Thompson: A Fake Financial Crisis In Philly?
The Philadelphia Schoool Reform Commission (SRC) said that their schools might not even have enough money to open their doors next fall without huge budgetary cuts and additional resources, as it also unveiled a radical education plan. It would close 64 schools in the next five years and divide the rest among “achievement networks” and charter management organizations. The implication, of course, is that the risky plan is necessary because of the district's immense financial challenges. The Philadelphia Inquirer's "Crisis Opens a Window to School Reform," by Patrick Kerkstra, explained that that is not true. He cited the mayor's chief education officer who admitted, "the academic reorganization is completely cost-neutral." Kerkstra , a former reporter for the Inquirer, then explained that reformers, "want to blow the district up." They would have had a tough time persuading the public that the solution is "closing public schools en masse, enrolling about 40 percent of all students in charters by 2017, and busting the district up into 20 to 30 networks." He then cited a founder of Parents United for Public Education. "We got the bait and switch. We were promised a fiscal plan, and we got a complete academic overhaul."
Regular readers of the Inquirer and the Philadelphia School Notebook have already been told how the Philadelphia's schools got into this mess.
The Notebook, which just won its second legal battle for the right to access information considered by the reform commission, has been equally effective in explaining the contradictions in the school system's rushed reforms. The Notebook's Dale Mezzacappa reported that the district wants to implement the SRC plan, even though Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon could not say if it would result in "better outcomes for children," because the plan isn't complete.
Perhaps the best single account of the "dismantling of the school system" is Daniel Denvir's "Who's Killing Philly Public Schools?" in the City Paper. Denvir, like the Inquirer and the Notebook,made it clear that the city's problems did not start with the disastrous "reform" administration of Arlene Ackerman. For instance, Philadelphia led the way in contracting out schools to Edison Schools. After posting a record of lackluster performance, for-profit organizations threw in the towel. He then concluded:
As Philadelphia schools cut past the bone and spin beyond crisis, the movement to privatize them has grown fat. After 15 years of pellmell growth, 82 charter schools now educate 25 percent of district students, and will this year receive $525 million. The flight of children to charters has increased the price of educating those who remain in the district — a key reason the district is now pushing to close under-attended schools. Charters have also siphoned off many Catholic-school students, according to a Pew Foundation study, prompting a similar enrollment crisis for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Denvir then recounted the authoritarianism and the grandstanding of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. He recalled the low points of her administration, including:
Accusations launched against Asian student victims at South Philly High, retaliation against whistleblowers speaking out on improper contracting, tumult following the removal of a popular principal at West Philly High, the persecution of Audenried teacher Hope Moffett, who spoke out against charter conversions, and, of course, the propaganda machine.
In the wake of the infamous cheating scandal which broke in 2011 and the district's buy-out Ackerman's contract, the School Reform Commission took only "five weeks of 'intense' work starting immediately to help design a decentralized academic model, identify operational savings, and find new reductions and efficiencies." It paid $1.4 million to the Boston Consulting Group which was hot off its miraculous transformation of Chicago's schools. Denvir cited a former Boston employee who "described the company's approach as merely 'force-fit[ting] analysis to a conclusion.'" Sure enough, Boston produced a "cut and paste" plan
Denvir suggested that "another goal of Boston could be enriching its allies, or scoring them political victories. Former Boston executives and consultants now hold senior posts at charter-school networks like KIPP — which could well apply to manage a Philly achievement network — and [the]Broad Center."
Old-fashioned journalism and schools have a lot in common. Both are being battered by the technological, social, and economic forces known as disruptive innovation. The leaders of Philadelphia schools have not risen to the challenges. As shown by the coverage of the city's schools, Philadelphia journalists have.
And in a fitting update, the Notebook's Mezzacappa reports that SRC has now redefined the "Blueprint" as a "concept," while its contributer, Ron Whitehorne, explains that the SRC rushed ahead before understanding the definitions of the terms they were using. - JT (@drjohnthompson) image via.