The ‘grim new normal’ in Philadelphia schools


Consider this: The constitution of Pennsylvania says that the state legislature must

provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.


Now consider what students and teachers in Philadelphia faced when they returned to school Monday for the start of their new academic year after months of financial chaos that led to the closing of 24 schools, the layoffs of more than 3,800 personnel and other cuts:

* Severely overcrowded classes. From the Daily News:

Class sizes are skyrocketing — even though the upper limit under the teachers union contract is 33 kids in each classroom. Already, teachers and parents have complained over social media about class sizes reaching 44 students, even 48 in one case.

* NO full-time guidance counselors in schools with under 600 students, which is about 60 percent of all district schools. This includes half of all high schools, where seniors will need help to apply to college. Counselor-less schools will be served by “roving counselor teams” whose job is primarily to take care of special-education populations. Now there will be about one counselor for seven schools, or as much as a one counselor for every 3,000 students.

.* A single secretary at most schools.

* NO assistant principal at any school with fewer than 850 students.

* The re-institution of over 100 split-grade classes — despite the fact this practice was eliminated for its numerous failures.

* One nurse per 1,500 students.

* Missing records reported the city, particularly for new and transferring students. There are about 9,000 students attending more than 50 different schools from the ones they went to last school year.

* Insufficient desks in schools to accommodate all students.

* Erratic public safety measures across the city. Some schools had a heavy police presence while others had no volunteers to monitor safe passage for merging schools.

* Shuttered libraries. No full-time librarians.

This is what the Daily News called the “grim new normal” in Philadelphia schools. This is why a Seattle newspaper put this headline on an Associated Press story:

School’s open in Philadelphia — but just barely

How did this happen? There’s no single reason, but it starts with the state, which has drastically underfunded the district for years. School reformers have used the district to experiment with one new initiative after another, and charter schools, including cyber charters, have been encouraged to open and operate at the expense of the traditional public schools.

Does this sound to you like a constitutionally mandated “thorough and efficient system of public education?”



Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · September 10, 2013

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