Adam Goldin | Philadelphia Blog

Adam Goldin covers Philadelphia news and updates.

Tag: budget

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Philadelphia Falls Behind In Bilingual Education, But There’s Still Hope

Philadelphia has a very diverse school district, 12 percent of which is made up of English learners. Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s school district is lagging behind in terms of bilingual education. The city has experimented with bilingual education for years and has recently seen a boost in enthusiasm for more comprehensive dual-language immersion programs. But due to political debates and shifts in state and federal priorities, maintaining and expanding these programs has been a difficult process.

 

The city of Philadelphia has struggled to embrace bilingual education with the same intensity that other cities with high numbers of English learners have. This is because unlike most other states, Pennsylvania has never set up a separate certification for teaching ESL (English for speakers of other languages). The certification exams are only administered in English, which limits hiring for bilingual programs, as teachers must be completely proficient in English, as well as their native language. As a result, it has become difficult to recruit a diverse a teacher force. District data shows that only 3 percent of teachers identify as Hispanic and 2 percent identify as Asian.

 

In South Philadelphia, there was a push by Spanish-speaking families for schools establish a dual-language immersion program, so that their children could maintain their mother tongue while also learning to become fluent in English by adulthood. In order to create a successful dual-language immersion program, the school must have a class made up of about half English-dominant students and half Spanish-dominant students. Some school districts have a large divide between English-dominant students and Spanish-dominant students, while other schools are much more blurred, with a number of Hispanic students who are English-dominant because they’ve been in the U.S. for a long time.

 

So what exactly is the history behind Philadelphia’s struggle to implement a sufficient program? Bilingual education models were introduced to Philadelphia in the early 1970s by a woman named Eleanor Sandstrom. Sandstrom shifted perspectives at the District level and believed in an additive model for bilingual education. This means that students were taught a second language while also maintaining their primary language and culture. She felt that foreign language abilities should be considered a resource. She received Title VII funding and opened up the Potter-Thomas Bilingual School, which was seen as a national model for bilingual education for decades. Despite all of these efforts, the Philadelphia School District was still falling short. In 1972, bilingual programs only reached half of the 9,000 Spanish-speaking students in Philadelphia.

 

Unfortunately, two years later, the Bilingual Education Act was revised. Federal funding could not be used for two-way immersion programs. In the 1980s, the national conversation surrounding bilingual education shifted toward an “English-only” movement. There were many federal initiatives that limited and ended a number of education programs in languages other than English. During this time, 50 percent of Philadelphia’s bilingual education personnel were fired and many bilingual programs were cut. Aside from the Potter-Thomas School, almost every program in Philadelphia shifted back to a transitional model.

 

Bilingual education started to make a comeback in the 1990s. However, most of the dual-language programs shifted to charter schools. In the last few years, things have begun to look up again. Now, funding for bilingual models is not coming from federal sources, and will therefore not be so drastically affected by shifts in the thinking of the federal government.

 

In the past, Philadelphia has reflected bilingual educations trends and in some cases has been a pioneer. Unfortunately, this is not the case currently, as Philadelphia is somewhat behind. The biggest challenge in the process is finding teachers. One obstacle is that a number of teachers who are certified in their home countries need to pass state certifications that are only conducted in English. This is frustrating given that many of the models include a Spanish teacher and an English teacher. In these models, the Spanish teacher doesn’t need to be proficient in English.

 

Still, educators and proponents of bilingual education in Philadelphia remain optimistic. The District is clearly committed to bilingual education, and the public has put a lot of support behind the movement. We will have to see whether topnotch bilingual programs can be implemented in Philadelphia in the next few years. If so, this could make a big difference and lead a number of children toward successful futures.

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Art on the Outside: Philly’s Murals

Though Philadelphia contains one of the more renowned art museums in the world, there’s only one way to see art and the city at the same time: the street art.

