"This plan is aggressive." Those are the words used by School District of Philadelphia Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon this morning in a press conference announcing a massive reform of K-12 education in the City of Brotherly Love. These changes come not a moment too soon: Philly's schools were facing massive deficits and ranked among the worst of America’s large urban school districts.
The SRC deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future.
The School Recovery Committee deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future. Aggressive plans often entail mindless slashing of schools and headcount so that "business as usual" can continue elsewhere. The SRC instead plans to bolster parental choice, prizing the development of "high-performing seats" wherever they can be found over protecting the legacy school district at all costs. According to the Inquirer's Kristen Graham, the district also plans to restructure employee benefits, saving $156 million of the projected $218 million deficit for next fiscal year. A 7 percent reduction in per-pupil payments to charters is counterproductive, however: If the SRC really want high quality seats, it shouldn't cut charter funding.
District leaders around the country have been tempted into believing that the "new normal" of anemic revenue growth (or no growth at all) would be temporary. This has led to short-sighted cuts and quality-blind layoffs that supes and school boards hope will be
Democracy Prep is expanding in a novel way next school year ? by taking over a failing charter school at its authorizer's behest. SUNY was set to deny Harlem Day Charter School's charter but instead asked for proposals to turn the school around. Democracy Prep stepped up.
It's a huge risk. By and large, turnarounds are unsuccessful. For Democracy Prep, which had the city's highest progress report score for a middle school last year, this would be its first attempt at a turnaround. In New York City, the Bloomberg administration has relied largely on shutting failing schools down and re-starting from scratch, a method that critics say disperses the neediest children and destabilizes communities. Under Mr. Lambert's plan, the students stay put, and the management and board are wiped out.
It's great to see "acquisitions" like this one. Democracy Prep is a solid performer, and this gives them a new school complete with kids, parent and community recognition, and some momentum. Clearly it comes with challenges as well, however, with more than 40% of their kids being held back to repeat a grade. The question this raises for me is, why do we wait to talk about these kinds of takeovers until a school is failing?
Entrepreneurs, charter school founders among them, start businesses for many reasons. Not all of them are great long-term managers. Instead, what the most successful of them have is a keen sense of the needs of customers
Pennsylvania is trying to fix a thorny problem with virtual schools. If two kids attend a virtual school, one from a high spending district that sends along $10,000 in their backpack to the virtual school, and another from low spending district that sends $6,000, the former child's district is subsidizing the latter's education. It's a tough issue.
The solution proposed on Monday by Rep. James Roebuck (D-Phila.) is extreme, however. He proposes that the state pay the entire bill for virtual-school students, as well as youngsters in traditional charter schools, leaving more resources to educate fewer kids in district schools. Since there's on a finite amount of money available for public education in the state, this short-changes children who attend schools of choice.?The proposal also defeats one of the purposes of school choice: competition for students and the resources to educate them.
Virtual schools present some unique governance and school-finance challenges, but rewarding districts for failing to serve kids effectively is not a good solution. Instead, Pennsylvania legislators should develop a financing system where the state steps in to correct disparities but still allows as much local funding as possible to follow a child wherever he or she goes in the education system. Pennsylvania's citizens are taxed to provide resources for all children in public schools, not to preserve buildings and jobs in the traditional system of district schools.
The Washington Post this weekend lobbed some serious accusations at the Montgomery County Board of Education, calling recently revealed health care savings a "slush fund." This is the latest development in a battle between the school board governing this high-spending, wealthy suburban district and the County Council that exercises putative control over the county's budget.
In this go-round, the council cut $25M from the schools budget, after which the school board suddenly found $21M in health care savings, which it promptly used to reverse an expected increase in the proportion of health care costs paid by teachers. The Post, a vocal parents' group, and others are unhappy the savings weren't used more directly in the classroom.
The whole thing reveals one of the thorniest problems of traditional "marble cake" school governance. Both the council and the school board are agents of the taxpayers of Montgomery County. They are each serving others sets of interests as well, however: students, parents, teachers, public workers other than teachers, business owners, etc. The present system of governance in Montgomery County doesn't seem to be succeeding at working out the conflicts among those groups in an orderly and transparent way.
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.
June 13, 2013