Vicious Reform Cycle Taking a Toll on Philly Schools
From the Parents United for Public Education:
For months, public and district officials have claimed that school closings are necessary if we’re going to address our fiscal crisis. After all, the District has threatened to close anywhere between 29-57 schools this year alone to close the financial hole. But do school closings actually save the District money?
In 2011, a national report from the Pew Foundation noted that Districts tend to overestimate the amount of money they’ll gain from a school sale and often have difficulty moving schools in struggling neighborhoods. The report noted how unsold buildings can languish for years on the market and become a neighborhood eyesore. Walton Elementary has remained empty since 2003 before its announced sale this week.
Are some school closings necessary? Yes. But a mass school closings effort under the pretense of closing a fiscal gap is a stretch that parents should approach with caution, skepticism and data.
Nearly fourteen years worth of incentive based reform movements coupled with declining public school enrollments have wreaked havoc on the School District of Philadelphia. Between 2000 and 2011 Philadelphia public schools have seen a 23% decline in enrollments which prompted numerous school closures. However since 1998, inadequate state funding in Philadelphia public schools coupled with academic concerns ushered in reform movements that tied school funding packages to school governance reform. Consequently, Philadelphia educators and residents are stuck in a vicious cycle which has exacerbated the need to close schools. As School Reform Commission officials accept money to cover fiscal shortfalls, they are in turn required to implement reform through charter school expansion. Moreover, Commission officials are still charged with the responsibility to update and improve existing public school facilities.
Philadelphia parents behind Parents United for Public Education are correct. More Philadelphia school closures will not fix fiscal shortcomings since School Reform Commission officials are not involved in a consolidation process through their retrenchment policies. Instead, officials are participating in an expansion process through reform. Unfortunately, officials have mismanaged declining enrollments and have underestimated the need to consolidate district schools and revise their mission to enhance existing educational programs and schools. The push to expand charter school personnel and programs to transform declining schools has actually created a structural problem in Philadelphia. This is NOT going to be pretty…