A Closer Look at PERC

On August 19, Research for Action (RFA) launched the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC) in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, the city’s charter school sector, and the three largest universities in the city. With a 3-year $900,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation, the Consortium will “provide research and analyses on some of the city’s most pressing education issues.” The release can be found on RFA’s website.

The Caucus of Working Educators recognizes the need for a more coordinated research effort to understand and address the needs of Philadelphia’s public schools, but so far the Consortium raises some concerns.

In its design, the Consortium will have both a Steering Committee, composed of two District officials and two representatives from the charter school sector, and a Research Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Drexel University. The Steering Committee will set the agenda so that research is not driven by the interests of researchers. However, WE is concerned that the partnership ignores most important stakeholders of public education - students, parents, and teachers, who do not seem to have any agency in this partnership.  

Moreover, the William Penn Foundation has previously played a very partisan role in education, providing grant money to the pro-charter Philadelphia School Partnership. They also faced ethics complaints for directing anonymous funds towards the Boston Consulting Group, whose “blueprint” advocated for school closure and privatization.

RFA sites that it will receive strategic guidance from the Chicago Consortium of School Research (CCSR), among other similar consortia. Let’s take Chicago as an example.

  •  From its inception in 1990, the CCSR had an advisory board that consisted of representatives from community based groups, the Chicago Teachers Union, the school district, and other research organizations and universities in the city. This broad-reaching committee set the agenda and accepted proposals from other groups as well. They also brought in varied stakeholders to reflect on drafts of the findings.
  • Charles Payne, Professor at the University of Chicago, said the following of the CCSR: “Its early reports were attacked by the powers that be in the city. They were attacked not on intellectual or mythological grounds, but because they were criticizing policies that people were invested in. So, in that period people saw the Consortium beaten on all the time by the powerful and they [the CCSR] stuck to their guns.
  • The CCSR engaged many important stakeholders at various steps of the research process, was steadfast even as its findings criticized existing policies by those in power, and maintained independence from the school district though its representatives sat on the advisory board.

Recent news reports state that the research agenda of this new group has not yet been set. The Caucus hopes  that the group will prove themselves to be the unbiased research group that Philadelphia could really use – and urges this city’s education community to pay close attention to their future work.