Local Control: A Student Voice

As you know, one of UrbEd’s 4 core projects is local control. We’ve worked towards this goal for years, working with the Our City Our Schools (OCOS) coalition to abolish the SRC. We were successful in this as of this past November. Now Philadelphia is engaging in the process of setting up the mayoral-appointed board through a nominating process.

A large part of our mission here at UrbEd is amplifying student voices. We feel that because students are those most impacted by the decision-making process, it is critical to ensure they have a voice at the table. We want to ensure in this new governance of Philadelphia public schools that student's voice has a large impact in making decisions about our schools.

This is why we are are pushing to nominate the passionate student, advocate, and reformer of Horace Ryans III for the People's Schools Board.

Horace Ryans III .png


Horace Ryans III is a young, African-American student in the city of Philadelphia. He is currently a sophomore at Science Leadership Academy. He is the special projects coordinator for UrbEd Inc., working to bring about an equal urban education for all students. He is highly involved in the improvement of his local school and the upbringing of his fellow students. He also serves on the Youth Commission of  Philadelphia, working with council people to change policies negatively affecting our youth.  He hopes to one day teach in Philadelphia, the city in which he worked to achieve a better education. He’s seen first hand the effects of our faulty school district and plans to change it to make it its’ best version of itself. He is also the student representative on the OCOS people’s school board slate!

Horace is part of the UrbEd family and we have full confidence that he will be a great candidate for the position. It is not because he has a connection to UrbEd, but because we truly feel that his passion, commitment, and powerful voice is what we need in education right now.

UrbEd Event Highlights

The energy in the room was high on Friday, January 19th, during our official kick-off of UrbEd! Almost two hundred people gathered in the ornate City Hall chamber for a festive gathering of networking, hearing about core UrbEd concerns, meeting old friends, and celebrating young person energy. The combination of youth attendance and more powerful figures was very encouraging to see because having everyone working together in one space is the biggest channel for change. We are excited about all the students and young people who have come together around UrbEd. Especially exciting was that some youth groups from other school attended, and we connected for the first time. The crowd was an amazing mix of education advocates, city, and state elected representatives,

Co-founders Tamir Harper and Luke Risher presented all of the basic ideas behind UrbEd, including the need for an education advocacy group composed of and run by students. UrbEd intends to collaborate closely with existing groups working for school reform. As UrbEd works to give all Philadelphia public school students a strong, quality education in a system that is responsive and efficient, it will focus on four areas.

The four areas which UrbEd has decided to work towards improving were explained in detail at the event. This includes the physical improvements to decaying school facilities, some of which have high lead percentages in schools, inadequate heat, and deteriorating toxic materials. Another one of UrbEd’s core goals is increasing teacher diversity—more people of color and male teachers in the public school system, specifically black male educators. In addition to this, another core value is reforming policing in our schools, and disrupting the school to prison pipeline. Finally, UrbEd works towards regaining and increasing local control of our school board here in the Philadelphia school district. They have been instrumental in disbanding the School Reform Commission, or SRC, in the past, and are continuing to restore local control moving forward.

However, UrbEd members are quick to acknowledge the financial crises our schools are facing. In recognition of that, they presented a $300.00 gift to Tilden Middle School, given with the hope that UrbEd will always help our schools connect to more resources.

At this point, UrbEd is growing its student base by reaching out to schools for more student advocates and continuing to work with and monitor decisions around Philadelphia’s first locally based school board in almost two decades.

With so many things going on in the world that puts public schools at a disadvantage, seeing so many people interested and passionate about issues surrounding urban education in one room is an extremely hopeful sight for us to see. This is only the first step in a long plan for action and change, and everyone at UrbEd would love your help in any way possible! Please consider connecting with UrbEd to become part of the network we are building with other education advocacy groups. Or join us as a member and begin advocating for a quality and efficient public school education in Philadelphia. We will be better with you as part of us!

Dee Dee Risher

Mother of Luke Risher (Co-Founder of UrbEd)  



Repeal of Net Neutrality- What Could it Mean for Urban Education?

