Given our still-sputtering economy, Americans have grown used to their public schools facing tight budgets. This fiscal squeeze has drawn out a hidden crisis in public education: How do we keep our best teachers in the classroom? The short answer is, we don't.
When government unions engage in labor disputes, they use their power and monopoly to remind the public of the value of their service. However, schoolchildren should never have to bear the brunt of the union’s grievances.
Martin Luther King Jr. believed that, "unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality." If correct, then no stronger love or enduring truth can personify his dream than between a caring parent and their needful child.
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Philadelphia schools have long battled declining student achievement, sky-rocketing violence, and unsustainable spending levels. Yet, several turn-around schools have managed to overcome this bleak educational trajectory and should serve as a model for further reforms.
Pennsylvania Independent’s Maura Pennington examines the striking consequences of Philadelphia School District’s 2010 experiment in reforming its lowest performing schools. The district employed two models: district-managed Promise Academies and privately-operated Renaissance Charter Schools.
The outcome? In short, things worsened for district-run schools, but the Renaissance Charter alternatives are showing improvement.
The latest report shows that the district’s Promise Academies lacked proper oversight and clarity as they sought to hire new staff and enforce a uniform dress code. One major hurdle they could not overcome was seniority requirements, which led to major staffing problems. And the district’s fiscal mismanagement led to funding decreases that severed the cornerstone of the reform—greater student instruction time.
At this point, three district-run Promise Academy high schools have closed, and in those that remain, academic performance sits below the district average.
Renaissance Charter Schools—free from seniority requirements and other bureaucratic restrictions—managed to surmount the same obstacles and forge a path to success. When implementing new policies and procedures, they were governed by specific missions and goals and, consequently, achieved, according to one Renaissance Charter parent, “more order, organization, safer learning environment and a mutually agreed upon commitment from the staff at all levels.”
The benefits are tangible:
- Decreased violence. At Young Scholars Frederick Douglass Charter School, serious safety incidents plummeted from 23.86 per 100 students in 2008-09 to .61 in 2010.
- Increased academic achievement: Grover Cleveland Mastery Charter School gained 10 percentage points in reading and math proficiency one year after the change.
With such stark results and parental support, Philadelphia should look to the charter model of reform to take its failing schools to the next level.
Part two of our conversation with Ashley DeMauro, PA state director for StudentsFirst, features an in-depth discussion of seniority reform, teacher evaluations, school transparency, and charter school reform. Here are some highlights:
How can we measure teacher effectiveness to ensure education quality?
Because of recent reforms pushed for by StudentsFirst and others, Pennsylvania now has a robust, 4-tier rating system for educator performance.
So, once they're identified, how do we reward and protect the best public school teachers in the state?
Doing away with the "last in, first out" seniority-based hiring and firing is an obvious step one.
How can we make school spending and contracting more transparent to protect taxpayers?
A proposed transparency website called SchoolWATCH promises to do just that.
What’s on the General Assembly’s plate regarding long-overdue charter school reform?
SB 1085, while unnecessarily punitive to cyber schools, promises to expand charter authorization while enhancing accountability measures.
In case you missed it, listen to our first conversation with Ashley DeMauro on Pennsylvania's new student performance profiles.
What do they measure? How can parents learn about their children's schools and how can schools use the profiles to learn from each other?
Listen here to find out in the first of two conversations on education reform in Pennsylvania.
Curious about your school’s performance or want to compare it with schools in the city you’re moving to?
The data is available to everyone at PaSchoolPerformance.org.
Who are We?
The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.
Last night, I spoke with ABC 27 about polling that shows the vast majority of union household support ending taxpayer collection of union political money. See the video below: In response, Rep. Mike Sturla makes the claim that union dues aren't used on politics. As we've explained before, there ...