Full district response to Assault on Learning

Some readers have said they're having trouble accessing the district's full response to our Assault on Learning series.  I will reprint it in its entirety here.  The district's blog can be found at http://www.phillyeducationblog.com

The response reads:

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over the past year, we have given the Philadelphia Inquirer nearly unprecedented access to both our records and District staff as they worked on their recently launched series focusing on school climate and violence in our schools.  For months, on a weekly basis, staff compiled data, responded to questions or sat for interviews with the writers on the project.  As the articles are published this week, we can only hope that there will be accuracy and fairness in the reporting.

No child should feel threatened as he or she travels to or from school, or while in a school building.  Parents should be able to trust that their young people are in safe environments that are fostering academic growth in their children from one year to the next.  Superintendent Dr. Arlene C. Ackerman arrived to the District in June, 2008 well aware that there was a school climate issue that had to be addressed if the students in her charge were to succeed.  Prior to her arrival, never before had more than 50% of city school children scored proficient or better on the tests given annually by the Commonwealth.  Today, that milestone has been achieved. 

Dr. Ackerman launched Parent University, which to date has served more than 20,000 parents, helping many learn to read for the first time, earn GED’s and even go on to earn Associate’s Degrees with the hope of going on to earn a 4-year degree.  Parent University wasn’t launched on a whim.  It was launched to help parents feel more empowered and involved in what is happening with, for and to their children every day that they attend school in the District.  Parental involvement is one of the greatest deterrents to many of the violent incidents occurring in our schools and this is something that the District is committed to—making parents feel empowered--because it is one of the greatest factors in making a “bad” school good and a good school great.

This past November, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Safe Schools was co-convened by Dr. Ackerman and Mayor Michael Nutter, so that parents, teachers, students, community activists, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders could come together to address the issue of school safety and focus on solutions.  In just a couple months, the recommendations of that group will be released, and implemented, as soon as possible. 

The Inquirer would like to parse numbers, but whether violence is down 29% or 22% over the past two years, the fact remains, it is down. Efforts like the Blue Ribbon Commission on Safe Schools and other initiatives launched since Dr. Ackerman’s arrival are making a positive difference and we expect that there will be additional growth as we move forward.

This week, we will feature articles and essays from some of our principals, teachers and other members of the community and outside of the community to shed some light on what’s really happening in our schools.  As the Inquirer pointed out in the first article in the series, much of the violence is being perpetrated in a small number of our 257 schools.  As we work with parents, the community and other stakeholders to get the students in those few schools what they need to regain their academic footing and turn away from violence, it is important that we also focus on some of the good things that are happening in our schools to create positive, safe and nurturing environments for our students.  It is also important that we look to a growing body of evidence that the issue of school violence is much greater than a school discipline problem.  It is, in fact, a public health problem as recognized by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and others in the field of education research.  Take a look at this Understanding School Violence Fact Sheet from 2010 that the CDC released with the stats that show how large this issue truly is. 

Dr. Lisa Barrios of the Centers for Disease Control wrote this in a September, 2000 article entitled, Preventing School Violence: A Time for “Hard, Solid Thinking:

Violence is not amenable to easy or quick solutions. Behavioral, biological, social, and environmental factors all are associated strongly with the development of violent behavior. These factors have been addressed, using many primary and secondary prevention approaches, by the fields of criminal justice, social services, mental health, education, social sciences, and public health. No single discipline alone can prevent violence. A complex problem such as violence must be prevented through a combination of approaches.

As we go through this week, the intention is not to pass blame, but more to point out that this issue is bigger than, “the District is failing” to do this or to do that.  It is about the greater problem affecting not only the students in our schools, but those affecting their parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, and anyone else who has had the misfortune to be swept up into a cycle of poverty that has laid waste to the hopes and dreams of countless Philadelphians over the decades.  As a community, we have to do better by our young people and we have to put our heads together to focus on solutions to the problems that exist instead of this constant finger-pointing.  Their future, and our own, demands that we do this.

Check back here often this week as we share some other perspectives and feel free to leave comments!  We hope that this will be a vehicle to develop a dialogue on the issue and we look forward to your feedback.