Net Neutrality is an Act made in Obama’s presidential term that prevents internet service providers from charging different prices for different platforms, on the premise that that internet service providers are public facilities. This means Internet Service Providers do not reserve the right to charge extra money for any sites on the internet or speed of the internet. On December 14th, 2017, The Federal Communications Commissions, or FCC, voted to repeal Net Neutrality. According to the Washington Post poll, around 80% of United States of America supports Net Neutrality, and the repealing of this Act is going to have a major impact everywhere. But what exactly will this mean for education?

Needless to say, the internet is a key part of modern-day education everywhere. Over the past ten years, technology has become a crucial learning tool for educators and students everywhere. Many different schools provide laptops, have online assignments, digital grade books, and much more. Students who do not have internet access at home make use of school wifi for homework and out of school needs. The internet is the primary source for research and information for school projects. There are many online tutorial videos that can help students reinforce and better understand the subject matter they are already in class. High school students have opportunities online to take advanced courses and even college level classes.

If Net Neutrality can potentially allow the Internet Service Providers to charge schools much more for high-speed internet access, this can put all of these online resources in jeopardy. In the majority of public schools, budgets are already extremely strained, and having to pay extra for internet will take a major toll on the budget. Schools that cannot pay for high-speed internet will experience much slower speeds, which can affect how kids learn. Many educators in public schools have spoken up against the repeal of Net Neutrality, and have spoken about how it could have an extremely negative impact. One 5th grade teacher in Virginia named Molly Fuller stated, "We're trying to teach them those real-world skills," she says. Repealing the current regulations, she says, "it's going to really hinder their ability to learn." Although we do not yet know what the costs of the internet could be, many people are worried about what could happen next.

Thea Risher

Local Elected School Board

In Philadelphia, the public schools have numerous issues that are deep-rooted. The children of Philadelphia have continuously been underserved and deprived of a quality and efficient urban education. The question we must ask ourselves is what does real reform look like?

In our current time, we have an immense decision for the Philadelphia. For the past 16 years, the governing system in Philadelphia has been a State imposed School Reform Commission (SRC). This is a system that in short has to fail our students. Due to years of advocacy and political organizing, this system is coming to an end and now we must choose how our school will operate.

This debate has two sides, one calls for a democratically elected school board while the other argues that a mayor-appointed board will be the best option for the schools. A democratically elected school board would look like individuals electing representatives who would make decisions about the school system. The officials would run their own campaigns and present the public with their plans and then the public would vote. On the other hand, a mayoral-appointed school board would be set up so the mayor appoints the decision makers, the issues, and possible candidates would be presented in the process of the mayoral election, but not necessarily be the focus.

I firmly believe that an elected school board is the only system that will truly work for Philadelphia schools. I think this for 3 main reasons; accountability, involvement, and transparency. Firstly despite what some individuals may think, many studies have shown elected school boards to greater benefit students as opposed to an appointed school board. I hope to paint the logic of an elected school board and the research driving it.

The first main issue is accountability. Of course, some accountability is better than the complete lack as we see in the current SRC system, but an appointed board still lose a great deal of accountability. The most accountable public official is a directly elected one. The Center for Public Education did a nationwide study and came up with “8 characteristics of effective school boards” these characteristics include the board being “accountability-driven” and maintain a strong and collaborative relationship between themselves and the community. This data shows that the more accountability and the closer the relationship the school board members have, the more effective the board is. The accountability would be maximized through an elected board.

The second involvement. Many students, parents, teachers, and community members are passionate and committed to trying to better public education in Philadelphia. Meeting and meeting, year after year of addressing an uninterested and unresponsive SRC has shown them that without accountability their involvement and voices are not heard. They not only know locally elected is the best option for the schools but have worked to regain local control. A 2015 referendum showed that Philadelphia overwhelmingly favors abolishment of the SRC and local control. A survey conducted by Pew found that “64 percent of (Philadelphia) residents said local school board members should be elected, 11 percent said they should be appointed, and the rest had no opinion.” It is clear that the community wants to have the most involvement they can have in what happens to themselves and their families, a locally elected school board gives this involvement to the citizens of Philadelphia.

