Philadelphia, October 27, 2015 – Mayor Michael A. Nutter addressed an audience of education advocates and leaders, and non-profit, business and community group members to discuss the future of education in Philadelphia, including funding, accountability, School District-teacher relations and local control. His prepared remarks are as follows, please check against delivery:
“Good morning and thank you all for being with us today. I want to thank Bill Marrazzo, CEO of WHYY, for that kind introduction and WHYY for hosting this important conversation about public education in Philadelphia, now and in the future.
I’ve spent my time as mayor of this great city committed to making Philadelphia a more attractive place to live, work, raise our families and visit. I made education a major priority alongside public safety and economic development.
Because I believe that education is the surest way to turn poverty into prosperity, to reduce crime and improve the health and wellness of every Philadelphian.
Education is our first line of defense against the growing tide of inequity in our city and this nation.
And right now, our current system is failing too many of our young people, leaving a generation of Philadelphians woefully unprepared for the 21st-century global economy and ill-equipped to fully function in our communities.
The returns on a quality public education are more than just economic in nature. A quality education shapes a person, develops their sense of cultural and social awareness, their sense of civic duty, encouraging them to participate in public life by voting, volunteering and investing back in the development of their neighborhoods.
And that is exactly the future we want – a city that continues to grow and develop, to change for the better. It is the future Philadelphians deserve.
Today, I want to present my perspective on what must be done in the coming years to ensure that our city’s young people will have the opportunity to attend a great school where they will gain the knowledge to thrive in the working world. I want to share with you a long-term vision for public education in the city of Philadelphia.
Here is where we are: a week away from Election Day and just a few short months from a new mayor and City Council. Meanwhile, Harrisburg is locked in a budget stalemate. Governor Wolf wants to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in new education funding and the Republican-controlled State legislature is using our children’s future as a bargaining chip.
We can’t make budget proposals that make our children expendable and we can’t let public education slip into the background of other pressing challenges. High-quality education should be talked about every day. It should be provided to every child in every school.
Education is the single issue that can take a city and make it greater. It is the great common ground and what drives human progress forward.
That’s why, on my first day in office, I set ambitious goals to improve both our high school graduation and college attainment rates.
I had high hopes of what we could achieve, but the reality of the Great Recession and the changing of the guard in Harrisburg resulted in dramatic and dire cuts to public education.
These challenges derailed us, but they didn’t stop us.
Over the last 8 years, our on-time graduation rate grew 12 percentage points to 65% and our six-year graduation rate is up 10 percentage points to 70%. And today, more Philadelphia students are graduating from our high schools ready for college.
We’ve seen significant improvements in the graduation rate for our most vulnerable students. The graduation rate for Juvenile Justice involved youth more than doubled from 16% in 2007 to 36% in 2013 and the graduation rate for youth in the foster care system increased from 28% to 44%.
We’ve devoted resources to high-quality early learning opportunities for every Philadelphia child, from starting the Commission on Universal Pre-K to investing $1 million in the Read by 4th campaign.
You can read more about our accomplishments in the An Inside Look document on your tables.
And while I am proud of our progress, I know it isn’t enough.
Philadelphia’s graduation rate still lags well behind the national average. If you track an average 9th grade class in our city, only one in ten students will graduate college. Think about that statistic. It should deeply concern every parent, teacher and employer in this city.
So today, I want to share with you lessons for the future, ideas that draw on my experience of how the system works, good and bad.
It is my hope that these recommendations will help our efforts to achieve a system of great schools and improve educational outcomes for our students.
Specifically, I want to discuss funding, greater accountability, an improved relationship between the School District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and a locally controlled school board.
Let’s start with education funding.
For years, we’ve been forced to talk about filling deficits instead of investing in achievement and about whether schools will open on time instead of what we can do to better educate our children.
The City of Philadelphia has invested almost $400 million in annual, recurring funds in public education over the last five years.
We are all in agreement that more funding and a better system of how tax dollars are allocated is critical to the long-term financial stability of Philadelphia’s schools and schools across the Commonwealth.
Here is what we need: an increase in the state appropriations for education; the implementation of a fair student-weighted funding formula based on the number of students in a district and the specific needs of those students; and, we need to bring back the charter re-imbursement line item or make charter attendance a factor in the new funding formula.