From the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, to artist Isaiah Zagar mosaic-tiling every wall he can get his hands on, to world-class graffiti and street art, nearly every street in Philadelphia is bound to have a surprise in store.

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The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as an anti-graffiti program, and has created almost 4,000 murals since. From the recent color-blocking of Broad Street to Philadelphia On A Half-Tank, a mural painted on the side of an oil tank at the refinery in South Philly at Penrose Ave and 26th in 1999, there is an incredible amount of history in the program. Some works have been torn down or built over with time, but that is part of being in a living-breathing city. The majority of the murals with the project are not just for art’s sake, but also have a purpose. One of the project’s murals was painted on the side of a methadone clinic, and some over the 1,200 artists who helped to paint the mural were patients at the clinic at the time, as part of a rehabilitation program. The founder of the Mural Arts Program shared her top 10 favorite with The Guardian, and you can check them out here.

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One of the most unique ways to see murals in the city is to take a ride on the Market-Frankford elevated line. From 45th to 63rd streets, there are a total of 50 murals creating an experience called “Love Letters”. Some can be seen from the street, but not all, as they are meant to be seen from the train. Created by Philadelphia native Steve Powers, all 50 murals are love letters from a partner, from an ex, or from the residents to their city. Ranging from cutesy sentiment to powerful declarations, Love Letters from the El is an experience I highly recommend you make time for, even if you normally drive.

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Isaiah Zagar’s work is instantly recognizable to long-time residents of Philly. The Magic Garden, his multi-story maze-like art piece is the most famous of his work, particularly after a long-fought battle with the city to keep it. But you won’t just find his work in the Magic Garden, you can see his handiwork all over the city in the South Street/Queens Village area, particularly in alleyways. There are so many murals that they made a map to show them all.

Mural Locator is a website dedicated to pinpointing murals on maps all over the globe, and can help you find murals that aren’t part of the Mural Arts Project or Zagar’s body of work.

No matter if you are a long-time local or a brand new tourist, if you are on a unique-yet-romantic first date or looking for something to do with the kids on a nice day, there are endless ways of touring, viewing, and getting to know the wonderful art on the streets of Philadelphia.

What Will Hosting the DNC Be Like?

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The Democratic National Convention is right around the corner, and the question becomes… What is Philly going to look like in that time?

For those of us who were around during the Pope’s visit in September of 2015, there is some amount of hesitation about the city’s ability to host so large an event without the entire city coming to a screeching halt. Businesses lost revenue, streets, trains, and even bridges were closed, cutting people off from transport to and from jobs, and the revenue boost for the city and it’s local business owners expected from entertaining so many visitors turned out to be a bust as well.

The DNC is primarily being held within the Wells Fargo Center, and XFinity live will be included in the surrounding security perimeter. While the finalized security routes have not been determined officially as of yet, we can all expect “some closures” and a “non-scalable wall”. Special Agent James Henry spoke to the issue, and said that this will be on a smaller scale than the pope visit, and the impact will be minimal. Planning, he said, began shortly after the Pope left town, so hopefully the lessons learned from the papal visit will be reflected in the city.

And unlike the Pope’s visit, which saw many Philly residents leaving town for a mini vacation just get out of Dodge, the mayor is urging city residents to stay in place for the DNC. A campaign has been launched, with the slogan “You Don’t Want To Miss This”.

Perhaps in an effort to keep the city from shutting down, and the huge amount of waste that went along with the mass exodus of Philadelphia residents during the Pope’s tenure, there will not only be local discounts for convention-goers, but for residents as well.

Even if you don’t have a ticket to the convention, there will be lots of events that are open to the public, if you are of the inclination to attend. From art installations to PoliticalFest, to the ability submit testimony to the official party platform, there will be a lot of activities in the city apart from the convention. Visit the PHLDNC webpage, or the Morning Call online for more information, including where the aforementioned #DNCDeals can be found.

