Notes from the Field
Submitted by Frank Murphy on April 26, 2012
It has taken me a few days to process the latest radical plan offered for reforming the Philadelphia School District. This is essentially a blueprint for the dissolution of the district. At first I didn’t even want to think about this proposal. The notion that the entire district is broken and needs to be tossed out and then reinvented represents a new low in the language of school reform demagoguery. This commentary written by Helen Gym started to stir me out of my funk. But it wasn’t until another respected Philadelphia activist asked me what I thought of this newest plan that I started to put my thoughts to paper.
On one level, the idea of creating autonomous networks of schools that share a common mission and purpose sounds like an exciting idea. If I were an active principal I would consider reaching out to other school leaders that I respect in order to develop a plan.
Then I realized that it would be up to the networks to beg and scrape for the necessary resources to make such a plan a reality. If the networks fail to do so, it will be their responsibility, thus leaving our elected and appointed leaders off the hook again.
As a school principal in North Philadelphia, I spent a long time banging the tin cup in order to raise a little bit of money to help move forward big ideas for my students. It was a tiresome, unreliable process with too many strings attached by those who chose to give. Is this how public education should work? Is this how we should exercise stewardship for those who are in need in our society?
Arlene Ackerman spent this district into a giant hole (a $625 million deficit). I believe most of her actions were part of a “Broad” plan to create “constant upheaval” in order to counter any possible resistance to privatization. Corbett cut funds at the worst of times not only from our public schools but also from the whole range of public services that provide a safety net for the most fragile of our fellow citizens. His actions have served only to increase the chaos that has been generated in the district by our leaders over the last ten years.
Now we have a new SRC that claims to be acting responsively but in fact continues along the same path of dismantling our school system. They say we have to live within our means. But what are our means…what Corbett says our means should be?
Education funds are in short supply in the School District of Philadelphia. But this doesn’t mean that the district is broken. It speaks more to the poor financial management of prior leaders, the budget cuts of a new governor and to the ill effects an economy that isn’t doing as well as in the past.
This new plan for reshaping the school district is taking advantage of a bad financial situation in order to move forward a privatization agenda. If this plan goes forward as it is, it will leave many more people worse off than they are now. I for one remain steadfast in the belief that we need to fund our schools adequately and fairly. I am tired of the excuses offered by the people we have entrusted to administer our most basic public services. They should be advocates for the district and for the interests of every citizen. Instead they choose to throw the baby out with the bath water. This knee jerk response to real economic concerns that masquerades as school reform is causing our community to lose sight of our core values as a democratic society.
In response to critics of this newest reform strategy, our mayor recently quipped that they should “grow up and deal with it”. Perhaps he is the one who should do so, by standing up in defense of one our most fundamentally important civic institutions, the city’s public schools. He could start by advocating for increased resources and funding for our school district from our state government.