In Council News, Helen Gym, News by PHL Council

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PHILADELPHIA — Today, City Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) released the following statement regarding the impact state-imposed graduation requirements will have on Philadelphia students and schools:

“This week, a report was released showing dramatic potential consequences for Philadelphia from the state’s new graduation requirements, which are currently set to be implemented this year after multiple postponements. The report — which is from the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium, and led by Research for Action and the School District’s Office of Research and Evaluation — uses recent data to project that barely one third of Philadelphia students had high enough test scores to graduate under the new rules, with an majority of students needing significant additional support or new alternative paths like work experience. The risk of not graduating falls disproportionately on our students of color, our low income students, and our special education students. We absolutely cannot accept that they will be casualties of this change when a high school diploma impacts wellbeing and wealth over a lifetime.

“I want to be clear: Philadelphia’s students are not failing. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has failed them. Every student in this District should be equipped with the tools they need to find success in their professional and personal life. But skeletal staffing, unconstitutional underfunding from the state legislature, and a years-long agenda of privatization and austerity have made this an impossible task, as was thoroughly documented in the recent school funding trial.

“Philadelphia students are as capable, and as worthy of a quality education, as their peers in wealthier suburbs. It is our responsibility and our duty to ensure that implementation of any new requirements do not lock out a generation of Philadelphia students from reaching their full potential, or force them to bear responsibility for the failings of our educational system. We must also refuse to accept that countless students graduate from our school system without the skills and knowledge they deserve. All of us have a stake in this issue — students, parents, educators, and everyone who is invested in the future of our city.

“We must now ensure several things:

  1. Standardized tests like the Keystone exams should never be used punitively. US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has been explicit in urging states to “reduce the high stakes of assessments in such State decisions as graduation” in light of the deep impacts the pandemic has had on student learning.

  2. The District must have a plan to urgently help every current junior and senior understand their path to graduation, and provide any needed support for them to reach the finish line. Families need clear information, and there should be public transparency regarding both the plan and school-level progress data. Meeting the new requirements will be a massive task requiring help from our municipal government and the city’s business community as well.

  1. The state legislature cannot shirk responsibility for this crisis of their own making: they must fund our schools. State legislators must finally act as partners in ensuring public schools have the resources needed to meet the standards they impose. This means meeting their funding obligations under the state constitution, and also immediately allocating additional resources so districts can provide the support needed to ensure students successfully graduate under these new requirements.

  1. We must address underlying inequities between communities and schools. The report released today underscores stark inequalities by geography and race. The impact of this implementation would not fall evenly across the city, and that is unacceptable.

“These requirements may yet be postponed again, but we cannot assume or accept that outcome in perpetuity. This needs to be a wake up call for us to actually ensure that we are giving our kids what they deserve: for every graduate of our schools to have the tools they need to succeed and thrive in their lives.”

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