NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Opportunity to Reform Philadelphia Schools Fades

March 20, 2002

Last year, Pennsylvania lawmakers acknowledged Philadelphia's schools were among the worst performing in the country, a system where only 13 percent of 11th graders could read a newspaper with any comprehension. The schools, critics said, were merely a vast jobs program for special interests -- from administrators to custodians.

Lawmakers appointed a School Reform Commission to restructure the district's administration. But the mission was hijacked.

  • The contract was originally supposed to go to a private entity, Edison Schools, which would audit the system and come up with a reform program.
  • But defenders of the status quo turned the issue from school reform to Edison itself by moving the goal to "consensus."
  • Pennsylvania's Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker succumbed to the pressure and agreed: (1) Edison would not actually run the central administration but only consult; (2) the top 55 district executive jobs would not be privatized; and (3) the city's Democratic Mayor was allowed to fill two seats on the Reform Commission with two members of the old school board that the commission was supposed to replace.
  • The School Reform Commission, however, can still turn the entire school district into charter schools -- and state officials warn that unless the SRC sticks to the plan, a promised $75 million in new funding which the district badly needs won't make it through the legislature.

Nevertheless, the old guard remains adamant. The president of a union representing 4,000 district employees warns that the reformers "don't know what hostility is," and adds "we're not backing off of anything."

The School Reform Commission is supposed to announce Friday whether the contract will go to Edison or not.

Source: William McGurn, "Philadelphia Dims Edison's Lights," Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2002


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