Charter Schools in Philadelphia: Educating Without a Blueprint

This week NPR featured a three part series that takes a look at Philadelphia public schools—one of the nation’s largest and most troubled districts.

The third part of the series focuses on Simon Gratz High School, a school currently undergoing the turnaround process. Gratz was once one of the city’s most violent and underperforming high schools. The school, however, has shown signs of improvement in the past few years, after Mastery Charter Schools was chosen to take over management.

The article takes a look at the turnaround model Gratz used which included a blend of community outreach and academics:

“It’s a very different model from the classic public high school in Philadelphia, and they’ve gotten results: In just over two years, Gratz’s state math and reading test scores are up 12 and 9 percent respectively. Graduation and college enrollment rates are up as well. Incidents of violence are down 84 percent. And the percentage of students who withdrew or left school has been cut nearly in half…

On the academic side, Mastery reduced class size and added tutoring programs and specialized reading classes. It also revamped the curriculum. And robust intervention — whether addressing reading, truancy or poverty — has proved essential: If a student stops coming to class, Mastery will send a social worker to the house. Teachers are in frequent touch with parents, even helping link them with social assistance if they need it. The school has set up GED classes for the community, as well as free legal clinics and tax prep help for parents

Once a week, Craig Goldman works with a local nonprofit to turn the Gratz gym into a free food pantry for anyone in the neighborhood. It’s the charter school’s attempt to reach families beyond the classroom.”

Mastery Charter CEO Scott Gordon, who now leads Gratz, believes “poverty is not destiny”:

“He likes to say Mastery’s track record shows poverty is not destiny. “I think if you spoke to folks prior to the turnaround, some would have assumed [in] a school like Gratz, kids couldn’t achieve,” says Gordon. “For lots of reasons: ‘There’s a culture of violence in the school; kids aren’t prepared.’ And it turns out not to be true. While poverty creates real obstacles, obstacles that require resources to overcome … our kids are smart, resilient, and given the right circumstances and support, will fly and succeed.”

Gratz Mastery Charter’s success illustrates that school turnarounds can succeed.

Yes, poverty is a very real issue when it comes to student achievement and school success; however, that doesn’t mean that the obstacles poverty creates cannot be overcome, or that schools with high poverty rates are automatically destined for failure.

To read full article: [NPR, 11/22/2013]



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