The Commonwealth must also address the inequities in special education funding between District-managed and charter schools. District-managed schools are required to use a tiered system for special needs students that determines the funding received for that student – a system that Charter schools don’t use.
Indeed, our most immediate problem is the District-Charter school funding structure. Solving it, like our larger funding related challenges, starts with a significant investment and new policies from the Commonwealth.
Now, Governor Tom Wolf has been bold in his commitment to strategic investments in public education, including more dollars, restoring previous education funding cuts and a student-weighted funding formula – and I support his plan wholeheartedly.
The Republican-controlled State legislature says we can’t afford his budget or these vital investments in our children. Why not? What is more important than our children’s future? Now is the time for Pennsylvanians to mobilize and demand an investment in our children, the future of our great state.
There is no question that more funding will reduce class sizes and teachers’ workload. It will allow us to add back school nurses, guidance counselors, art and music classes, clubs and vital support staff, so that our children can have a robust and well-rounded education in a safe environment.
But, test scores, graduation rates or college matriculation won’t improve without adequate accountability and higher standards.
In terms of the District’s financial accountability, we need to maintain a Five-Year Plan that shows structural financial stability. And, just this month, the District reached an agreement with City Council to provide additional information on how the District spends its money on a quarterly basis and to institutionalize the District’s Five-Year Plan process.
I’d like to recognize City Council’s leadership on this issue. Our taxpayers invest more than $3 billion in state and local taxes to fund public education; they deserve transparency on school finances.
The District and the Commonwealth have also begun to implement new accountability practices at the school level. The District is measuring a school’s ability to adhere to the PA Core Standards in its School Progress Profile. Additionally, in School Progress Reports, the District is assessing additional school success standards, like school climate and graduation rates.
This is important in terms of academics and parent knowledge about school achievement, but it doesn’t give us the information we need about a teacher’s ability to connect with and instruct students and about teachers’ classroom performance.
Pennsylvania’s flawed teacher evaluation system makes it nearly impossible to identify teachers who are struggling. Of the nearly 8,000 teachers in the Philadelphia School District only 2 failed their evaluation. Not 2% of teachers, two teachers. We know this isn’t an accurate representation of the classroom experience – and that means we can’t help teachers who need it.
We must take another look at the state system, especially the weighting and scoring in the evaluation process and institute new standards for satisfactory classroom performance, including teacher attendance.
Plus, a better system of evaluations can play an important role in determining teacher tenure. Our current system of awarding tenure is broken – it’s doled-out automatically after three years of service.
We need to re-evaluate the standards for teacher tenure and we need to put supports in place for teachers who are deemed unsatisfactory, so they have a chance to make the grade.
In addition to teacher and school level accountability, we also need more accountability from our Charter schools. Currently, 90% of Charter schools participate in the District’s School Progress Report system – it should be 100%.
Charter schools share information with the public about their finances, governance and success through Charter Board Meetings. Some of these meetings are helpful, but most lack the transparency and public input necessary to be effective. That has to change.
While I’m on the subject of charter schools, I have one more point to make.
Charter schools are public schools. I don’t differentiate between the two because what matters most is that our children have the opportunity to attend a great school, one that encourages them to learn and grow. Period.
The growth of Charter schools in Philadelphia has been substantial. Today, nearly 70,000 students are enrolled in 83 Charter schools and Cyber Charter schools across the city – that is a huge jump from the 4 Charter schools we started with in 1997.
Some are excellent, some are low performing. We need a clear plan and the authority to make sure that only the best performing charters are allowed to grow.
Until we have a new funding formula that takes into account Charter participation, this strategy must include a provision that School District leadership and Charter school operators contractually agree on future expansion plans.
With such contracts, the School District would have input on the number of students the Charter school will serve and from which neighborhoods at least a portion of the new students must be drawn, meaning more students will have access to a quality education. This approach allows for real planning and efficiency.
Equally important to greater accountability is improving the relationship between teachers and their union and the School District leadership.
I want to say one thing up front – I support Philadelphia teachers. Educating our children can’t happen without them. They have one of the most difficult jobs and many of them are great, deeply committed professionals who care about their students.
Over the last few years, the relationship between the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and District leadership has been contentious. Rather than talk about ways to improve classroom performance, the conversation has been about contract disputes.
From personal experience, I can tell you that having a contract with a major union is better than not having one. But I also know that a new contract has to be fair to both union members and taxpayers.
