Statement on the schools

 

January 15, 2008

Parents United's Statement on GCA Requirements

Parents United for Public Education does not support state-mandated
competency exams in an educational system that so grossly fails to
meet the needs of all students. A recent independent study has found
that nearly 95% of the school districts in the Commonwealth are
underfunded according to national norms. Pennsylvania itself ranks at
the bottom of the nation in terms of equitable funding across the
state.

Into this mix now comes high stakes testing. We assume that the 10
tests per student now under consideration will be a financial boon for
a number of test companies. We are deeply concerned that without a
significant investment to address massive gaps in educational quality
across the state that these tests will feed into a system of inequity
rather than address real concerns about quality educational
achievement opportunities for our youth. If the state is serious about spending the money for 10 additional tests for each and every one of
our children, we ask that the Commonwealth place an equal priority on
ensuring that each and every one of our children receives an
opportunity to pass those tests. The state board can start by putting
in an immediate and significant financial investment to guarantee
equity and quality in each one of our high schools.

As parents, we are deeply concerned that the GCA system is too rigid,
allowing for no exemptions and minimal accommodations for English
Language Learners and special needs students. We would have expected that the regulations would be phased in following considerable and targeted investment in the required academic areas. We know that the State Board has heard recommendations from organizations and individuals concerned about students with needs or from high poverty districts. We fail to see how public statements gathered from earlier hearings have been significantly reflected in the current GCA guidelines under consideration.

Finally, we are disappointed and baffled that such an initiative could
be a priority for the Commonwealth given the pressing fiscal and
educational needs of so many districts across the state. What the
state needs is serious attention to remedying the failure of adults to
address the funding inequity that cripples so many of our school
systems – not finding ways to document the consequences that end up
punishing our children. Unless the State Board of Education demands a
significant financial investment along the lines of the legislature's
own commissioned study, the Board will do a grave disservice to the
children of the Commonwealth.

October 4, 2007

Parents change District policy on high school selection

Parents United for Public Education succeeded in reversing a planned district policy to eliminate multiple acceptances to high schools, saying a rushed timeline and lack of information from counselors, schools, parents, and principals would prevent students from making quality, informed choices.

At least 15 parent associations and advocacy organizations joined a call to request the district to scrap a planned November 2 application deadline which would have required students to place in order of preference their top five high school choices. Students would be assigned their high school based on a match between the school and the student's list.

But parents said the timeline of the application deadline fell just five days after the district's high school fair, usually the first time that parents could find out about some of the 59 high school options before them. In addition, parents said that there was poor communication to parents and even schools about the changes. Some schools do not have their school profiles on the district website, and others had scheduled open houses and visits after the application deadline.

Parents United for Public Education, a lead organizer in the effort, said interim Chief Academic Officer Cassandra Jones was "extremely responsive" to parent concerns, but added that some parents had been laboring on the issue since last June.

"It underscores the importance of the District talking to parents," said Helen Gym, a member of Parents United for Public Education. "Even 'administrative' changes can have a drastic impact on families and children. Had parents not gotten involved, this process would have moved forward with almost no input from those most critically impacted."

Gym said that parent groups had organized within 48 hours, a "testament" to the widespread impact and concern about the policy. She said it also showed how active parents were in the District.

Parent Pamela Blanding-Godbolt said Parents United would follow up with Dr. Jones to emphasize the importance of multiple acceptances. She said it was critically important for students and families to make the final determination of which school they ultimately wanted to attend.

"The high school selection process is a prelude to that of higher education where receiving multiple acceptances is ideal," she said. "To rush the process and eliminate multiple acceptances hinders our
students and families from developing the valuable skill set of having to re-examine our earlier selections, weighing the pros and cons of each school, and getting kids invested in making their final choice."

For more information, email Parents United.

