How crazy were school closings cheerleaders? As crazy as you thought

On the day of the school closings vote, Parents United joined the hundreds of people who opposed the vote. (Photo: Bill Hangley with permission)
On the day of the school closings vote, Parents United joined the hundreds of people who opposed the vote. (Photo: Bill Hangley with permission)

(This post originally appeared at the Public School Notebook. We thank our attorneys at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, especially Ben Geffen and Michael Churchill, for their multi-year dedication to this effort.)

What could possibly justify the closing of Northeast High School, the largest school in the city and each year bursting at the seams? Why would anyone suggest closing four elementary schools in Olney, a neighborhood that once housed some of the most overcrowded schools in the District?

We may not find out the answers to these questions, but we know now that these were some of the ludicrous ideas proposed by the Boston Consulting Group in a long-secret 2012 report presented in a private meeting to the School Reform Commission.

BCG called for closing 88 District-managed schools, which would have displaced a conservative estimate of 22,000-31,000 students districtwide – more than triple the number of students displaced by the actual 2013 school closings. A five-year plan sought the removal and reassignment of up to 45,000 students, more than one-third of the District.

This information and more came to us after Parents United for Public Education and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia won a two-and-a-half-year battle to get BCG’s list of school closings. After losing three times in official proceedings, the District this month agreed to hand over BCG’s recommendations.

(View the document here)Continue reading “How crazy were school closings cheerleaders? As crazy as you thought”

Our statement: We support the right to opt out

This statement is in response to news that the School District of Philadelphia may begin disciplinary action toward teachers who had informed parents of their opt out rights around high stakes testing. The District move follows this City Paper article announcing that 17% of students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences refused to take the PSSAs and other assessments. Support this effort by writing a short letter to the SRC (SRC@philasd.org) and tweeting to the School District of Philadelphia @PhillyEducation.

PHILADELPHIA – Parents United for Public Education expresses our unequivocal support for the rights of parents and families to opt out of high stakes standardized testing. We applaud the mass action of parents at schools across the city, including the parents and guardians of more than 90  students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, to end a punishing testing culture in one of the most impoverished and deprived school districts in the state

We call upon District administrators to end disciplinary investigations into this matter and instead work with parents and families to seek a waiver from the state. In the meantime, we ask the District to fully inform parents of their opt-out rights and support parent requests to do so.

“Parents have the right to opt out – that is an indisputable right,” said Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. “The District has an opportunity to work with parents and teachers on an issue of common gain rather than once again being on the wrong side of the table.

Robin Roberts, parent of three children and a member of Parents United’s leadership team, has opted her children out of the PSSA again for the second consecutive year.

“High stakes testing is not helping anyone but the billion dollar testing industry,” Roberts said. “It’s time for parents to end this.”

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Brown, Garner and other tragedies under the Michael Jackson Microscope

TonayiaToday my ten year old son brought home a writing assignment. His instructions were to print out the lyrics of his favorite song and write about what it means to him. Sounds simple enough.

My son happens to be a fan of Michael Jackson thanks to Mom and Dad’s old CDs and “The Experience” dance game for the Wii. So he tells me that he wants me to print “They Don’t Care About Us.” Knowing the lyrics myself, I felt this was a very deep song for a 4th grade assignment and was curious to know why my son selected this song for his assignment. So I asked, “Do you know what the words in this song mean?”

He looks at me as if I were from Mars and says, “I know some of the words but it is my favorite song to dance to on the Wii.” So my husband and I go into a short lecture on how important it is to understand the words that you put your body in motion to. We pull up the lyrics to the song and my husband reads them aloud and then plays the song for my son to hear again, this time with extra attention to the lyrics. I knew in my mind where this assignment was headed as the lyrics danced around in my head.

“What recent event does this remind you of?” my husband asked.

My son responds, “Michael Brown and I can’t breathe.” I knew he had watched part of ‘Black & Blue’ on CNN which highlighted the tragic death of Eric Garner.

My heart begins to sink, as I listen to him respond to my husband’s questioning. The chorus replays in my head, “All I wanna say is that They don’t really care about us.”

