Off and On

Sorry for the off and on nature of the blog... It has been quite an exciting and eventful couple of months for my family (that's good, right?). I'm hoping to get back into my regular blogging mode over the holiday break. Keep reading and thanks for your support!

SDP Blog Launches

The SDP has started a blog called A Broad View. The blog officially kicked off on December 17, 2010, with this statement:

Welcome to the OFFICIAL blog of The School District of Philadelphia! Here, we will inform you on some of the happenings and developments within the District and the Philadelphia community on a regular basis. This page will be updated regularly with Announcements, News, Information, Resources and most of all, we will ALL share our "Broad View." We will also discuss and reflect upon matters directly related to our students, parents, educators, administrators, community stakeholders and our city.

Check it out!


My Un-PC Holiday Statement

My kids are excited about Halloween, as am I. Thankfully, this year, there is no drama. Last year was a little bit tricky because, as we were reminded for the one millionth time, not everyone celebrates Halloween.

Before you start ranting about my cultural insensitivity, let me clarify a few things. I get that not everyone celebrates Halloween. I get that not everyone celebrates Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Eid, Easter, Passover, Chinese New Year, Yom Kippur... It is every parent's absolute right to celebrate (or not) the holidays that they believe appropriate for their children. I do not, however, believe that right should extend to crushing other celebrations and holidays so long as they are carried out in a respectful (and that includes voluntary) manner.

The reality is that whether we like it or not, our children spend more time at school during the week than they do at home. They learn about other people and other cultures just as much from their school chums as they do from our parents. I happen to believe that's a good thing.

We don't live in a homogeneous society. One of the things that disturbed me about many of the private schools that we toured was most of the student bodies did not reflect where we live. The City of Philadelphia is made up of all different cultures, ethnicities and religions: that's reflected in the public school that my children attend. This is a logical step for us. My husband and I come from different backgrounds and our extended families are even more diverse. We have attended seder dinners, celebrated Chinese New Year, broken fast over Eid and gone to Christmas mass. Honoring what's important to our friends and family has always been viewed as a positive thing, never a negative.

The funny thing is, these moments of panic that we have as parents, the feeling that somehow our children will be mocked for their beliefs or be driven to hide their own culture, those are moments that we create. Our kids don't feel that way until we make something of it. I realized this recently during a shared dinner at a Chinese restaurant. My daughter ordered her favorite dumpling and offered some to the girl sitting next to her. The girl politely declined, saying, "No, it has pig in it. Muslims don't eat pig." My daughter, not understanding, asked, "Why not?" The little girl shrugged her shoulders and said, "I don't know, we just don't." And that was the end of it. My daughter continued to eat her dumplings and chat and the little girl ate her noodles. No drama.

Contrast that with the school picnic two years earlier when one tray out of about ten happened to have a mix of cheese and meat on it. One parent started shrieking about how it was against her religion to mix meat and cheese together (something which, clearly, not everyone knew). It was uncomfortable for everyone - until one parent (who happened to be the same religion) popped a piece of cheese in her mouth and suggested that she relax.

I don't think that religion or culture has to be in your face to be celebrated or appreciated. I also think that hiding it leads to more insecurities and intolerance, not less.

I am appreciative of my school's attempt to make all cultures, religions and ethnicities feel welcome. I only hope that parents can hold onto the fact that allowing a celebration of someone else's culture or background doesn't diminish their own. There's no need to put others down in an effort to boost yourself up. Our kids are much smarter, much more open minded, much more tolerant than that. Let's not give them a reason to change.


Tony Danza's Holding Town Hall on Philly Education | NBC Philadelphia

NBC10 is reporting that Tony Danza will be holding a Town Hall style meeting to discuss education in Philly: Tony Danza's Holding Town Hall on Philly Education | NBC Philadelphia. Those expected to attend include US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Philly Super Arlene Ackerman.

Danza was apparently inspired to talk teaching following his stint as an English teacher in Philadelphia on his reality TV show. Have any of you seen it? What do you think?


Ooh La La

It's been a busy year at school. Our school has seen a number of changes, some for the better, some not. One change that I was excited about was the addition of a foreign language teacher; my daughter's private school started Spanish in pre-K and it was disappointing to see that there would be no language "prep" at our public school. Until this year.

I was thrilled to hear that we would be offering foreign language to our kids. My kids are also pretty excited; they were practicing with their friends on the playground in the first week.

What was surprising, however, was how the parents reacted. I was genuinely taken aback to hear so many parents complaining about the new course. They felt that it was "too much" for the kids who were "too young" to have to take a foreign language. Parents also thought the homework (largely, from what I could tell, coloring) was unnecessary.

The first week that I heard it, I assumed it was merely the fear of something new. But as time has passed, the objections to the foreign language class have continued. I remain perplexed by this.

One of the limitations of the public school system as compared to the private schools in our area has always been, to me, the lack of "extras" when it came to curriculum. As the schools try to ramp up the extras, the complaints escalate. I realize the importance of reading and writing but our kids are doing those things well. Why not add languages, arts and music? Why would you object to that? I can't make sense of it.


Book Bags and Homework

One of the most appealing aspects of a neighborhood school is being able to walk to school. It is, as I've noted before, one of the reasons we considered the switch from private to public in the first place.

Apparently, the School District of Philadelphia doesn't share this viewpoint. If they did, they'd rethink how much homework they're sending home each night.

You may be aware of this whole campaign to have school children do homework every single night irrespective of age. Last year, my kindergartener was bringing home assignments and while I kind of felt that it was all a bit much for her, I understood the idea of reinforcing learning. But reinforcing learning and homework for homework's sake are two different things.

This year, I was a bit shocked to see how much homework was being given early on. I was even more shocked when I went to pick up my daughter's book bag. It was distressingly heavy. In fact, it was so heavy that I had to carry it home for her. She couldn't manage the entire trip home carrying her book bag and she's a fairly strong girl for her size. I decided to give it a quick weigh. It was nearly 13 pounds. Considering that the recommendation for book bag weight is about 10% of body weight, that would be fine if she weighed 130 pounds. But she weighs less than half of that.

Realistically, I'm not expecting that the school is going to give on the homework side. We'll have to come up with another solution. I fear it may be driving which is the complete opposite of what attracted us in the first place. Another solution is one of those scary stewardess type bags on wheels. I know that adults use them for work in Center City. It just shouldn't be what kids are pulling around in grade school. It's just not appropriate.

How are your children managing?


Smith Playground Event

From Smith Playground:

Children age 10 and under and their caretakers are invited to a FREE day of Family and Fitness Fun this Saturday, September 18th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Event co-sponsors, The Junior League of Philadelphia, will lead children as they maneuver through an obstacle course and partake in various lawn games!

The Junior League will also be offering nutrition-themed craft activities and free give-a-ways to each child who attends.

Family and Fitness Fun will feature family-friendly yoga on the lawn with Certified Personal Trainer and Philadelphia Daily News Personal Fitness Columnist Kimberly Garrison. Yoga will begin at 11:00 a.m.

SMITH is dedicated to providing children 10 and under from diverse backgrounds with free and accessible one-of-a kind play experiences that meet their physical, behavioral, and developmental needs.


President to speak Tuesday at Masterman | Philadelphia Inquirer | 09/09/2010

President to speak Tuesday at Masterman | Philadelphia Inquirer | 09/09/2010


The First Week

It's been an odd first week of school this year. Labor Day, as usual, kicked off the week so that school started on Tuesday. This year, Rosh Hashanah also fell in the first full week of school which meant that Thursday and Friday were holidays. The kids started on Tuesday, went for a day, and now have two days off. It has made for an awkward start to the school year for sure.

I'll admit that I was a bit concerned about this year. Our school has undergone some significant changes (actually, most schools in Philadelphia have this year, I think) and I was, as many other parents, biting my nails that they were for the best. Fingers are still crossed.

The communication for the first day of school wasn't stellar. I've been racking my brain trying to recall whether it was any better at the private school. For the life of me, I just can't remember.

Despite my concerns, the first couple of days came and went and the kids were happy. We finally got classroom assignments and supplies lists... I suspect that we, like most of Philadelphia, will be shopping for crayons and markers this weekend.

Actually, the whole first week of school was quite uneventful. That's probably a good thing.

Any exciting first day of school stories on your end?


School Starts Soon

School starts soon... are you ready? I promise I'll be back to a regular post schedule come next week!



There was an article in this month's Family Circle magazine about the rise of cyber and other bullying. I'm very fortunate in that I haven't had to deal with bullies at my kids' public school. I will say, however, that we did have to deal with it at another school and it was both troubling and frustrating.

