it. This is some classist, racist bullshit.