Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Educational Misadventure: Woe is Me, the SDP

In today's case, the SDP is, of course, the School District of Philadelphia. Woe is me, indeed.

"What we know through a lot of history and evidence and practice is that the current system doesn't work," Ramos said.  (Pedro Ramos - School Reform Commission Chairman)

Dominating Philly.com's homepage earlier today were three stories about the school district. These stories are covering what has become the humdrum rallying cry of school districts across the nation: we are short on money, citizens of ______, please help us.

The School District of Philadelphia is projecting a $218 million deficit for school year 2012 - 2013, and those figures are assuming passage of a controversial Actual Value Initiative (think: More Taxes!). Without the passage of AVI, the budget gap will be wider, and will simply grow with time. It is hard to say why the citizens of Philadelphia should pay more taxes, except that it is the "right" thing to do in times like these. Citizens of Philadelphia pay a city tax, a state tax, and a federal tax for the privilege of living and working in Philly. (This should explain to you why many people neither live nor work in Philly....therefore reducing the tax base and removing young, upwardly mobile people from Our Fair City). Philly has a thriving welfare state, where many, many people are on subsidized housing and government assistance. It seems wrong to demand that the people who actually pay property taxes should pay more when there are many vacant properties with absentee landlords and  thousands of work-age people who could also contribute in some way.

But I digress: the issues of a city-wide dependence on welfare are for another day.

Per pupil spending in Philadelphia was $6,345.26 per child per year last year,with a 49% college bound rate.  This  number is so absurdly low considering that 33% of students in Philly live at or below the poverty line, and is especially absurd when you contrast per pupil spending in the city with spending in the higher-income suburbs like Jenkintown ($14,473.49 with an 87% college bound rate) and Lower Merion ($15,484.33 with a 93% college bound rate).

Understanding the inherent inequity in access based on funding that Philadelphia is dealing with, and coupling that lack of funding with the serious social issues that students in Philadelphia are facing, it is a slap in the face that Governor Corbett has chosen to cut education across the state, but focus his attention on ten school districts with extreme cuts. Of those ten, nine are in the greater Philadelphia area and four of them have above average poverty concentrations. In contrast, Pittsburgh is actually receiving more funds this coming school year than last. It would seem that Governor Corbett is out to attack and destroy those districts who need the most help; therefore saying that the results of urban blight, white flight, and the dismantling of social services are the fault of every child in Philly who attends a public school. Clearly, these children are making the decisions that are leading to the high dropout rates, lack of opportunity, and high rates of violence within their city.

The current plan is to close underused and failing schools and redistribute students to charters and to other public schools. 

If you paid attention to last year's news on Philly public schools, you may remember the protests at the creation of the Renaissance schools. This latest attempt by the SDP to deal with their problem by cutting one end of the blanket and sewing it to the other side is indicative of a larger problem: a system-wide unwillingness to look at urban districts that are showing results and changing for the better. Philly public schools are a screaming mess, and their funding is being reduced, again. 

The answer does not only come from increasing funding, however. The District must do something to address the abhorrent violence in schools, and the de facto acceptance of that violence. In addition, the District must do something about a teacher's union that is so strong that it controls any and all "reform" to such a point where there is no reform at all. This teacher's union is crippling itself and cutting its own legs off, but most importantly, it is cutting the heads of the future of America: the students. When teachers are paid a very high salary for doing nothing, when tenure is a part of K-12 education and teachers who are unionized are given no sort of requirements for keeping their jobs, and when energetic, young teachers are the first to be fired because they have not "paid their dues", you have a system designed to soothe and coddle the careers of adults. Nowhere in this mess of a system are the students' future lives being discussed. The lip service of the SDP, and of the state of Pennsylvania in general, toward equity, diversity and closing the achievement gap is laughable.

No comments:

Post a Comment