5 Question on the #PhlEd Action Plan

Dr. Hite announced the release of a new “Action Plan” for the Philadelphia School District.  You can read the plan here and the news coverage here.  The document asks for “candid feedback by emailing us at actionplan@philasd.org“.  I don’t expect a response1, but below is what I sent. (This was written before Dr. Hite released the financial section of Action Plan 2.0)

To Whom it May Concern:

I have taught students English, Literature, and Public Speaking in Philadelphia for 7 years.  I am a homeowner in the city.  I am also a father  Much of my life is invested in the health of the School District.

I read the Action Plan 2.0, and I have 5 questions about the document.

1.  Why is the plan so reliant on high stakes testing, and how will this plan, and leadership, react to the Opt Out Movement?

Parents and students across Pennsylvania have decided that the Era of Standardized Tests has not been a good one for students.  Currently a parent can write a letter, sign a confidentiality agreement, view the test and then opt out.  The Action Plan talks about parents as a “vital asset” (21).  Yet the current systems compels parents into an ordeal that is difficult and dishonest2.

Page 10 lists all the measures towards accountability – almost 2/3 of them rely on tests scores.  Can this plan survive if families opt out of the high-stakes testing?  Will District leadership react with hostility towards parents, students, and schools who do not see tests as indicative of or conducive to learning?  Are parents and students who feel testing hurts their education valued in this process, or are they lumped in “adult theatrics”?

2.  Is teaching in Philadelphia only for the young or financially privileged?

The Action plan speaks volumes about recruiting and retaining great people.  But All of these “benefits” are targeted at a specific group – those who aren’t currently teaching.  I love new teachers, I remember being a new teacher, and I am certain we could do a better job recruiting and supporting them.

What does the Action Plan offer people currently involved in the struggle to remake schools?  A pay cut.  A 15% pay cut that wasn’t in The Plan, but is most certainly in the plans.  What this plan says to veteran teachers:  “If you want to stay, bravo.  But we’re spending your paycheck recruiting your replacement.  And that after-school program is going to be gratis.”

Is that the plan?  Has leadership concluded that the only way to keep costs down is to act like the Miami Marlins, keeping the roster small, young, and cheap?   If so, I’d like the Action Plan to reflect that.  Tell parents that their students will be best served by less experienced teachers.  Tell those of us in it for the long hall that we should look to the suburbs or marry a doctor.

And if that’s not the plan, how do we retain good people?  Not for years, but for decades?

3.  Why does the plan not allow for Charters to return to the District?

According to the flow chart on page 15, a poor performing school can become a charter.  A poor performing charter can become a better charter.  And great schools, District or Charter, can expand.  But there’s no path for a poor performing charter to return to the District.

We need more District schools.  Why are we leaving out this option?

4.  What are the measures of a “quality charter”?

The document lauds four Charter providers for “turning around” poor performing schools.  Yet3 some of these organizations raise serious red flags.  Aspira, for example, has spent thousands to keep their teachers from forming a union.  Since the Action Plan 2.0 explicitly states support for “formal and informal” teacher groups (p. 21), how is this laudable?  Shouldn’t that money go to the football team or theater department?  Or maybe to find their missing $3.3 million?

Is a “quality school” measured solely by their numbers?  Because if that is the case we are going to see even more schools, charter or other, playing the perverse numbers game.

5.  How do we balance “best practices” and school flexibility?

Action Plan 2.0 cites the need for school flexibility but also adherence to “best practices”.  In my experience, this amounts to the following:  Magnet schools get to do whatever they want and comprehensive schools are micromanaged to death.  Development for schools like Palumbo involves technology, student ownership, and authentic projects.  Development for schools like Overbrook is a strict lesson plan, using certain vocabulary words every day, and Pearson workbooks.  Thus students in the latter school, more likely to be poor and Hispanic or African American, receive a very different type of education than those at the “good schools”.

A lot of good educators are moving towards a project based, student centered model4.  How we bring that to students with poor social-emotional skills is a challenge.  We need to answer it.

No school suffers from too much flexibility.  The Action Plan must call for equity in pedagogy between schools, or explain why they don’t feel it’s important.

 

I remain devoted to the cause of public education in Philadelphia.  I would be happy to discuss any of these issues.

Thank you,

Andrew Saltz

The Paul Robeson High School for Human Services

As always, thank you for reading.  Please consider sending an email to the Action Plan team – or post your thoughts in the comments.  

 


  1. or even a cursory glance 

  2. parents must state a “religious objection 

  3. and I say this with reservation, because it seems fairly likely one of these will be a future employer 

  4. even Mastery, renown for its test-prep curriculum, is instituting a similar Mastery 3.0 system. Props to them for growing, although I’m concerned that, like a District school, it’s only for the “good” kids