The problem with bullying, as I see it, is that many parents condone it. I'm not saying that parents are deliberately mean. I just think that many parents believe that mere "teasing" is a part of being a kid. When the behavior crosses the line, I think parents either don't see the transition or don't believe that it's a real problem. The latter was the issue in our case.

When the bullying started in our case, the behavior was considered by the parent to be part of growing up. The excuse was that everyone the kid saw did it so there was nothing that could be done until he got older - kind of the "he'll grow out of it" theory. That logic completely escapes me.

Since the parents refused to do anything about it, the entire burden of dealing with the child fell to the teachers. Eventually, the behavior stopped but not without a lot of grief in the meantime. Sadly, we all too often today have to lean on teachers - in both private and public schools - to be everything to all children when their parents won't step in and do the right thing.

In Philly, the public schools do have a bullying policy. On August 18, 2010, Superintendent Ackerman sent a letter about bullying outlining the SDP's position on on the matter. Here's the official word from the SDP web site on bullying.

PREP Program Introductory Meeting

On Thursday, August 26th at 5:00 pm, the Title I Parents Are 'R' Equal Partners (PREP) Program will hold an introductory meeting at 440 North Broad Street in Room 1080. The topics will be An Introduction to FamilyNet and Title I. Come out and meet other parents/caregivers who are partnering with their child's school to improve academic achievement for ALL students. Each school should send at least one parent representative. All parents (from District schools) are welcome to attend!

Please call 215-400-6443 to register or get additional information. Food will be served....feel free to share this information.


Painting Parents With a Broad (Offensive) Brush

At the risk of giving this guy any more press, I am posting the link to this article:

Poll concludes 40% of Philadelphia parents are idiots.

Yeah, keep reading. It gets better. Read this little snippet:

Public schools are one of the longest scams running. They are shameful places where people nearly commit child abuse by having the State raise their kids. Look at the amount of people who have rated private schools at 74% complete satisfaction. Parents who send their kids to private school actually give a damn about their kids' educations. They sacrifice a luxury car or a beach house in Wildwood so their kids can grow up to be contributing members of society.

So, let's be clear about what I'm supposed to get out of this piece. Apparently, when I sent my daughter to private school - where she didn't have any opportunities to socialize outside of school with her peers - I cared about her. When I made the switch to public school - where my daughter is thriving and happy - I stopped caring about her. I see.

(*takes deep breath*)

Here's where I call bullsh*t. Mr. Proctor can choose to interpret the findings of this poll however he wants. I will tell you, however, that I was one of those parents who said that I was very satisfied with our public school choice. I am also willing to bet that more than 40% of the parents at my school voted similarly.

As for the supposed "lack of morality" in Philly schools? That's just offensive. My girls are good girls. Their teachers are remarkable, caring individuals. At our public school, there is no laundry list of "murders, assaults and rapes" that Mr. Proctor wants to convince you is the norm.

I understand that there are problems in the Philly public schools. Just down the road from our school is a school that consistently makes the list of "most dangerous" schools in the City. But that's not my school. And, unlike Mr. Proctor, I am not willing to accept that to be the inevitable result of my choice.

Not a week goes by - even during the summer - when I am not meeting with other parents or school officials, writing for grants, drumming up publicity and press for our school or helping to plan special events. And I am not alone.

That's not giving up responsibility. That's taking responsibility. It *is* clearly part of the solution. Mr. Proctor, on the other hand, and those that share his woefully pessimistic and damaging attitude towards public schools are a huge part of problem.

(Public Ed Mom's note: After reading the original post at The Examiner, my immediate reaction was anger. Then I read Mr. Proctor's bio and it all made sense: his whole schtick is to stir up controversy. I get that he wrote this piece hoping for just this kind of reaction - I'm sure that it adds fodder to his next set of rants. I almost didn't post my response because I didn't want to add fuel to this ridiculous fire. In the end, however, I felt compelled to share the other side; this will be the last time that I mention it on this site.)


Finally, We're Getting Somewhere

If you've ever eaten in a public school cafeteria in Philadelphia, you know what I'm talking about when I say it's bad. Beyond bad. What passes for lunch is gross. Actually, it's worse than gross and it's usually unhealthy. Most schoolchildren toss their lunches in the garbage, meaning that those same kids spend the day hungry. I watched one day as not one child - not one - even touched their "meat patty" in some kind of sauce. One by one, they were ceremoniously dumped into the garbage.

A number of parents that I know have approached the school and the SDP about ramping up the quality of the lunches. We're told the same thing, time and again, "It's out of our hands."

Despite the fact that I don't believe the SDP on this one (friends who teach in near suburban schools tell a different story about what their schools offer), I am aware that there are restrictions on what schools can offer students. Fortunately, that may be changing.

On June 10, 2010, Rep. George Miller of California introduced HR 5504, Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act. There are 33 co-sponsors of the bill, including Reps. Sestak and Platts of Pennsylvania.

A companion bill, S 3307, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, was introduced in May of this year.

A lot of the bill is exactly what you'd think, guidelines for free meals, authorizations for summer food grants, etc. But there is some promising language in the bill when it comes to nutrition. For one, the bill updates the nutritional standards:

As soon as practicable after the date of publication by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services of a new edition of the Dietary Guidelines, the Secretary shall review and update as necessary the school nutrition standards and requirements established under this subsection.

It also requires schools under the Act to provide water for children to drink. I know this sounds like a no-brainer but it's actually fairly radical. My kids don't have the choice to drink water unless they want to line up at one of those horrid fountains.

Also radical? Grants for Farm to Schools and a Green Cafeterias Pilot Program.

There's some good stuff here. Is it enough? Of course not. But it's a good start. Let's just hope that, assuming it passes, Dr. Ackerman and her staff are quick to embrace the new guidelines, suggestions and pilot programs. As a high poverty district, my guess is that Philadelphia would both qualify and benefit from a lot of the potential changes as put forth in the bill.

To read the bill, click over to the Library of Congress. If you have comments for your Representatives in Congress who will be voting on the bill, you can contact them here.


Happy Father's Day!

All too often, we focus on the teachers, the principals and the supers. We forget about the most important influences in a child's life: parents. Happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there who do the right thing every day.


Last Day of School

Wow. Just like that, it's the last day of school. It's been a great year and I'll share more over the summer!


What's the Point of Homework?

I know there's a point to homework. Something about reinforcing learning, blah, blah, blah. But studies show that it may not actually help at all. A popular website, stophomework.com, touts a 2001 Duke study (updated in 2006) which claims:

there is very little correlation between the amount of homework and achievement in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school. Even in high school,“too much homework may diminish its effectiveness or even become counterproductive,”writes Cooper in his latest research review [Harris Cooper, The Battle Over Homework, second edition, page 26, and Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of the Research 1987–2003,the Review ofEducational Research(Spring 2006)].

Nonetheless, our schools - the public schools in particular - send home piles and piles of homework. Some nights, my 2nd grader (yes, 2nd grader) can spend several hours on her homework and she is one of the better students in her class. Even she is tired of it, shrugging her shoulders this afternoon and proclaiming, "Ms. 'X' gives us too much homework." How much is too much? At least six different assignments. She had math worksheets, grammar worksheets, spelling and vocabulary assignments and reading.

Some nights, rather than sitting together as a family, I am on the cell phone with other parents, desperately trying to decipher homework assignments. Was it page 23 or 32? Were they supposed to write sentences with all of the spelling words or just ten? My daughter didn't have a math worksheet in her bag - was she supposed to?

Of course, to get all of this homework down takes a lot of paper and a lot of books. Sometimes, her backpack is packed so full that she can barely lift it. Most days, she carries more in her bag than I carry to work.

It would make sense if she were learning something extra from her homework but she isn't, really. I would argue that she learns more by playing outside with her friends and taking walks with us in the City. On chilly days, you can't pull her away from a book; she's learning more in the pages of those books than copying her spelling words over - again. And frankly, it's taking the fun out of school for her.

This week, my younger daughter's teacher announced a sort of homework moratorium - no more homework through the end of the year. She is thrilled, as am I. Today, we walked home and she immediately went out to play. By dinnertime, she was ready to eat instead of itching to go outside. It's a much less stressful environment.

I remember hardly ever having homework as a kid. If I did, I did it on the bus on the way home. Remarkably, I still managed to get through school and move onto college. My mom didn't sign "homework logs" or initial worksheets. There were no special "family homework assignments" (the current thorn in my side) or long projects over the weekend. We did most of our work at school.