One of the largest issues facing the schools and the city is lack of clarity and transparency. If the schools. Studies show that education is the largest factor on the minds of voters in Philadelphia. This means that elections for a school board will not be swept under the rug therefore ineffective as critics say, instead the opposite will be true. If education is a pressing issue then school board elections are bound to turn out voters. If education is just one issue tagged onto the mayor's race then it won’t get the public eye and spotlight that Philadelphia voters need or deserve. The Philadelphia school system has roughly 130,000 students and the officials that run the schools for this large a percentage of the population should have their own separate election, not be linked onto an already layered mayoral election. The transparency of who is running the schools and with what values is clearly of large concern to the citizens and elected school board optimizes this transparency.

I would like to close with a finding from the Pew research study that shows the driving reasons why an elected school board will work best for students. “Governance systems that produce uncertainty, distrust, and ambiguous accountability can impede district's’ progress on any front.”  UrbEd supports an elected school board provides the accountability, involvement, and transparency that the Philadelphia schools need and deserve. Here at UrbEd, we support school reform, and we firmly believe this will be a major step towards advancements in urban education.

Luke Risher


Local Control for Philadelphia Schools?

For Philadelphia public schools, big changes may be coming, and very soon. Mayor Kenney has recently made a pitch for local control of Philadelphia schools. Currently, the School Reform Commission, or SRC, has the control over the majority of decisions involving Philly schools. This includes funding and budgets, school closings, curriculum, and much more. In addition to this, the SRC also holds the power to disband itself if seen fitting, by 3 of the 5 members voting against the committee.The SRC operates in Harrisburg, and has been the cause of much of the budget cuts and funding issues Philadelphia schools have faced over the past 16 years. Mayor Kenney has recently urged the SRC to disband itself and offers a loose plan of local control of public schools in Philadelphia. But what exactly would this plan look like?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mayor Kenney has offered a loose plan for local control, but we do not know much. The city would have to find a way to pay for the District's debts- around $103 million dollars in the next year and $1 billion dollars in the next 5 years. A plan for paying this deficit has not yet been confirmed. Kenney’s major goal is to work with a 13-member nominating panel, as well as State Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera, to appoint a nine member school board. The major goal of this school board as opposed to the SRC is the idea of much more cooperation between the schools and the city, and more collaboration going into the decisions that are being made. Although the funding for the schools is a major obstacle. Kenney says that many state officials will work together to find a solution, because the alternative is much worse. He says the city has to break the cycle of cutting funds and debt no matter the cost.

But how will this affect public school students? I believe local control will restore much power to Philadelphia residents and students. Having a local school board will give students a greater chance to vocalize their ideas and concerns, as well as a greater chance of being listened to. Local control means the decisions for our schools are being made by people who live in and care about the city of Philadelphia. Many students, teachers, and parents of public schools are excited and hopeful. Mollie Michel, a district parent, stated “A quality education is the cornerstone of a successful, productive life. My kids and all of Philadelphia’s children deserve the best educational opportunities from pre-K to high school. A return to local control under a Mayor-appointed board is the best chance our kids have to attend thriving schools and receive a top-notch education that will allow them to realize their dreams.” It sounds like the overwhelming majority of people whose lives are immersed in the Philadelphia School District are extremely happy about this plan, and are willing to go lengths to see it put into action.

Unfortunately, nobody has the power to disband the SRC except for the SRC itself. On Thursday, November 16, 2017, they will be making the final decision as to whether or not the SRC will be disbanded and local control will be restored to Philadelphia Schools.   

