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Posted at 12:27 PM ET, 10/21/2010

On school reform, by Philadelphia's mayor and superintendent

By Valerie Strauss

This post was written by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

By Michael Nutter and Arlene Ackerman
To read the news coming out of Washington, D.C., you’d think the only way to reform public schools is by firing teachers, closing schools, and battling it out in the media.

Not so.

The aggressive strategies in D.C. led to some laudable gains in minority students’ academic performance. But it is clear that some members of the community may have felt alienated or left out of the process.

In Philadelphia, we believe there’s a different way—engage the entire community, collaborate with union colleagues, and focus on instruction.

So far, it’s working. For the first time ever, more than half of the city’s 195,000 public and charter school students met state standards in math and reading. The six-year high school graduation rate for students has climbed to 63%, up 3% in the past year alone. Reading and math skills have been improving for eight years straight. And our lowest performing schools are making some of the greatest gains.

While we have a long way to go to ensure every child gets the excellent education he or she deserves, our city’s school system is undeniably moving in the right direction.

Across the city, parents, citizens, teachers and unions are central players in reform efforts, not spectators or bystanders. Through constructive, behind-the-scenes dialogue rather than public confrontations, the school district and the PFT negotiated a contract that is hailed as “groundbreaking” and “historic” nationwide.

This agreement gives struggling schools flexibility to extend the school day, lengthen the year, and pay teachers more. It allows principals and the school community, rather than seniority systems, to determine teacher hiring. And it links compensation to the all-important goal of improving student achievement.

When the school district launched the initiative to turn around chronically low-performing schools, community members played a major role in selecting the charter school providers for the seven new Renaissance Charter Schools. While similar transitions in other cities sparked lawsuits and street protests, ours did not because of comprehensive and respectful community participation.

Now the School Reform Commission is working with parents to determine which of our aging school buildings, many with hundreds of empty seats, can be consolidated or shut down.

Building on previous success and strategic partnerships, the school district is preparing for round two of the Renaissance Schools Initiative, establishing a Leadership Institute for personnel, extending Weighted Student Funding to the entire District, and opening seven new Parent and Family Resource Centers, 50 additional Parent University sites, and three Newcomer Learning Academies to address the learning needs of a growing immigrant population.

Reform is hard and it can be messy. Inevitably, it will upset some people but encourage others.

Still, innovative ideas and expert manifestos aren’t enough. To create lasting change in our schools and a better future for our city, we need the whole community to pull together, believe we can succeed, work through the challenges, and focus on solutions.

This is a unique moment for public schools across Philadelphia and across the nation. Progress is not only possible--it’s happening. We know the work is difficult and we have a long road ahead.

But we must never lose sight of the children whose lives depend on a decent education. We’re fighting for them and for what they deserve.

It’s not Superman they’re waiting on; it’s us.
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By Valerie Strauss  | October 21, 2010; 12:27 PM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, School turnarounds/reform, Teachers  | Tags:  arlene ackerman, engagement, michael nutter, parent involvement, philadelphia schools, school reform, teachers, teachers union  
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This is. Why we need Dr Ackerman to return to DC please Doc. Come back we need. You. Your mission in philly in complete

Posted by: Darksecrettt | October 21, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

I am not for ditching seniority in hiring... Nor am I for tying teacher pay to "achievement." Ah yes, the almighty test scores.

And now we have this. Ta da!

That would be a Google News sampling of the latest craze to hit the nation, er, I mean imposed on the nation by politicians: Obama/Duncan/Republicans (it's their baby Obama has adopted and fed with steroids); their comrades in (h)arms, the private sector and our corporate media buffoons (harken back to these clowns highly unified Iraq War promotional campaign)

The craze being these crazy and highly destructive ed reforms.

I am not willing to say hooray for those who make us eat half a rotten loaf rather than a whole rotten loaf, as I see in the Philadelphia story, cited in this posting.

Oh, and as for NYC attempting to follow in the Los Angeles' crap strewn tracks, by publishing teachers names with their scores, well, how about THAT, Michael Mulgrew? How about that Randi Weingarten? How about this havoc your selling out has wreaked?

Mulgrew is President of the NYC teachers' union, the UFT, the post Weingarten held before she went VIRAL as head of the AFT. He's her protege... they have both gone around selling out teachers - Mulgrew locally, Randi, crisscrossing the nation, spreading the misery everywhere as a product of her "help" to local unions...

And so now, what say you Michael Mulgrew?

Oh... here:

"The union “took part in the DOE’s [Department of Education] ‘value-added’ experiment with the hope that it would produce a product that would help teachers improve their craft. Unfortunately, this has not happened,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew in an Oct. 20 press statement."

