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Radio Smart Talk: York City schools could be in for dramatic change

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Mar 18, 2013 8:42 AM

Radio Smart Talk for Monday, March 18:

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It was a bombshell last month when YorkCounts, an initiative of the York County Community Foundation, suggested that all students currently in the City of York School District attend charter schools instead.  That's only happened in a few other schools across the country -- most notably in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city's infrastructure and left it in shambles -- physically and otherwise.

Going to an all charter model is one of several dramatic changes being considered in a district that is experiencing major problems.  Money is so tight that York closed two school buildings and have kindergarten students through eight graders attending classes in the same building.  Student test scores have also been low compared to others in Pennsylvania.

The state appointed a Chief Recovery Officer, David Meckley, who is taking suggestions on how to improve York's schools.

Among the ideas being considered are consolidating or merging with other districts, community based schools, transformation from within and legislative changes on the state level.

Meckley will appear on Monday's Radio Smart Talk along with Eric Menzer of YorkCounts and Daria Hall, director of K-12 Policy Development with the Education Trust.

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Comments: 7

  • Susan Spicka img 2013-03-18 08:39

    Taxpayers should be wary of turning over the entire York City SD to charter schools, many of which are operated by for-profit companies. Education will necessarily become a secondary priority to the profitability of these charter schools as management companies work to increase their profits.

    Recent audits by the Auditor General have revealed the problems in current state law that allow charter schools to spend money with very little accountability to taxpayers. Auditor General DePasquale audited 6 charter schools and found that all received improper reimbursements for leases, resulting in $550,000 in wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

    If York City SD converts to a 100% charter district, what will the school district do to ensure that taxpayer dollars allocated for education are being spent appropriately educating children and not being siphoned off into corporate shareholder profits or into charter operators’ pockets? All Pennsylvanians lose when taxpayer dollars allocated to educate children are spent padding someone's profits.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-03-18 08:48

    E-mail from Wendell:

    "It is significant that in all this discussion there has been absolutely no mention of the role of the parents and family as the group primarily responsible for the education of the child. Your philosophy seems to be, "Give us you money and turn your children over to us and we shall take care of their education." I speak as one with twelve educators in my family, which includes my brother, sister, two of my children, and two of my grandchildren. I apologize for being the 'skunk at the lawn party.'"

  • Robert Colgan img 2013-03-18 09:25

    I called in to the show.
    The York schools are failing the children because they are not allowing the children to be children . . .allowing them to play, instead of "work" at their "education."
    Scott referred my comment to Daria Hall who missed it completely when she simply reaffirmed that education is "hard work."

    Children learn ALL THE TIME. Everything they do is their education.
    Letting them play-- in groups of their own choosing----allows them to explore their world. Creating a safe environment where they can play would free up a lot of taxmoney because elementary teachers would no longer be needed. The entire quantity of data of the 1st 8 yrs can be learned by an average intelligence person in about 3 to 6 months when they are adolescent. Elementary education steals children's natural right to be children and forces them to be factory workers. By the time they are high schoolers they're jaded and oppositional----they no longer wish to "learn" ...and, they're pissed because their childhood play was taken from them. (More below)


  • Robert Colgan img 2013-03-18 09:26


    Change elementary teachers to caring, empathic overseers to playtime until kids are about 12 or 13 would create kids still amenable to learning, still eager to absorb information....and childhood trauma could be identified and treated so kids would be better adjusted, happier.

    We have a dysfunctional educational system-------not the fault of the parents or teachers but the system itself.

    Charter schools are basically union busters.
    Reform the public schools. Toss NCLB out the window.
    Substitute play for elementary education and the children will amaze you how intelligent they can be.

    The other approach is Jeffrey Canada's highly structured and controlled environment which emphasizes family involvement. The quasi-military structure DOES create boundaries which children need to feel cared for and gets good test results....but disregards the natural need to play, a more organic and gentler approach.

  • Susan Spicka img 2013-03-18 09:53

    The panel selected for the show today was not informed on many issues related to charter schools. Not one of them could give any concrete evidence showing that an all charter model would be better for the children or the taxpayers in York City SD. They said that some charters do better than traditional public schools, some do far worse, and most produce the same results. Ms. Hall even spoke of the dangers of involving for-profit businesses in education and the poor results and wasted money that come with that.

    I hope that Radio Smart Talk will have another show about the York City SD and include on a panel of people who actually understand the charter school law in PA. The Education Law Center of PA is a non-profit, non-partisan group that has real facts and evidence about charter schools in PA. They can also address concerns that parents of children with disabilities should have if York City SD is going to convert to an all charter model. No one today said one word about how children with disabilities will be impacted and this is very concerning.

