I read Meredith Broussard’s recent Atlantic article, “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing” and shook my head in exasperation: nothing changes in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania… and worse: the solution isn’t more tests or more penalties or more charter schools: it’s more carefully spent money.
Based on the information presented in the Atlantic article here’s what hasn’t changed in Philadelphia since I was a teacher at Shaw Junior High School:
- There aren’t enough books
- There aren’t enough administrators
- There aren’t enough teachers
- The central administration is overwhelmed with paperwork
- Technology is outdated and under-supported
- As measured by standardized tests, students are performing poorly
Here’s what is different:
- The state controls the schools (and has for roughly two decades) because they can do a better job… but student performance has not improved one iota since the State takeover.
- Many of the schools are operated by privatized charters, because the private sector can solve the problems better than the “government run” schools… but for-profit charters have not improved student performance even though they draw from the children of engaged parents.
- The per pupil spending gap is wider as compared to surrounding suburban school districts because “money can’t solve the problems”… even though parents and community members in the suburban districts willingly pay more for their better schools… oh.. and those schools DO have textbooks for each child and sophisticated data systems to monitor the allocation of resources and progress of each-and-every student.
- The central administration emphasizes the ineffectiveness of teachers instead of the needs of students. Mark Shedd and Matt Costanza, the Superintendents in the late 60s and early 1970s, spoke eloquently in defense of the hard work teachers were doing and the challenges they faced given the effects of poverty. Since then: it’s all about bad teaching.
And… based on the information presented in the Atlantic article here’s what hasn’t changed in Pennsylvania since I was an administrator in suburban Philadelphia in the mid-1970s: economically disadvantaged students do poorly on standardized achievement tests and students in affluent districts do better and the test results are used to draw the conclusion that schools serving children raised in poverty are “failing” and schools serving children raised in affluence are “good”.
Broussard’s article presents the stark reality of public education in Philadelphia without judgment… and it’s not a pretty picture.
Today’s NYTimes had an article by Michael Shear describing Obama’s latest plan to address the crumbling infrastructure: private-public partnerships. This is a terrible idea. By taking this tack, the President is tacitly acknowledging that the Federal Government cannot provide the most basic of services any longer. If your part of the country has billionaires or large corporations you will get good roads, predictable electrical services, safe drinking water, and adequate police protection. Otherwise, you better pay your local and State taxes or otherwise take your chances… But not to worry: your locality will be able to make lots of revenue if you allow fracking, are willing to compromise your local environment to allow large corporations to build factories manned by robots, or have any kind of extractable resources that can be obtained cheaply.
What does this mean for schools? Greater and greater differences between schools based on zip codes and less regulation and funding from all levels of government except the local level. After all, if we are going to fund roads based on user fees, why should we fund schools any differently?