Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Education Crusader: Objections to PA Secretary of Education

Education Crusader: Letter to Dr. Zahorchak, PA Secretary of Education As is widely known, it is impossible for a charter school and a charter applicant, such as the Education InnovationsLAB Charter School, to be treated fairly by the Pgh Public School District.
By the way, at least a two-hour delay for Thursday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

full letter:

Letter to Dr. Zahorchak, PA Secretary of Education

Salvador Wilcox
CEO, Education Innovations
6435 Frankstown Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
412.661.8751 ext. 150
412.661.1063 (fax)

Wednesday February 14, 2007

Gerald L. Zahorchak, D.Ed.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Education
333 Market StreetHarrisburg, PA 17126-0333

Dear Dr. Zahorchak,

Education Innovations, Inc. is requesting an immediate investigation of misconduct, misuse of public funds, and violations of the civil rights of students in the charter review process of the Pittsburgh Public School (PPS) District. We are also requesting a moratorium of state funding to the Pittsburgh Public Schools until a full, objective investigation can be carried out on the District’s training of charter review teams, the transparency of the review process, and identification of the person who authorizes the review teams to make claims contrary to what is written in charter applications. Our request stems from the current recommendation by the Review team to deny the Education InnovationsLAB Charter School application. Their denial is based in part on fabrications that cannot be challenged except through a costly appeal.

As is widely known, it is impossible for a charter school and a charter applicant, such as the Education InnovationsLAB Charter School, to be treated fairly by the PPS District:

Except for City High Charter School, all other currently operating charter schools in the city were initially rejected by the District even though a costly appeal ruled that they had met the spirit and letter of the charter law.

The District sends a Review team to discuss charter school applications but the proceedings are essentially “off the record.” Since there is no opportunity to challenge the assertions of the Review team, there is no way to challenge erroneous or manufactured assertions. The Board will use these libelous claims as a basis for denying applications such as the Education InnovationsLAB Charter School, with no redress but a costly appeal to the Charter Appeal Board. Certainly it shouldn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars to address deliberate fabrications of the school district.

The Pittsburgh Board of Education denied the renewal application of the Northside Urban Pathways Charter School even when it clearly met the criteria in the charter law.

For several years, the PPS District knowingly has under funded charter schools in violation of the law, a fact only recently discovered by the charter schools. While the District has quietly begun to send checks to Pittsburgh charter schools, there has not yet been any public acknowledgement by the District that wrongdoing occurred. I would hope that the Department’s silence is not tacit approval of the District’s method to limit choices in the District. I urge the Department to hold the Pittsburgh Board of Education to a higher standard.

These examples do not show that the process in Pittsburgh is broken; it shows a deliberate disregard of established law and therefore, a concerted effort to keep choice away from parents and children in Pittsburgh.

Specific to the Review team’s recommendation to deny the application for Education InnovationsLAB Charter School, where the Review team does not distort the content of the application, it resorts to claims that are in direct contradiction to our philosophy and application. For example, parent involvement in the planning and ongoing operations of the school is very important. The Review team argues:

“The applicants describe the need to invest in the community but there is little evidence of parental involvement, business, and organizations involvement where the charter is proposing to be located. Different layers of the educational process are described, yet the parents have a limited voice in that process. For example parents will serve on committees concerning school wide projects, volunteer activities, fundraising and event planning (P 43 of 84 but not a voice on committee for curriculum development and policy development decisions concerning suspension and expulsion. “

But clearly on page 44 of the Education InnovationsLAB Charter School application we write:
“Within the first month of opening, the school will create a grievance committee to consider complaints by parents of alleged violations of the law and/or the school’s charter and make recommendations of resolution to the CAO. The grievance committee will consist of six voting members: 2 parents, 2 Board members, 2 teachers, and the CAO (who presides over the committee and is a non-voting member).”

And on page 21, we write:
“The Chief Academic Officer (CAO, who is the Principal of the school), will oversee curriculum development (beyond the fully-developed curriculum in the main curriculum document), supervision, and assessment. The CAO will be assisted by the Curriculum Committee. The Curriculum Committee will be made of eiLAB CS teachers and staff, parents, and community members. We will extend one seat on the committee to a designated representative from the Pittsburgh School District.”

It is well known that the education system in Pittsburgh is not serving a large portion of our population. By any measure —PSSA test scores, AP Course participation, college attendance, drop out rates, crime— the system has failed but for a lucky few. Indeed, the achievement gap is the civil rights issue of the day. Allowing the Pittsburgh School Board to continuously limit choices outside their ineffective programs is hardly a way to provide for the civil rights of students and parents in the Pittsburgh School District.

We certainly understand that the District is opposed to charter schools for financial and political reasons. However, charter schools did not create the District’s situation, and certainly the children in Pittsburgh did not either. A top-heavy staffing model and the Board’s refusal to close schools decades ago have created that crisis. And the mismanagement goes on today, such as the practice of paying for two Deputy Superintendents of Instruction.

By allowing the District to limit the choices of our children in Pittsburgh and by allowing it to ignore established case law, the District is permitted to perpetuate the poverty of many of our students in Pittsburgh. High quality choices are needed in Pittsburgh and we urge you to address expeditiously the District’s unlawful limitation of those choices.


Salvador Wilcox
CEO, Education Innovations, Inc.