This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The School District is moving forward on plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP) this spring to seek outside help in improving some of 70 schools that are in “Corrective Action II” status.
But with a new CEO coming on board who wants a say in what to do about these chronically low-scoring schools, uncertainty now reigns about what will happen to them in the coming school year.
A Corrective Action II task force and six subcommittees have been reviewing recommendations on questions like what the RFP will say, which schools it will apply to, and how it will be financed.
Interim CAO Cassandra Jones says the RFP process reflects the reality that “we are a diverse provider district,” but it has sparked debate about the possibility of new District contracts with private education management organizations (EMOs).
Corrective Action II schools are ones that have failed for five years to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” as defined by the No Child Left Behind law (See Notebook winter edition). As many as 24 additional District schools could move into Corrective Action II status later this year if they fail to meet their targets on spring tests.
A draft report from the task force, which is being revised, sorted the 70 schools into three roughly equal-sized tiers, based on whether they made most, some, or hardly any of their NCLB performance targets. The draft suggested that the middle tier of schools be put into an RFP process and the bottom tier be managed by a new District restructuring office.
Activists have questioned why EMOs are still part of the reform mix. They say most data suggest that EMOs as a group have failed to outperform comparable District schools, despite receiving extra funds. Sixteen of the 38 schools run by EMOs are already in the corrective action process themselves.
SRC Chair Sandra Dungee Glenn counters that existing EMOs are being evaluated case by case. “If they are living up to and have met the goals that they set out, then they should have an opportunity to go forward. If not, then why should we continue?”
Tamika Tomlinson, a Philadelphia Student Union member from King High School, noted that the EMO operating her school, Foundations, Inc., has been unable to stabilize the teaching force. “If the EMO running my school cannot provide the students of Martin Luther King High School with fully qualified, experienced teachers and equipped classrooms, then they should not be in control,” Tomlinson told the SRC in testimony on February 20. King has been plagued by high teacher turnover since the nonprofit took it over in 2003.
At a February 13 rally on N. Broad St. and in speeches to the SRC, a coalition of parent and student groups including the Student Union has argued that EMOs overall suffer from teacher quality problems and has urged the District to “make improving teacher quality the top priority at CAII schools.”
Almost one-third of teachers in the Corrective Action II schools – and an even higher proportion in the high schools – are not highly qualified, compared to the District average of 14 percent, these groups say.
Another key challenge affecting District plans for the Corrective Action II schools is that 22 high schools are included, and neither the District nor existing EMOs have a strong track record with high schools.