CEP tells state it is leaving Philadelphia

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Community Education Partners, the for-profit operator of disciplinary schools that ushered in the privatization of alternative education in Philadelphia, has notified the state Department of Labor and Industry that it is closing its remaining four schools as of the end of this month. Its contract with the District was terminated June 30, according to District spokeswoman Lisa Mastoon.

The Nashville-based firm said it would be laying off 74 employees. A company spokesperson did not immediately return a call for comment.

CEP came to Philadelphia in 2000, when David Hornbeck was superintendent, on the urging of State Rep. John Perzel, who was then the House Speaker and a strong believer in the CEP model. It primarily used computer-based instruction and constructed its schools to minimize the chance for student interaction. At the time, legislators and many within the School District were clamoring to expand the disciplinary schools as a way to remove troublesome students from regular schools.

It negotiated a contract with the District under which it was paid based on the number of students it could accommodate, not on the number of students actually enrolled or based on any outcomes for those students. At one time it had contracts worth $28 million.

While CEP maintained that students progressed rapidly in grade-level reading and math skills using its instructional model, it was difficult to track down data to back it up. And it was nearly impossible to track how many students cycled through its schools, how many returned to regular District schools, and how many ultimately graduated. In the past few years, the scope of its operations in the city has been scaled back.

Since the state takeover of the District in 2001, the School District expanded its network of private operators of disciplinary and alternative schools and last year began requiring them to sign contracts that are based on student progress, graduation rates, and other measurable outcomes.

The CEP schools slated for closing are three "accelerated learning academies" in South, Southwest, and Hunting Park and one disciplinary school at ES Miller in West Philadelphia.

Lisa Mastoon said, "the schools in question will remain open and they will be managed by other operators."

The schools will now be managed by:

  • ALA at Bartram: Delaware Valley
  • ALA at Southern: OIC
  • ALA at Hunting Park: Camelot
  • ES Miller: School District. It will become the new site of PLA South.

Parents were notified of the changes two weeks ago and "it will be business as usual for the kids," said Mastoon.