Archive for the ‘Notes from the Field’ Category

Educating Children Is an Essential Public Enterprise

10 Mar

Notes from the Field

Submitted by Frank Murphy

In the olden times of the Twentieth Century, education tales made for boring stories. Those were the days when children still played in sandboxes and had recess every day. Back then what went on in schools was mainly of interest to the parents, teachers and children who were part of a school’s community. Occasionally, a newspaper article or TV news clip would report to the broader society about some particularly cute event on the schoolhouse stage or at a schoolyard fair. But other than these special human interest stories, schools received little media attention.

Of course there has always been a national interest in the overall success of our schools in preparing its students for their roles as future citizens in a democratic society. Local school districts have traditionally assumed the responsibility for providing those educational experiences that would ensure that success.What has never before been part of that equation is the federal government’s role in dictating how individual schools are to do this.

So when the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, and our leaders had questions concerning how well our children were being prepared to become the future scientists of America, it was left to individual school districts throughout the states to determine how to address this concern. But for the most part during these years, schools continued to be the place where parents and teachers worked together to help their children prepare for their futures as American citizens.

Schooling in those days was perceived as being a basic public service. Americans willingly and equally shared the responsibility for helping our young to master the skills that were necessary for leading productive and fulfilling adult lives. They recognized that it was their civic duty to support the cost of educating all children to become full participants in our democratic society. All of this was viewed as necessary to the success of this essential public enterprise.

In the last few decades, there has been a steady erosion of individual commitment to this ethic of shared responsibility for public education. This drop in support has coincided with an increase in corporate involvement in the management of schools.

Over this period of time, educational news stories started to take on a different slant. The dusty narratives that constituted the “feel good,” reporting of bygone decades were brushed clean. As politicians and corporate leaders increasingly blamed our schools for putting our nation at risk,educational issues started to dominate the headlines of the 24/7 news cycle. The media provided a regular platform for corporate school reformers to broadcast their message, a message that that essentially linked our country’s slipping economic standing in the world with American education’s perceived failure. The measuring stick for our public schools’ inability to educate our children well became the standardized test score.

In recent years, pioneering young entrepreneurs have launched a number of charter schools that are marketed as solutions to fixing failing public schools. In doing so they have tapped into the $500 billion spent annually on public education in our country. Gradually these efforts are moving significant sums of public funding away from public schools that provide direct services to children, and instead are generating revenue for private enterprise.

These educational business ventures have been primarily both supported and funded by a handful of billionaire philanthropists. These sponsors promote a vision of an efficient national corporate educational system. They claim that by making these investments they will break what they refer to as the “public monopoly on education”. They have been successful at the federal level and in many states in promoting their point of view.

There are many among us who still believe that that educating children must remain an essential public enterprise rather than a business opportunity. This belief is not a quaint relic of a bygone time. It is a reflection of a basic principle of our democracy, that our government institutions exist to serve the needs of all of our people. They are not intended to enrich a few at the sake of the many.

It is long past time that we make this point clear to those corporate school reformers and elected officials who are hard at work dismantling our current system of public education.


The Philadelphia School Crush Saga

28 Aug

A Teacher’s Point of View

Notes from the Field

Submitted by Joy of Teaching

P1010101_2Over the summer I spent time in doctor’s waiting rooms  and began playing the online game sensation “Candy Crush Saga” to whittle away the time.  The game is based upon matching three similar colored candy pieces to reach certain goals and advance to higher levels.  Although the game is a time consuming distraction, it can also be maddening.

As one advances through the levels the goals become more difficult to reach.  Impending obstacles, like growing chocolate, race to swallow up a candy combination that you are carefully planning to make.  Well placed time bombs explode if you don’t get to them first by wasting precious moves.  It was at some point while playing the Candy Crush Saga game that I realized that the game changes the rules as it moves along.  A stripped candy mix that once cleared two columns now only clears one.  A wrapped candy that would zap those bombs now misses them by a mile.  At times, I have seen the game actually cheat!  Candy that should move one way in a well planned move suddenly disappears! I came to the realization that the game will let you win, if and when it is ready to.

Alas, if you do not reach the set goal after five attempts, your game is over for 30 minutes.  However, you can pay to play!  This is how Candy Crush Saga earns revenue of $633,000 per day.  The other day, while making the 76th attempt at level 139, and mulling over all of the ongoing Philadelphia School District drama, I realized the teachers of the Philadelphia School District are all just playing one big game of Philadelphia School Crush Saga. Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Build a Lemonade Stand, Kids!

