Rhee Vs. Ravitch in Philadelphia

Diane Ravitch’s blog, 9/27/13

As it happened, Michelle Rhee and I nearly crossed paths in Philadelphia. This article describes our contrasting visions for the public schools of Philadelphia. She spoke on September 16, in a panel that included George Parker, the former head of the Washington Teachers Union, who now works for Rhee, and Steve Perry, ex-CNN commentator.

Governor Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from the schools in 2011, while cutting corporate taxes. He later added back a small part of the cut, but he left many districts in terrible fiscal trouble.

Philadelphia public schools have a deficit of $300 million, and thousands of staff have been laid off, including teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, librarians, and many others. Bear in mind that the Philadelphia public schools have been under state control for more than a decade. During that time, Superintendent Paul Vallas launched the nation’s most sweeping privatization experiment, which failed, according to independent evaluations.

According to this article (and in an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer), Rhee saw the fiscal crisis as an opportunity to introduce performance pay. How that would close the budget deficit was unclear.

In my presentation at the Philadelphia Free Library, I read the language of the state constitution, which unequivocally assigns responsibility to the
state of Pennsylvania to support a thorough and efficient education for every child. That is not the case today. Governor Tom Corbett expects the state-controlled School Reform Commission to squeeze savings out of the teachers’ contracts, cutting salaries, benefits, and laying off more teachers. That is not the way to go.

Someday the children of Philadelphia will be the voters of Pennsylvania or some other state. They must be educated to choose their leaders wisely. Someday these children may sit on a jury where YOU will be judged. Just hope that they have the wisdom, knowledge, and compassion to judge you fairly. My view: The children of Philadelphia are as worthy of a good education as the children in the nearby suburbs. They need small classes, experienced teachers, arts programs, well-maintained facilities, guidance counselors, libraries staffed by librarians, up-to-date technology. They need what the parents in the suburbans want for their children. And they deserve nothing less.


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