Thea Risher

Communications Associate

Points in History of the Forgotten People

“There can be no question of national dignity involved in the treatment of savages by a civilized power. The proudest Anglo-Saxon will climb a tree with a bear behind him and deem not his honor, but his safety, compromised by the situation. With wild men, as with wild beasts, the question whether to fight, coax, or run, is a question merely of what is easiest or safest in the situation given. Points of dignity only arise between those who are or assume to be equals,” as said by the then commissioner of Indian affairs, Francis Amasa Walker concerning the issue of equality and the dramatic question of the decade of what would happen with the native community in the rapidly changing America. Indian policy was based largely on the image of what the Native Americans was/are to us, the remaining Americans. The situation of Native Americans today, I believe, was premeditated. Long before our behavior yesterday our behavior back in the 1860s when the commissioner made his statements, but back in when the Europeans had first made contact with from across the sea and discovered the obvious differences between the ways of life between the two was when their situation was decided. Ronald Takaki, an Asian American historian, in his book “A Different Mirror” goes on to describe what he and other natives at the time had referred to as “the white man’s road,” a process of Americanizing and forceful cleansing that we have read about many times before in American history. In how the U.S. deconstructed the complex cultures and institutions, violently, of various Spanish speaking people, and more famously those of the African American people so much that they would become more “American-like”, the nation has damaged, permanently the lives of many people. From a historical standpoint alone, it is easy to see that the influence of the same stereotype that was held of other peoples, would take its place in Native American communities as well. There was a Super Bowl ad that played in 2014 about a slur used to describe what a typical Native American looked like, that is the name of one of America’s teams in one of its biggest sports.

In the 1850s, reservation camps became a big thing for the relationship between native Americans and white America. Everyone who was a Native American was to be put into some plot of land, among others who looked just like them, away from their homes, and it would be there that the cleansing from their Native American cultural practices that would take place. A girl from Minnesota reflects on “the boarding school era” for the assimilated, in the “We are Young” documentary, where she talks about the type of systems that were in place inside these reservations, a school where kids were required to go to and learn American culture, “the dominant culture.” She then goes on to say that “in these boarding schools, you could not speak your native language…” it was one of the restrictions deemed essential in the reservation camps. All Native Americans were locked into their reservation camps, leaving them would mean entering American territory, and therefore making them “liable to be struck by the military at any time, without warning.” legally. This, of course, is despite the fact that American industrialism was allowed to live beside them, literally through their reservation in the form of railroads, it can be clearly seen that the Native Americans were/are seen with respect, or as equal.

In 1890, Wovoka, a strong proponent of the some of the native’s culture had sent a message to his group, saying that the Native Americans former glory would return, and in the event, they were to dance a ghost dance, they were later arrested for a public display of their religion. White Lance, a respected member of the group details the occurrences of a later event, where  “There were only about a hundred warriors and there were nearly five hundred soldiers” as the troops began to fire off at the Native Americans. The American constitution says that, as a citizen of the United States, that we have the freedom to practice religion, but this apparently did not include those who were Native American because their image was too different to be considered American.

In 1891 alone, the government acquired over 17,000,000 acres of the total land originally allotted to the Native Americans following several years of many attempts of reclaiming and were vague “reasonably well payed” for their losses. They were then, told afterward, to prove how American they were by buying back the land that was taken from them, for the native Americans, this was somehow essential in learning to be American. It is indisputably clear that the treatment of the natives was not equivalent to the treatment of your everyday American, with the reneging of several Indian-government treaties as described in the Wounded Knee Incident of 1973 documentary, blatant Americanizing taking place in reservations, and the seemingly endless instances of disrespect and land taking, it is obvious that government policies were influenced by the construct of the natives that the government had imagined in its head.

Ishmael Brown

Penn State



Chicago Public School System

As our own education prospers with the multiple events that correlate with the growth of our own knowledge, it seems that the Chicago Public School systems wants to ensure that their student out their profound knowledge to good use immediately after their senior year. Students will be FORCED to either attend college, land a job, be hosted for an apprenticeship, a gap year, or be enlisted in the military. If this isn’t decided before the end of their 12th grade year, then their diplomas will be withheld. These options place students on the road for a career path, but ultimately building the borders as to what they can do after high school.

Of course, the options are still diverse, although they still restrict students from pathways unknown. If you’re not able to lan an apprenticeship, for example, they will withhold your diploma. If there is a certain path you must be on in order to become what you want, this school district rule rushes that, ad prevents this from developing a threshold for the students to take their time on, ultimately forcing them onto their own.

