District Making ‘Transition’ to Bigger Supply of Schools of Choice

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Philadelphia’s new, standardized curriculum is just one component of a larger agenda for secondary education.

By 2008, the school system plans to make a transition from about 55 high schools, when Chief Executive Officer Paul G. Vallas took the helm in 2002, to between 70 and 80 smaller ones of choice. As part of the multimillion-dollar project, the district will create some new schools from scratch, as well as convert existing middle schools to high schools, turn annexes into separate schools, and replicate charter schools.

The first phase began with 17 “transition” high schools last September. By early this spring, the School Reform Commission, the body appointed to run the district when the state took the system over in December 2001, is expected to vote on which private education consultants receive contracts to help manage the changeover in as many as a dozen more transition high schools. The district already has contracted with a range of for-profit and nonprofit providers to help manage 45 of its lowest-performing schools; only one of those is a high school.

A Template

Among the potential “transition managers” talking to the district are Kaplan K12 Learning Services; the Princeton Review; Victory Schools, a New York City-based company; and Temple and Drexel universities, both in Philadelphia.

“We have a need, we’re going out there, and we’re using our powers as a consumer to secure the best management resources possible, so that we can go in and we can accelerate the transformation effect,” Mr. Vallas said. “I don’t have 10 years to transform this school system. I want to transform the high schools now.”

Each of the transition schools must follow a template that includes: using the district’s standardized curriculum or an alternative college-prep model; offering honors and Advanced Placement courses; providing a “signature” program, such as a focus on math, science, and technology; having an agreement with at least one institution of higher education so that students have access to college courses and the potential to earn college credit; and employing a fully certified teaching staff within four years, along with a strong school leader.

The district has also provided free PSAT and SAT training to all its 10th and 11th graders, as well as the opportunity to take those college tests at no charge. It has restored Advanced Placement courses in all the high schools, and formed a homework club at each high school.

Vol. 24, Issue 22, Page 14

Published in Print: February 9, 2005, as District Making ‘Transition’ to Bigger Supply of Schools of Choice
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