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Most Philadelphia Schools Fail NCLB Criteria

The vast majority of Philadelphia's public schools are still failing to meet adequate yearly progress under new federal guidelines, according to a new report released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education yesterday.

The report is the most comprehensive assessment of how the state's schools are fairing under the sweeping No Child Left Behind reform plan championed by the Bush administration.

"This report gives us a snapshot of where we are and the progress we need to make in order to reach the [No Child Left Behind] goal of 100 percent of students proficient [in reading and math] by 2014," state Secretary of Education Vicki L. Phillips said.

Of Philadelphia's 262 schools, only 18 met their yearly targets, the state said. (The school district, however, claiming that 43 schools met their targets, is asking the state to include 25 others.)

The report placed schools in seven performance categories. The seventh and lowest category contained 139 schools, all in Philadelphia.

And 39 city schools faced corrective action because they did not meet state performance targets for a second year.

Students at these 178 low-performing city schools are eligibile to transfer to better schools, under the law.

Last year, 177 city schools were in the bottom performance category and had to offer student transfers. This year, five categories were added, and only 139 schools were at the very bottom.

Although the No Child Left Behind Law went into effect last year, all schools were assessed based on test results dating from the three previous years.

City schools chief Paul Vallas said the corrective measures at those schools and all others began last year and will only intensify this year.

"The type of reforms we're implementing right now - such as a uniform curriculum, extended-day programs, extensive summer-school programs, reduced class size - will certainly show their impact in the coming three to four years," Vallas said.

He also noted that 52 schools were getting new principals this school year.

Less than half of the state's 2,786 schools - 1,346 - met federal standards, 12 schools made sufficient progress, 1,031 failed to make progress and were given warnings but not sanctions because it was their first year of not making improvement under the law.

But 397 schools statewide failed to make progress for two or more years and will be subjected to sanctions based on the number of years they've failed to make progress. All of those schools must offer students the right to transfer to better schools this fall, at a minimum.

The goal of No Child Left Behind is that every public-school student be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Each state must devise its own plan to get there. In order to reach adequate yearly progress this year, Pennsylvania determined that 45 percent of a school's students should be proficient in reading and 35 percent proficient in math on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test, given to fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders each spring.

Other factors considered are student participation in the tests, attendance at middle and elementary schools, and graduation rates at high schools.

For the first time, all public schools - not just those that get extra funding for low-income students - were included in the report, as were charter schools.

The news was not good for Philadelphia's charter-school community - the largest in the state, at 46. Two city charters did make adequate improvement: the Labratory Charter School, and the Multicultural Academy Charter.

But 22 of the city's publicly funded, independently managed charters did not make progress for a second year, while another 14 made no progress for the first time under the law and received warnings.

"When I see those scores it really doesn't surprise me, because the students who come to us are the ones who are looking for change. You don't look for change if you are doing well," said Joseph Proietta, president of the Philadelphia Alliance of Charter Schools, and chief administrative officer of the Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School.

Proietta, whose Juniata Park school opened in 1997 with 270 students and will enroll 1,000 in September, said charter schools will need as much time as district schools to improve.

"Parents look to us to be the panacea for all their problems. I think we will be," he said, "but not in three or four years."

Vallas, however, said the report would be a factor in eventually determining which charters remain and which would be shut down. This spring he closed the first charter for poor performance.

"I think what you can expect is to see more charters decertified," Vallas said. "It's simple: if charter schools are not performing, they will be decertified."

Most of the 45 schools turned over to outside managers last year also saw their schools stuck at the bottom of the performance list.

Edison Schools Inc., which is managing 20 city schools, had one of its schools among 12 statewide in the second highest-performance category - making progress. That was Benjamin Comegys School. The 19 others were in the bottom category.

As Pennsylvania's public schools struggle to live up to the federal mandates, Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly are in political limbo when it comes to funding public education for the school year that starts in less than a month.

Education advocates yesterday were critical of the state in light of the impasse.

"They're going to hold these schools accountable, but they are not going to do anything about adequate state funding," said Eric Braxton, executive director of Philadelphia Student Union. "The problem that we have in Philadelphia is our schools just don't have enough money."

Last month, state Senate Republicans pushed through a modest $4.3 billion education-funding bill that included a 2.8 percent increase for schools, 4.5 percent more for special education and $25 million for programs like Head Start and classroom tutoring.

Legislators in the state House didn't move forward on the Senate bill after Rendell threatened to veto it if it reached his desk.

Vallas said city schools do need more money, but that's not his battle right now.

"I'm not going to use lack of funding as an excuse. I'm not looking for excuses, I'm looking for results."

— Mensah M. Dean
Most city schools failing to meet fed performance goals
Philadelphia Inquirer
August 13, 2003


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