Students across Philadelphia recognize that major change is needed in our schools. We are the people who are in the schools every day. We know a lot about what needs to be done to fix them. We ratified this Student’s Platform on School Reform on October 25, 2000 with over 400 students from 27 different Philadelphia public schools.
Learn about the issues facing students:
ISSUE #1: Public School Funding ISSUE #2: Small Schools ISSUE #3: Class Size ISSUE #4: Student involvement in decision-making ISSUE #5: Interactive and Engaging Curriculum Issue #6: School Safety ISSUE #7: Assistance for failing schools ISSUE #8: Mistreatment of Students in Schools ISSUE #9: Public transportation ISSUE #10: Multi-Cultural Education
ISSUE #1: Public School Funding back to topˆ
PROBLEM: In order to create many of the changes our schools need, more funding is required. Decreasing class size, hiring more qualified teachers, and ensuring adequate materials all cost money. Philadelphia receives $2,000 less per student than the average suburban school. This is supposed to be the land of equal opportunity, but we are not receiving an equal education. Our current school funding formula discriminates against areas with low property values.
DESIRED RESULTS: 1. A school funding formula must be created which ensures that all students, regardless of where they live, get a high quality education. This means we need to end reliance on local taxes. The State legislature must pass a bill such as the Miccozzie proposal. 2. The School Reform Commission must advocate for the state to change the school funding formula.
ISSUE #2: Small Schools back to topˆ
PROBLEM: Many schools in Philadelphia are too large. With over 2,000 students in many schools, students fall through the cracks, and there is very little individual attention. We need to create school communities that are small enough for people to know each other. In addition, it is difficult to create major change in large schools
DESIRED RESULTS: 1. We should move toward creating schools that are no larger than 800 students. This means replacing large aging buildings with smaller new ones. 2. Where new schools cannot be built, large schools should be divided into autonomous small schools.
ISSUE #3: Class Size back to topˆ
PROBLEM: Class sizes in our public schools are too large. There are too many students for each teacher, which means that each student gets less individual attention and teachers are often doing more crowd control than teaching. It has been proven that small class sizes, especially in the early grades, have a big impact on student achievement and involvement in school. In smaller classes more attention can be paid to students’ individual learning styles.
DESIRED RESULTS: We believe that in Kindergarten no class should be larger than 17 students. Grades 1-8 should have no more than 20 students. Grades 9-12 there should be no more than 25 students. In grades K-2, each classroom should have a teacher’s aide. Reducing class sizes will ensure that by the time students reach higher grades they are not already alienated from the school system. It will allow students and teachers to build better relationships. It will take some stress off of teachers allowing them to be more effective in the classroom. It will lighten the load of classroom management.
ISSUE #4: Student involvement in decision-making back to topˆ
PROBLEM: Former Superintendent Hornbeck said that treating students like objects rather than active participants in reform was his greatest mistake. Students have few opportunities to effect district policies, despite the fact that the policies directly affect us. Adults make the rules without consulting us. This results in many of us feeling uninterested and disenfranchised in school. When students are respected and listened to we will have a sense of ownership of our schools. No one wants to learn in a place where they feel disrespected.
DESIRED RESULTS: 1. Every school must have a functioning, elected student government. 2. A citywide student government should be formed with one elected representative from every high school. They should meet monthly to discuss and review matters of importance to students. In addition, members should undergo leadership development training. 3. Four delegates from the citywide student government should become active, advisory members of the School Reform Commission. 4. High school and middle school students should be actively involved in the selection of any new principal. 5. High school and middle school students should be actively involved in the creation of the School Improvement Plan. 6. The number of representatives on existing School Councils should be increased from two to six.
ISSUE #5: Interactive and Engaging Curriculum back to topˆ
PROBLEM: Learning is an active, engaging, and fascinating process. People learn best when they have an opportunity to use the information in a constructive way and connect it to things they already know. High expectations and encouragement from teachers also help people learn. Many times this is not what happens in schools. Much of the focus is still on memorizing, repeating, and copying from chalkboards as the main teaching methods. This results in students being bored, not being able to remember what they learn, and in some cases, dropping out. School District sponsored teacher training is generally not of high quality.
DESIRED RESULTS: 1. Teachers should receive regular training in interactive and engaging teaching. 2. More time needs to be created for professional development that is not on weekends or after school. Banking time should be looked at as a way to do this. 3. Administrators need to do regular observations of teachers to ensure that their instructional methods are meeting standards. 4. High schools should implement student evaluation of teachers.
Issue #6: School Safety back to topˆ
PROBLEM: If students are to learn, schools must be safe, comfortable environments for everyone. Creating real safety is about getting to the root causes of violence and not merely implementing band-aid approaches. At the present time, students are not empowered to create a safe environment. They must deal with increasing restrictions imposed upon us that have questionable results in creating safety. Until all members of the school community have a stake in making schools safe, we will not experience safety. Current safety procedures are making schools feel more and more like prisons. We have metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and bars on windows. The size of the school police force is growing rapidly. When violent incidents occur in the suburbs their students receive counseling. When violence occurs here we receive punishment, restrictions, and incarceration. These methods will not create safe schools, they will only add to the deterioration on the learning environment.
