On school reform, by Philadelphia's mayor and superintendent
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.
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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| 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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