"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Friday, February 12, 2010

Turnaround or Boondoggle??

Once again, the School District of Philadelphia seems ready to turn over some of its most struggling schools to outside managers. Will this work? Have we learned NOTHING from past experience? Last time we gave a bunch of schools to Educational Management Organizations (EMOs), the results were less than inspiring. In fact, the results were so bad that most of the schools were returned to the management of the district. Here is what the School District's website says about the new "Renaissance Schools":
There are three major components of the Renaissance Schools initiative:
1) identifying chronically low-performing District schools that are not likely to achieve dramatic improvements without transformative change, 2) identifying individuals and organizations that are capable and prepared to turnaround around failing schools in Philadelphia, and 3) empowering school communities to play an active role in the turnaround and ongoing support of their school. The District believes that these components must be implemented with rigor and transparency in order to create an effective and lasting process for turning around failing schools in Philadelphia.

SUPPOSEDLY, these EMOs and Charters will have to retain ALL the children currently in the school. But will they really do this? What about parents who want to opt out--where will their children be sent? Instead of bringing in outside managers, why not have a series of thoughtful, exploratory meetings with the current staff and parents? They are the ones who intimately know the school and its students--and believe me--they probably have plenty of useful ideas about how to improve the schools.
Many EMOs and charters come in with many preconceived ideas and cookie-cutter plans that will not fit every school and student. The way they traditionally deal with this is to turf out the kids and families that do not get with the program. The district says they will not do that this time, but can we trust them? Probably not. Will EMOs and Charters be required to treat special education students fairly and legally? I am not the only one worried about this--The Education Law Center's Len Rieser blogged about his concerns on the Philadelphia School Notebook's site: http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/102243/something-can-be-said-school-districts
EVERYONE concerned about children and schools should be worried about how the Renaissance Schools will be doled out. Will they go to Arlene's friends? The SRC members political cronies? Will we really see "rigor and transparency" in this process?
I do not teach at either a Renaissance eligible or alert school, but I am concerned about the students who attend them and the staff who work at them. I hope all these students are not simply handed over to money-making companies to experiment on.

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