Young fella, the educational crisis in Philadelphia’s public schools has received a great deal of attention in the national and local media. The $300 million dollar budget deficit, the school closings and the massive teacher layoffs have been extensively debated. Ms. Jones, your favorite NTA, Mrs. Williams, the music teacher, Mr. Jenkins, the guidance counselor that exposed you to the world of HBCUs, they’re all gone. Along with over 3,000 of their peers, they have been terminated. It’s bad, real bad young fella. Much worse than when I graduated about 30 years ago.
A general consensus has been reached: Public Education in cities like Philadelphia is in critical condition. Some contend it’s on it’s deathbed. The media tends to frame the debate in the following manner: Should financially strapped public school districts and and their supporters focus attention on how to provide quality schooling with, admittedly, dwindling and insufficient resources? Or, alternatively, should school districts and their supporters continue waging [losing?] a struggle to gain additional public funding?
However, very few analysts and commentators view the situation from the most important perspective. What you, your Mom and your Dad do? What should you and your parents be considering? What factors should you weigh as you make educational placement decisions?
Please consider this open letter a warning! Please be careful, be very careful. The educational landscape is changing. While the focus of the public debate has been on yet another budget crisis, there has been a HUGE political shift as well. While this political shift has not received the same level attention as the recurring budget crisis, the long-term consequences will be much more impactful.
Plainly stated, if you do not make informed and careful decisions regarding school selection, you will be excluding yourself from the possibility of higher education and relegating yourself to life time of low-wage employment or worse.
In many ways, it’s a classic set-up. Young fella… pay close attention! Beginning in 2017, most low-income minority students attending traditional neighborhood public schools in places like Philadelphia, Chester, Reading, Coatesville, Harrisburg and Lancaster will NOT graduate from high school. I am not suggesting they will drop out of school. Although that is a huge problem in and of itself, I am referring to students that stay in school and complete the 12th grade. Most Black and Latino students in large urban districts will not graduate with a diploma beginning in 2017. Now, why would I make such a sad and pessimistic prediction?
A year ago, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education approved a controversial plan to require all Pennsylvania students to pass proficiency tests in science, math, and language arts before graduating. If approved, the standards would take effect with high school graduates in 2017 (current 10th graders), and require them to demonstrate proficiency in Algebra I, Biology I, and language arts on the Keystone Exams or a state-approved assessment alternative.
By adopting this requirement, Pennsylvania has become part of a larger nationwide trend. The Common Core standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. These standards are ardently backed by the Obama administration which contends that outdated and inconsistent guidelines leave students ill prepared for college and the work force. In effect, the argument is that by implementing tougher standards, the schools will rise to the occasion we will see an increased level of academic performance. What is too often left unsaid is that requiring low-income urban students who have spent their formative years in highly dysfunctional underperforming schools to demonstrate proficiency in these subject areas is a set-up for failure.
Over 85% of Philadelphia 214 public schools are currently listed as “low achieving” based on student performance on Keystone Exams or state-approved assessment alternatives.
Young fella, this is not speculation. This a prediction based firmly on an analysis of student performance trends. Think about it for a minute here. Students in nearly 9 out of 10 Philadelphia public schools have been “low achieving” for years. Since then the district has cut over 3,000 teachers. Last spring, Superintendent Hite facing yet another budget crisis declared “our schools will go from insufficient to empty shells that do not represent what I consider a functioning school.”
We know that a vast majority of these ill-prepared low-income minority students will not be able to meet these standards. It is equivalent to strapping a 50 pound weight on their backs and demanding that they beat Usain Bolt in a 100 meter dash. The outcome can be predicted with absolute certainty, they won’t win. The early results in other major cities forecast the coming Philadelphia storm.
