Philadelphia Schools Work Towards Reform

Philadelphia Schools Work Towards Reform

Research for Action (RFA), an independent research firm, is currently leading a program of study called Learning from Philadelphia Public Schools Reform. This is a comprehensive, multi-year study of Philadelphia Schools and their complex and radical reform effort. The schools system has been taken over by the state, in the hopes of drastically improving the services and learning students receive. RFA is examining the impact of the state takeover, with specific areas of focus, such as:

Data Use: This research is an in-depth study of data use in low-performing Philadelphia Schools. And asks how schools and communities within those schools are using the data to inform instructional decision-making. The ways in which external entities (including the district and providers) are influencing those practices is also taken into consideration.

Teacher Quality: Over the past four years significant strides have been made in improving teacher quality, recruitment and retention for all Philadelphia Schools. In fact, since 2002, Philadelphia Schools have drastically cut the number of teachers with emergency certifications, have reduced classroom vacancies, and raised the certification rate, especially among new teachers. This has been accomplished by providing more curricular and coaching support, by expanding a school-based hiring process, and by training principals in new teacher induction.

Governance: The current reform in Philadelphia Schools is like no other. It has seen a state take over, the replacement of the school board with a School Reform Commission, and contracts with Educational Management Organizations.

Student Outcomes: The bottom line continues to be student achievement and performance in all Philadelphia Schools. RFA is collaborating with Johns Hopkins University and the RAND Corporation to study student test scores.

Small High Schools: Philadelphia Schools are currently undergoing a major reform of high schools which includes the creation of as many as 30 new small high schools intended to create greater choice for children and families.

Action Research and Youth: Where are the student voices in school reform? Researchers are working with youth groups in Philadelphia Schools as they react and respond to the current school reform.

Alternate Route Teacher Certification: RFA is assisting researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in an evaluation of the state of Pennsylvania’s pilot program in Philadelphia Schools. For those seeking an alternate route to teacher certification, professionals have access to the Accelerated Certification for Teachers program. This evaluation is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Middle Grades Math and Science Achievement: RFA wants to answer the question: What improves outcomes in mathematics and science for middle grades students in Philadelphia Schools? The study, which focuses on schools serving high poverty neighborhoods, examines the impact of variables such as grade structure (middle school or K-8), provider (EMO or district school), curriculum, and teacher participation in professional development on student achievement.

As Philadelphia Schools move forward in their quest for greater reform, the Research For Action organization is going right along with it, studying the changes as they come.