15 May

Students’ Response to School Budget Cuts

Notes from the Field

Submitted by Angela Chan

When I decided to teach, I believed that the betterment of our nation depends on growing compassionate and caring citizens, and on creating an engaged citizenry that must include even those who live in the poorest communities.  As a public and as a nation, we have determined education to be so important to the common good that we would collectively fund it for all children.  I thought, what better way to invest my life and energy than to be a public servant, to do the important work of educating our young, and not just to do this work anywhere, but to commit to those communities and schools with the least resources.

The last few years of budget cuts to public education has shaken my belief that our country and political leaders value the well being of every single child, rich or poor.  Across school buildings in Philadelphia, staff will hear their principals say, “We have a limited budget for next year.  We only have enough money for a principal and enough teachers for every class.  We don’t have any funds for books or supplies.”

Many who do not work in schools have only minimal understanding of the implications of the reality of those words.  For the last two years, my students have lost some of their favorite teachers: our school police officer, a full-time technology teacher, and bilingual counseling assistants who have worked with us for years.  Now we must tell our students that they might lose everyone else who is not a teacher.  Next year, we, along with all public schools in Philadelphia, might not have a Dean of Students, an office staff, a counselor, an instrumental music program, noon time aides who supervise lunch and recess, extracurricular activities including sports, and books and supplies.

I struggled to help my students understand this senseless predicament.  Our children come to school everyday expecting to be in a place of learning.  How do we explain that we lack even the basics to sustain our schools?  My students are smart, and they understand fairness.  Sooner or later, they will make the connection between what is happening to their schools and how this can come to happen.  They will come to understand marginalization and know that some groups do not matter in the grand scheme of our nation’s operation. Read the rest of this entry »


Walk In Our Shoes

17 Feb

meade rally and walk


Save Meade School

08 Feb

Save Meade School


Stand united: An appeal to commenters

30 Nov

Originally posted on thenotebook blog by Frank Murphy on Nov 27 2012 Posted in Commentary

I have been troubled by the negative tone of several comments posted in response to Notebook articles over the last few months. Anonymous posters have increasingly engaged in highly critical and often sharply worded personal attacks on individual Philadelphia School District employees and union personnel. Though I can understand the depth of emotion that motivates people to make such remarks, I do not support this course of action.

Over the last 10 years, school staff in Philadelphia have increasingly felt pressured by District leaders to act in a manner that borders on professional malpractice. Teachers have been forced to spend an inordinate amount of instructional time on test preparation, and they have been expected to use instructional materials that are inappropriate for their students. Even more troubling, in a growing number of schools, teachers have been required to “do whatever it takes” to increase student test scores by principals who confuse intimidation with leadership.

In the face of such obstacles, it is no wonder that teachers are frustrated and angry. I, too, have felt the wrath of vindictive leaders, and, frankly, it has left me with a bad taste. But ventilating these feelings through scathing and anonymous remarks does us all a disservice. Personal attacks on specific District leaders, personnel, and union staffers can be, and often are, interpreted by the broader public as the rants of disaffected employees who are averse to the concept of being held accountable.

It is the bad ideas of leaders that we must debunk. Focusing on individuals’ hypocrisy and lack of character is a distraction. Doing so contributes to the chaos or “churn” that Eli Broad and other free market reformers like to create in public school systems across the nation. In my view, the main focus of our commentary must be on informing one another and our community about the issues affecting the local democratic control of our school district.

Powerfully connected and well-financed individuals and groups often influence what the mass media choose to focus on. This seems to be particularly true in education, where just a handful of wealthy people — such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Betsy DeVos, and the Koch brothers — have tremendously influenced governance and policy at the national, state, and local levels. It is far from easy for ordinary people to have their views and concerns heard over the amplified voices of the rich and well-connected.

Our opportunities to communicate our views about the governance of our nation’s schools are limited. Teachers are rarely included on the committees that are appointed to plot the future of public schools. When we have a chance to speak in public forums, our arguments should be measured, tempered, and centered on analyzing the merits of the strategies and ideas offered by school reformers.

In the days and months ahead, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission will act on a number of important issues: Closing schools, resolving a crippling budget crisis, determining whether to continue with the Renaissance School strategy, managing charter school growth, and negotiating a new teacher contract are all items on their to-do list. Teachers, parents, educational activists, and students will seek to have their say. But engaging in personal attacks and making snarky remarks while presenting their positions will be counterproductive, playing into the hands of the those who pursue a divide-and-conquer strategy to force their will on the majority.

