Phila., charters to promote top-achieving schools

Posted: November 16, 2011

The Philadelphia School District plans to join the City of Philadelphia, the state Department of Education, and two major charter school organizations to set common academic standards, then seek to expand schools that meet them and close those that do not, officials said Wednesday.

Though there has been talk of increasing collaboration and reducing tensions between the district and the city's 80 charter schools for years, the potential of receiving a large grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was the catalyst for the proposed project, said Lori Shorr, the city's chief education officer.

Shorr explained the educational compact at Wednesday's School Reform Commission meeting.

Pedro Ramos, chairing his first SRC meeting since being confirmed by the state Senate on Monday, called the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact "a potentially exciting opportunity."

The commission will vote Wednesday on a resolution outlining the broad goals of the compact to demonstrate the city's commitment to "grow or replicate high-performing charter and district schools, and to improve or close low-performing charter and district schools that are not serving students well."

Shorr said the compact's aim was to eliminate 50,000 seats in the lowest-performing schools - district and charter - in five years by increasing enrollment in high-performing schools, turning schools around, creating new schools, and closing failing schools.

The Gates Foundation, which has promoted district-charter compacts, has said it will evaluate new compacts from between six and 10 cities and invite the strongest to submit proposals to compete for "tens of millions" of dollars in funding to support their collaborative plans. The district hopes to compete for the funding next year.

Shorr said Philadelphia had received some positive responses from Gates representatives. Acting School Superintendent Leroy Nunery II, though, said the district would proceed with the compact with or without Gates funding.

Mayor Nutter, the state, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, and Philadelphia Charters for Excellence have endorsed the compact.

"I think that this is historic," Larry Jones, president of the state charter coalition and chief operating officer of the Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School in West Philadelphia, told the commission.

"This agreement between the School District and our charter schools will provide unprecedented cooperation as they create equivalent metrics to measure student achievement and school performance," Nutter said in a statement. "I would like to thank those who have committed to this plan because we need a system of great schools that educates our young people and prepares them to tackle the challenges of the 21st century."

Shorr said that if the SRC endorses the compact next week, a committee would be set up to develop common performance criteria over the next four months to be used to evaluate all schools, create an accountability framework, and develop a plan for implementing the compact. After public input, a final version of the compact will be submitted to the Gates Foundation in March or April.

The proposed compact would permit other charter operators to take over failing charter schools. A draft of the proposal distributed Wednesday said that if the SRC revokes or fails to renew a charter, it would launch a competitive process to find another operator to take over the school.

The compact draft also calls for shared planning to coordinate growth of charters and district schools; collaborating on facilities; and creating a "universal enrollment" system that would align schools' application procedures and make it easier for families to select schools.

The compact also calls for replacing the district office that oversees charter schools with a new office whose executive director would report to the SRC. Now, the charter office is part of the district administration and reports to the superintendent. Charter school operators have advocated the change.

Philadelphia, which has 40,322 students in charter schools, ranks third among the 10 largest districts in the country in charter enrollment, just behind Los Angeles and Detroit.

Shorr said many of the other large districts already had signed compacts with their charter schools.

The Gates Foundation announced in December that nine school districts had signed such agreements.


Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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