The elites' plans are in place to close 40 schools, break the teacher and janitorial unions, and put the education of the City of Philadelphia's children up for bid. It just makes me sick. I knew it was coming (when you see the Democratic
April 27, 2012

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The elites' plans are in place to close 40 schools, break the teacher and janitorial unions, and put the education of the City of Philadelphia's children up for bid. It just makes me sick.

I knew it was coming (when you see the Democratic city councilman expected to be the next mayor praising Michelle Rhee and philanthro-capitalists like the Gates Foundation, it's only a matter of time), but I never expected it to happen this fast. It feels like a kick to the gut.

Our schools were taken over by the state in 2001 (you can read the gruesome history here) and instead we're run by a five-person School Reform Commission. (The governor gets to appoint three members, the mayor gets to appoint two.) And even though the reason for declining results may have more to so with the fact that the state contribution to public education has dropped from 55 percent in 1975 to 36 percent in 2001, the hillbilly politicians in the Pennsyltucky parts of the state have done a fine job convincing voters outside the more educated areas that funding schools in Philadelphia is throwing money down a "black hole." (Emphasis on the word "black," since color plays a very large part in these funding decisions.)

But don't worry, the charter schools-privatization crowd has bought off some prominent black politicians, too, so at least the payoffs are color-blind.

Here's the thing: It's not the school district's fault that Pennsylvania funds its schools through an inequitable system of property taxes, nor that the state voters rejected attempts to fix that. It's not the district's fault that Gov. Tom Corbett (PA's own Scott Walker) has once again drastically cut education funding (especially reimbursement toward the same charter schools that were pushed on districts) — even though the same old divisive voices convince voters it is.

The Philadelphia schools pay an average of $7,000 per pupil. The suburban districts? Almost double. We could probably do better if we had that kind of money. (And that "average figure" is misleading, anyway. It includes special education funding. If you separate it from the total money spent - which you should, because it's a dedicated funding stream that can't be spent on anything else — you'll find that the number spent per average student is far lower. Urban districts include far more at-risk students, who usually require more special ed money.)

The charter schools that were going to save our poorest students? One scandal after another. What else would you expect when politicians are doing favors for their friends? Have you ever noticed that only poor people get charter schools? It's easier to steal from poor people. And it's such an uplifting way to bring back segregation!

And don't even get me started on mandates. That's where the bulk of school spending goes, not teacher salaries or benefits. You know where the mandates come from? Special interest groups. I remember one school solicitor explaining to me how the construction industry lobbied to get a certain amount of fresh air required for special ed classrooms. No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top each added more layers, more costs and limited funding.

Oh yeah, that's the other thing about mandates. Usually, they're only funded long enough to get the politicians through the next election cycle, and then the school districts are left holding the bag. Oy.

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook asked former Bush education official Diane Ravitch to look at the reorganization plan:

If Philadelphia is looking to New York City as the exemplar of "best practices" for improving schools by organizing them into support networks, it is looking in the wrong place, according to historian and education analyst Diane Ravitch.

"New York City has not had any great success," said Ravitch, in town Wednesday for the conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "New York used to boast of dramatic test score gains, but they disappeared in 2010."

In that year, the state's Department of Education acknowledged that the cut scores had been dropping on the standardized tests. "All the gains disappeared," she said.

[...] She also pointed out that during this period New York City doubled its spending on education – something that clearly isn't happening in Philadelphia. What improvements there may have been therefore cannot be isolated as the result of the networks as opposed to more resources, she said.

Beyond that, Ravitch said, there is scant evidence in general that school privatization is successful.

Ravitch, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under both President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton, was a big booster of No Child Left Behind and standardized testing and a proponent of market-based reforms including charter schools.

But she did an about-face several years ago when she determined that high-stakes testing has led to gaming the system and a narrowing of education to test prep. She now says that charters and privatization only lead to more social and educational stratification and allow those she termed "right wingers" to avoid paying for strategies and programs that address poverty.

Plus, she said, education should not be privatized; she calls it an "abdication of public responsibility."

Philadelphia's leaders have taken pains to say that they are about creating a system of public schools, District-run and charter, designed to better serve all children and give parents choices. Ravitch said that doesn't work because charters serve a sorting function and often improve scores by shedding the most troublesome students.

Some Philadelphia charter schools – former District schools given to charters for "turnaround" – are required to serve the neighborhood.

Ravitch, who lives in New York and has written extensively about its schools, reviewed Philadelphia's sweeping reorganization plan that calls for the creation of "achievement networks" and continued growth in charter schools – all in the atmosphere of bare-bones resources and relentless budget cuts.

She was not impressed, saying that it largely follows a blueprint of school privatization that she said has little evidence behind it.

I'm still so angry, I can't see straight. This is wrong. This is evil. And it's un-American. Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report puts it this way:

The fix has been in for a long time, and not just in Philadelphia. Philly's school problems are anything but unique. The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don't want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don't need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making “educational entrepreneurs” are the way to go. The business class can pocket the money which used to pay for teachers' and custodians' retirement and health benefits, for music and literature and gym classes, for sports and science labs and theater and all that other stuff that used to be wasted on public school children.

The national vision of ruling Democrats and Republicans and the elites who fund them is to starve, discredit, denounce and strangle public education. Philly and its children, parents, communities and teachers are only the latest victims of business-class school reform. And they won't be the last.

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