Philadelphia School Reform Commission - travesty wrapped in a tragedy - either way the kids lose

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

Well, the so-called hearings and "decisions" on charter school applications have come and "gone"  - having had the unique privilege of watching the entire thing play out first hand, up close and personal, I have to say without fear of contradiction, that the School Reform Commission wouldn't know a decent educational curriculum if it came up and sat on their collective laps.

School Reform Committee at Final Day of Charter School Hearing

By the way, before I go further, anyone who was surprised that Mastery and Kipp were given additional charter approvals, raise your hands!! Really?

The sad thing is that there perhaps was once a real reason for the formulation of a School Reform Commission - back in 2001 when Philadelphia was clearly in trouble and there needed to be some means by which the disparate factions could be brought under control.  However, it's been nearly 15 years since their inception and the educational system in Philadelphia has gotten  progressively

The operation of excising 31 schools from the public school system in Philadelphia "in order to save money" was s joke.  It's like a cardiologist having a patient under cardiac arrest on the operation table and  saying, "if we cut out the heart, there won't be a need for so much blood."  Which is exactly what they did - they cut out the heart of the public education system, and thought that they would do a bandaid replenishment by replacing 31 public schools with a mere hand picked, corporately owned and run charter schools.  Now that's reform.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that three of the five commission members were appointed by the ersatz governor, Tom Corbett, whom the voters wisely sent packing after his success in making their lives miserable for the last four years.  The problem is that some of his minions are still in place and are still sticking it to the people.  The song has ended but the malady lingers on under the guise of a school reform commission that has done nothing but exacerbate the problem that thousands of school children, teachers, parents and administrators face on a daily basis.

I wonder if any of their children attend the public schools they've so systematically eviscerated?  Most likely not! 

The truly sad thing about this is the closing of schools in key communities without regard for the impact it had on the community or the students, not to mention families. 

The travesty the SRC perpetrated against Philadelphians in general, students and educators in particular, should be considered criminal.  It's definitely an unconscionable act of depraved indifference.  Just as much as was their move to deprive teachers of their health benefits in a preemptive move, while they were still in negotiation with the teachers unions.  It shows how little they regard the educators who strive and struggle under too small a budget, with too little resources in buildings that have been the victims of deferred maintenance - and then someone speaks of the morale level??? Really!!!

Someone once said that if a foreign power had invaded the US and shut down their schools in key neighborhoods, denied teachers the financial wherewithal they needed to properly educate their students, allowed the buildings to become dilapidated and simultaneously siphoned off funds that would correct those problems and help greater majority  and allocated them to a select minority, it would be considered an act of war.  They also stated that if it was done by an American who was placed in a position of trust and responsibility, but was simultaneously doing everyting to undermine those most in need, it would be considered an act of treason.  I think it fits the description of the SRC - and I think Philadelphia would do well to sue them for dereliction of duty and the denigration of the Philadelphia School District in the main.

I further think that Governor Wolf would do well to immediately suspend their powers over the educational system and restore a board of education system to the City of Philadelphia, which would have broad based powers to reinstate the schools, upgrade them, and possibly through an amalgamation of efforts, implement some of the wonderful proposals that were presented to the SRC during the past several months that they were too ignorant or thick to understand the merits of.  With a few exceptions, the proposals were exemplary - with some creativity they could have such a broad positive generative effect on the improvement of the  Philadelphia school system, that if given the full support they deserve, would turn the entire school system around in less than three years.  The consolidation of efforts, as opposed to the divide and conquer - using a melange of legalese to couch their ignorance - shows that the SRC is a joke.  Rather than see the merits of the proposals they would rather cite obscure litigation.

Where is the creativity?  Philadelphia has more colleges per square inch than any other city on the East Coast - but the students who are emerging from the educational system are not the ones going there - in fact it appears that there are more students coming from other areas than there are local students - why is that?  Because the SRC doesn't know beans about education!! These are political appointees - not educators in the main!  Interesting, isn't it? 

Mayor Michael A, Nutter has said on more than one occasion that what the SRC is doing to the educational system in Philadelphia is criminal  But, prior to Governor Wolf, those words were falling on deaf ears.  Corbett who decried the so called deficit in funds for the public schools, and the SRC who tried to balance the budget by firing teachers, closing schools, and getting rid of teacher health benefits, managed to award $140 million to build a library at Temple University.  Really???

In the mean time the SRC has the audacity to try to take the teachers union to Supreme Court to further demoralize them - while at the same time further shoring up the coffers of the Charter schools. Judge McCullough had ruled against them and overturned their efforts to deny teachers health care). There appears to be some misconception that there have to be either charter schools or public schools.  When the truth of the matter is that, according to the Constitution, every child has the right to a full, quality public education - THE RIGHT - it did not say charter school.  Charter schools are alternative educational opportunities - but are not meant to be given precedence over PUBLIC EDUCATION - there is a responsibility - and the people of the City of Philadelphia should be suing the SRC and the State for their children's right to decent educations.

It appears that the "R" in SRC really stands for RUIN as opposed to reform.  In an effort to copy New York City, the SRC managed to get the State to pass a tax on cigarettes which was to benefit the schools - however the trick bag is that the taxes are going to shore up charter schools, not the public schools.  Not only that, the so called "sin" tax in New York hasn't benefited the school system - at least it didn't under Bloomberg - it may have a fighting chance under DeBlasio.  But, if I still smoked, I'd make it my business to advocate that smokers buy cigarettes anywhere but Philly until they got it right and made sure the funds were allocated proportionately to the public schools.  Taxation without representation - where did we hear that one before?

