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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

SRC Testimony 11/15/16 "The Penn Alexander Plan"

An  “Evidence-based Academic Improvement Plan” for our ‘Underachieving’ Schools

            Several weeks ago, Superintendent William Hite announced yet another plan to “improve schools most in need”.  According to the district, this year’s planning process to improve the eleven named schools will include community meetings in which a menu of five options will be presented. One of the improvement plans named is an “evidenced-based academic improvement plan”. Luckily for the school communities on tap for “improvement” this is the smartest option, and the one that the excellent teachers and school staffs of the district know how to implement.
            We are fortunate to have a blueprint for an evidenced-based plan right here in our own district: The Penn Alexander School was just named a Blue Ribbon School because they have “narrowed the achievement gap" (properly called the opportunity gap).  This provides us a ready-made template to follow at the “schools most in need.” What does Penn Alexander have that our most struggling schools do not? The Daily News pointed to Penn Alexander’s staff selection process as the secret ingredient to PA’s success, but this is simply wrong. The fact is that all Philadelphia School District Schools are currently 100% site-selected; that is, principals and their committees interview and choose the teachers for their schools.
            So, what is truly different about Penn Alexander? A look at the district’s own school profiles provides some answers:  Penn Alexander serves a student body in which 39.14% of the students are economically disadvantaged—which may sound challenging until you realize that 85% of all SDP students are economically disadvantaged. By contrast, PA serves a relatively wealthy community. The unfortunate fact is that the schools named for improvement plans each serve a student body in which 100%--yes, 100%--of the students are economically disadvantaged.
What supports have been provided to these economically disadvantaged schools?
The low-poverty Penn Alexander receives $1300 more per pupil to help their relatively privileged students succeed.  But the high-poverty schools get no such bonus.  They also took the brunt of the Hite administration’s staffing and substitute debacle last year.  Penn Alexander maintains its kindergarten class size at a very manageable 17 students, while high -poverty schools must cram 30 kindergartners into each class—with no classroom aide. Some of the high-poverty middle and high schools have 40 or more students per class. Many do not have enough desks and chairs (let alone books) for their oversized classes.
            To review:  Penn Alexander has a low-poverty student body, receives extra money, and boasts ideal class size.  They have access to many resources from the University of Pennsylvania, including graduate students as additional personnel. These advantages have enabled them to reduce the achievement gap and be named a Blue Ribbon School. Therefore, I propose what I call the  “Penn Alexander Plan” as an evidenced-based academic improvement plan for our struggling schools: First, advocate for an end to generational poverty; second, endow the highest poverty schools with $1300.00 more per student; third, provide the necessary funds to implement small class sizes for the students who most need it. Throwing in a full-time school librarian, which Penn Alexander has (and only nine other district schools enjoy), wouldn’t hurt either.
            We have the evidenced-based plan. We know it works. The only question that remains: Will Dr. Hite and the SRC have the fortitude and vision to advocate for our most economically disadvantaged students, schools, and communities? To do that Dr. Hite and his team must give up the false and destructive narrative that teachers and school workers are the problem, cease applying simplistic band aid solutions (such as endless churn) to this complex issue, and work hard to find equitable solutions for all neighborhoods and schools.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Planned Destabilization of our Schools and Communities: SRC Testimony 3/17/16

Good Evening fellow citizens, my name is Kristin Luebbert, I am a parent, teacher, PFT member and proud member of the Caucus of Working Educators.  I have come here tonight to talk about the deliberate disinvestment and forced destabilization that is being perpetrated upon our struggling communities.
            For at least the last half-century, our urban communities (as well as our rural areas and small towns) have been decimated by the deliberate disinvestment of resources forced upon them by our city, our Commonwealth, and our federal government.  Factories have been closed, jobs that pay a living wage have flown away—all to line the pockets of a very few. When jobs and income flee certain areas, community spaces that serve the public good vanish as well.  There is only one public institution that stays and serves its community no matter the difficulties—that institution is the true public school.
            Unfortunately, the administration of the School District of Philadelphia—throughout several regimes—has embarked upon a strategy of deliberate destabilization of the public schools that remain in our stressed neighborhoods.  There have been many iterations of this destabilization: Renaissance, privatization, “turn-arounds”…. The things they have in common: first the SDP—claiming poverty—understaffs and underfunds its neediest schools, then they over-test with developmentally inappropriate assessments, then they blame the stressed and traumatized communities for alleged failure, and then they conspire to take away more neighborhood stability by closing or churning the neighborhood public schools. 
            One example of this forced destabilization is the inexplicable yet stubborn insistence of the district’s leadership team in continuing the failed relationship with Source 4 Teachers. This ineffectual agency has proven to be “below basic” at every turn, has utterly failed every “data-driven assessment”, yet still mysteriously retains the contract to NOT supply substitute teachers to the SDP. The only logical explanation is the planned destabilization of schools in preparation to turn them over to private operators.
The isolated administrators at 440 may not truly understand the place our public schools hold in the heart and fabric of their communities, but those of us who work in them every day do. I was privileged enough to attend the community meeting at Muñoz-Marín last week, and I saw a welcoming, beautiful school with great work displayed in front of each classroom, and engaged and enthusiastic parents, students, teachers, and staff. This was clearly a community that had bonded together in their mutual work and interest. I also witnessed a community that felt completely disrespected and disregarded by the power brokers in the SDP.  It is a shame that members of the SRC could not find it in their hearts or schedules to attend THAT meeting. 
SO, the problem remains, how can we best serve our students and school communities? Common sense tells us that a scientific experiment should only change ONE variable at a time—when one changes multiple variables it is impossible to know which one caused improvement. So, by all means, help the Muñoz-Marín, Mitchell, Rhodes, and Roosevelt school communities by endowing them with needed financial resources; by advocating at the city, state, and federal levels to bring jobs and stability back into the neighborhoods; and perhaps by leaving the confines of Center City to personally witness the good work happening in these schools. What is not needed, and will not help, is the churn and burn tactics of forced destabilization that rip trusted teachers and staff away from the communities that have already lost too much.