Philadelphia matters because it is a harbinger of privatization across the state of Pennsylvania. As the letter below notes, some 25 districts in the state would qualify as in need of dramatic action–i.e., privatization–under the terms of a bill now under consideration in the Legislature. This scenario reflects a process we have seen in other states. First, the state cuts the budget, then the districts find that they can’t maintain their programs or meet their budget, then the state declares a fiscal emergency, and the final act in the process is to hand the schools, the students and the tax dollars to entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs will cut still further, replace teachers with computers, and offer a bare-bones schooling which is worse than what was provided before.
How anyone thinks this is good for our nation or our children is beyond me.
Governor Corbett and the Republican legislature have cut more than $1 billion from the public schools’ budget in the past two years, at the same time that legislators are pushing to add money for vouchers and charters. Privatization groups are pouring money into Pennsylvania political campaigns and waiting for districts to be declared failures so they can get for free what taxpayers have created over the past century.
I will be writing more about Philadelphia, where a management consulting company was brought in to recommend “reform” (i.e., privatization). That company–Boston Consulting Group–received over $1 million to produce a slick document (called “The Blueprint”) that could have been created for free by educators, though it would have reached different conclusions about the needs of the schools.
The odd thing about the management consulting company’s report is that it showed steady improvement in Philadelphia on test scores and safety, and a graduation rate no different from that of other urban districts. So why did it propose drastic action? Why turn public schools over to private interests? BCG did what similar “reform” groups have done. It set lofty goals and said that its proposal was the best way to achieve them. Did it offer any evidence that its proposals would indeed achieve dramatic progress? None.
What the report did not acknowledge is that the Philadelphia schools have been controlled by the state for a decade. Nor did it acknowledge that Philadelphia engaged in a massive privatization experiment that failed a decade ago. Why not consider the option of a democratically elected school board ? It is hard to imagine that it would be worse than the present non-democratic leadership.
Thousands of parents came out to a public meeting to oppose the Philadelphia plan. Their activism might make a difference.
Here’s the deal: If the privateers win this battle, they will take Philadelphia back to the mid-nineteenth century, when philanthropists ran the schools as charity schools. Families depended on the good will of the rich to provide basic schooling for their children.
This is not what great nations do.
|Philadelphia may not be the first city or even the worst city in this country, but it could very well be the largest American city to lay waste to its school district. Its a $2.5B system with 147,000 public school students and 46,000 charter students. It’s a move that is being orchestrated as much by local political and private forces, as it is by national organizations who are providing a supporting role but are not the sole drivers.
In terms of PA, 25 school districts could qualify as “recovery school districts” within a few years under a proposed bill moving through the state legislature. What PA is experimenting with is not just limiting the restructuring of public ed to simply large, underfunded, urban districts but destabilizing school systems all across the state.
All of us need to share lessons not just in what is happening but as Jaisal Noor is writing about above, the local strategies on pushing back that help us develop a broader movement and strategic alternative agenda and process.