This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The 14 schools that were just named to be either Renaissance Schools or Promise Academies all underwent a school review process in February or March, conducted by Schoolworks, and the summary findings of those reviews are now accessible via the District website.
They make for interesting reading.
The purpose of the school reviews was to add a qualitative dimension to the process of naming Renaissance Schools, since the list of 14 Renaissance Eligible schools was based entirely on their poor school performance data.
The District had said that schools would be taken off the Renaissance list if the review showed strong evidence that they were already undergoing a turnaround, but Superintendent Ackerman said Tuesday that she thought all 14 schools needed radical intervention. And so at all the schools, the staff is being force-transferred and an outside provider or the Superintendent’s office will be put in charge of reform.
Many of the school review summaries provide painful descriptions of dysfunctional school cultures. For example:
“There are no clear goals to guide improvement efforts. The school does not provide a safe or orderly environment that is conducive to student learning. In focus groups, all stakeholders (staff, parents, students) reported that the school is not safe.” (Smedley)
“Typical lessons consisted of students independently completing learning tasks that required only recall and comprehension. Teacher questions and student responses incorporated analysis and higher-order thinking in only 4% of observed classes.” (Vaux)
However, some schools are cited for significant progress. The review of Potter-Thomas Elementary is mostly positive, and while West Philadelphia High School is criticized for weak instructional practices, parts of the assessment of West are almost glowing.
While all 14 schools have terrible test scores, the school reviews bring to mind an obvious question. Is the turnaround model – designed to address a dysfunctional school culture by overhauling the staff and management – really the right approach to ensure continued progress at schools like Potter-Thomas and West?