Getting your work done at school makes sense. These days, many kids stay far too late after school with sports and clubs. Others take one, and in some instances, two buses to and from school. To accommodate working parents, other kids stay with sitters or participate in afterschool programs at school. There's virtually no time for homework at home. Rather than be a positive in our kids' lives, it's becoming a stress point.


SLAM Program

The District’s Summer SLAM (Summer Learning And More) Program is registering ALL students for its FREE summer program that will run between June 29th and July 28th for the District’s students. Visit
http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/s/school-operations/summer-programs or call 215-400-4000 for more information.



Pardon my dust as I do a little bit of re-designing...


Charter Schools as an Option

There's an interesting read in today's Notebook about charter schools. I'll admit that it caught my eye from the very beginning with this statistic:

In 13 short years, the charter school movement in Philadelphia has grown from nothing to a network with 67 schools and more than 36,000 students, financed by $400 million in taxpayer dollars.

Counted together, they would be the second largest school district in Pennsylvania.

I'll just say out of the box that I am not a fan of charter schools. When we were exploring our options outside of private schools, we checked into a number of the charter schools. I was a bit shocked at what I found.

**Let me just say, upfront, that this is not meant to imply that all charter schools are bad. I know they are not. This is just a recitation of my experiences with charter schools in Philadelphia.**

I guess it's important for me to point out that I was never enthusiastic about the prospect of sending my children to a charter school in Philadelphia. I have regarded them with a mixture of mistrust and skepticism since before my oldest daughter entered school. I got it honest.

As part of my job, I often get phone calls from people looking for information. A few years ago, I got one of those phone calls. It was the principal of one of the "best regarded" of the new charter schools and she was a little desperate. Her school, it seemed, had some issues. They weren't the kind of issues that were making the news (and no illegal activity was involved) but they were serious. Basically, the school was imploding. Parents were unhappy, teachers were unhappy. She was reaching out for help. I couldn't help her but I gave her some names of folks who might be able to point her in the right direction. I hung up the phone and thought about that call. And it frightened me a little. Where was the support for charter schools if I'm the one getting these calls?

A year or so later, when driving my daughter to her private school, we passed by a charter school in one of on the more downtrodden areas of Philadelphia. While I thought I would see the positive results of charter schools in low-income communities (one of the publicly touted reasons for the existence of so many charter schools), what I saw was more alarming than what I've seen at any public high school: hoards of ill-behaved children descending on a school. The children and their parents had seemingly no regard for anyone else. They darted in and out of traffic and terrorized pedestrians. The parents parked their vehicles in the middle of the street. And on more than one occasion, we saw an increased police presence nearby. It was not encouraging.

That same year, a messy virtual fight broke out on a popular message board about a local charter school which was having problems. Those involved lobbed all kinds of accusations about the faculty, safety and facilities at the school. At least part of it was true: there were serious facilities issues related to safety.

I was surprised to learn, in the midst of all of this, that many of the teachers at charter schools were not certified. In some cases, parents did the hiring, which appeared to hinge more on whether the applicants agreed with the "mission" of the school than whether they were well-qualified.

Despite these experiences, I did not completely dismiss charter schools out of hand. Along with another friend (who ended up sending her children to private school), I investigated a few of the more highly touted charter schools. More often than not, I was completely unimpressed.

For starters, the "lottery" process at more than a couple of schools appears flawed. One charter school runs a lottery that is suspiciously guarded enough - and held at completely unreasonable hours - that one can't help but wonder about the real agenda. A few phone calls about their admissions process were never returned. And a friend whose children got into the lottery was disturbed to note that while the open house was overwhelmingly a mix of minorities and white children, she did not note one single minority who was admitted the same year as her children.

Another phone call about admissions lead to almost a "mini interview" over the phone about my family and my children. I was just calling for a brochure (it was never sent).

As a result of the uneasy feelings that I had about charter schools (and which many of my friends shared), I did not apply to a single charter school for my children. My options came down to our local public school or continuing at the private school where my oldest child was enrolled. My husband had zero interest in any of the charter schools for our children. And I wasn't willing to be a guinea pig in a system that appeared to have little in the way of accountability.

Since that time, there have been a number of public criticisms of many charter schools; others, admittedly, have gone on to be lauded. Specific concerns have focused on the lack of oversight, mismanagement of funds and a failure to make academic improvements. In many cases, the focus on the "mission" (translation: agenda) of the school has created an unwelcome, unhappy atmosphere for many in the community that some charter schools purport to serve. In others, money is being tossed around without any apparent supervision - at last count, there were at least 18 schools reportedly under federal investigation for potential mismanagement of funds (statistically, that's more than a quarter of existing charter schools in Philadelphia).

In the end, it appears that we are left with a mixed bag. Some charter schools are getting it right. Some charter schools are clearly not. But fixing those that aren't appears to be fraught with difficulties, including an unwillingness to ask tough questions (some of which were addressed in the Notebook piece linked above). I firmly believe that the failure to intervene in those schools that are making the wrong decisions - about admissions, agenda, faculty and finances - will continue to taint the reputations of all charter schools in Philadelphia.

I have a number of friends who send their children to charter schools and most of them seem happy with their choices (I have, for example, only heard terrific things about Independence Charter). And great for them. I am just hopeful that charter schools are creating environments for children to succeed. I just fear that many are more focused on creating environments for adults to succeed.


How to Save Philadelphia Schools

So here's my advice for Superintendent Ackerman when it comes to saving Philadelphia schools: hire an art teacher for my school.

I'm totally serious.

No, this isn't a rant about how important the arts are inside schools. But it is a rant. It's a rant about saving Philadelphia schools.

We all know that funds are limited at the SDP. And we all know that there will have to be cuts and budget tweaks. We know this because we are constantly reminded about it. But as Ackerman pushes forward with her Imagine 2014 plan (you can download the plan here), I'm a bit worried about how those cuts and budget tweaks will affect our schools. And by our schools, I mean my school.

I'm not going to be altruistic here. I'm going to be selfish. I think that's part of my job as a parent: to care most about my child. That's not to say that I don't care about other children. I do. But I'm not so obnoxious as to purport to get up every morning worried about the success of every child in the Philadelphia School District. I don't. I get up every day and think about my children.

I made the decision to put my child (now children) in public school in the City because I believe in the idea of neighborhood schools. I want my children to go to school where they live. I chose to live here for a reason - well, for a million reasons. And I want my children to love the City as much as I do. I don't want them to live in a car. I don't want them to have to give up play dates, clubs and sports in order to catch a bus back home. I don't want them to think that the keys to their success can only be found in walled up buildings "somewhere else."

I believe that their success can start here, in the City, in the neighborhood where they live. And I, along with similarly minded parents, have fought to make this happen.

That's why I am listening to some of what's happening at the SDP and holding my breath a little. While there is a lot of shared optimism about the future, there are also a number of shared concerns. Specifically, my fellow parents and I are worried about this particular goal, which is one of the keys of Ackerman's platform:

Ensuring the equitable allocation of all District resources;

It's not the goal itself that worries me - the notion of equitable allocation is a great one. Rather, it's the interpretation of the word "equitable" that gives me pause.

Don't get me wrong. I firmly believe that all children should have access to good schools. But equitable isn't the same as equal. Equitable means fair. Those are very different things.

In other words, don't tell me that we can't have an art teacher at my school because you're putting security cameras in other schools. Don't take away our libraries so that other schools can have metal detectors. Don't spend so many resources trying to prevent other schools from becoming worse that you prevents ours from getting better. We would do well to heed the words of Michelangelo, who said, "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

There, I've said it. Let the judging begin.


The Story of Education Reform

On my nightstand right now is a book about a transformation of a Chicago school, How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance. Anyone familiar with this one?


LaGreta Brown Steps Down; Calls for Ackerman To Be Next

So, you're not going to hear a defense of LaGreta Brown from me. There's just so much about her that I find troubling, not the least of which is the fact that she did not maintain her professional credentials when she knew that it was a requisite for her job. The whole thing reeks of entitlement.

But what you're also not going to hear from me are calls for Ackerman's head. I've seen a number of stories (and comments on blogs and forums) screaming about Ackerman's supposed lack of oversight in hiring Ms. Brown by not checking her credentials. I have to say, I think that anger is a bit misguided.

I've hired a number of people in my day. Many of those that I've hired are professionals who require a certain level of credentials in order to maintain their employment. The funny thing is this: in all of the interviews, resumes and references, I have never insisted on viewing credentials. As professionals, I have assumed that if you're applying for a job, you are telling me the truth and you are qualified to do the job. As part of the job, my hires are expected to maintain their credentials; I don't insist that they demonstrate this proof to me. I assume that professionals will act... well, in a professional manner.

