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August 21, 2014, 2:01 pm

Blackwell, union chief seek school reform hearings

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell is a sharp critic of the suggestions put forth by the Boston Consulting Group, the firm the School District of Philadelphia hired for a top-down assessment of the district’s operations — and to formulate recommendations to remedy the district’s ills.

In fact, Blackwell is so concerned about the district implementing BCG’s proposals that she has called for a series of public meetings with Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan — also a vocal critic of BGC’s plans — to discuss and properly inform parents and caregivers of the coming changes.

“As chair of the City of Philadelphia City Council Committee on Education, I am, of course, committed to providing superior educational opportunities for our students. I have and will always advocate for the highest standards and best practices that will enhance the quality and substance of education for all our young scholars,” Blackwell wrote in a letter to Jordan, and subsequently released to the media. “As you are aware, the Boston Consulting Group’s report to the School Reform Commission titled, ‘Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools: Key Findings and Recommendations,’ promulgates practices, objectives and outcomes that will significantly impact the City of Philadelphia entire; each student, each parent, each teacher and each bus driver now stands on the proverbial edge of change, not knowing what the future holds.

“And so, I believe, and I’m sure you will agree, we need to reach out to the public in order to ensure that they are being informed and thus, better prepared for the coming changes,” Blackwell continued in her note. “Therefore, as chair of the City Council Committee on Education, I do hereby formally proclaim the necessity for public hearings to be held as soon as possible concerning the aforementioned report.”

The BGC report includes various cost cutting measures that, if acted upon, will further diminish the district’s programming. The report suggests the district should shift to a portfolio management model; expand the charter school program; decentralize headquarters and operations, and move forward with a privatization plan which has the potential to alter the look and feel of every non-mandated program or service the district offers. Only approved businesses enrolled in the district’s Achievement Network will be able to bid on contracts to provide those services.

One such service would be busing. The BCG report suggests the district could save $22 million annually if it enacts a three-phase plan — which includes bringing in a management team to operate the buses.

BGC’s report also states the district could save upwards of $40 million annually if the SRC closed 50 schools; this is in line with suggestions included in the Facilities Master Plan.

Jordan was unavailable for comment as of Tribune deadline, but Jordan assailed BCG’s findings and recommendations on a recent blog posting, calling into question BCG’s merits of making education-related decisions, and for the plan’s silence on giving back to the students and district employees.

“The BCG’s plan is quick to point out schools’ low student performance (by the standards of the district’s rather unreliable Student Performance Index), but ignores key contributing factors. There’s no recommendation for a strategy to address the extreme poverty many of our children are living in, and how that affects classroom performance,” Jordan wrote. “While there’s plenty of tough talk about teacher work rules and changing the compensation structure, there are no thoughts about what is needed to support, develop and retain our teachers. To be fair, the BCG didn’t actually interview any classroom teachers for its recommendations, so we shouldn’t be surprised that there are no substantive ideas to improve teaching and learning … Improving teaching and learning in our schools is a complex process that requires input from educators and communities as well as business groups.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .