Make Every School a Charter?

Mary Beth Hertz (a.k.a. mbteach on Twitter) over on the Philly Teacher blog recently posted a very thought provoking article–A New Model for School Reform: Could it Work?. With all the talk of Charters and Renaissance schools lately, it was great to read such a well thought out and well articulated model of school reform. Her idea in a nutshell–do away with catchments and let every student/parent rank the schools that they would like to attend, and award all spaces based on a lottery system, similar to how seats in charter schools are awarded today. This system would be superior, because, in her words,

  • Giving students and families a choice helps keep them engaged in a child’s education.
  • Choice fosters competition among schools to attract the best students, no matter what neighborhood they are in.
  • Services are more evenly distributed throughout the district since no one school is overwhelmed with high-needs students and families.

I like the sentiment and how Hertz is thinking outside the box.  I liked this idea a lot at first.  However, Read the rest of this entry »

School Success Criteria Vol 2: Teachers

In yesterday’s post, the first of a series outlining what makes a school successful, I started the article by stating that I was unhappy that teachers are disproportionately punished for bad performance in schools. Newsweek’s cover story this week is titled “Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers” tells the other side of the story–that teachers should be blamed when blame is due,

What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher. Much of the ability to teach is innate—an ability to inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess (and some people definitely do not)….It is also true and unfortunate that often the weakest teachers are relegated to teaching the neediest students, poor minority kids in inner-city schools. For these children, teachers can be make or break. “The research shows that kids who have two, three, four strong teachers in a row will eventually excel, no matter what their background, while kids who have even two weak teachers in a row will never recover,” says Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and coauthor of the 2006 study “Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality…..disturbing is the immunity enjoyed by the thousands of teachers who let down their students in more ordinary ways. Many more teachers are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. Maybe they’d get more respect if the truly bad teachers were let go.

This article was inspired by the recent brouhaha surrounding the Rhode Island teacher firings, but it could just have much been about the Philadelphia Renaissance School program, Read the rest of this entry »

The Lower Merion School District Paradox

Lower Merion School District (LMSD) is known to be one of the best school districts in Pennsylvania, despite the recent laptop-webcam scandal.  I have toured two of the public elementary schools already and they seem to be amazing.  It would seem like a no-brainer that I would want to move my family there for the schools if the decision was purely based on school quality.  Of course, there are issues that are important to me beyond school quality (see the choice criteria tag plus personal issues like commute times and financial), but let me put them aside for the purposes of this post.  Are there other reasons that LMSD is not the best choice?

Drawing the school districting lines for the Lower Merion School district last year was a contentious issue, involving loud town hall meetings, angry allegations of racism, lawsuits, and now a federal investigation.  Should that controversy also be a factor?  Read the rest of this entry »

Philly Teachers Need Anger Management?

I started this blog just before the new contract was signed with the Philadelphia teacher’s union.  At the time, I was supportive of the contract and the innovative/proactive changes to the traditional structure of the contract.  It also seemed like public and media reaction was generally positive.

Now that the new contract is off of the front pages, however, there is a vocal group of teachers who seem to be quite unhappy with the new contract.  Reading several Philly teacher blogs and news articles out there, it is clear that teachers are experiencing a  wide range of emotions–fear in some cases, distress or jitteryness.  Yesterday, this blog received an anonymous submission Read the rest of this entry »

Lower Merion–Spies Like Us?

Lower Merion has long been the no-brainer school choice.  Living in the city is a priority for me, but when schools are a factor, it is hard for Philadelphia School District’s beleaguered system to compete with what some consider to be one of the best public school districts in the country.  Until now, perhaps?

Unless you have been living under a rock over the last few days, you have most likely heard about the lawsuit filed by several students of Harriton High School alleging that school administrators spied on them at home using Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking About School Choice Long Term

Yesterday, Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer posted a story entitled “Study finds high school choice ‘an illusion’.”

There is a pretty vibrant (and in some cases heated and profane) debate about this article happening in the Philadelphia Speaks Forum.  I am evaluating elementary school options for my kids, and I wrote about my own anxiety around sticking with the School District of Philadelphia with regards to the uncertainty of what comes after elementary school.  Here is the two sentence summary of that post:  If my family moves to the suburbs, we have a prescribed school path that we know will provide excellent schools for my kids.  If my family selects an elementary school in Philadelphia, we will just have to go through the process again for high school, possibly even for middle school, with no certainty of being satisfied with the options.

Ultimately this article doesn’t change my thought process much.  I am definitely in favor of school improvement, who isn’t?  I am disturbed by the inequality inherent in the Philadelphia school system, but right now I am most occupied by the priorities of my family.  I am concerned that my children won’t be able to get into their preferred school choice.

Graham reports that overall, about 70 percent of district eighth graders apply for admission to a school other than their local high school, but only 45 percent of them end up attending the special schools.  I am neither an expert or activist one way or another on school choice.  But it strikes me that if 45 percent Read the rest of this entry »

School District of Philadelphia Publishes 2009 Annual Report & School Performance Index

I found out from the This Year at Jenks blog that the School District of Philadelphia just released the 2009 Annual Report and School Performance Index (SPI).  The annual report is essentially an easy-to-read high level rating and demographic breakdown of every school in the district.  The SPIs compare and rank schools with others in its region and demographic.  Cool stuff, especially if you are considering moving to a certain region and are trying to compare the different school options.  I wonder if I can get the same sort of performance measures from some of the surrounding suburban districts to get a sense of how the best Philly schools compare to the surrounding publics.  I’ll be looking into that and will publish anything that I find.