And it's not just me. I've been on a number of interviews over my career and I've been hired quite a few times. Not once have I been asked to show my credentials, nor proof of my degrees. I've been asked about them, yes, but never required to prove that they exist. Again, I believe that a certain level of trust exists in the professional world.

So while I may question a number of things about what happened at South Philadelphia High - and while I may be shocked at Ms. Brown's appalling lack of judgment and character - I refuse to draw the line back to Ackerman. I don't think it's fair or accurate. Ms. Brown is responsible for misleading those at the SDP. It is her professional responsibility to remain certified and her professional duty to alert her superiors if there is a problem with her credentials. Her choices to do neither say a lot about her - and her alone.

Parents work to rejuvenate a public school | Philadelphia Inquirer | 04/14/2010

I somehow missed this article last month:

Parents work to rejuvenate a public school | Philadelphia Inquirer | 04/14/2010

It's a terrific inspiration!

(Hat Tip: Philly School Search)


South Phila. principal resigns | Philadelphia Inquirer | 05/13/2010

South Phila. principal resigns | Philadelphia Inquirer | 05/13/2010

Could You Imagine?

This isn't a political blog. It was never meant to be. It was just me, kind of rambling on about my experiences with my children in public school in Philadelphia.

But... (dramatic pause) Then I saw a mailing from Bill Morris. If you don't know who he is (I didn't either, really), he is running for State Representative for the 194th District. And here's what his mailing said:


Parents of children attending private schools decided to send their children to public schools. The consequences would be enormous.

* State and local budgets would explode

* Real estate/school taxes would go through the roof

* There would not be enough facilities to hold our children

* The burden on home owners would be unsustainable

The piece went on to talk about the "major educational catastrophe" we're surely facing - and then touted a tax credit for private and parochial schools.

Whew. Where to begin?

Let me say, for a start, that I'm not opposed to private or parochial schools. I believe that they may be the best option for some kids. So, I don't want this to be interpreted as some kind of statement that since I send my kids to public school that I think it should be the only choice. I don't. I actually started out by putting my daughter in private school and I understand the reasons that a parent might opt for private and parochial over public. So, my rant isn't about the choice to send your kids to somewhere other than public school.

I'll also say that while I'm not a big fan of tinkering with taxes for special interest groups, I am not opposed to the idea of offering tax credits for the payment of tuition to private and parochial schools. Tax credits are a much better option than vouchers and I understand that some offset for tuition would be a welcome change for many families.

So, to be clear, I'm not opposed to private and parochial school options and I'm not opposed to tax credits to help families pay tuition. What does bother me about this piece is the "alarmist" tone. The bold and the caps in the block quote? That's not emphasis added on my end: the text is like that on the mailer. It's clearly intended to get you thinking about all of the terrible things that would happen if more parents opted to put their kids in public schools. Gasp! Taxes will skyrocket! Budgets would be unmanageable! Our kids will be squeezed out of their classrooms! In other words, "catastrophe" - that's his word, not mine. Imagine the horror.

But I'd like to present an alternative view...

Could you imagine if... parents of children attending private schools decided to send their children to public schools? The consequences would be enormous.

* Student funding to the City would increase since much of funding is linked to school enrollment.

* More families would choose to stay in the City, which would provide a solid middle class revenue base: more people paying less taxes, not fewer people paying more.

* Empty classrooms would have a use and under-utilized facilities would not be allowed to simply sit and crumble.

* The sense of community from supporting neighborhood schools would bring communities together and increase property values, like it does in many of our near suburbs.

I wish, as a City, we'd stop trying to focus on the lowest common denominators. Scaring folks away from public schools isn't going to help anything and, quite frankly, I find it offensive. Perhaps a little focus on fixing problems instead of exaggerating them would go a long way. Could you imagine?


Truancy Calls

I've gotten two calls now from the Philadelphia School District's Office of Attendance and Truancy regarding the new crackdown on truants. You'd think that, along with the calls, it would have gotten some press. However, I haven't seen a thing in the papers about it. No emails. No mention in the weekly parent newsletter.


At any rate, as I understand it, the party line is that they're cracking down on truancy as part of a continued effort to keep kids in school. Apparently, every day, 12,000 Philadelphia students skip school. Yowza.

But I don't think it's really about a continued effort to curb truancy. I think it's about stopping flash mobs. It's difficult to justify stopping a group of kids who may (or may not) be up to no good - unless they're clearly truant. Problem solved.

So here's the plan: kids who are out on the streets between certain hours (I believe the hours are 9am to noon, but I could be mistaken since there was so much information in the call) must have an immediately verifiable reason in writing (like a doctor's appointment card or - and I love this example that they gave - a court summons) and photo ID. If the child can't provide an immediately verifiable reason, then the police can issue a $25 ticket which will be mailed to the home.

I love this idea. But I am not convinced that it will work the way that the District hopes that it does. Sadly, it will only really affect kids who are already worried about what their parents think and I'm not sure those are your truants to begin with. I think the kids who are out and about during school hours probably don't care about a ticket, or what their parents think. And I'm not sure that the parents care about the ticket either.

Yes, I sound a little bit jaded. The irony of that is that I'm generally pretty optimistic - annoyingly so. But back in my retail days, I called enough parents about shoplifting teens to know that all too often, bad behavior is learned or at the very least, tolerated.

To be clear, there already is a "do not skip school" rule on the books. It's just not being enforced the way that it should. I don't know that a ticket or two is going to solve that problem. And assuming that it would, perhaps a little more publicity would be in order?

Prom Gown Give-A-Way

State Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown has announced a Prom Gown Give-A-Way on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, and Wednesday, May 12, 2010, between the hours of 4:00pm and 7:00pm at the Greater Bibleway Temple, 1461 N 52nd St, Philadelphia. That's at 52nd & Warren St. near Lancaster Avenue.

Preference will be given to the ladies of the 190th Legislative District, however, we will accommodate all attendees until all gowns are given away. If you're not sure which district you're in, you can check here.


High School Student Internships Available

The City of Philadelphia is offering paid summer internships in a number of departments and time is running out for the high school students who are eligible. The deadline is Friday, May 7th.


Contact Information:
714 Market St.
Suite 304
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: 267-502-3742
Fax: 267-502-3801
Email: youth@workreadyphila.org


A Deserved Reputation?

I recently saw a comment thread about Philadelphia schools that left me speechless. One commenter said that any parent who would send their child to school in Philadelphia was more or less guilty of abuse.

Seriously? This is how we've come to view schools in our city?

While there are stories like the Howe/MLK beatings that send chills down my spine, I think it's important to remember that it's not fair to paint every child in Philadelphia with a broad brush. There are fantastic, amazing kids that go to Philly public schools. And they don't all drop out or flee - or worse. They go on to have wonderful, meaningful lives. I count among them many of my friends.

There are more than 160,000 children in Philadelphia public schools this year. It's the 8th largest public school system in the country.

Are there going to be problems? Yes there are.

Is there room for improvement? There's a LOT of room for improvement.

Does that mean that we give up? Of course not.

Part of living in a community means investing in that community - whether it's your time, resources or energy. It is very easy to throw your hands in the air and say that there's nothing that can be done. But that's both foolish and selfish.

When you look at neighboring school systems that are thriving, you do see a number of factors that set them apart. And those factors do matter. Yes, you're going to expect great things from kids who started off with some advantages. And when there's adequate resources for books and teachers, yes, you should expect high test scores and accomplishments.

But what else do those kids have that our kids don't?

Perhaps a little bit of faith in the kids themselves.

Kids in those school systems are expected to do well. Those communities don't just shrug their shoulders and assume that nothing can be done. They work to get it done. And that means strong involvement from parents, teachers and the wider community.

I've watched what can happen when parents decide that a school is worth the investment - in fact, if you look, you can see it all over the City, from Greenfield to Masterman to Sadie Alexander. It doesn't take years and it doesn't take millions of dollars. It merely takes commitment and hard work.

So for all of those naysayers who are willing to say terrible things about parents who care about the Philadelphia schools (and I'm betting most of those critical folks have never even set foot inside of one), I would say that you're wrong. We don't send our kids to public schools because we don't care or because we're lazy - in fact, I would say that it's quite the opposite. We send our kids to public school because we see potential in the children of this City. We understand that there's a lot of work to do - but rather than sit on the sidelines and criticize, we're willing to roll up our sleeves and get things done.


