Segregation, achievement gap continue in city schools: advocate

Segregation persists today Philadelphia schools, Catherine Blunt says.

A former city teacher and principal, Blunt said African-Americans and other students of color lack access to equitable educational opportunities in the district that prevents them from attaining living-wage jobs and keeps them in poverty.

“It’s intentional neglect,” she said. “There needs to be a school-to-job pipeline — and it’s not there.”

Blunt testified among district and city officials, experts and advocates during a hearing in front of the City Council Committee on Education at City Hall. The hearing focused on whether the district was preparing students for jobs in the workforce and increasing their cultural awareness.

Members of the School District of Philadelphia Board of Education were invited but did not attend. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, chairwoman of the committee, led the hearing, although no other council member on the committee attended.

Malika Savoy-Brooks, chief academic officer for the school district, pushed back against the claim the district schools were segregated, saying administrators are working on fixing the district’s shortcomings.

“What we need to address is equity across all of our schools and ensure that every child has access and opportunity for college and career readiness,” she said.

In 2017-18, 42% of high school students were proficient or advanced in English language arts, 22% in math and 29% in science, Savoy-Brooks said.

The graduation rate in district schools in 2018 was 69%. The lowest graduation rate among racial groups was Hispanic and Latino students (62%), followed by Blacks (67%); the white graduation rate was 73%.

The district continues to contend with an academic achievement gap between Black students and their better performing white counterparts, said Walter Palmer, a professor of American racism at the University of Pennsylvania.

Driving disparities in academic performance and other social standards were poverty, racism and gender discrimination, said Palmer, who previously headed a now defunct charter school.

Palmer said change in the district will not come without “real, significant community drive.”

In the city’s 56 district-run high schools, Blacks make up a larger portion of the student body than their portion of the city population, while whites shun the schools in favor of private and parochial schools.

The student population in the city’s district high schools is 52% Black, 20% Hispanic and 13% white; the city’s population is 44% Black, 15% Hispanic and 35% white.

The district’s goal is to have all students college-and-career ready by the time they finish high school, Savoy-Brooks said. This year, administrators focused on increasing the number of students earning credits and applying skills both in school and in the workplace.

“We clarified our goals for high schools and have a unified vision of what it means for students to be college- and career-ready,” she said.

The district has 40 Career and Technical Education programs in 32 high schools, where 5,828 of 6,384 slots are filled.

The district will release a plan in July that outlines how stakeholders can help improve high schools, Savoy-Brooks said. The district intended to convene a group of stakeholders and experts to develop a culturally and inclusive curriculum, too.

Savoy-Brooks said the district needs to strengthen its curriculum and efforts to provide learning environments that affirm cultural identities, and promote better academic outcomes and readiness beyond graduation, among other things.

“In order to have a culturally inclusive and responsive curriculum,” she said, “our teachers and our leaders, our adults in our buildings, need to develop cultural competence and practice cultural competence universally to support that.”

After the hearing, Blackwell said the district offered positive updates, yet noted the numerous challenges remaining, including ensuring school buildings were free of lead and asbestos.

“We’ve come a long way,” she said, “but we still have so many issues.”

From the Philadelphia Tribune