In this instance, a new contract has to fit within the financial constraints of the District. For example, it should include changes to PFT members’ contributions to healthcare plans.
This isn’t unheard of – the City made benefit changes in some of our most recent union contracts.
The District also needs more flexibility from the PFT on school staffing decisions. There has been some movement on this recently, but not enough. More senior teachers can still choose to fill an available position over the objection of the principal and site selection committee.
Students have different needs and teachers have different strengths. Principals and site selection committees should determine which teacher, regardless of seniority, has the skills needed to best serve that school’s students, creating a better learning environment.
At the same time, our teachers need to know that they are valued and supported. Starting salaries for District teachers are competitive with surrounding Districts, however, over time, salaries do not remain competitive.
This trend line has to change because we can’t recruit or retain bright, enthusiastic teachers without competitive compensation packages, and part of compensation is professional development opportunities, in the beginning and later in a professional teacher’s career.
But of all the policy recommendations I make today, none will have a bigger impact on Philadelphia than a return to local control.
For me, local control has two elements: the overall school system governance structure, which I will discuss shortly, and the individual school community authority.
To succeed as an effective school community, we need more parental and community involvement in our schools. That’s why, at the individual school level, I’m advocating for the formal establishment of School Advisory Councils at every neighborhood school.
Now, we do have some School Advisory Councils and Friends Groups serving schools across the District. Some of them are effective, like the Council at Dr. Ethan Allen Promise Academy, but many only exist on paper.
The Councils I’m suggesting would be made up of parents, community members, teachers, school administrators and upper-level students.
They would help fundraise and volunteer in classrooms, too, but the Councils’ functions would be more impactful than that.
Armed with the collective expertise of the people who know best what their school and students need, these Councils would help inform the decision-making process about afterschool programs, class offerings and school staffing.
The Councils would benefit all schools, especially those schools with staff members who differ greatly from their students in terms of race, ethnicity and income.
To succeed, the Councils need to be real instruments of change, advising administrators on how to address the most pressing needs facing their schools.
In turn, the Councils would require strong support from the School District, which, in conjunction with its governance body, would create a strategic plan for the Councils, including public input and metrics for success.
Now, let’s discuss governance of the District. The School Reform Commission has managed the School District for nearly 15 years. The time has come for a serious, lively and civil discussion about the future of the SRC.
I know that many Philadelphians fundamentally disagree with the role of the School Reform Commission and its control of our schools.
In my opinion and based on my experience – it is time to end the SRC. It’s time for it to go.
While I believe that the SRC and its many members have functioned to the best of their abilities and with good intentions, we Philadelphians deserve to govern our own schools.
A return to local control would give us real authority over the education of our children. Studies show that when communities feel connected and responsible for the schools in their neighborhood, they become more involved in the schools. And more involved families mean better student performance.
Local control also eliminates confusion over who is responsible for what. Over the last 8 years, we’ve seen a revolving door of leadership everywhere but our local government – three governors, five Secretaries of Education, five School District Superintendents, six SRC Chairs and 17 SRC members.
Returning to local control means the voters of this city know who to hold accountable for educational outcomes – the Mayor.
But before Philadelphia can begin the process to return to local control, there are four things that must happen.
First, we need full funding for public education by the Commonwealth including appropriate reimbursements for charter schools. Second, we must have the creation and implementation of a student-weighted funding formula.
Third, once the first two pieces are in place and the School District has an accurate understanding of how much money it will receive annually from the State and the City, it must adhere to its five-year, financial stability planning process that demonstrates the District’s structural balance.
And fourth, we need full public engagement – a year of public hearings on governance, debates and forums on how best to improve education.
Only then, will we be in the right place to govern our schools locally.
Here is the timeline: 2016 – taking into account new funding from the State, the School District shows that its fiscal house is in order. At the same time, we need to make our voices heard and come to a consensus on what we expect around public education, what it looks like and how best to make it work.
By 2017, the School District puts in place new education accountability practices, including some of the accountability and teacher recommendations I detailed earlier. Together with the governor, Secretary of Education and the SRC, we begin the legal process for the dissolution of the SRC. By September 2017, the locally-controlled School Board is in effect.
Once the SRC is dissolved, the School District will revert back to the governance structure currently outlined in the Home Rule Charter – the Board of Education.
