Philadelphia School Goals Set in Wake of 'Summits'

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The Philadelphia Board of Education last week approved a lengthy set of goals for school improvement that grew out of discussions held during two one-day "education summits" in March.

The goals represent the city's "educational agenda for the 1990's," according to Superintendent Constance E. Clayton.

But reaching some of the targets may prove difficult, school officials said last week, because the school system is facing a projected $44-million deficit

"I don't think anyone can argue with the goals," said Ted Kirsch, president-elect of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. "Realistically, whether they can be achieved depends to a great degree on whether we can get additional resources."

The board of education has no taxing powers of its own and must depend on the Philadelphia City Council for funding.

In the two "summit" meetings March 20 and 30, teachers, administrators, parents, and others set goals in 10 areas: student achievement; instruction; school climate; life-long learning; advocacy for children; citi4zenship; intergroup relations; parental involvement; creating and sustaining partnerships; and strengthening staff growth.

In several areas, the goals include targeted percentage increases. For example, over the next five years, the district wants to reduce by 10 percent the gaps in academic performance that now exist among black, Hispanic, Asian, and white students.

But that goal, as adopted, gives no indication of what the current gap between various groups of students is.

Rita C. Altman, associate superintendent for accountability and assessment, said data gathered at the end of this school year will be used as the baseline against which future improvements will be measured.

Philadelphia schools, which already have been drawing up "school-improvement plans," will now relate those plans to the system's adopted set of goals, Ms. Altman said.

The summit meetings involved 760 discussion groups that met twice throughout the city.

"It was a massive discourse, and it will continue to be," Ms. Altman said. "Now that the goals have been adopted by the board, they really become the reference point for all our activities and reporting about ourselves."

The district is in the process of bringing on-line a computer network with access to a comprehensive database on students that will help schools in their goals-related evaluations, officials said.

Mr. Kirsch noted that the goals-setting process was particularly important because teachers were directly involved. "This is not something that has a historical background to it," he said. "It's usually the administration [that completes such an activity]."

The level of parental involvement in the goals-setting process was not as high as district officials had hoped, mainly because the meetings were held during the school day, one official said.

One of the goals adopted involves having 25 schools over the next five years opt for the "experimental status" permitted under the current teachers' contract. Such status, which is granted after 75 percent of a school's faculty agrees to enter the program, allows schools wide latitude in redesigning their programs.

To date, only one school has voted to seek experimental status, although several more are exploring the option, according to officials.

Vol. 09, Issue 32

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