Thanks for the regrets, Michael. Now when are you going to fire yourself, due to flaming incompetence as a UNION head? I would ask the same of your ubiquitous mentor, Ms Weingarten.

Sell outs. Those teachers who follow them, or allow them to talk up half a rotten loaf (it eventually infests the whole loaf, as we are seeing), those who "bite," are just beginning to see the negatives they will reap... not just for themselves but for ALL teachers.

PS - Morning Joe's panel was excited over the news re NYC's publishing of teacher ratings. "Unions suck. All public schools are failing!" Guest Corzine weakly interjected that not ALL are failing, but where was the voice in that lot to push back w/facts?

It's easy. You say this to blowhard Scarborough when he claims ALL public schools are failing:

Really Joe? Then your much loved Waiting for Superman is really doing a diservice! Stats show 83% of charters do no better or worse than the 100% failing pubilc schools.

Still waiting for sanity.

Posted by: NYCee | October 22, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Dear Dr. Ackerman –

I think you, as an educator, should back up statements you make about academic performance. In the case of Rhee, you haven’t and you really can’t. I suspect that you’re simply repeating what you’ve heard, which is unfortunate. Chances are the person you heard it was considered to be reliable and probably that person heard it from someone also considered to be a reliable source. Now people reading your statement will accept it because you are a respected educator. Thus, the myths and misstatements continue.

Please check the NAEP website* and you’ll see that the DCPS scores have been rising for over a decade – during your tenure and that of five other DCPS superintendents. Rhee doesn’t deserve any more credit for “laudable gains” than you do, and who knows, the slow, steady gains might not have been the effect of any superintendent, but of something else that no one has been interested enough to look into.

Also, the achievement gap widened* during Rhee’s time in DC. It’s nothing to be proud of and she keeps very quiet about it.

You should also be aware that elementary DC-CAS scores when down* 4 percentage points this year. That’s about a 10% decline for the first school year in which Rhee made classroom “reforms” that directly impacted student learning (firing a sizable number of existing teachers and hiring inexperienced TFAers in their place).

* Please check the references below (in the order mentioned above), so you will be familiar with them and can quote from them directly and correctly the next time you comment on Michelle Rhee’s effects on the DC schools. (then click on “District of Columbia”)

Posted by: efavorite | October 22, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

I meant to precede my recent comment with this quote from Dr. Ackerman:

“The aggressive strategies in D.C. led to some laudable gains in minority students’ academic performance.”

I’ve also added another link for Dr. Ackerman and anyone interested in truly understanding DCPS achievement statistics. The website is operated by a retired DCPS math teacher who has been lauded by educational writer Jay Mathews for his careful analysis of DCPS-related statistics.

This particular entry shows how a reported rise in math achievement among 4th graders is actually a statistical mirage caused by a higher percentage of Hispanics and Whites compared to Blacks in the 4th grade. Please check the statistics and analysis for yourself at:

Posted by: efavorite | October 23, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Okay, first: "When the school district launched the initiative to turn around chronically low-performing schools, community members played a major role in selecting the charter school providers for the seven new Renaissance Charter Schools. While similar transitions in other cities sparked lawsuits and street protests, ours did not because of comprehensive and respectful community participation." Lies. The union is in the process of suing over the Renaissance process, and anyone who knows ANYTHING about the process at West Philly High knows that a) the community wasn't respected and b) the process was not at all peaceful or democratic. The Renaissance process is an attempt to privatize schools, plain and simple, and when the community wanted something else, they were silenced.

Second: Michael Nutter, you are a spineless coward for supporting this woman. I thought you were smarter than that.

The only good thing about Ackerman's recent attempts to ingratiate herself with the Washington Post is that maybe she's trying to get Michelle Rhee's job and then we'll be rid of her.

Posted by: phillyteacher | October 23, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I strongly endorse the previous commenter (phillyteacher) on this post by Nutter and Ackerman. The community involvement was a sham designed as a rubber stamp to what Ackerman wanted to do. And why is Nutter taking any credit? The way things are set up in Philadelphia, the mayor has virtually no power. The union has been neutered. Anyone who wants truly to see what havoc Ackerman has wreaked on the Philly schools need only read the Public School Notebook (on line) and the myriad comments that tell it like it is. I admire the people of DC for sending a clear message to the mayor (soon to be former mayor), don't mess with the folks who send their kids to the public schools. If only we could vote out our state representatives who have their thumbs firmly on the Philly schools (we are run by the state) and there is a vast conspiracy to privatize, leaving some public schools to those left over after the music stops. If only Nutter were right in saying there was true community partnership. It ain't so.

Posted by: Phillyschooladvocate | October 25, 2010 12:48 AM | Report abuse

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