Had it not been for Mayor Nutter's quick thinking and concern for Philly's students and educators, the impact of the closure of 30 schools could have been much worse. When an "authority" summarily and simultaneously closes so many schools in one municipality because "public schools are failing" one has to look askance at that authority, because actually and in all reality they are the ones who are failing the schools, the students, the educators - not the other way around.  They have been little more than tools for the former ersatz governor, while walking around with a title for which they have no entitlement.  They have pretty much been a schill to do Corbett's dirty work, while those who need the most help are left to flounder in the carcasses of what's left of the school system they are actually helping to kill.

Philadelphians locked out of SRC Charter School Hearings

No where was this more obvious than at the February 18 hearing/decision held at 440 N. Broad Street - Five hours of testimony - summations from earnest educators, parents, students, citizens, community activists, as well as those who stood firmly for Public Education - with their banners, petitions, and speakers giving very salient reasons why the SRC should not be adding charter schools until they healed the problems of the public schools - people stood outside wanting to get in - people concerned about their children's educations, schools, communities - in the freezing cold  - in the middle of the day - people who took off from work - the line was down the block on Broad Street - kudos to Philly for caring - Shame on the SRC for not caring.

Joe Budd of Germantown Community Charter School Testifying

Out of 39 applications they selected (pre-selected many have speculated) five schools.  Wow!  They close 31 schools - have 39 charter applicants, and only select 5 out of the aggregate - so let's see now, if you borrow one from three, that's 11 - take away 5 - that leaves 6 - so that means Philadelphia is short 26 schools - but wait! they shut down 2 charters - so that means that Philadelphia is down 28 schools!! Now how many students were displaced when they shut down the 31 schools?  How many of them dropped out in disgust or discouragement?  How many teachers did we lose?  Counselors, administrators - families moving out of the community?  Hmmm - Yes the "R" stands for Ruin in SRC.

The charter schools game is hyped by private interest groups under the guise of providing better quality education - well if they have better quality educations protocols and curricula, let them provide it in partnership with the public schools as opposed to the displacement of the public schools.

Some of the rationalizations the SRC gave for not selecting specific applicants - Germantown Community Charter School, for example, shows that they had not only already made a decision early on, but that they didn't even follow their own guidelines in making their determinations.  There were criteria that GCCS which were not included in either their application forms or their guidelines.  The requirement for a specific format for community support, which they noted in their critique, was not delineated in their application - or instruction.  The requirement to have a school program design that might be replicated by other schools, while simultaneously stating that the school had to have their own autonomous standards for punishment and dismissal of students, was likewise a major error of omission on their part.

Rep. Stephen Kinsey & Julie Carroll of Germantown Community Charter School Committee

The time has come for the SRC to go.  What Philadelphia need is a EDUCATIONAL TRANSFORMATION COALITION (ETC) - which will transform the educational system into a comprehensive, overarching, well run machine, inculcating curricula that is living, breathing, creative, viable, disciplined, and applicable locally, nationally and internationally.  It can incorporate some old fashioned didactic standards with the nuances of STEAM programs, with value systems, and multicultural formats that foster the integration of languages and other practical hands on interaction that fosters applicability as well as theory.

When you figure that the waiting list for charter schools is long and getting longer, as the public schools are being more and more neglected, an ETC  can bring all the stake holders to the table and begin to consolidate the best of the best - which will transform Philadelphia into a feeder school system to local colleges and universities as well as those across the nation and abroad.  Other countries and cultures have benefited from developing such an over arching program - and the fact that Philadelphia is scraping the bottom of the educational barrel there is no where to go but up!

And, instead of denigrating tests and measurements - a misbegotten concept - how else would you know whether the student is comprehending and can apply what he or she is learning; how else can one determine whether or not the educator is going a positive job of educating?  Interesting how we get pulled into these side issues, and by the time we find out that they're bogus, our children have lost even more educational ground.  It makes better sense to teach students how to take tests competently and confidently, than to throw out the baby with the bath water.  When a student applies for a position, a scholarship, a job, he or she is tested - if she or he can't handle the test, she or he does not get the job, or the scholarship, etc.  Rather than feeding people with negative mis-information, proper preparation will ameliorate most of the problems that are being hyped. 

Kudos to the activists and supporters of Public Schools who turned out emasse to make sure their voices were heard - and were they ever!! The signs and placards pointed up the fact that there is still a community activist spirit alive and well and living in Philadelphia.  Singing "My Country Tis of Thee" and "Oh Freedom," they pointed up the egregious disparity in the quality of service rendered by the SRC.

 Demonstrators against Charter Schools top and bottom photos

Those who spent the time day in and day out working diligently to put together the comprehensive curriculum and data - something that the SRC doesn't seem to do so well, or else the school system would have been reformed by now - kudos to you as well.

There are appeals to be generated, and come consolidation of efforts to negotiate - I hope that, going forward, some of the obstacles that you faced in you initial foray are no longer in existence.The formulation of an ETC - EDUCATION TRANSFORMATION COALITION - will make all the difference in the world on so many levels. 

Stay Blessed &


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