A proposal is currently working it’s way through the Pennsylvania Legislature that would lift restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Temporarily, of course. House Bill 1196 is looking to create a “national event permit” allowing for establishments hosting the event to circumvent many laws, including 2 a.m. serving cutoffs, permit holders can sell wine that has not been purchased through the PLCB, and alcohol-to-go rules will remain in effect for all approved establishments. So get ready to party like it’s the 2016 DNC. Earlier this month, another bill that allowed for, among other things, wine sales at grocery stores, longer state liquor store hours and 24/7 beverage service at casinos passed the House in a 157-31 vote.

Philadelphia Schools Funded by Soda Tax?

notebookThe state of Philadelphia’s school system has been tumultuous at best for years now. A constant struggle for funding that never seems to come through. Last month, school officials stated that were were taking into consideration the possibility of closing up to three schools a year to save money. This is following in the wake of the extended state budget impasse that concluded at the end of March with far less in school aid than most had anticipated.

According to thenotebook.org, a recent study from the advocacy group Public Citizens for Children & Youth reported findings in the district such as

  • Neighborhood high schools have had an average of four or more principals since 2009.
  • Neighborhood high schools have lost more teachers than any other school type, with 400 positions eliminated between 2010 and 2014.
  • Almost half of neighborhood high schools – nine – have no assistant principal.
  • More than half the neighborhood high schools’ counselors were laid off over four years, from a total of 91 in 2010 to just 35 in 2014.

All of these turnover and staffing issues lead right back to budget constraints, and they cause staff and principals to be overworked and stretched too thin to educate appropriately. When you’re a student in this environment there just isn’t much incentive to work hard or stay on track to graduate.

From The Philadelphia Tribune: “Lisa Haver, co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, told school officials she was “shocked” by the prospect of more school closures, especially after two dozen schools, among them Germantown High School and Edward T. Bok Technical School in South Philadelphia, were shuttered in the summer months of 2014. She made the comments during a School Reform Commission meeting this week. The SRC is a state-controlled commission that oversees city schools.”

Ever since the 2012 financial troubles for the city and state, Philadelphia schools have been working in crisis mode, day-to-day, with the school district never forming a cohesive plan for fixing the problem and moving forward toward recovery. School closures are disruptive to students and faculty, can be a financial and time strain on already burdened parents, and are tumultuous for neighborhoods.

School officials say that they are committed to reinstating full time positions like counselors, nurses, librarians, and music and art programs into elementary schools and ending split-classes (the practice of teaching two grades in one room.) even in spite of these cost cutting measures.

If you know even one teacher in Philadelphia, chances are you know someone who has had to pay for paper and pencils out of their own pocket, who has had to ask for money or donations to have books to read in an English class, who has had to look to crowdfund an empty science lab with supplies payed for by strangers on DonorsChoose.org, indiegogo.com, AdoptAClassrom.org or ClassWish.org.

The mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenny, opposed the idea of imposing a soda tax to fight childhood obesity when we was a city council member five years ago and the issue was brought before the city council. Now, as mayor, he has just this month suggested instituting the highest soda tax in the nation. The reason for this, he says, is not to improve public health, but to make money for the city. From Business Insider: “The policy would make a 20-ounce bottle of soda $0.60 more expensive for distributors, much of which could be passed on to consumers in the form of significantly higher prices. He estimates that the more-than-$400 million that could be raised via the tax in the next half decade would fund universal preschool and “allow the city to renovate a variety of its most vital public venues.”

While the funds are not even specifically directed at schools, but multiple areas of the city that are under-funded, this soda tax comes a little out of left field. It is unlikely that a tax as high as he is proposing will pass, and taxing soda not as a health and obesity campaign, but simply as a source of revenue for underfunded areas of the budget, seems a slippery slope that most will be unwilling to tread.

The state of Philadelphia’s school system has to rely on more than the potential to start taxing items at will. It requires a plan of action, with measurable goals, and a focused allocation of resources.

What do you think is the best move for the Philadelphia school district? Tweet at @AdamGoldin_!

 

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