Archive for the ‘Notes from the Field’ Category

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 »



    11 Jun

    Notes from the Field
    Submitted on June 11, 2012 by Frank Murphy

    Almost everyday, some bad news story concerning the School District of Philadelphia seems to be in the newspaper. Budget shortfalls, school closures and employee layoffs are commonplace events. The education of our city’s children has become a political football. It seems that nearly every person with some kind of power or title in our city and state wants to give a good kick to Philadelphia’s schools.

    Everyone these days, powerful or not, proclaims to be an expert with their own ideas on how our schools should operate. They say our schools are “broken”. Are they really or have schools become the convenient scapegoats for our society’s unwillingness to take responsibility for all of its citizens? For all of these experts’ criticisms, none of them show any willingness to provide the resources necessary to fully support our public schools. What a depressing state of affairs this all has become.

    Amidst this political bickering and acrimony, our schools are indeed taking quite a beating. But despite this sorry situation, there is cause for hope. Teachers, those inspirational people who do the real work of educating our children, haven’t surrendered to the chaos that threatens to overwhelm our school district.

    Teachers continue to walk into their classrooms every day and help their children to learn and grow. They know how to plant the seeds of wonder and excitement in their children’s minds. They lovingly tend to their students’ needs, cultivating their development so that the habits of critical thinking and communication can take root.

    Educators draw inspiration for their work from other great educators. Our role models aren’t famous business people, billionaires or ambitious politicians. We admire people who have both the commitment and skill to help children find the power of their potential.

    It’s been another long and stressful school year. Thank you to all of the great teachers of our city who make our schools a good place for our children to learn and grow. And as you deal with the final details of closing out another year, take a moment to reflect on why you have chosen to be a teacher.

    Here is a great song to listen to as you renew your resolve. It is a musical compilation of the words of Fred Rogers, a revered and truly inspirational teacher.