Catchment Maps Available Online

Thanks so much to Kristin Luebbert for letting me know that catchment maps are now available online. For those of us who have been fighting for quite some time to make this information available online, this is a *huge* step forward. Years ago, to figure out your neighborhood school, you'd have to physically go to the office of the closest school to find out whether you were in the magic zone or not. So, this is great news from the SDP. Thanks again, Kristin!

To find out your school's catchment area, go to the SDP website and check out the sidebar. You'll see "School Lookup" on your right hand side. You can enter a school's name or zip code (you can also look up by location # but who in the world knows that?) and then click on the school's link. At the bottom left, there is a box with a link to "Boundary Map" - click on that and the catchment map will download as a pdf.

I know... having a search box that allows you to just plug in your address is apparently too much to ask. But this will do in the meantime!


Open House Announcements

I have been asked whether I knew about any upcoming open houses for Philly public schools. I will post the events as I hear about them - you can also email me about any that you'd like announced. Thanks!

Discouraging Parents from the Get Go: Why Restricting Pre-K and K is a Bad Idea

It's been awhile since I've posted my thoughts on the blog, my apologies. This time of year, there is a lot going on, both at work and at school - well, you know the drill.

At any rate, I did want to comment on the story about Penn Alexander. I do think that there is a fundamental problem with the way that schools accept students in Philly that has to be addressed, or the district will never really thrive in the way that I (and parents like me) believe that it can.

Here's the problem, as I see it. Parents are more willing than they have been in a long time to give Philadelphia public schools a shot. The easiest way to "experiment" is in the lower grades because if things don't go well, you can make other arrangements while your children are still young and finding their way in the system. And yet, Philadelphia makes it hard to give it a try because of outdated rules meant to "equalize" education across the district.

The situation at Penn Alexander isn't an isolated one. There are variations on a theme all over the city. We have a similar problem at my neighborhood school, starting in pre-kindergarten. Our area offers pre-kindergarten but it is income-restricted, meaning that only low income families qualify. And while I cheer the notion that kids are given a head start (pardon the pun), the real outcome of the decision to limit entry at the youngest age to those with lower incomes is that you are giving those children "preference" for kindergarten at the same school. The reality is that it has made getting your child into kindergarten a real chore for those who live nearby - though those from outside the immediate area may have no problem.

And here's what happens. Those parents who can't get their kids into the pre-kindergarten or kindergarten programs enroll their children in private school for what they tell themselves will be one year. Or two, max. But it becomes three and then four. And since they had been planning on sending their kid to Masterman in the fifth grade anyway - and thus not continuing at our school - the fifth and sixth years at private school become easier to justify.

And just like that, parents who had been willing to give public schools a chance are effectively given an escort out of the system.

Nice, huh? It has that same vibe as the first-come, first-serve selection process for Penn Alexander.

I understand that kindergarten is not mandatory in Pennsylvania. And I know that the school district has to be judicious about its offerings because of the budget. But it's all so short-sighted. Why not get parents - ALL parents, regardless of income or location - excited about the prospect of their kid going to kindergarten in public school?

Phila. School District proposes $3.2B budget | Philadelphia Inquirer | 04/22/2010

Phila. School District proposes $3.2B budget | Philadelphia Inquirer | 04/22/2010


Spring Break

It may feel like springtime but we're still paying for winter... due to snow days, Philadelphia public schools will enjoy a shorter spring break this year. School will be in session on March 29 and March 30, days that were previously reserved for spring break.


Alternative Admissions and Magnet Schools

When the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article citing a change in the admissions criteria for magnet schools (an idea that Superintendent Ackerman later declared "dead"), a friend remarked that such a change was another step towards driving Philadelphia parents to the burbs. I respectfully beg to differ.

You see, I am exactly the kind of student who once benefitted from a similar rule. When I was in junior high, I was at the top of my class at a poor school. I was excited to apply to a magnet school - but my excitement quickly faded when I met some of the other applicants. Those applicants, from the more affluent schools, talked at length about the tutors that their parents hired for them to take admissions tests. I was immediately intimidated.

Those same applicants exchanged stories about school programs where they learned Latin, pre-calculus and physics (in junior high). Many had extensive arts programs with such cool offerings as photography and screen printing. They played a variety of sports including lacrosse (something I'd never heard of before) and field hockey. I couldn't figure out - except for the prestige - why they would ever want to leave their own schools for the magnet school.

These kids were mostly concentrated in a handful of elite schools. You know the type.

My school didn't offer those kinds of alternatives. We had one established foreign language (Spanish) and the school was trying its hand at offering French (it was not going well). There were only a handful of sports - and even then, only the kids with money could play since students had to buy their own uniforms and equipment. There was no established art or music program, except for high school band. Band was really just an option if you didn't want to take shop or home ec.

I wanted to go to the magnet school because I wanted to be exposed to the kinds of things those kids in the "good" schools were already being exposed to. I felt like I was at a major disadvantage because my resume was not nearly as impressive as these uber kids. I assumed that I couldn't compete. I did, however, have one advantage: the magnet school that I wanted to attend was publicly funded and, as a result, was required to spread their acceptance across a range of schools. My test scores were as good as everybody else's but my resume (and the resumes of kids in schools just like mine) were a little bare. But the combination of test scores, essays, interview and yes, geography, ensured that I got in.

Might I have gotten in if I had lived somewhere else? Maybe - we'll never know. Do I consider that an unfair advantage? Not at all. It was more about the disadvantages that I had in comparison.

I quickly learned that I deserved to be at my new school. I loved it and went on to do well, earning accolades along the way. After high school, I went on to attend college (on scholarship) and grad school. It is, for me, a happy story. And that's not a "yaay me!" It's a "yaay opportunity!"

We all know that schools are not created equal. While we tend to compare Philly schools with suburban schools, that statement is true enough on its own inside the city. And that disparity needs to be accounted for somehow - magnet schools are just one piece of that equation.

To clarify, I'm not insinuating that magnet schools should pull kids from under-performing schools for the sake of doing so. I'm also not saying that I necessarily believe in strict quotas or charity cases. But I do believe in alternative entrance criteria, so long as it's evenly and intelligently enforced. It's a mistake to assume that you can identify the City's very best students by simply looking at a test score or a bell curve. The ability - and the eagerness - to learn are often bigger than numbers.


President Obama "Race To the Top"

Tomorrow is the last day for public schools to apply to be part of President Obama's "Race to the Top" Commencement Challenge.

You can find out more here:


Parent Teacher Conferences

It's that time of year: parent-teacher conferences are here.

I have to say, as a parent, I'm not a big fan. As I blogged before, I think parent-teacher conferences are too short and scheduled too tightly. It makes the actual conference stressful - you want to get in all of your questions in a short span of time, all while taking in everything the teacher has to say.

I also think results in the belief (whether intentional or not) that teachers are communicating with you about your child effectively when, in some cases, they may not be. The school has my children for almost 7 hours per day, 5 days per week, 9 months out of the year. I get a sum total 20 minutes during the same school year to catch up on my child's progress. A little out of whack, perhaps?

I know that teachers don't have the time in their schedules to have lengthy meetings with parents about each child. But my last parent-teacher conference for one of my children came as a bit of a surprise. Her academics were stellar but her behavior in class was an issue. Somehow, at a parent-teacher conference, in the space of about 10 minutes, we were supposed to get to the root of all of this. It wasn't a productive use of anyone's time.

I left the school that day feeling disappointed - my first (and only) time that I've felt that way in my whole Philadelphia public school "experiment." After a talk with the principal, I felt a little better. And over the course of the year, I've come to terms with the idea that personalities in a classroom matter, that expectations differ and that not all teachers are created equal.

But now, staring at an upcoming appointment to do it all again, I'm still turned off by the whole scene. Long gone are the days when parents would arrange a time to come and chat with teachers about their child's progress. In Philadelphia, at least, appointments are assigned to you (it's up to you to fit it in your schedule) and that 10 minutes may be the entirety of significant information about your child's education that you get for the semester.

If you're lucky - and largely, we have been - teachers make themselves available to you outside of those 10 minutes. But if you're not, you're stuck.


Computers and Education: How Much is Too Much?

Let me start by saying that my kids are very tech savvy. I'm not saying that's something to be proud of necessarily, just a fact. The world that my husband and I happen to live in means that my children have been exposed to all manner of computers and computer-based products from an early age.

But as tech-y (some might even say geeky) people go, we have set limits that seem strict by comparison to many of our friends. Our children do not have their own computer: we do not even have a "family" computer. My husband and I have laptops and smart phones but those are very clearly "ours" - no kid use allowed without an adult.