Tears begin to roll down as I watch the look of terror on my son’s face as my husband explains who the “they” can be, how the”they” may view him as a young black boy, and how the “they” may mistreat him or try to punish him. Continue reading “Brown, Garner and other tragedies under the Michael Jackson Microscope”

Robin Roberts: High stakes testing is an inhuman and uneducated practice

Today, our partners at the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools helped sponsor a City Council hearing on high stakes testing. A capacity crowd turned out for the hearings, which were co-sponsored by Councilman Mark Squilla and Council Education Committee Chair Jannie Blackwell. Parents United leader Robin Roberts spoke on behalf of parents everywhere in this outstanding testimony.

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Robin Roberts

I want to thank you Councilman Squilla and Councilwoman Blackwell for inviting me today to share some of my experience and knowledge on this subject. I hope today is a first step in gaining some answers and providing some context and clarity to this discussion. Together, we can see all of our students get the education that will allow them the opportunity to prosper and achieve their dreams and goals.

I am a product of strong public schools. I participated in honors classes, foreign languages, played varsity sports throughout the year, and played in the school band and orchestra. I was safe, secure and well cared for. We had a state wide test. It lasted a day and was not a big deal. My K-12 experience prepared me academically, socially, emotionally for college where I have earned two Master and a Doctor degree.

Now, I am the mother of three children who are in the School District of Philadelphia.

By the end of today, you will have heard many people who know more about the statistics, metrics, and global impacts of this testing environment. I believe that there needs way to assess the quality, efficacy, and level of education that students are receiving. And, a way for assisting students when the information has being missed without being punitive. That process needs to be evidence based and have reliable and valid standards.

I’d like to spend this time to present why, last year, we chose to refuse the PSSA/ Keystone for our children.

“We spend millions of dollars in a broke school district on testing that could and should be prioritized for providing: basic safety in our schools, quality personnel and supplies, extracurricular activities – sports and clubs, art, music, science kits and lab facilities, and novel cultural projects and programs. In essence, we are opting out of creating the stimulating, nurturing learning environment that all students should have access to and parents and teachers strive to develop.”Continue reading “Robin Roberts: High stakes testing is an inhuman and uneducated practice”

Tomika Anglin to PA officials: Reduce inequity. Don’t reinforce it.

Today the Basic Education Funding Commission held the second part of a controversial two-day visit to Philadelphia to collect testimony that will inform the possibility of a funding formula for Pennsylvania’s schools. The Commission had refused to hear from parents, students or community members representing concerns about adequate funding in the Philadelphia public schools. According to a spokesman, the Commission’s purpose was “to find ways to more fairly distribute the funds made available, not determine “adequacy” levels of what is needed.” Thankfully our colleagues at P.O.W.E.R. threatened civil disobedience and was able to win a half hour of public testimony before the commission. Parents United leader Tomika Anglin was one of the parents to submit a two-minute testimony.

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Parents United’s Tomika Anglin with daughter Simone

 I want to thank our partners at P.O.W.E.R. for recognizing the importance of the Basic Ed Commission hearing the voices of the people who actually live the consequences of the policies created Harrisburg.

My name is Tomika Anglin. I am a single mother who has successfully raised two high school graduates and I currently have one daughter in the seventh grade. I am here as a member of Parents United for Public Education, a citywide parents organization supporting quality public schools in Philadelphia and raising an independent parent voice as a critical component of sustainable and transformative change. Parents of this city want to send their children into the educational setting most suited to address their needs as students. Resources make a difference in the educational outcomes for our children. Overcrowded classrooms, no fulltime nursing staff and no art do not. Our children are important to the success of this city and state. A funding formula which takes into account the needs of all of the state’s precious children is essential. Resources are vitally imperative to success.

On this table are over 800 formal complaints filed by parents and educators against the Pennsylvania Department of Education alleging massive violations of the Pennsylvania code governing education. What is happening in Philadelphia – under your watch – is not about how to manage resources. It’s that the current funding levels in place has destabilized every single school across this city – high performing and struggling, neighborhood and magnet.Continue reading “Tomika Anglin to PA officials: Reduce inequity. Don’t reinforce it.”