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It’s Time to Fight for Something Worth Celebrating

Posted 02.5.2019

The politicians have been making their rounds patting the education establishment on the back over the progress being made in the School District of Philadelphia:

Mayor Kenney –

.. the ratings reflected what he heard recently when he met a young professional moving to Philadelphia from another city. The man and his wife had their pick of places to live, but they chose Philadelphia, zeroing in on South Philadelphia because they wanted their child to go to Jackson Elementary. Kenney said that was perhaps the best news he’d heard since he became mayor. “Finally, it’s starting to break through that our reputation is not going down,” the mayor said. “It’s going up.” – Inquirer

Former Governor Rendell –

“That’s right, the School District of Philadelphia is starting to get results that indicate it is truly possible for all of our students to succeed academically. The much-maligned school district, the perpetual underdog, has been winning and when it wins, our kids win and we win.” – Inquirer OpEd

School board members Dr. Chris McGinley and Dr. Angela McIver –

“The recently released 2017-2018 School Progress Report shows a steady improvement in public schools across Philadelphia that should be celebrated.” – Inquirer OpEd

A dose of reality is needed:

Progress Towards Goals

First, let’s review how the District is doing against its own publicly-stated measurable goals outlined in Superintendent Hite’s Action Plan:

Goal 1:  100% of students will graduate ready for college and career
Actual Number: 21% of 12th grade students are meeting the College Readiness Benchmark
Goal 2:  100% of 8-year-olds will read on grade level
Actual Number: 36% of students in 3rd grade scored proficient or advanced on the Reading PSSA

Goal 3: 100% of schools will have great principals and teachers
Actual Number: 54% of students gave the most positive response in a survey of student perception of teacher quality

Flat across the board

The real story of Philadelphia’s traditional public schools over the last few years is one of slight progress in some areas, but mostly flat results.  This is true across most of the ways we look at schools: test scores, climate, college and career, and educator effectiveness.

So who is really benefitting from the improvements heralded by Philadelphia’s politicians?

Mayor Kenney cites Andrew Jackson Elementary in South Philadelphia as his example of a school proving that the district is improving, in his recent comments in the Inquirer.  The school is indeed making progress, but Kenney conveniently leaves out the fact that the neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying, resulting in significant changes to the student population.

While the white, affluent students in the District are seeing improvements in their schools, the students left behind are minorities in the City’s poorest neighborhoods:

  • In schools with an SPR score below 10, 92% of the students are African American or Latino.
  • In the highest-achieving District schools, the student body is only 16% African American. In the District’s lowest-achieving schools, the student population is 69% African American.
  • In the District’s lowest-achieving schools (where 75% of the students are African American and only 5% are white), only 4% of the students are able to demonstrate grade-level math skills and 14% are able to read on grade level.

Let’s end the political posturing

We get it.  The work of educating kids, particularly low-income kids, is hard.  So it’s natural to want to celebrate progress.  But the recent round of positive statements isn’t just dishonest, it’s a cynical attempt by the political establishment to lobby for more money from Harrisburg.  It’s not a coincidence that this full court press happened right before Governor Wolf announced his budget asking for another big increase in education spending.  We also want more money in our schools, but until we are honest about the state of Philadelphia’s failing schools, we won’t get serious about finding solutions.  Our kids don’t need political posturing.  They need better schools.

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