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Anger, frustration envelop Philadelphia schools

By Kathy Matheson, Associated Press
ABC News
June 12, 2012

The school system’s chief recovery officer was trying to explain how broke the district is, but no one could hear him.

“Save our schools! Save our schools!”

More than 200 protesters had packed the Philadelphia school board meeting and were drowning out the official presentation; they also waved signs expressing “No confidence” in next year’s austere budget. It was the second major demonstration at district headquarters in just over a week.

The City of Brotherly Love is boiling over with frustration. It’s not just the $700 million in education cuts this past year. It’s not just a loss of state aid, which led to a massive rally and 14 arrests. And it’s not just the plan to close 40 of Philadelphia’s 249 schools within a year.

“For 10 years we’ve lived with promises that privatization and choice options would be the magic bullet to a lot of the problems,” said parent Helen Gym. “What we found is chasing after these silver bullets has really drained schools of resources and starved them to the point of dysfunction.”

Like many other cash-strapped urban districts, Philadelphia is trying desperately to emerge from a quagmire of red ink and underachievement. A state takeover in 2002 did little to eradicate the financial, academic and violence problems that have plagued the schools for years.

Philadelphia badly lags the national average in reading and math scores, ranking below even peer districts like New York, Houston and Miami. About 61 percent of local students graduate from high school; only 35 percent get a college degree.

Now, a new cadre of district leaders is determined to develop a fiscally sustainable system of safe, high-quality schools for the city’s 146,000 students. Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen has proposed cutting hundreds of central office jobs, creating management networks to

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Gingrich and Sharpton – An Odd Couple for Education, But Not the First

al-newtTomorrow, on his continuing education tour, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be joined in Philadelphia by two gentlemen who because of their obvious differences on many levels are called the Odd Couple of education.  I applaud strange bedfellows – when they make things happen for kids. With this one, I’m not so sure.

The first real Odd Couples of education led some of the nation’s most fundamental shifts in education, shifts that had once been considered radical.  Looking back through the past sixteen years, it’s clear that while education reform has changed dramatically, broad, mainstream support for bold changes in education existed then, just as they do now.  It was just much less hip to say so.

Then, policymakers who led the fight for charter schools, merit pay (as it was called in those days), vouchers and the like were accused of being part of the vast right wing conspiracy and generally anti-public education, despite the fact that such nomenclature didn’t fit then, just as it does not now. CER’s first work celebrated legislators like Pennsylvania Democrat Dwight Evans, who joined hands with Republican Tom Ridge to pass that state’s charter bill.  Miami Urban League head T. Willard Fair teamed up with Governor Jeb Bush to bring vouchers to Florida, following in the steps of Representative Polly Williams, a former Black Panther, in league with conservative Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

These were the first, real Odd Couples of the modern education reform movement.  They were bold, tenacious, and courageous to cross party lines, incur the wrath of unions together and suffer all sorts of education establishment slurs. (more…)

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