Chicago public school students should be able to determine the use of their own future after high school without being held on a time limit. This would obviously give these students more time to configure a possibly of what they want to do. Already implemented in college, students can obtain an example of “more time” by declaring themselves “Undecided” in order to chose a major in which they see themselves enjoying. This completely would go against their right to “freedom of choice”, which is alluded in the ninth amendment, and enforced in the 14th amendment.

Sam Dennis

Student Self-Governance: A Country Way Too Far Behind

Respect, democracy, and self-governance. These principles were instrumental to the founding of our nation. These qualities -- qualities so fundamental to who we are as a country, have guided us through our long, and rocky history. From our Declaration of Independence to the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to Pearl Harbor to 9/11. We as a people have continued to demand respect, facilitate democracy, and govern ourselves. We have done these things and followed these principles for 241 years. The question I’m trying to answer, however, is whether or not the principles of respect democracy and self-governance should apply to every aspect of our nation, every government agency, and every federally funded organization? One would automatically assume that the answer would be yes. This simply is not the case.

People could sit around debating about whether or not government agencies at the very least, are living up to these principles. I, however, just want to focus on a place I think respect, democracy, and self-governance should be encouraged: schools across the United States. Our education system’s resistance to or plain ignorance when it comes to student self-governance is hurting students, especially the ones in our urban cities.

I’ve had first hand experience with resistance from my own district’s leadership, from the School District of Philadelphia, its School Reform Commission, from even my own high school. Now, I fear many of our nation’s school districts are ignorant of the need for true student self-governance. I came to the School Reform Commission with and idea for a coalition of student government presidents. This coalition would have been the result of a rule requiring all public schools in the city of Philadelphia to have student governments. Philadelphia’s SRC was and continues to be ignorant of the issue that is a lack of of real student representation and power. After being the subject was brought up to them, they simply began to resist. Much like the leadership of Philadelphia’s public school system, I fear that if an issue like this were to be brought up anywhere else, a student or group of them would eventually get the same resistance. Urban students, primarily minorities, are missing out on chances to build an interest in politics or to learn about the qualities it takes to be a leader in general.

But why? What is it about student self-governance that scares my district’s administration (and quite possibly that of other urban school districts)? What is it about true, determined student leaders that can turn a provider of American education funded by our federal government and a progressive high school into hypocritical catastrophes that will immediately abandon their values? I’d say fear. Fear of it not working out? No. Fear of what too much student involvement may do? Maybe. Fear of students telling them what they need to be doing. I also think that one of the most American things you can do is to teach students early on to be involved in making change wherever they are and to speak out when it comes to addressing issue they face. There’s no better way to do that then by establishing student governments in schools everywhere, a task that will fully give students the respect, democracy, and self-governance they both crave and deserve.

Kwan Hopkins

STATEMENT: We Stand with Dreamers

Statement: We Stand with Dreamers

September 12th, 2017

Media Contact:

Elani Gonzalez-Oritz, Communications Director

Info@urbedadvocates.org | EGonzalez-ortiz@scienceleadership.org


In Phoenix, Arizona, just hours after the Trump Administration announced its decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, hundreds of students walked out of classes at South Mountain High School. Marching a mile to the police station, expressing their outrage at the decision and their solidarity with all the students who will be hurt . Similar student-led protests happened in Denver, DC, and several other cities around the country.

The DACA program was established by President Obama in 2012. It targeted for young people (or “Dreamers,” as they are called) who were brought to this country by parents or other family members when they were children or even Infants. The act is in place for those who entered the US before age 16 and have lived there since June 15, 2007. While the act does not offer a path to citizenship, DACA protected Dreamers from possible deportation and allows Dreamers access to basic human needs such as driver licenses, opening bank accounts, and importantly safety in public schools and workplaces. There are over 800,000 Dreamers in the United States. The vast majority attend school or work – or both and pay taxes without being offered any federal financial aid through Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), and are limited to state or college financial aid. For some this is the only country that they remember living in.