I'm thrilled that there are computers at school for my children to use. I love that they associate computers more with communication and academics than games.

But how much of a good thing is too much?

I find myself wondering this because of homework. Last week, my daughter was worried about completing her homework assignment which had to be done on the computer. It turns out that it wasn't mandatory, so crisis averted. But even so, I've noticed an increasing dependency on the computer for both in school and out of school assignments, and that bothers me.

In school, the computer can't be a substitute for real, personal instruction. And out of school, there's something inherently a little disconcerting about 5 year olds begging for computer time instead of outside time.

Of course, there's also the bigger question: what about those kids who don't have computers? Philadelphia, unlike Lower Merion, can't possibly buy laptops for all of its students (and perhaps, thankfully so). And even if there are funds for laptops, what about internet access (many of the assignments are internet-based)?

But those questions are kind of overkill, aren't they? Because the School District shouldn't be rushing out to make arrangements for laptops when there are libraries without books. And classrooms without teachers. We have, I think, bigger fish to fry.


Just Like Me

Every now and again, we wonder whether we made the right decision with respect to pulling the kids out of private school and opting, instead, for public school in Philadelphia. I usually start wondering that about now, when our mail is filled with brochures advertising the very schools we considered and ultimately passed over: the various Friends schools, the Baldwin School, Miquon, a handful of charter schools and more.

There was no magic in our decision to go public. We did struggle a lot with the idea, though. We were very aware that the decision that we were making was final, at least for us. It was highly unlikely, we knew, that we would make the decision and then turn back. So we researched our options pretty thoroughly. I even did the Open House circuit, standing around at private schools with a visitor sticker on my shirt, trying to drink in the almost college admission-like atmosphere. And as intrigued as we were by many of the schools, none of them had exactly the feel that we wanted.

What's particularly odd, and this has been confirmed with the slew of new admissions materials arriving this year, is the lack of diversity at many (not all) of these schools. Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in diversity for diversity's sake - and I certainly don't believe in forcing it. But I live in the City. By its very nature, it is diverse. There are all different cultures, races, religions and socio-economic classes. It is exactly part of the appeal of living here. That's why it is perplexing to me that many of these schools are awash in upper middle class to upper class white kids - even those in the City.

I know, some of it is economics. But it's weird to me that there's any appeal in it nonetheless to City parents. Not the schools, I get that they're good schools. But much of education, especially at the elementary school level, is learning about the world around you. And most people don't live in that kind of shielded, homogenous world - we certainly don't.

I'll make no secret about the fact that I am both white and middle class. My kids are dressed well, we are well educated and we do okay. But I can't imagine limiting the world that my children sees to those who are exactly like them. That's not real life.

Of course, neither is the other end of the spectrum. We didn't opt to be "urban pioneers" and throw our kids in a school filled with kids who were wildly dissimilar either. My children do not attend a school that is majority African-American or Hispanic/Latino. Neither do they attend a school where they stand out as the wealthiest kids in a sea of disadvantaged kids. I don't think that's real life either.

It was all about finding balance. And we found it. We found it in our neighborhood school. The school's composition is racially diverse. Economics range from kids who rely on free lunches to those whose parents are doctors and business owners. The kids play different sports, attend a wide range of after school programs and have a variety interests. There is no sense of "sameness" (outside of school uniforms) - forced or otherwise.

When I look at the kids that my kids go to school with, for the most part, I'm really comforted that it's an environment that's both realistic and safe. That makes the answer to my question pretty easy. Did we make the right decision? We did.


Schools Closed on Friday, February 26

Due to the inclement weather, all School District of Philadelphia schools are closed on Friday, February 26. All administrative and regional offices will open two hours late.

Also, all District Comprehensive Early Learning Centers are closed, and all after-school activities are canceled. All sporting activities will be rescheduled.

Should any updates occur, they will be posted at www.philasd.org and may also be obtained by calling 215-400-INFO (4636).


No School on February 25

According to the Inquirer, there will be no school on tomorrow.

The kids will be thrilled. Me? Not so much. I'm worried about making all of these days up... I don't want to be sending the kids to school in July. :(


Flash Mob, the Gallery and Parenting

This week, Philadelphia schools made headlines for a most undesirable reason: flash mobs and violence at a Center City shopping mall (the Gallery). More than 150 kids were said to have been involved in the violence, which caused several hundred dollars worth of damage. As school officials gathered to talk about the incident, the press repeatedly pointed out the names of the schools that the kids attended (noting, for example, that eight of the fifteen arrested were from Simon Gratz High) and highlighted that expulsions from school might be in order.


No, that wasn't sarcasm. It was genuine surprise. I'm perplexed as to why expulsion is even on the table.

In the suburbs, your kid gets on a bus from the school parking lot and travels home, more or less. Or, if they're a little older, they drive home. But in the City, your route home (because of the wonky system of "school choice" which is another issue altogether) can be a series of buses, trolleys and subways. The likelihood of something going wrong, including getting into trouble, is a bit higher. And I realize that from a legal perspective, we've decided as a society that the schools should be held accountable for the safety of our children until they get home... But is that realistic? Or fair?

I'm not sure that it's the school's responsibility in all of this to ensure that this kids don't get into trouble after they're a certain distance from the school. And while I don't profess to know what that magic distance should be, I feel comfortable saying that Nicetown to Center City qualifies.

In all of the coverage surrounding this mess, I've heard from the police, from the School District, from store managers - and in the Inquirer, even from the kids themselves. Anyone else notice a rather important omission? Where are the parents?

I know that parents can't be expected to be around all of the time. I'm a working mom, I get it. But I am really surprised - and thoroughly disappointed - at the apparent lack of parental intervention in any of this. Parenting matters. Period.

I realize that not all families are created equal. And I am not so naive to believe that each of these children come from perfect homes (as if there were any such thing in the first place). But I am also not so jaded as to believe that we should accept any of that as an excuse.

Parents have a fundamental responsibility to be involved in their kid's lives and that includes times when the parents are not around. One of the things that I've been struck by at my kids' school is how involved the parents are. And it's not a group of latte moms around a table. I see moms and dads, as well as grandparents (!), from all walks of life getting involved. Whether it's painting over graffiti, baking for the school sale, playing coach or writing grants for more funds, parents make an effort to be a part of the school community. That means that they have some skin in the game - the success or failure of the school is tied to the parents.

It's easy to point fingers and say that not all schools are the same and that perhaps these kids involved in the melee at the Gallery are just different. But I think that sort of thinking is just an excuse to write these kids off. It somehow justifies the idea that we can kind of shake our heads and walk away because there's nothing we can do other than accept that they're going to do what they want to do. But that's just wrong. Kids are largely the same at heart. And they all, despite their circumstances, want love and acceptance, as well as rules and order. And it's clear that these kids don't have the latter: you don't get 150 kids that feel comfortable enough to terrorize a shopping mall without some sense of approval, tacit or otherwise.

All of that said, the burden of parenting these children should not be laid at the feet of the School District. The School District claims that:

The mission of the School District of Philadelphia is to provide a high-quality education that prepares, ensures, and empowers all students to achieve their full intellectual and social potential in order to become lifelong learners and productive members of society.

There are more than 160,000 public children that deserve the full attention and resources of the School District. Don't shortchange those children in order to resolve some kind of public relations issue with the City. Philadelphia school children are not bad and I don't appreciate the children at my school being labeled as trouble because a group of unruly kids felt emboldened to cause some trouble.

In fact, let's leave the schools out of the equation altogether. Would we be having the same conversation if these were a group of parochial school kids? Or a group of kids from Lower Merion? Wouldn't the police be dealing directly with their parents? And let's not forget that the whole mess was arranged allegedly not at school but on the internet - is the next step having the School District monitor the internet?

This should not be made into a Philadelphia School District problem. It's a problem with badly behaved kids outside of school. Expulsion isn't the answer - in fact, it likely creates more problems than it would solve.

Parents, not teachers, should be held accountable for the behavior of these children. The discussion about what to do should be between law enforcement, those students and their parents. Period. That leaves the School District to focus on education, not policing, after school hours.


School's Back in Session

School was back in session today after a week off due to snow - and President's Day - but mostly snow. The walk up was quite an experience. Notwithstanding the neighbors who remarkably felt that they didn't need to shovel despite the record snowfall totals, it was nice out. There's something both calming and exciting about snow all at the same time.

Unfortunately, the City did a pretty miserable job of clearing its own properties. The piles of snow around the school were huge and made it difficult to get everyone in on time. Supposedly, they're working on fixing it for tomorrow. We'll see.

