SRC plan to privatize 3 Philly schools a gross overreach, inconsistent

     Demonstrators representing Cooke Elementary School are shown at the Jan. 21 SRC meeting. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    Demonstrators representing Cooke Elementary School are shown at the Jan. 21 SRC meeting. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    A group of professors from several Philadelphia-area institutions and from different fields sent a letter on Tuesday to the SRC to express concern over the decision to privatize Wister, Cooke, and Huey elementary schools. 

    The following letter was sent on Feb. 9, 2016, to the School Reform Commission on behalf of a number of area academics. Also copied were Otis Hackney, Philadelphia’s chief education officer; members of Philadelphia City Council; and Mayor Jim Kenney.

    Dear Members of the SRC and Superintendent Hite,

    We are professors from different Philadelphia-area institutions and from different fields, including political science, education, urban studies, and law. All of us study, write, and teach about the role public education plays in the United States and in Philadelphia. We share a commitment to the value of public education as a public good that is essential to a functioning democracy. In that context, we write to express our deep concern over the SRC’s recent decision to privatize three more neighborhood schools — Wister, Cooke, and Huey. The views we express are our own; we are not speaking on behalf of our institutions.

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    Too many of those who demand privatization of public schools in the name of “choice” completely dismiss the choice of parents who want a neighborhood public school. Before the SRC vote on privatizing Wister, Huey, and Cooke, Jonathan Cetel of PennCAN argued that Wister parents weren’t being heard — but he ignored the strong voices of Wister parents who rejected charterization of their school. By his own data, a strong majority of the in-catchment families have not opted out of their school — 66 percent to 34 percent — according to him. Parents of Wister, Cooke, and Huey were not even given the respect of being allowed to vote on who should run their schools.

    Then the SRC adopted Commissioner Simms’ last minute, unannounced resolution to privatize Wister even after Superintendent Hite determined that Wister should remain a public school. Simms asserted that she was moved by parents who supported privatization — but she never met with the parents who opposed the move or attended any of the community meetings on Wister’s future. No one on the SRC ever offered the parents the option of voting, which would have been a more democratic means of allowing parent voice than simply listening only to a select group of parents. Senator Anthony Hardy Williams’ recent op-ed similarly lauded parental choice — while totally ignoring the fact that Wister, Huey, and Cooke parents were given no choice in this process.

    Cetel pointed to last year’s test scores to justify the charterization of Wister, asserting that Mastery’s track record is clearly superior to Wister’s. Is it? If the School Progress Report categories have any meaning, then a fair comparison of Wister and the existing Mastery Renaissance schools is called for.

    Overall 33% Watch
    Achievement 7% Intervene
    Progress 68% Reinforce
    Mastery Cleveland
    Overall 20% Intervene
    Achievement 12% Intervene
    Progress 0% Intervene
    Mastery Clymer
    Overall 19% Intervene
    Achievement 13% Intervene
    Progress 0% Intervene
    Mastery Harrity
    Overall 22% Intervene
    Achievement 16% Intervene
    Progress 5% Intervene
    Mastery Mann
    Overall 30% Watch
    Achievement 28% Watch
    Progress 8% Intervene
    Mastery Pastorius
    Overall 35% Watch
    Achievement 10% Intervene
    Progress 50% Reinforce
    Mastery Smedley
    Overall 41% Watch
    Achievement 29% Watch
    Progress 31% Watch
    Mastery Gratz Middle School
    Overall 26% Watch
    Achievement 2% Intervene
    Progress 52% Reinforce

    And what about Gratz High School’s results under Mastery, which Cetel touted at the end of his post?

    Mastery Gratz High School
    Overall 12% Intervene
    Achievement 3% Intervene
    Progress 17% Intervene

    Even Mastery’s non-Renaissance Middle/Elementary charters struggled based on the SPR data:

    Mastery Pickett MS
    Overall 11% Intervene
    Achievement 5% Intervene
    Progress 3% Intervene
    Mastery Shoemaker MS
    Overall 28% Watch
    Achievement 13% Intervene
    Progress 8% Intervene
    Mastery Lenfest MS
    Overall 16% Intervene
    Achievement 7% Intervene
    Progress 0% Intervene
    Hardy Williams Mastery K-8
    Overall 39% Watch
    Achievement 17% Intervene
    Progress 41% Watch
    Mastery Thomas K-8
    Overall 48% Watch
    Achievement 31% Watch
    Progress 43% Watch

    Cetel and others have pointed to the Intervene category as justification for privatization and turnaround efforts for traditional public schools. But, along with the six Mastery schools noted above, another 18 charter schools fell into the Intervene category. Should they be closed as well?

    It is unfair to condemn Wister, Cooke, Huey, and other public schools for their test scores on a test that was planned to be more difficult and in a year when the devastating funding cuts continued to undercut all schools’ efforts to educate our children. It is perplexing that the SRC does not consistently rely on its own data, which does not support the Wister decision.

    Cetel argued that money doesn’t matter. However he didn’t mention that the Mastery schools receive millions of dollars in contributions and grants beyond the per-pupil funding they receive from the District. According to the 2014 990 tax returns on, the Mastery Schools Foundation’s income was $12,006,597. In addition, individual schools received the following in additional contributions and grants:

    Cleveland $1,999,476
    Clymer $912,164
    Gratz $2,961,229 (presumably MS and HS)
    Harrity $1,446,278
    Hardy Williams $3,110,776 (presumably ES and HS)
    Mastery HS $8,731,368 (presumably Lenfest)
    Mann $1,147,877
    Pastorius $1,596,417
    Shoemaker $1,868,623 (presumably MS and HS)
    Smedley $1,340,309
    Thomas $3,846,908 (presumably ES and HS)

    Mastery schools impose a rigid climate on their students. The disciplinary code allows for demerits that can build to detention and expulsion for a wide variety of behaviors including exhibiting disrespect by rolling one’s eyes or sucking one’s teeth. Not every parent wants that climate for their child, especially when the Mastery rates for out of school suspension are high. Nine percent of Wister students experienced OSS last year according to the SPR. The contrasting rates for the Mastery K-8 and middle schools are much higher:

    Mann 18%
    Smedley 11%
    Cleveland 15%
    Clymer 11%
    Harrity 21%
    Pastorius 20%
    Gratz MS 42%
    Lenfest MS 39%
    Shoemaker MS 36%
    Pickett MS 45%
    Hardy Williams K-8 20%
    Thomas K-8 6%

    At Gratz High School, 54 percent — a majority of students- experienced an out of school suspension last year according to the SPR.

    If parental choice matters, then the decision to privatize these schools should have been based on a transparent and open vote of all of the families now in the schools and a full and complete consideration of how the resources available to these schools affect the data on which the SRC is basing its decisions.


    Susan L. DeJarnattProfessor of Law Temple University Beasley School of Law

    Carolyn T. AdamsProfessor Emeritus, Geography and Urban StudiesTemple University

    Frank BerntProfessor, Teacher EducationSaint Joseph’s University

    Amy BrownCritical Writing Fellow in AnthropologyCenter for Programs in Contemporary WritingUniversity of Pennsylvania

    Jody CohenTerm Professor, Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education ProgramBryn Mawr College

    Jerusha ConnerAssociate Professor, Education and CounselingVillanova University

    Barbara FermanProfessor, Political Science and Director, University Community CollaborativeTemple University

    Encarnacion RodriguezAssociate Professor, Educational LeadershipSaint Joseph’s University

    Elaine SimonLecturer, Urban StudiesUniversity of Pennsylvania

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