Sunday, January 18, 2009

Philly Road Trip / Philly’s Bruising Education Politics

I’m back from a trip to Philadelphia, where I picked up a copy of The Notebook, a terrific independent paper focusing on Philly’s public schools. The Notebook’s latest issue profiles new Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s plans to transform the Philly schools. Ackerman speaks in crisis terms about the state of schooling in the nation’s sixth largest city:
“The future for far too many of our poor students of color who attend our public schools is up for grabs. For some, it is teetering precariously. Unless those of us entrusted with their educational well-being take unprecedented actions on their behalf, they will not get a second chance.”

Ackerman, in planning her next steps, is talking about redistributing resources to schools in accordance with student needs, especially to failing schools. In a time where the funding pie is not growing, reallocating funding is a zero sum game. As Ackerman waits to roll-out her reform agenda, the language of crisis is rallying support for change, but will it be enough to quickly steamroll over those schools and communities who will lose funds? In New York City, Joel Klein announced school budget cuts in May 2008, with the cuts disproportionately hitting middle-class schools like Stuyvesant and Townsend Harris, but it was done (1) quietly, (2) with Klein acknowledging the “pain” and not relishing in the redistribution, and (3) in the context of a Keep It Going we’re-making-progress vocabulary. Maybe Ackerman should look to Klein’s strategy for guidance, as change doesn’t always need to be loudly announced.

p.s. The Eagles are down 24-19 but rallying. Go Donovan!

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