In 1999, while serving as a member of City Council, I proposed a charter change, which was subsequently approved, that strengthened the appointment process to the City Board of Education of the School District of Philadelphia. Starting in 2000, the new mayor appointed all nine members to four-year terms early in the mayor’s first year in office.
This was a big and necessary change. Under the prior system, years would pass before the mayor would have named all of the appointees.
Also, this legislation gave the mayor the authority to dismiss an appointee.
But today, I recommend a significant change in the process: rather than the mayor selecting all nine members from the recommendations of a nominating panel, the mayor would select five members outright. The mayor would select the remaining four members from a list of twelve nominees chosen by City Council.
This change will ensure that both the Mayor and City Council share accountability and a vested interest in way the District is run.
I believe if we don’t make these kinds of fundamental changes – more funding, better accountability, improved District-teacher relationships and local control, Philadelphia won’t have a system of great schools that provides a high-quality education to young people. We won’t be able to compete economically or socially with other communities.
We will be locked into a failing system, a system of profound inequity where your zip code can determine your likelihood of educational success – a mere five miles separates a school with a dismal 36% graduation rate from one with a 100% graduation rate. In our wealthiest neighborhoods, a third of students are accepted into our best high schools, while in one of poorest neighborhoods, only 4% are accepted.
Our system leaves future generations of Philadelphians woefully unprepared for the 21st-century global economy and ill-equipped to fully function in our communities.
And it will only get worse over time. Public education is changing. In the future it won’t look like it does today.
It will focus more on proficiency-based learning, a student mastering a subject at her pace and then moving on to the next challenge.
It will emphasize the importance of connecting classroom learning to real world applications, encouraging students to learn skills that meet the demands of college or the needs of businesses and growing career fields.
It will expand the use of technology in and out of our classrooms as an anytime, anywhere learning tool in traditional ways, like accessing textbooks. Or students will link up with online content mentors – experts in their fields who are not certified teachers, but will offer lectures, conduct experiments and open up vast new areas of student interest.
But the truth is, this future of more tailored educational experiences based on student strengths and interests and technology enhanced learning models isn’t 10 or 20 years away.
It’s right now in Districts across the country.
We have dipped our toes into the pool of new approaches, with models like the Advanced Manufacturing program at Benjamin Franklin High School or the U School’s experiments with student competency. Other Districts have jumped in feet first.
The simple truth is: the financial crisis at the School District has cost Philadelphia more than just tax dollars; it has cost our city a highly-productive, well-educated and skilled workforce. It has cost us economic investment, new jobs and greater population growth. It’s costing us the potential of our children.
We can’t let them down. We can’t let Philadelphia sputter and stop growing. We can’t let our city lose its place on the world stage.
In my office, I have a quote framed on the wall. It says, “Education is the foundation for tomorrow. Let’s do it well. Mediocrity is no longer acceptable.”
Doing it well will take all of us.
Students – speak up. Demand that your teachers, parents and government expect more from you. Challenge yourself. Read in your spare time. Do your homework. Go to class. Work hard.
Parents – you have to be engaged, supportive and attentive. Read to your children. Volunteer at their school. Join their School Advisory Council. You are the first person your child learns from, teach them.
Other adults – you may not have a child in the school system currently, but you can still contribute to the learning community. Mentor a child. Volunteer. Be a graduation coach. Offer up your knowledge and expertise through those new media opportunities I mentioned earlier.
The business community – the time for talk has passed. We need your action. We need the briefcase brigade that helped lower wage taxes to weigh in on public education in Harrisburg. Sponsor a school or internships. Be a real partner to public education.
State officials – pass a budget that makes the necessary investment in children across the state. Restore the previous cuts to basic education funding. Implement a funding formula that allocates that investment fairly so our schools have the dollars they need to educate our children, who will be Pennsylvania’s greatest and most valuable asset.
And, to the next mayor, please focus on this work. Set a new ambitious education goal, not just an achievable one, and work every day to make it a reality. Look at every opportunity to reach more children, to reach students at younger ages and to re-invigorate teachers.
Everything I took on as mayor is in service to making Philadelphia a greater city than the one my Administration inherited. To do that, our children must come first.
I know that education will be a defining issue for this city’s success, in the next administration and the future. A well-educated public can attack poverty, crime and unemployment.
Create a system of great schools and Philadelphia will be the best city in America.
Let that be our next goal.