DESIRED RESULTS: 1. We need more counselors in our schools. In some schools there are over 900 students for each counselor. There should be one counselor for every 200 students, at a minimum. Increased interaction with counselors will help those adults identify students who present a safety risk and intervene in a preventative way. There should also be a differentiation between counselors who help students with academic work and counselors who listen to students’ problems. 2. Every school should go through the process of creating a school safety plan. Students, parents, and teachers must be empowered to come together and decide what their schools need to make them safe. This will help avoid sweeping solutions like metal detectors that may not be right for all schools. The real way to make schools safe is to empower the people in the school to become part of the solution. We need to make school safety a central issue in every school and involve everyone in creating a solution. 3. A significant number of students in each school must be trained in conflict resolution, diversity issues and peer mediation. School police and non-teaching assistants need better training. Students should be involved in their training which needs to be expanded to include how to de-escalate conflicts, ways of interacting with youth to build trust, and creative conflict resolution.
ISSUE #7: Assistance for failing schools back to topˆ
PROBLEM: Some schools have consistently failed. These schools need outside assistance to change. The real way to change a failing school is to engage the people in that community to create a solution, not to bring in outsiders. The people in the community may, however, need some assistance.
DESIRED RESULTS: 1. An office of School Change Assistance should be created to identify and provide assistance to schools that have failed to improve. 2. These schools should create a committee of parents, teachers, students, and community members who work with office of School Change Assistance to create a plan to change their school. This committee should also decide whether the administration needs to be replaced.
ISSUE #8: Mistreatment of Students in Schools back to topˆ
PROBLEM: Incidents of confrontation and harassment between staff and students occur everyday in our schools. If a student is in the wrong there is an extensive disciplinary process. However, when a student has been genuinely mistreated by a staff member, there is no adequate process for that student to issue a complaint. Many staff have the impression that large numbers of us are potential criminals, so they deal with us accordingly. This attitude creates a school climate, which is tense and prison-like, with non-teaching assistants and school police feeling like prison guards.
DESIRED RESULTS: 1. Students need a procedure that we can use to make a complaint about a staff member. 2. There also needs to be an ombudsman for each high school. An ombudsman is a person who will be chosen from the community of the school to act as a third and impartial party when a dispute between a student and a school staff member occurs. 3. There should be an advisory board made up of students that act as a liaison between the students and ombudsman in each school. 4. Schools need to make students aware of their rights and of the complaint procedure. A “Student Bill of Rights” should be created and read during orientation for incoming students. In addition, the Bill should be posted alongside the rules and regulations of each classroom. 5. Principals must take responsibility for creating a school climate that fosters respect and trust between students and staff, and must require teachers to treat students like valuable people, not prisoners.
ISSUE #9: Public transportation back to topˆ
PROBLEM: Philadelphia is one of the most expensive cities for student transportation. Most students need to take public transportation to get to school but the cost of tokens makes this very difficult. There are a lot of families that have multiple students who need to take public transportation to get to school. Some of these families are poverty-stricken and may not be able to afford several packs of tokens per week. Students do want their education but when they are unable to get to school they cannot possibly be expected to get an education.
DESIRED RESULTS: We demand the passage of Philadelphia Citizen’s for Children and Youth’s plan to for free school tokens. It calls on the city and state government as well as SEPTA to work cooperatively to ratify the plan. 1. The additional $0.40 for transfers would be waived by SEPTA. 2. The overall cost of tokens would be reduced to $0.55, down from $0.90. 3. The state will supply free tokens to those currently on welfare or recently removed from it using surplus from the TANF budget. 4. The city would increase funding to supply the remaining students in grades six and higher with free tokens.
ISSUE #10: Multi-Cultural Education back to topˆ
PROBLEM: A great deal of our curriculum focuses on Western civilization. We are taught American and European history. For one month of the year we are taught African American history. There is very little Asian, Latino, African (distinct from African American) or Indigenous history taught in our schools. When we are taught about other cultures, the curriculum lacks depth, and more often than not it comes from a Western perspective. The majority of Philadelphia public school students are not of European descent, and we are not being taught about the rich histories of our own peoples. In addition, students need to learn not only about our own culture, but also about the many cultures of the world.
DESIRED RESULTS: 1. Greater emphasis needs to be put on Asian, Latino, African (distinct from African American) and Indigenous history. 2. African American history needs to be taught throughout the year, not just in February. The curriculum also needs to focus more on the history of African Americans as a group, not just on tokenized individuals. 3. More work needs to be put into ensuring that the ethnic demographics of the teaching staff is representative of the demographics of the student body. 4. The history curriculum needs to be changed to not only reflect the perspectives of kings, presidents, and rich people, but to include the fascinating histories and struggles of working people. 5. In addition to an increased focus on multi-ethnic education, changes must be made in the curriculum to include others cultures such as that of women, various religions, and the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/questioning community. Schools need to provide professional development workshops led by students to give our teachers ideas on what we would like to learn about as well as how it should be taught.