As one public high school teacher in Philadelphia said, “these are children who did not make the decision to enter the U.S. illegally. They broke no law and they’ve grown up as American as you and I.” Thousands of those Dreamers who are affected by the Trump Administration’s outrageous decision are still teenagers attending public high schools all across the city. Under DACA, they were able to pursue their education freely, without the looming threat of deportation. Many cities and states even provided financial aid to make that education possible.

Once again, these students must live under the shadow of uncertainty and fear. Once again, they and their families face the possibility of ICE raids, being torn from their families and communities, and sent off to a country which, for them, would essentially be a foreign unknown place.This places fear into the students, which can drastically affect their performance in school. Will they be torn from their social circle of friends? Will the work they have put in to get this far be for nothing? Will their future be torn away from them?

Everyone must join these students in their protests, UrbEd is no exception. We will continue to work to aid the undocumented member of the education community by giving them access to the most resources possible. We will continue to reach out to other organizations and give support and do whatever we can in our power to restore DACA. UrbEd will draw on connections that our team have to organizations working directly on issues facing Dreamers. We strive to make sure all members of our community are safe and secure and is receiving a quality and efficient urban education. By denying them their education and their future, we are denying our society of much talent. We urge Congress to act to protect Dreamers from the hatred of the President of the United States.  We must fight to restore DACA at all costs.  

Guns in Pennsylvania Public Schools

Thea Risher


When I was in seventh grade, I had a quirky world geography teacher. He was a perfectly good teacher. He was interesting and engaged the class well. I  have no real complaints about the class, but there were some moments that stuck out at me. One day, he was in a particularly bad mood and one of the kids in my class was acting up. The teacher yelled at him a few times, but he would not settle down. All of a sudden, the teacher flung a folder at him with extreme force, hitting him on the side of the head. Of course, our whole class caused an uproar, laughing until we cried, because at the time we had no idea that this could put any child in actual danger. This particular teacher had since been known to chuck water bottles at students, or shove desks in their general direction when riled up. Rumors used to spread about him, but his anger outbursts were relatively harmless at the time.

When I heard about the legalization of school employees in Pennsylvania to carry firearms, I was working at a summer camp with kids ages 8-12. My heart dropped. The first thing I thought about was this teacher and his impulsivity when children misbehave. I do not think any teacher or school employee would ever intentionally hurt a child, but our natural instinct as humans will always be to protect ourselves over others. Countless incidents have shown that guns given to people in shootings do not actually prevent fatalities. There is too much training required to be able to maintain composure, and you also risk the chance of shooting an innocent person in a moment of desperation.

Studies have shown that in order to maintain composure and self control as well as keep people safe in a potential shooting, an armed citizen would need 700 hours of training, at a bare minimum. The Philadelphia school district in particular does not have the time or the money to pay school employees to conduct and participate in these trainings. Having guns in the hands of any school employee is proven to only cause more danger, and school employees do not have the right to put any kids in danger. Guns are relatively helpless and even more harmful if you don’t know how to use them.One motto of the NRA has famously been “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. Only 3% of the time in the last ten years has a shooting been stopped by a regular citizen with a gun. The percentages are not high enough to grant us any amount of safety.

I believe there are endless reasons that guns in our schools are not beneficial and would be nothing but harmful to all parties. There are many other realistic alternatives that may not be perfect, but would work much better. More security around the entrance of non-school employees or students into the buildings could be very beneficial and more cost effective. Having better lock down drills and protection in individual classes could be an effective alternative as well, and practicing more thoroughly how to stay safe when there is a potential shooter on the loose. There are many things that could better insure safety than bringing the root of the problem, in this case guns, into school environments themselves.  Overall, putting more guns in a facility means more access to guns for younger students or anyone who can get inside the building. Guns were made since the beginning to be weapons of destruction. To me, once a weapon always a weapon. Schools have always been advertised as a safe place and putting guns in this environment would ruin the whole fundamental idea of school culture. Why have such a lethal weapon be within reach of the most vulnerable part of our population? We should be asking ourselves how to eliminate the root of the danger instead of adding fire to the flames of gun violence.

Thea Risher

Blog Coordinator