In Philadelphia, word comes from my colleague Donna Celano that the school year is not exactly starting out on the right foot. Currently, 53 public schools remain under investigation for possible cheating violations during statewide proficiency exams given from 2009 to 2011. Now, a Philadelphia Inquirer analysis shows that recently-released 2012 scores in reading and math have dropped dramatically at nearly all the schools under investigation. At one high school, for example, math scores for 11th grade students dropped 71 points, from 96 percent percent passing to 26 percent.
Cheating scandal aside, the most recent test results are just a reiteration of the appalling disparity we found as we studied children living in low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods. Scores have dropped in every tested grade, and only 33 percent of the 239 schools are meeting state standards. Less than half of all city public school students read on grade level, and exactly half can do math on grade level. Fingers are being pointed everywhere: brutal budget cuts, teacher reassignments, tougher state standards. Newly hired school superintendent, William R. Hite Jr. must be shaking his head about his first tough week on the job. He aims to create an environment that will provide "the best opportunities for teachers to teach and students to learn," but he faces tremendous obstacles doing so for students who exist in such dire circumstances. The news from Philadelphia is just another reminder of the tremendous odds facing our poor kids.