Endorsing Organizations:

  • AMY 5 James Martin HSA, Debbie Bacon, President
  • Bache Martin HSA, Heidi Siegel, President
  • Greenfield HSA, Pat Toy, officer
  • C.W. Henry HSA, Ulrike Shapiro, president
  • JUNTOS, Irma Zamora, parent representative
  • Nebinger HSA, Marian McCrimmon, president
  • Overbrook Education Center HSA, Helennia Warner, president
  • Project Learn, Liz Ben-Yaacov, H.S. Liaison
  • E.M. Stanton parent group, Stepheni Trott Baptipps
  • Parents United for Public Education
  • Philadelphia Home & School Council
  • Philadelphia Right to Ed Task Force
  • ACORN
  • Parent Leadership Academy
  • Germantown Clergy Initiative
  • Parent Leadership Academy

October 17, 2007

More than 70 schools in Philadelphia are in Corrective Action 2 (CA2) status, which means they failed to meet adequate yearly progress 5 years in a row (click here to search for CA2 schools in Philadelphia). Under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, any school in CA2 status for more than one year must be restructured. NCLB generally offers three options:

  • Complete management restructuring of schools
  • Privatization
  • Turning CA2 schools over to charters

As we all know, Philadelphia under the state takeover has engaged in all these efforts already with limited success.

Privatization

For half a decade, Philadelphia has supported one of the largest systems of private and for-profit school operators in the nation. Four out of five independent studies of these schools (also known as Education Management Organizations or EMOs) have found that privatized schools have not academically outperformed district schools despite receiving more than $100 million in additional "management fees." At least one of the studies has raised concerns over appropriate delivery of mandated ESOL, bilingual ed, and special ed services at these schools. Only one of the five studies showed favorable results for the EMOs, but it was partially paid for by Edison Schools Inc., the largest EMO provider in the district. When EMO contracts expired in June 2007, the District decided to renew all the EMOs, with one Commissioner explaining that the District didn't have the capacity to take schools back under district control.

Charters

The District currently has 60 independent charter schools. Concerns have been raised about accountability and review of the academic progress of the charters, but in general, the biggest barrier to charters and the CA2 schools is capacity. Only a handful of charters have the financial backing, administrative capacity, and academic results to take on the CA2 schools. None of them have the capacity to take on a significant portion of the 70+ schools.

Restructured Schools

The School District founded an Office of Restructured Schools (ORS) in 2002 at the same time that it turned over district schools to private operators. ORS managed a portion of schools with similar demographics and academic struggles as schools turned over to EMOs. The District invested significant resources and professional development into those schools in order to provide a comparison group to the EMOs. A study by RAND/RFA found that not only did ORS schools outperform EMOs, but they generally outperformed regular District schools as well in terms of rate of academic progress. Inexplicably, the District dismantled ORS in 2005, but even so, those schools formerly under its purview continued to show gains even the year after.

Why do we care?

Even if you're breathing a sigh of relief that your particular school is not on the list, we want you to consider a few relevant issues:

  • EMOs and poor funding systems for charter schools have put an unbearable financial strain on the District. Are you willing to see more money poured into a massive expansion of these systems without your input?
  • Almost all the comprehensive high schools are on the CA2 list, directly impacting our graduation/drop-out rates, jobs and employment, and the future of our city's most important assets. Are we willing to massively impact the future of these children without serious public input, discussion and research?
  • No public process has been set up for community, school, parent, or staff engagement on the future of the CA2 schools. So far, this is primarily a District run plan (which has not yet been announced).

Parents United for Public Education believes that important decisions about the management and academic and fiscal future of our schools can only happen responsibly when parents are at the table. We can't afford to wait for the District to tell one-fourth of our schools what it plans to do. Parents need to define now what we believe must happen and/or not happen. Are we going to throw the dice with failing EMOs and hope for the best, or will we take a proactive stand on what we know works – investment, resources and will?

To find out which schools in Philadelphia have been designed CA2 schools for at least 5 years, go to the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Education and search for the School District of Philadelphia.

More statements

Statement on elimination of transpasses (6/24/08) 

Statement on the EMO decision (6/19/08)

Statement on contract negotiations with the new CEO (2/27/08) 

Statement on the appointment of Heidi Ramirez to the SRC (11/5/07)  

Statement on vote of No Confidence (5/29/07)