Even with all of the chaos and piles of snow, I can't really complain. I was thankful not to have to get into the car and drive to school. If that had been the case, I would guess that my kids would have sat out a few more days of school. While it's true that the major roads around Philly are fine, the smaller streets (like the one that I live on) are still largely huge sheets of ice. I wouldn't put my kids in the car unless I had no other options - and thankfully, that wasn't our reality.

Instead, we piled on the snow gear and headed out the door. It was, I thought, a nice way to start the day.


The Official Word: School is Open Tomorrow

After a week of no school, school will be open tomorrow, February 16. This, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Schools Closed on Friday

All School District of Philadelphia schools will be closed on Friday, February 12. Also, closed are all District Comprehensive Early Learning Centers, and all after-school activities are canceled. Administrative and regional offices will open at regular scheduled hours.

In addition, the School Reform Commission planning meeting, originally scheduled for February 10, will take place on Wednesday, February 17, and the action meeting, originally scheduled for February 17, will take place on Wednesday, February 24.

School Closed Again

School has been canceled for today - and rumor has it, canceled for tomorrow, Friday, February 12. I hope to confirm shortly.


Schools Closed on Wednesday

All School District of Philadelphia schools, Administrative Offices and Regional Offices will be CLOSED on Wednesday, February 10, 2010.

After-School Activities Canceled Due to Potential Snow

All School District of Philadelphia after-school activities, including all athletic programs, are canceled for Tuesday, February 9, 2010.

All District Comprehensive Early Learning Centers will remain open as per their regular schedule.


Schools Open on Tuesday

All School District of Philadelphia schools will be OPEN on Tuesday, February 9, 2010, according to their regular schedule.


No School on Monday

All School District of Philadelphia schools will be CLOSED on Monday, February 8, 2010, due to this weekend's record snowfall in Philadelphia. All after-school activities and yellow school bus service are also canceled for Monday, February 8.

Administrative and regional offices will open two hours late.


School District Snow Cancellations

All School District after-school activities, including athletics, for Friday, February 5, are cancelled. All District Comprehensive Early Learning Centers will close early at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, February 5. District schools will dismiss at their regular scheduled times.

All weekend activities and programs, including professional development and athletics, for Saturday February 6 and Sunday February 7 are cancelled.


School Rankings

School rankings are out. You can download the results here.

My kids' school was ranked pretty well, which was good to see. I'm not sure that I understand the methodology, though, since a neighboring school which tends to test poorly ranked higher and the similar schools result was different. But it is what it is.

(Hat Tip: The Notebook)


College Scholarships

The Philadelphia Home and School Council General Membership meeting will take place on Tuesday, February 2nd at 6:00pm at 440 North Broad in room 1075.

Patty Conroy, Scholarship Manager of the Community College of Philadelphia will be speaking about college scholarships being offered for the fall 2010 semester.

Danielle Reavis from the CORE of Philadelphia will also be speaking about college opportunities for high school students.

If you have any questions, please call the Home and School Council Office at 215-400-4080.


Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

This week, I've spent a lot of time talking with other parents about discipline inside the classroom: when it makes sense and whether the "punishment" should fit the crime. I have enjoyed hearing other perspectives on this issue, as I think it's a really important part of the educational system that often gets pushed to the back burner.

For what it's worth, I don't have any answers. I'll tell you that up front. At my public school, we were often threatened with a paddling when we missed up. While I'm not an advocate for corporal punishment at all, I will say that it did work. We had the fear of God put in us from those teachers. Similarly, my friends who attended Catholic school don't remember the nuns with rulers fondly but do acknowledge that they were scared to screw up.

This is in clear contrast to my daughter's experience at private school. It was a Quaker school, so clearly there was no corporal punishment (a good thing). And initially, I was really impressed by the conflict resolution at the school - the "talking it out" stick is a great way to get kids to express themselves and talk through conflicts rather than escalate them. But, I quickly learned, that really doesn't prepare them for life outside of the school. My friend, a teacher in a suburban school outside of Philadelphia, agrees. The reality is that, as great an environment as the private school was for my daughter in terms of building some of her skill sets, it really didn't prepare her for life outside of private school: not at the art center in Center City; not at language classes; and not at swimming. It especially didn't prepare her for public school in Philadelphia.

My biggest disappointment this year with public school has been what I consider to be an inconsistent and uneven approach to discipline. Last year, my daughter's teacher had a very similar approach to discipline as me: I feel that, as much as possible, the punishment should be related to the "crime." So, when my daughter's teacher informed me that my daughter had been rude to another teacher, I promptly made her write an apology note - and she had to deliver it to the teacher. I wanted her to learn that her actions (being rude) had an effect on another person (the other teacher) and that she had to acknowledge that action (hence, the note). It worked. To be honest, my daughter isn't good with strangers - and the whole thing kind of freaked her out. But in a good way.

This year, however, disciplinary actions have not been consistent with the "crime." My daughter has been sent to the equivalent of detention - for 2nd graders - for not completing a spelling assignment and for failing to write down the name of a book that she read on her reading list. I'm not sure that I think these are appropriate responses to failing to complete homework. What kind of lesson is she learning from that punishment? Why not make her do it over? Or write an extra homework assignment? I think she would learn more from those punishments. Sitting in detention just gives her more time to stew - there's no real lesson learned.

To be fair, she's a good kid and consistently scores among the top in her class. And I feel very strongly that she has to do what she's told in class and complete her assignments on time. So, she doesn't get a free pass. But this "one size fits all" scheme of punishments this year isn't doing her any favors. I don't want her to be one of those kids who gets pegged as a bad kid early because she's scattered (and yes, as her mom, I can tell you that she's a bunch of wonderful things - but also scattered). I know that public school teachers can sometimes be so overwhelmed that this approach of leveling the same punishment for all offenses is easy - but the easy road isn't what's always best for the kids.



Today is Martin Luther King Day. Schools in Philadelphia are closed in observance of the holiday. The School District has suggested that students and parents take the opportunity to give a day of service to the community... what are your plans?


Neighborhood Schools

The high today is going to be in the upper 40s. We're in the middle of a warm up, albeit temporary, which is great. That means a nice walk to school.

Yes, my kids walk to school. We live less than a mile away from our local school.

And despite the reports touting how public schools are suddenly more attractive that private schools for economic reasons, I will say that location was our #1 initial consideration in choosing our public school. We were very interested in the idea of a neighborhood school.

My daughter started out at a private school that could not be called a neighborhood school. Not only was it a drive for us (albeit not a long drive), it was a drive for most of the students at the school - I think one parent rode her bike. So, every morning, we got up, got packed up and piled in the car to go to school. And every afternoon, I would get in the car to go get her.

There was no time for after school lessons or sports. We didn't get back in time to do the ones closest to our house and the ones nearest the school ended far too late (and our daughter didn't know anyone on those teams). Worst of all, scheduling play dates with friends was a hassle - some of the kids at the school lived more than an hour away.

While I loved the school, the routine was a bit odd. It felt more like my daughter was going to work, rather than kindergarten. There was very little social interaction outside of the school among the classmates and our neighborhood was quickly becoming segregated by school, even at the playground.

I had to believe that this wasn't the norm. It certainly wasn't how I grew up. And it wasn't how my husband grew up.

The funny thing was that we passed our neighborhood school every morning on the drive to the private school. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, just to drop her off here?

But we didn't stop. We kept driving by. We did it because we had been programmed to believe that Philadelphia schools are bad.

I had to believe that wasn't the case. So I did the same thing for the public school that I did for the private school: I checked it out. I talked to parents. I went on a tour (actually, I went on three tours). I researched test scores. I met with the principal. And (gasp) it was good.

We are now in the second year of our public school experiment. And almost every day, we now walk to the same school that we used to drive by. Our mornings are much less hectic - sometimes, even pleasant - since there's no frantic rush to get into the car and then maneuver through traffic or any pressure to get ready to catch a bus. We simply put on our backpacks and walk.

My kids now participate in after school clubs and local sports lessons. There's time to hang out on the playground and socialize after class, with no worries about an impending rush hour or missing the last bus home.

It's a huge change from before. It's how I think a school should be. There's something to be said for a neighborhood school.


The MG Program

About this time last year, my oldest daughter's teacher approached me about the possibility of participating in the school's MG (mentally gifted) program. To be honest, I hadn't even considered it before I was approached. Sadly, I don't think I expected to have that kind of opportunity in the public school system in Philly.

