Tag Archives: Philadelphia public schools

He Should Spare Us His Outrage

No, not The Curmudgeon. He LOVES his outrage.

The Curmudgeon is referring to Vincent Hughes, a member of Pennsylvania’s state legislature.

And he is outraged – outraged, he says!

Why?

The physical condition of Philadelphia’s public schools.

Two recent incidents led to Hughes’s outrage.

About a month ago a boiler exploded at a Philadelphia elementary school, leaving a maintenance worker in critical condition.

Then, the heat failed at another elementary school last week, so the kids had to be sent home.

According to his own press release,

This is an outrageous situation and I know the schools in my district are not the only ones suffering right now. We must have a better idea of how many schools are hurting and we cannot wait another minute to find out.

Hughes’s plan: hold a hearing to review the matter.

To identify the extent of the problem. Not to fix the problem but to “have a better idea of how many schools are hurting…”

Here’s another idea: maybe Hughes should resign from the state legislature, where he’s had a bird’s eye view of this problem for 29 years.

Hughes is outraged over the physical condition of the city’s public schools and outraged over how poorly those schools are funded. This problem already existed when he was elected and it’s only gotten worse over the years. But now, Hughes has finally decided that he’s outraged about it.

Senator Van Winkle has awakened from his 29-year slumber.

Instead of dragging the mayor and teachers’ union president to a made-for-television tour of school facilities and calling for legislative hearings into a problem everybody has known about since The Curmudgeon was visiting those facilities five days a week as a student, maybe Hughes should just step aside, go get a real job, and give someone else a shot at a responsibility at which he has so miserably failed.

One Reason Why Some Schools Don’t Work

Money.

Or, more precisely, the lack thereof.

Philadelphia’s public schools are a mess; student performance is not good and they are in constant financial trouble. The Curmudgeon is always surprised, though, when people act like this is a relatively recent development because he remembers the situation being pretty much the same when he was in school, and that era ended thirty-nine years ago.

There are a lot of reasons for the mess, and The Curmudgeon could probably create a separate blog devoted entirely to addressing that question and documenting the problem, but one of those reasons, without question, is money.

Students at recess on a patchy asphalt lot, at Anna Lane Lingelbach Elementary School in Philadelphia.Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer offered an excellent – and troubling – example.

In Philadelphia, one elementary school with 400 students was given a discretionary budget of $160.

For the entire school year.

That means that after the faculty and staff is paid, after the school district pays for heat, electricity, and water, the principal has $160 to spend.

For the entire school year.

Which breaks down to forty cents for each student.

To spend on books, supplies, staff training, and any other needs that might arise over the course of the ten-month school year.

The school, where fewer than half of the students meet state reading standards, already has some serious shortcomings.

The children often have to share textbooks because there aren’t enough to go around.

The school’s one and only full-time counselor has to cover classes daily.

It has only one noon-time aide to watch over 400 children, so teachers volunteer for lunch duty.

It has no music class.

The building is decrepit: leaky plumbing, clogged toilets, mice, poison ivy literally climbing unsealed windows.

And when the new principal noticed how poorly his students were reading and decided to administer a standardized test to diagnose the extent of the problem, he couldn’t afford to buy such a test.

So he found one online.

And then didn’t have the money to buy paper to make copies.

So he prevailed on a nearby state representative to make copies in his office.

A lot of people argue that you just can’t throw money at Philadelphia’s public school system, but what chance do kids have to learn when their school has $160 to spend on instructional materials for an entire school year?

Charter Schools: Helping Some, Hurting More

Ask almost any down-in-the-trenches teacher – as opposed to education academics whose heads generally reside where the sun don’t shine – and she’ll tell you that perhaps the single most important determinant of student achievement is an interested and involved parent.  Show me a child with a parent who’s engaged in his or her child’s education, that teacher will tell you, and I’ll show you a child I can teach and a child who will learn.

So doesn’t it stand to reason that most public school systems – especially large urban districts like Philadelphia – will inevitably see their learning environment decline and already-abysmal test scores fall even further in the coming years as more and more children with interested and involved parents switch to charter schools?

Every child who enrolls in a charter school has an interested and engaged parent – someone interested enough in their child’s education to declare that “I want more for my child” and who’s then willing to do the work involved in securing a place in a charter school.  Whether that school is actually better or not probably doesn’t even matter; it’s the motivation behind the move that speaks volumes about the parent and probably tells us a lot about the child, too.  The result of this growing migration, though, is that almost every new child who enrolls in a charter school does so to the detriment of the standardized test scores of the public school system he or she leaves behind.

Forget test scores for a moment – as if grand-standing politicians would ever let you, except in places like Philadelphia where most politicians simply don’t care.  The classroom experience – you know, those things that the education academics haven’t yet figured out how to measure but that in many respects are as important as the things you can measure – can’t help but suffer as well.  The children who leave are the interesting children, the children whose parents take them to the library, share experiences with them, ask to see their homework, talk to them at the dinner table, attend parents night at school, call the teacher when they think there’s a problem.  They are parents who show an interest in their children’s lives and education and play meaningful and positive roles in shaping their offspring.  Their children, in turn, make classrooms better and more lively and interesting places to learn for others.

Charter schools need not bother with the less able, the less well-behaved.  Many charter schools, like private and parochial schools before them, have little or no tolerance for students who are not prepared to achieve.  They don’t accept problem children, whether that problem is physical, intellectual, or emotional, or accept as few of them as possible.  Among the students they do accept, if behavioral problems arise?  Back to the regular public school you go.  Newly identified learning problem or disability?  Back to the regular public school you go.  So what do those public schools reacquire?  The worst of the students who abandoned them.

This has been going on forever.  The Curmudgeon recalls his own time at the Mayfair School in Philadelphia in sixth and seventh grades, when he experienced being on the receiving end of the process of schools getting rid of students they didn’t want.  Every month or two, a new kid would appear in class:  someone almost invariably taller than the rest of the students, or maybe showing a hint of facial hair.  The neighborhood kids – The Curmudgeon was bused to this school – would nod their heads and laugh or frown, knowing that trouble had just arrived.  These were the kids that nearby St. Matthew’s had thrown out because they were too disruptive, and now they were in public school, where their primary impact would be to slow down the rest of the class with their misbehavior and inability to understand what their teachers were trying to teach.  Teachers had an obligation to do the best they could with these students, but charter schools are under no such obligation:  often, they can just kick them out and send their troubles packing – back to the regular public schools, where they diminish the learning experience of their peers and drag down their schools’ test scores.

The Curmudgeon isn’t suggesting that charter schools are a bad thing – or a good thing.  But the next time you read that standardized test scores in a large urban school district have declined yet again, think about who’s taking those tests.  Sure, there are still good kids and good students in those schools, but many of the best are leaving for greener pastures, leaving public schools with the unenviable job of attempting to do more and more with less and less.  Their test scores have declined?  The classroom experience isn’t as stimulating, as rich?

How could it possibly be any other way?