New York was one of the first states to develop tests based on the Common Core standards. The results, predictably, were abysmal. In math, 15 percent of black students and 19 percent of Hispanic students passed the exam, compared with 50 percent of white students and 61 percent of Asian students. It is widely accepted that children reared in low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods are at a disadvantage in standardized testing, not because of inborn capacity but because of cultural differences and economic deprivation. Now, under the new plan, these students will be labeled “not proficient” and barred from “graduating” high school. Young fella… most of your homies and many of the young ladies in Philadelphia’s neighborhood high schools are going to earn “certificates of attendance” not high school diplomas!
Within the School District of Philadelphia only special-admit magnet schools have been able to consistently make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is a measurement that allows the US. Department of Education to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically according to results on standardized tests. In recent years, 10 out of 58 (17.2%) Philadelphia public high schools made AYP. They were all special-admit magnet schools. In recent years, zero (0%) traditional neighborhood public schools have made AYP. Most have failed to make AYP for 9, 10 or 11 years. In many instance, students are attending schools that have not made AYP since the measure was implemented in in the 2001-2002 school year.
So, young fella, let’s get this straight… The state of Pennsylvania will be requiring students that have spent every day of their educational careers in under-performing and failing schools to demonstrate proficiency on standardized tests in order to graduate. Over the past 12-13 years, zero (0) neighborhood high schools in Philadelphia have made AYP. Adequate Yearly Progress is based primarily on standardized test performance. On top of that, they have laid off over 3,000 teachers in the last 12 months. Young fella, it’s a set up!
As noted earlier, those unable to demonstrate proficiency will likely receive a “certificate of attendance” in lieu of a diploma. What will be the value of the certificate of attendance? Will colleges accept this as evidence of completing high schools? How will employers interpret this as opposed to a diploma?
It is safe to assume that the results in Philadelphia, Yeadon, Darby, Darby Township and Chester will mirror the result in New York City. The overwhelming majority of low-income minority students in public high schools will not meet the standards. Unfortunately, the fact is they have not been able to meet the standards for the past 12-13 years. What can you and your parents do?
If you are not enrolled in a special-admit magnet public school like Masterman, Central, Science Leadership Academy, Palumbo, Carver or Bodine you need to find an high-quality alternative placement. Indeed, even parents of students in magnet schools may need to consider their options. A year ago, it was announced that the libraries at Masterman and Central, the two highest achieving high schools in Philadelphia, have been closed due to budget cuts. The State of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia are financially strangling the students in Philadelphia’s public schools. Young fella, how are these ‘high-achieving” college bound students going to do research and independently pursue areas that interest them without access to libraries?
Can you see it? It has all the marking of a set-up. With this plan in place, most of Philadelphia’s low-income Black and Latino public school students will be labeled as non-graduates. That is not taking into account the more than 50% percent that drop-out of the system altogether. Again, let’s use the NYC results as a guide. If 15% of the students meet the requirements for graduation and 50% or so dropped out before even taking the test, then only about 7.5% of Philadelphia’s low-income minority public school students will be actual high school graduates. The other 92-93% will be relegated, at the age of 18 or 19 to a lifetime of low-wage, low-skilled labor, excluded from institutions of higher learning, prone to participate in the underground economy and as a result far more likely to encounter the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, there will be students with A and B averages that cannot meet the standards because they have attended failing schools throughout their entire educational careers. My strong recommendation is that you and your parents immediately research their options. Take some time to learn about the Independent Private Schools, high achieving Charter Schools and Catholic Schools. We have reached a point where leaving your child in a traditional neighborhood public school is tantamount to child abuse. Yes, many of these options will require financial sacrifice. But, the alternative is simply unacceptable.
Remaining enrolled in a traditional neighborhood high school could very well lead to a lifetime of financial sacrifice.
Many critics charge that the state doesn’t care about the children and they don’t plan for their future. I vehemently disagree. The state is clearly planning for the their future. Pennsylvania has extensive plans for low-income minority children. Please keep in mind, Pennsylvania is spending $400 million to construct two new prisons at the SCI-Graterford site in Montgomery County. The funds are in addition to the $1.8 billion corrections budget signed by Governor Tom Corbett, an increase of $208,000 from last year.
For information information on alternatives to Philadelphia Public Schools, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.