October 6, 2017
Phony Turnarounds: Just Another Reason Why Philadelphia Needs School Leadership with Transparency, Accountability
Last month, the School District of Philadelphia announced that six schools would be slated for dramatic shake-ups: Edward Steel, Edward Gideon, Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, Wagner, James Rhoads, and Penn Treaty.
This “restructuring” process, which in other schools has included drastic turnover of staff and outsourcing of school functions, has been met with wariness from parents, students, and faculty at those schools and throughout the District.
There is little evidence that these reforms have worked at other schools. There is little transparency about why these particular schools were chosen.
In other words, this process fits neatly into the legacy of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, where accountability and transparency have been lacking since the SRC’s inception.
The Legacy of the SRC
Too many of the District’s signature reforms under the SRC have lacked evidence to justify them and accountability for improving our schools. Think about the Promise Academies whose promised funding evaporated. Or the years of authorizing charters that devastated the District’s budget without evidence that is has left Philadelphia students better off. Remember Edison Schools? Maybe not, because after being given 20 Philadelphia schools to manage in 2002, they managed to underperform so badly they were driven out of all of them.
This lack of transparency and accountability is baked into the history of the SRC. Like when the SRC chair received a scathing report by the Mayor’s chief integrity officer because he ignored conflicts of interest and his own recusal to put his personal and financial ties above the needs and preferences of King High School. He stayed on as chair for six months afterwards. He was later fined for previous ethics violations committed while serving as chair.
How about when the SRC voted unanimously on more than 98 percent of resolutions over nearly a 2-year span? It’s hard to imagine a clearer demonstration that all real decision-making was happening behind closed doors.
A lack of transparency and accountability is built into the structure of the SRC. This is not about any individual members – even if the newest members were literally saints, that would not protect us from the reality that a potential governor Scott Wagner would get to replace a governing majority in his first term.
Enough Is Enough
The Our City Our Schools Coalition stands with the communities resisting the District’s unproven and dangerous “reforms.” We cannot trust any process initiated by this unaccountable, un-transparent body. Enough is enough.
Written by Jesse Gottschalk, a teacher at Lea Elementary school and member of the Caucus of Working Educators