    This idea that there is a crisis and that York City SD needs to change what they’re doing immediately and radically, even if no one has thought about the consequences or the benefits, is very dangerous for children and PA taxpayers. It calls into question the agenda of the people who are part of the decision-making process. If they cannot demonstrate that an all charter district will be better for children, then why are they pushing so hard to convert the district and radically change it so quickly?

    Also, it is unclear that parents have any meaningful input into this process and that is a serious problem. So, I would love to see another Radio Smart Talk about this issue. Thanks!

  • zatumarta img 2013-03-18 14:20

    Diane Ravitch was quoted in a York Sunday News article re: charter schools: "Eliminating public education does not solve the problems of poverty." Jason Lewis, author of the article, goes on to say, "Any transformation that may occur in New Orleans or in York will be insufficient until this most significant barrier to academic achievement is addressed" - the barrier being poverty. Failing schools are a symptom of the larger social issue of poverty. Can we engage parents who are caught in a cycle of poverty? Are we effectively altering the learning environment by changing facilities when, at the end of the day, kids return to their impoverished homes ? I tuned in late, but I did hear one of the panelists say that we are obligated to spend more, not less, on the poorest school districts, and I would agree with this were it not for the fact that spending more on education does not root out the real problem - poverty. On the other hand, how else can the poor begin to rise out of poverty but by receiving a quality education? It is like lifting ourselves by our own bootstraps. Education can't happen in a vacuum. Without the support at home, no amount of re-configuring, money shifting, method changing will reach the kids who are most challenged by the effects of poverty. The state can not be both educator and parent. Can we really expect the state to provide proper nutrition to the poorest students in the poorest school districts, in addition to tailoring school options to suit various learning styles, all while meeting arbitrary and rigid 'standards' of learning? Not only are we attempting to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but we are shooting ourselves in the foot while we do so. And yet, as difficult as it may seem to find a solution to education while poverty remains, we must recognize that the answer to education is going to be part of the answer to poverty. We need to move forward and our first priority should be to erase the lines between school districts. Folks who live outside the current boundaries of failing school districts and whose children enjoy the best that our public education system offers - large, well-maintained, modern, fully staffed, high-scoring schools - will have to agree to let go of part of their share of the pie. There is only so much pie to go around, and yes, I'm talking about a single pie here - one statewide school district in which money can be allocated in ways that will do the most good. Consider this: If your neighbors' children three short miles down the road are attending a failing school, are you willing to give up amenities at your child's school so that the kids in the failing school can have lunch, a lower student/teacher ratio, a computer lab? Or will you dig in your heels and say, "No way! I spent good money to buy this house in this school district, and I pay my share of school taxes. 'Those' people don't even own homes!" Here, I think, is going to be the sticking point. I could go on. As the program today suggested, the discussion potential is endless. Where is the thread that will lead to real progress? Are we, in fact, looking at the real issues? What do children need in order to learn? Can the state give them what they need without some 'give' from everyone who lives in the state? Is it possible for government to solve a problem this big without the cooperation of everyone, even those who don't see themselves as 'involved' or affected? I think not.

  • Miranda Myers Luckie img 2013-03-25 13:32

    I just wanted to validate Robert's comment below. I'm an elementary teacher with a specialization in early childhood education (N-3rd grade). You are absolutely right--children learn best through play. Now, that does not mean children run wild. But, a competent teacher would allow young elementary students to have both free play and structured, planned "play" activities. The National Association for the Education of Young Children are huge proponents of play in childhood for learning purposes; studies show that students who are allowed both free and structured play for learning purposes do better later in their educational careers. Our school systems seem to be going against current data....it's quite sad. I'm sorry that Ms. Hall seemed to not understand your scientifically based information.

    Now, I also wanted to put in my two cents about school reform. I have worked in three types of school environments: private, public, and cyber charter. What I have learned from working in all three environments is that parental/community involvement and high quality teachers are the most important piece to student achievement. The private school I worked at had wonderful student achievement but less money per student. We didn't have fancy smartboards or the newest curriculum, but we had competent, dedicated teachers. We had parents who cared and administrators who trusted teacher decisions.

    Lastly, I just want to comment on Ms. Hall's comment about Cyber Charter schools. I currently work for one, and yes, our test scores are not great. However, if you truly took the time to see why these schools are not doing well on PSSAs, you wouldn't make such judgments. First, we get students who are well below grade level from failing schools such as York. We have 5-6 months to get them to Proficiency--a nearly impossible task. Secondly, many of our students were removed from their local public school because they were bullied or it was unsafe. These students many times have to get past the previously inflicted wounds in order to learn. Also, there is a learning curve for parents. Cyber Charter schools are not perfect, but they are continually trying to improve. They are a vitally important component of education in Pennsylvania. Many students are THRIVING in these schools and previously were not in their local brick and mortar. They offer students a safe place to learn, flexibility, and a top notch education.

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