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Judge Orders Steps To Spur Integration in Phila.

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A Pennsylvania state judge last week ordered comprehensive changes in the Philadelphia school system to remedy racial isolation and boost minority achievement.

But Commonwealth Court Judge Doris A. Smith put off the question of how to pay for such reforms. She told the district it must audit its operations and expenditures before she will consider its request to compel the state to provide money for remedies in its long-running desegregation case.

Judge Smith endorsed many of the educational reforms proposed by the district and a court-appointed team of experts. But she withheld her support for some of the more ambitious and innovative proposals, saying the district should focus on strategies already shown to produce lasting gains in student achievement. (See Education Week, 11/23/94.)

"Proven educational strategies have been too long denied black and Hispanic students in racially isolated schools," Judge Smith wrote in the Nov. 28 ruling. She called for the district to begin reducing racial disparities in academic achievement by the beginning of the 1996-97 school year.

The judge also placed a high priority on racially balancing schools and classrooms. She ordered the district to create new magnet schools--a move it has resisted--and urged other voluntary-desegregation measures, including locating new schools where they will draw balanced enrollments.

Superintendent David W. Hornbeck last week praised the judge for pushing changes while allowing him flexibility in implementing them.

Michael Churchill, a lawyer representing various minority and community groups that intervened in the case, agreed. He called the order "a strong signal that the reform effort should go forward."

Trying Tested Reforms

Judge Smith gave the district until Feb. 15 to submit a reform plan designed to comply with her orders. She emphasized that such a plan should incorporate high academic standards, the elimination of racial disparities in achievement, and a rigorous curriculum framework.

The judge appeared especially interested in insuring that reforms have the widespread backing and involvement of parents, teachers, students, and other stakeholders in the education process. No reform strategies or funding increases "can effectively alter the status quo unless those persons central to the reform effort are committed to making it work," Judge Smith said.

Among the reform steps the judge called for are:

  • Providing full-day kindergarten for all children;
  • Reducing class sizes at all levels;
  • Renovating old schools and building new ones;
  • Developing school-to-work and college-preparatory programs;
  • Improving achievement of Hispanic students in bilingual-education programs; and
  • Establishing a system of accountability with rewards and sanctions for principals, teachers, and students.

Judge Smith called the improvement of school discipline an integral part of any reform plan. She told the district to develop and maintain a systemwide code of conduct, new alternative schools, and a voluntary dress code that would become mandatory where student attire causes disruptions or safety concerns.

Seeking Qualified Teachers

The district, she said, also should stop assigning noncertified substitute teachers to classes in racially isolated schools and find ways to staff such schools with teachers who are experienced and qualified.

Judge Smith rejected the district's suggestion that its budget powers should be shifted largely to local school councils. Such a change, the judge said, "has not been shown to positively impact upon student academic achievement."

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