Those of us who actually run schools and conduct the day-to-day work of educating children have to present a united front as we strive to preserve and promote a public school system that is well-funded, open to all children, and provides a superior education. It’s about time for us to create a discourse that respects individual differences while striving to find common ground. I have great hope that we can speak in one united and reasonable voice concerning the fate of our public school system. I envision that this voice will consistently articulate, with fidelity, the values and principles of our democratic society.

Frank Murphy is the former principal of Gen. George G. Meade Elementary in North Philadelphia and served as an educator for over 35 years. Currently, he is working as a distributed leadership coach for the Penn Leadership Center. He blogs at City School Stories.

The opinions expressed in this post are solely the opinions of the author.



Thanks to The Philadelphia School Partnership

16 Oct

Notes from the Field

Submitted by Frank Murphy: October 16, 2012

The Philadelphia School Partnership has gone live with a new website that ranks schools in the city of Philadelphia according to five categories:

Academics (based on standardized test results in Reading and Math: PSSA {public and charter schools} Terra Nova {parochial schools})

Safety (based on fewest number of self reported serious incidents)

Student Attendance (self reported)

Achievement Gap (“an indicator of a school’s record in helping students of limited financial means learn”) It is not clear what this indicator means or how the gap is determined.

College Bound (how many high school graduates enroll in 2 or 4- year college in the year after high school) It is not clear if this is also self-reported.

This site lists nearly all of the public, charter and parochial schools in the city.  Each school reviewed received an overall score in addition to a score for each of the above listed categories.  The highest score a school can receive is ten.  The lowest score is one.

When you go onto the site, first check a school configuration category.  Your choices are Elementary, Middle School and High School.  After you have made this selection, click on search.  You will be told how many schools are included in this category and they will be listed according to their overall score from highest to lowest.

This feature alone offers a tremendous insight into what standardized test score reporting really tells us about the differences between schools.  And for the most part it’s all about the money.    As you scroll from the best ranked to the lowest rank schools in any of the grade configurations, you can easily identify where the more economically well-to-do neighborhoods of the city are located.   You can also see which schools serve a greater percentage of children from a higher socio-economic status.  It is pretty clear when examining the information on this website that the children who reside in our more affluent neighborhoods are the ones who score at the highest test performance levels.

Read the rest of this entry »


Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools

18 Sep


Time out from Testing

13 Jul
Submitted by fairtest on July 3, 2012 – 3:27pm

School’s out for summer, to the relief of millions of test-weary students, teachers and parents. Our children are spending less time learning, more time prepping for, taking and worrying about standardized tests.

Are you are concerned about the increasing influence of standardized testing on your children? Do feel your child is getting test prep while other kids are still learning a broad and deep curriculum that better prepares them for college and careers? Take heart. A national rebellion started this spring and is spreading rapidly throughout the United States.

In just a few weeks, nearly 400 organizations and 10,000 individuals have signed a National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing, launched by 13 concerned organizations and some individuals.

Author Diane Ravitch, who helped write the resolution, explained, “Tests are a tool, not a goal. We should use them as needed, not let them use us. Their misuse has turned them into a weapon to narrow the curriculum, incentivize cheating, promote gaming the system, and control teachers.”

If you haven’t signed yet, sign on today. Spread the word among family, friends and colleagues. Let’s make this bigger than it already is, so the important call for change cannot be ignored. Here’s the link:


    Commentary: The SRC leaves Creighton school behind

    13 Jun

    Notes from the Field

    Originally posted on the Philadelphia Public School thenotebook blog

    by Frank Murphy on Jun 12 2012 Posted in Blogger commentary

    The Philadelphia School Reform Commission recently chose to ignore a great opportunity to encourage and support authentic grassroots school reform efforts in the District. They did so by rejecting a self-governance school reform plan submitted by the Creighton Elementary School community.

    Members of this school community had sought the support of the School Reform Commission for their proposed self-governance initiative to bring parents, community members, and teachers together to work on ensuring that their school is moving toward greater success.

    This notion of self-governance is similar to a model described by Research for Action’s Eva Gold and Elaine Simon in which community organizing can create a new forum for school accountability. According to Gold and Simon, public accountability “is essential for improving urban public schools. Broad-scale, collective responsibility increases and diversifies the resources available for improving schools and also permits new voices to participate in defining when a school is ‘successful.’” Read the rest of this entry »