Wrong Answers To A Tough Problem

Philadelphia Public Schools are faced with two daunting problems. First, there is not enough funding to operate the district schools properly.   Second, most Philadelphia public schools fail to educate their children.

The local public’s familiarity with neighborhood schools has prevented the School District from closing enough school and gaining lower cost and greater efficiency. Both City and State officials have not found glory by avoiding the tough decisions on taxes necessary to fund the schools also. Filling out the non-helpers, teachers and their Union have stone walled negotiations thereby providing no economic relief.

A School Board strategy has emerged seeking “give backs” from teachers while at the same time moving as many existing schools to “Charter School” status. The rationale is that charter schools pay their teachers less and have far more flexible work rules. The School Board apparently believes that the Union will finally yield providing economic relief, and as a consequence, State lawmakers will reward the School District with addition funding on top. Hmmm.

While the Teachers’ Union position (stone walling) is understandable, it is also out of touch with the modern world. The endemic problems arising from the poverty stricken neighborhoods cannot be overcome with the current set of work rules.

It should be emphasized that Philadelphia’s failing schools are not caused by the Union or the teachers. What is the issue is that to over come these extraordinary community norms will require far more authority in the hands of School District Administrators. Charter Schools and Vouchers for Private (read parochial) Schools are simply red herrings when offered as a path forward.

These schools do not accept the full range of students found in Philadelphia’s worst schools. These schools also will not accept without additional funding students with learning disabilities.

A frightening realization is that at this point it is not clear (from public announcements) that the Superintendent of Schools, if given acceptable new work rules by the Union, has a plan to bring the educational experience under control. But if it isn’t the Superintendent, who could it be? Hmmm.

It appears that failing schools are the result of inadequate educational and social investments. Large pockets of the community have no comprehension (or seem to care) of their role in education. Other segments opt out by moving their children to Charters or Private Schools.

To over simplify, the Philadelphia school population will not respond to “Suburban School Methods”.

In out society, a benevolent dictator is rarely accepted, and certainly never accepted if forced upon the community. This strongly suggests that the Mayor and City Council must collaborate and under the School Superintendent’s leadership use their political skills and create an “in school” atmosphere where education can take place.

This implies steps to overcome hunger, enforce order and discipline, and provide a safe space (like “day care”) during the before and after schools hours. This approach may not succeed either. But the current path is heading for disaster.

This is not your grandmother’s educational world.

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