I agreed to the testing and the interviews and then, more or less, forgot about it. We didn't hear anything further and I kind of put it out of my mind.

This year, my husband and I were advised that my daughter had been accepted into the program. Apparently, she tested well, especially in reading, and her teacher's recommendations were very good.

The MG teacher scheduled an appointment to discuss the results of the tests and the interview, as well as to discuss our interest in the program. I voted an enthusiastic "yes" and signed the paperwork. And just like that, she's in.

In the beginning, she'll leave her regular classroom one day per week for a couple of hours to go to the MG classroom. At MG, they'll do special projects (and have extra homework) meant to get their creative juices going.

This couldn't have come at a better time for my daughter. She's been struggling in class when it comes to behavior and I think it's because she's a bit lost. Last year, she had the opportunity to play "teacher" with some of the younger kids in her class; her teacher realized that she loved helping others and gave her some extra responsibilities. She really rose to the challenge. School was something that she looked forward to every day; she loved it.

This year isn't going as well as the last. I think she feels boxed in. She isn't quite sure how to react to "down time" in class and has made up for it by getting into trouble. This is not a direction that I'm thrilled about. But the MG program - which I had completely forgotten about - came about at the perfect time. I suspect that this "something extra" will keep her excited about going to school. She's already heard about her first project and started work on it immediately - this is a very good sign.

I know that there's a lot of debate about whether MG programs and other IEP-related services has a place in education. I've also heard parents grumble about putting resources towards MG programs - the whole "smart kids don't need extra services." But they're wrong. I know they're wrong because I've been that kid, floundering in class. And it took a great MG teacher to keep me on the right path.

I'm hopeful that my daughter will have a similar experience. I have my fingers crossed!

I figure that we have a year to see what happens and how she responds to the new arrangement. Students are evaluated each year to see if they meet the criteria to continue in the program, so we'll make up our minds at about the same time as the school will.


"Extra" Services at School

We're about to find out about the number and quality of "extra" services at our school (fingers crossed).

I guess I never considered that my children would need extra services but then, that was me, not thinking outside of the box. I'm fairly impressed that the school identified that our kids might benefit from them before we did.

My youngest child was flagged for possible speech therapy. She doesn't lisp, stutter or otherwise struggle with speech. But she does sometimes speak quietly when she's nervous. And despite the fact that she was born here, she has this odd Boston accent. In Philly, I could see how that might be considered a speech problem.

At any rate, she was evaluated by a speech therapist and the determination was made that no further services were necessary. She just may grow up sounding like Madeleine Kahn.

My oldest child was recommended by her teacher last year as a candidate for the gifted program at her school. I wasn't sure how I felt about this (having grown up labeled as a "gifted" student myself) until this month. She's been struggling a bit in class this year because, quite frankly, I think she's both a bit bored and intimidated (this is not a commentary on the school, rather an observation of the differences in teaching styles between her teacher this year and last). I am now hopeful that she is accepted into the program because I think that something "extra" would be good for her. She's learning to do her work more quickly and to read easier books to blend in with her friends. I don't want that to be a long term response to being a bit ahead of some of her friends. Dumbing down is never the answer - but then, that's hard to understand at her age.

We've been asked to attend a meeting with the Gifted Teacher at the school to discuss her test scores and the next steps. I'll let you know how it goes.

It's interesting to me that my kids have had these experiences so early in their educational careers. One of the biggest criticisms that I've heard about the Philadelphia School District is the failure to address special needs of students - on both ends of the spectrum. I have to wonder where that criticism is really coming from, as it has not been my experience. In fact, I've been very impressed by the proactive nature of the teachers and the support staff with respect to these services. I'd be lying if I didn't say that it was quite unexpected.

There are a number of special services available to Philly school children from all walks of life. The District has a special department dedicated to these services: The Office of Specialized Instructional Services. If your child isn't receiving a service for which you believe he or she is eligible, don't just sit back and gossip on the playground with the other parents, ask the district to be heard.


Why I Hate Awards Day

When I was a kid, I won a lot of awards. I was a smart kid and I was pretty well-behaved. So, awards day was a good day for me - the only award that I didn't get on a fairly regular basis was for perfect attendance (see my rant below on this one).

My brother struggled throughout school. He did not get honor roll and he didn't do particularly well in reading or math. Again, no perfect attendance. So while I got to stand on stage with lots of medals, ribbons and certificates, he rarely got anything.

When I was 12, I thought this was okay. After all, I figured, I worked hard.

It turns out that my brother worked hard, too. He and I were just wired differently. It took him awhile to figure it out (his teachers missed it completely) but he was not lazy and he was not stupid; his style of learning was not mainstream.

But he had years and years of being told that he wasn't as smart as other kids. And the one day that it was glaringly obvious to the whole school was on awards day.

Years later, as a parent, I am not a fan of awards day. I realize that it's important to recognize achievement but after sitting through my first one for my oldest child years ago, I realize that the awards don't mean anything. Everyone gets one now - you don't want to leave anyone out - so there are "fake" awards for "effort" and "attitude." I'm not sure what the value of the awards are if everyone gets one.

At the same time, I also think it's not constructive to withhold awards from kids who are struggling because I think it sends a message that they're not valued.

It's a problem, isn't it? On the one hand, giving out awards to everyone lessens the value of the awards in the first place. Let's be honest: only one kid is the "best" in a particular subject. But leaving out kids creates hard feelings and discouragement. So, why do the awards at all?

My kids are (knock wood) pretty smart kids. They do well in school. Today, one will get a slew of awards. The other, probably one of the top kids in her class, will get nothing (or if she gets anything, it will be some cheesy fake award). She and the teacher have butted heads this semester so, despite her academic achievements, she doesn't qualify for honor roll because of her "attitude." I'm not sure what kind of message this is supposed to send the two of them. And to be honest, I'd rather they both get nothing. They're good kids, they know that they're good kids, and no certificate is going to change that. But being singled out as the "bad" kid? How is that helpful?

Neither of them will likely get Perfect Attendance or what I like to call the "send your child to school while sick" award. I never got it as a kid, even though I was fairly healthy. My brother had a compromised immune system which meant that he got sick a lot. So, he never got it either.

There was one girl in my school who received Perfect Attendance from K-12. Yep, K-12. She went to school every day, sick or not. And she got an award for that. That's right, she received a pat on the back in public for bringing her germs to school rather than stay at home. What kind of message is that?

As adults, we are desperately trying to get co-workers who have the flu or worse, H1N1, to stay home. But as parents, we are publicly applauding children who straggle in anyway.

Perfect attendance is not an achievement. In most cases, the child (especially at the elementary school level) had nothing to do with it. Zero. But hey, let's give them a ribbon anyway.

The way I figure, achievements should be noted throughout the year on an individual level. If we're really supposed to be teaching life lessons to kids in school, why not start with awards day? Why not cut it out completely? Most adults don't have "awards day" in the workplace. And you don't have them in college (at least most schools that I've heard of): your award is called graduation - and it's a goal, really, and not an award.

At school, a teacher, a principal and a parent can pat individual students on the back all year long. There is value in simply saying "Great job!" when a kid does good work. And maybe by keeping it tied to the specific child and their actual effort, it means a little something more. My daughter gets to skip her weekly test if she aces her quiz through the week: she's never had to take the weekly test. That's a prize she'll gladly take, as it means more to her than a piece of paper.

We should think about the messages we're sending our kids. It's confusing for them and it's confusing for parents. Instead, we should focus on what our goals are: kids do understand the idea of goals. Why not make finishing first grade the goal, and not simply showing up for school? Why not make learning to read a goal, instead of some bogus and nebulous "extra effort" mark? Why not focus on the quality of books read instead of the quantity (don't get me started on the 100 Book Challenge, embraced by the City of Philadelphia)?

I realize that this is unpopular. As parents, we like the pomp and circumstance. But I don't think it's productive. I think, instead, we should focus on giving kids the tools they need to succeed. And perhaps, instead of a certificate once a year, it's just a little whisper in the ear, "Way to go, kid!"


First Day of School! (Well, sort of)

It felt very "Nemo" at my house this morning as both kids were extremely excited about returning to school - until they walked out of the door, that is. It was cold in Philly today. Super cold. Some of that first day enthusiasm dampened a bit when some pretty frigid gusts hit them square in the face.

Drop off is never fun in bad weather. When it's cold or rainy, there's no outside play. It's straight indoors to assembly. As my oldest isn't a big fan of this method, it made for a pretty unhappy arrival.

But it was a new year with new folders, new books and new assignments. Let's hope it's a good one!