Life at Mastery : In the News : SRC must expand number of Phila. charters now

SRC must expand number of Phila. charters now

Tuesday, February 3 2015. By Mike Turzai

During a visit to Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia, a bipartisan delegation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives met the smart, polite, and enthusiastic pair, who are eagerly getting ready to enter college next year at Penn State and Millersville University.

I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to Mahsaan Wearing and Derrick Brockington, two Pennsylvania high school seniors who are anything but typical teens.

During a visit to Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia, a bipartisan delegation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives met the smart, polite, and enthusiastic pair, who are eagerly getting ready to enter college next year at Penn State and Millersville University.

While that may not strike many as atypical, it's actually extraordinary considering the obstacles Mahsaan and Derrick have been able to overcome.

Like many of their neighborhood friends, both students were initially placed in their traditional neighborhood schools. Trouble was, those schools, like many in the School District of Philadelphia, were failing to educate students.

Just down the street from Mastery Charter are high schools that, according to U.S. News and World Report, have reading and math proficiency rates in the teens and College Readiness Index scores at 6.3, alarmingly below what is needed for students to have a chance at a quality education, let alone a chance at college.

Sadly, there are 22 schools in Philadelphia, attended by more than 16,000 students, that scored below 40 on the most recent Pennsylvania School Performance Profile. In these schools, a scant 25 percent of students are on grade level in math and reading, less than 60 percent graduate, and 0.7 percent of seniors - a total of only 17 students - were deemed by their ACT and SAT scores to be college-ready last year.

This year, taxpayers will spend about $150 million on those 22 schools, which, by any reasonable measure, are failing their students.

This is not hyperbole. This is their reality, emblematic of a larger failure to meet the demands of the 21st-century education and global marketplace due to policies that have put the interests of adults ahead of those of children.

Mahsaan and Derrick are among the lucky ones because they were able to escape a failing school and transfer to a charter.

About 30,000 other students in Philadelphia want to join them. Instead, they are currently on waiting lists for high-performing, low-cost charter schools. These students and their parents are praying for - if not demanding - approval of charter applications being reviewed by the city's School Reform Commission.

During our recent roundtable discussion at Mastery, parents and grandparents like Nate Williams made a personal plea, saying, "We're here to turn waiting lists into seats" in one of 40 new charters awaiting SCR approval.

The parent of a child at the Global Leadership Academy in West Philadelphia called for expansion, declaring emphatically, "I see better-quality education in charters."

The imperative to increase the number of charter schools could not be clearer.

We heard heartbreaking and humbling accounts from family members who had tried to rescue their children from schools that were academically failing them and putting many in physical danger.

All they want from the SRC is a chance to place their children in a charter school that is proving to be successful. I wholeheartedly join them in their plea.

Think about that. Philadelphia parents have to actually ask for a chance for their children to have a viable opportunity to become independent, productive Pennsylvanians. All they want is what many other parents across the commonwealth already have: a chance to change their children's fortunes for decades to come.

When I met with the SRC before touring Mastery, it was clear that the resistance to expansion was grounded in the costs of moving students from failing schools to charters. This is not a valid reason to hold up charter applications.

As someone who is a parent first and then a legislator, I don't see this as a cost issue; this is about the kids. Refusing to substantially expand charters in Philadelphia is tantamount to condemning children to schools we know are failing them.

Charter schools in Philadelphia primarily serve low-income and minority students, and they are vastly outperforming district schools - and they do this even though they spend less per student than traditional public schools, $8,000 vs. $14,000.

Among schools in Philadelphia where at least 80 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, charter schools account for 12 of the 17 scoring 70, or "on track," on the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile. Moreover, 30 percent of Philadelphia charters scored above 70 or on track on the profile, while only 3 percent of traditional public schools did.

Undoubtedly, taxpayers will also hear a more familiar refrain that differs from my assessment of charters: Give us more money and more time, and we will fix the schools. We hear this all the time in Harrisburg, and for two decades, we answered with record funding, only to see declining returns and negative impacts on our children and communities.

With those kinds of results, it's unconscionable to send a child back to a school that offers little chance of a quality education when there is a successful alternative.

At Mastery, Derrick Brockington pointed out a Frederick Douglass quote on his school's wall, one he draws inspiration from: "Without a struggle, there can be no progress."

The SRC can end the struggle for more than 30,000 Philadelphia kids now. Get these students off the waiting lists and into high-quality charter schools.


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/inquirer/20150203_SRC__expand_number_of_Phila__charters_now.html#W7wdyiVf2GIlOuT0.99