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public education

Pathetic Pat Toomey gets punked, HARD

Pathetic Pat Toomey, who’s a real tough guy when he’s taking health insurance away from kids with cancer or sending Syrian refugee children back to warzones, is terrified of his adult constituents. So much so that he hasn’t met with them for months. But after he decided to support Betsy DeVos for Department of Education,…

Let’s Just Not Have Public Schools

Via Atrios, I often wonder why we have public schools at all in Pennsylvania, considering we obviously don’t want them.

Adding to the financial strain on school districts, the Department of Education has said it will withhold portions of gambling revenue to those school districts that have stopped making payments to charter schools because of the impasse.

The gambling money – the only state money flowing to districts during the stalemate – is normally used by districts for property-tax relief.

Education officials are now skimming off a portion of that funding to pay charters. In a statement, they said that Pennsylvania’s charter-school law states that if a school district doesn’t pay its charters, the state “shall” deduct that amount from “any and all” payments to the district.

“While Gov. Wolf and [Education] Secretary Pedro Rivera recognize the unfairness of this provision and believe it should be changed, the department must follow the law,” education officials said in the statement.

Also, too, the Superintendent of Philly Schools, William [S]Hite, is now “out of patience” with “Source4Teachers”, to which the district contracted out its substitute teachers, to the tune of $34 million. S4T promised a 75% fill rate and at a lower cost -someone calculated that it was something like $7.00/hour after all is said and done- which it has never even come close to meeting. So now we have this:

Hite Wednesday reiterated earlier statements, saying he had put Source4Teachers “on notice.”

“It has to be corrected ASAP,” the superintendent said of the firm’s low fill rate. “If not, we have to think of other options.”

Hite said he does have a target date by which the company has to meet standards or face losing its contract, but he declined to identify it. He said he was monitoring the fill rate on a weekly basis.

He said the immediate push was a “call to action” to find more qualified candidates willing to accept substitute positions. Recent retirees have been contacted, as well as current staff – the district has asked teachers to help recruit qualified subs.

So it looks like Hite’s reconsidering the old way of doing things, which like DUH, but the bigger question in my mind is what happens if he cancels the contract with S4T? I mean, does the district get the $34 million back?

[NB: In one of my more recent bouts with unemployment, I contacted S4T and applied. They wanted me to pay for my own background check, which is a $58.00 expense. And maybe that’s not a lot to you, but for an unemployed person, that’s a significant chunk of change. So I never completed the application. In recent weeks they’ve been emailing me asking me to come in for an interview, but I don’t respond because I make a lot more money doing AV work and substitute teaching is the kind of thing only desperate people do… the kind of people who can’t afford to part with $58.00 for a criminal background check.]

ALSO, TOO, and from the same article, we get THIS tasty little tidbit:

[Shite] also said he was not comfortable with the number of nurses in city schools. Three schools have no nursing services at all; another 16 have only sporadic coverage.

“I haven’t been comfortable with that in some time,” [S]Hite said.

So maybe another couple of kids die. But don’t worry, our man has a solution if things get REALLY bad:

He said the district’s move to explore privatizing some health services was still on the table, and would proceed only if it would add to existing services, not take anything away from schools.

…because privatizing substitute teachers worked so well. And our various experiments with schools for profit, dating back to before I even moved the Philadelphia 16 years ago, have also been such stellar successes.

Why bother even having schools, I’m beginning to ask. Just put the kids in jail or sell them to the scrapple factory.

Thousands of Unopened Books found in Closed Philly Schools

The Worst People in America

I have said it before and I will say it again: THE SRC NEEDS TO BE RUN OUT OF TOWN ON A RAIL:

There are thousands more unused books – and other things city kids badly need, including pianos and other instruments – piled up in the hallways and classrooms of the shuttered Bok High School in South Philadelphia.

The books were dumped there two years ago when Bok and 23 other schools were closed. They’ve just been sitting there since.

If things are messy in the district basement, Bok is worse.

At Bok, it looks like the district ran out without paying the rent and left behind all the books.

The hallways are crowded with boxes and boxes and boxes of books.

“A CITY BLOCK OF BOOKS. SOME OF THEM SHRINK-WRAPPED.” And the school administrators -that is, the SRC- KNEW ABOUT IT, in a district that for the past four goddamn years has forced kids to SHARE TEXTBOOKS BECAUSE THERE WEREN’T ENOUGH TO GO AROUND. This goes way beyond incompetence and well into indifference and contempt for the city’s public school children. Read Gallard’s comments, he can’t even get his story straight. First he admits they knew the books were there, then he says that teachers have always been welcome to the books, and then he discourages them from doing just that, PAYING to outsource the job to a third party when the district can’t even get the books it has to the students who need them. No, seriously:

Why don’t more teachers know about them? And those novels, why aren’t they in the hands of kids who could get lost in their pages?

When I talked with district spokesman Fernando Gallard on Tuesday, he offered bureaucratic explanations that indicated this is not a new problem.

Gallard said principals and teachers have an open invitation to come to the basement to look for what they want.

“We are slowly but surely finding new homes for the materials that can be used,” he said.

As for the thousands of books at Bok, that’s different, he said.

With all the cuts in recent years – more than 5,000 employees in three years – the district lacks the resources to go through all the materials warehoused there.

The teacher who had to go and have a look for herself said that if more teachers knew, they would surely volunteer to get the materials sorted.

That’s not going to work, Gallard said. It’s too big a job, he said.

