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.



Future Plans

27 Nov

Reflections of an Author

Submitted by Frank Murphy on November 27, 2012

Shortly after retiring as the principal of Meade Elementary School, I took a part time position working as a distributed leadership coach.  In this position for the last year and a half I have worked closely with the staff of a school located in the Kensington area of Philadelphia.

My involvement with this school team has been a personally rewarding and professionally satisfying experience. Together we have strived to establish professional learning communities within the school, collected and analyzed multiple sources of data to determine the strengths and needs of the instructional program and established a peer observation and support process.  It has been interesting work.  My attention to and involvement with this school team has taken up much of the time that I previously had focused on writing commentaries for the Philadelphia School Notebook and City School Stories.

Frankly, I have enjoyed this redirection of my attention to active involvement as opposed to passive reflection on educational practices.  Working in a school with teachers and students in order to improve the quality of the instructional experience that children receive has been and still is my primary interest as an educator. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


Credit Where Credit is Due

15 Oct

Reflections of an Author

Submitted by Frank Murphy, October 15, 2012

I just made this comment in response to this post at  It is well worth repeating here at

I worked in high poverty schools for most of my professional career.   It was a challenging yet rewarding way of life. I always had the good fortune during this time to find myself a member of fantastic school communities. The teachers I worked with were intelligent, dedicated and hard working individuals.  The exceptions to this description were few and far between.

My respect for the many Philadelphia schoolteachers who daily demonstrate in the most positive manner what it means to be a true public servant is enormous.  These fine people who struggle to do their best work in a resource-starved district deserve to be commended.   Berating and blaming them in order to distract attention from our societies failure to combat the ill effects of poverty on too many of our children is reprehensible.




Fail Mary Passes….in the Classroom but Not on the Field

04 Oct

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Joy of Teaching on October 4, 2012

By now most Americans with any link to media has heard about the (now settled) National Football League Referee strike.  This strike between the football officials and the NFL began in late August.  The striking officials were replaced with referees from other organizations and were considered sub-par replacement officiates by most media outlets.  Almost simultaneously, the Chicago Teacher’s Union was exacting their own strike (also settled) against the Chicago school district.  According to media outlets at that time, the Referees were asking for pay raises in the six digit range and the continuation of their pension plan.  The Chicago Teachers concerns were focused on working conditions that could affect student and teacher performance as well as an evaluation system based on student test scores.

As an avid reader of local and national news, I often read the comment sections of news websites.  Although at times, these comment sections are filled with far right/left winged opinions, I do feel it is a way to gauge the thoughts of others outside my friends, family and coworkers.  While following both of these national strike stories, I began to see a clear delineation between the attitudes of Americans in reference to the value placed on education and the value placed on a 16 week pastime. Read the rest of this entry »


Welcome to Philadelphia, Dr. Hite

19 Sep

Notes from the Field

Submitted by Joy of Teaching on September 19, 2012

Dear Dr. Hite,

Welcome to Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty!  We have some amazing historical sites to see during your stay.  Do take advantage of them.  In the meantime, we the long-time citizens of this wonderful city would like you to know that we do not trust you! We are sorry about this, but we feel this relationship should start out on an honest footing.  We have been kicked and beaten down so many times by the likes of former superintendents, politicians, entrepreneurs, administrators and one another that our immediate reaction to your arrival is wrought with fear and trepidation. And that’s just the honest ones!  Corruption runs deep in this city, try to avoid it at all cost.  It usually ends badly for us citizens.

Oh, truly we would like to welcome you with open arms and put you on a pedestal.  We want to believe all the things that we heard you say at your introduction meetings.  Typically Philadelphians are the forgiving types; see anything related to the Eagles football team.  But, when it comes to the head of the Philadelphia School District we lack the fortitude to forget the past.  It has been a hard road for all involved.  The scars run deep. 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:


    Creating a Classroom Where Everything Is Possible

    14 Jun

    Teacher Stories

    Submitted by Angela Chan on June 14, 2012

    The last week of school is often dominated by the frenetic busy-ness of finalizing report card grades, packing up the classroom, and reorganizing for next year’s new classes.  Just as important, though, is finding the time to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of the past year and to use these insights as an opportunity to grow as teachers. In doing so, we will be able to more effectively plan for our students’ continued learning as they grow with us.

    For me personally, reflection is also an opportunity to re-evaluate my hopes for students and my beliefs as a teacher, to look closely at my own approaches and to build on my learning to ensure my own seamless professional growth from year to year.

    I believe that the classroom is a communal space that nurtures the holistic growth of children.  School experiences are as much about the forming of character and development of citizenship as they are about developing skills in literacy and math.  I have always envisioned a classroom in which my students love to read and write, and where their collective development as readers and writers becomes a community-building process.  Every year, I see the spark of curiosity in my students and I strive to impart an eagerness to learn that I hope will last my students their lifetimes. Read the rest of this entry »


    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 »