Philadelphia schools have progressed since state takeover, report says

Posted: September 26, 2012

Even taking into account the possible effects of a cheating scandal that has rocked the city, the Philadelphia School District has made strides in the decade since a state takeover.

The district "has shown steady, systemwide improvement in the overall quality of education," according to the Accountability Review Council, an independent body established when the School Reform Commission was created in late 2001.

The council, whose members are respected educators and education experts from around the country, makes an annual report to the SRC. The most recent report was presented Monday night at an SRC planning meeting.

Reform efforts are important, said council chairman James E. Lyons - a former college president and Maryland secretary of higher education - but they must be pursued for the long term.

The district should "develop a plan to preserve and sustain them regardless of who or what administration developed them," the report said.

Lyons also said the district should define accountability and success more broadly and not simply rely on standardized test scores to measure them. The district's system of charter school oversight "seems inadequate," particularly as charters' roles expand in the city.

The SRC must work to improve public engagement and overcome cynicism in the wake of the cheating scandal, the report said.

Fifty-three district schools and three city charter schools are still under investigation of possible cheating on state exams from 2009 through 2011. Test results released last week show that there were drops - sometimes huge - in all the investigated schools' scores. Performance fell citywide, too, for the first time in 10 years.

Later in Monday's meeting, the nonprofit Research for Action presented its findings on the district's Renaissance schools - failing district schools turned around either as district-run Promise Academies or charters.

Researchers found that at kindergarten-through-eighth-grade Renaissance schools, student test scores and attendance improved. Those same gains were not seen at Renaissance high schools.

Still, the researchers said, there have been significant changes to the Promise Academy model. Many of the extra supports the schools received were slashed because of the district's continuing financial crisis.

While four new Renaissance charter schools opened this year, no Promise Academies have been added. Still, SRC member Joseph Dworetzky, who ran the Monday meeting, suggested that might change. The Promise Academy model was just as successful as the charter model and should be expanded, he said.

Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at

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