So instead the district is bringing in an outside company to audit the material at Bok. A broke district is paying someone to tell it what books it already has.

And naturally, no one bothered to tell the Teachers Union, because why would you do that? THEY ONLY WORK WITH CHILDREN EVERY DAY AND BESIDES WHEN HAS THE SRC DONE ANYTHING TO BENEFIT TEACHERS, CHILDREN, AND SCHOOLS?

Those of you who used to read my old blog might now be expecting me to start calling for Bill Green and the rest of the clowns at the SRC to be drawn and quartered and forced to eat their own innards on live television. But I’m not that guy anymore.

Instead, I am going to call this what it is: this is CHILD ABUSE. When you treat children like pawns in some proxy war between traditional public education and charter schools/privatization, YOU ARE ABUSING CHILDREN. When you send children to decrepit schools that are starved of resources -resources like the thousands of books, instruments, and band uniforms you have known were sitting unused in a basement- YOU ARE ABUSING CHILDREN. When you pretend that the problem is the teachers union instead of the historically inequitable funding levels for Philly schools, and refusing to fight that much more difficult battle, you are ABUSING CHILDREN.

Of course, what do you expect from adults who scream “failure” in the face of children and then lie about it when they get caught?

Heads should roll for this one. Give the children their fucking goddamn books, and for that matter give our schools the funding they need.

UPDATE: The books-in-the-basement problem didn’t appear overnight, Gallard said. “They have kept them here for many, many years and nobody wanted to deal with it.” These are the people tasked with educating our children. There has been an ongoing crisis for the past FOUR YEARS in which the lack of textbooks has been a major problem and “nobody wanted to deal with it.”

I have steadfastly tried to maintain a policy of minimal expletives at my new home on the web (I’m embarrassed by the unnecessary f-bomb above). But reading that article made me want to unleash a stream of expletives that would make Buddy Rich blush.

UPDATE 2: A friend of mine who used to work for a nonprofit that was occupying a floor at the shuttered West Philly High School says that building was also filled with books and supplies that had been abandoned. No idea if that’s the same throughout the district’s dozens of abandoned properties. Someone should check.

In fact, maybe WE SHOULD ALL check. Call the SRC: 215-400-4010 and tell them “nobody wanted to deal with it” is completely unacceptable. That somebody needs to deal with it, and to deal with it now. We’re talking about people’s kids here.

SRC Chair Bill Green Demoted By Gov, Throws Tantrum

Bill Green in his car seat

Governor Wolf has teeth, and takes a bite out of Bill Green’s bloated ego:

Days after Bill Green defied Gov. Wolf by voting to approve new charter schools, the governor has stripped Green of his chairmanship of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

Marjorie Neff, a retired Philadelphia public school principal, will be the new chair of the five-member governing body of the Philadelphia School District, she confirmed Sunday.

A spokesman for Wolf confirmed the governor’s move Sunday night after Green made his demotion public. Wolf’s spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, said the district needed a change in leaders.

Green, who will continue serving as a commission member, said he would fight the demotion in court.

Green has been going around all day on Twitter making a stink about a picture of Wolf speaking with PFT president Jerry Jordan, insinuating some quid pro quo that doesn’t exist (responding to the same post, Helen Gym noted that if you “follow the money” you find that Green gave nearly $3,000 to charter school puppet/mayoral candidate Tony Williams. And he’s posting crybaby diaperpants videos defending himself on the School District’s website, which is hardly the place to pursue his personal political ends. And making matters worse for himself, Green’s misrepresenting what happened: he was demoted, not fired.

None of this behavior is new for Green. The son of a former mayor, Bill’s always had a pretty high opinion of himself. At least one serious journalist I know believes that Green thought he could “save” the District and ride that success to the Governor’s mansion or perhaps even the US Senate. Instead, “he hitched himself to the fortunes of our last (Republican) governor. Those fortunes did not prove to be so fortunate, which should have been rather obvious at the time.”. Today, Green is hated and despised by most teachers in the district (who also form a formidable voting bloc), he’s distrusted and reviled by parents, and the Wolf administration sees him (rightly) as a representative of the previous governor and thus unfit to lead a commission the new Governor thinks should disbanded.

Bill Green is not doing himself or his political future any favors by acting this way.

Opting Out of Standardized Tests: Interview with Amy Roat

One of my best friends in Philadelphia is Amy Roat, who is leading the fight to get kids to opt out of standardized testing:

Parents of 17 percent of all students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences have opted their children out of controversial standardized tests, according to a statement from teacher and parent activists. In recent years, tests like the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) have played an increasingly larger role in judging not only student academic achievement but also whether individual teachers and entire schools have made the grade — or are deemed failures….

But Amy Roat, a Feltonville teacher and Caucus of Working Educators leader, says that parents are not being informed of their options.

It is important for parents in PA and Feltonville to know they have a RIGHT to Opt -Out their child from standardized tests,” she writes in an email to City Paper. “This information is not well-disseminated. Opt-Out is an important action for parents to consider, especially if their child has an IEP [Individualized Education Program] or they are an ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] student.” For her efforts, the Philadelphia School District -which has been run into the ground by the state, which took over more than a decade ago- threatened to come down on Roat and her fellow teachers like a ton of bricks.

Instead, Amy went on the Rick Smith show, broadcast weeknights out of Harrisburg. If you care about public education, in Pennsylvania or anywhere, you should listen in/