“In Philadelphia today,” tweeted Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp last Thursday. “So much more to be done, but I can’t get over the progress in this city’s schools in the last decade!” Bizarrely, the occasion for that comment was the School Reform Commission’s approval of a doomsday budget that eliminates funding of librarians, sports, arts programs and counselors, cutting about 3,000 jobs in a district that’s already eliminated thousands of teachers and staff. Outrage came quickly, and Kopp soon mounted an e-pology.
Kopp’s tweet, however, didn’t reflect poor timing. Rather, it offered a refreshingly honest look at how the corporate-inspired reform movement views urban public schools. Segregated and chronically underfunded districts are laboratories for the self-appointed revolutionaries; the past decade of crisis, an opportunity for creative destruction via expensive and unregulated charter-school growth, high-stakes standardized testing, layoffs and union busting.
Privatization and testing remain core elite priorities despite abundant evidence that they’ve failed. The permanent crisis of school closings and budget shortfalls succeeds only in demoralizing students, parents and teachers — and driving them away from a district pathologized as irreparably dysfunctional.
Philly students disproportionately live in poverty, but the pro-charter school-choice movement that seeks to uplift them is flush with cash. Take Kopp defender Jonathan Cetel, who heads an organization called PennCAN that advocates for tax-credit subsidies for private schools (“vouchers lite”). Its national parent organization, 50CAN, in 2011 received nearly $2 million from the Walton Foundation. Teach for America and charter schools got tens of millions of dollars more. That’s philanthropy from a family that has fomented gaping inequality; six Walmart heirs control as much wealth as the poorest 30 percent of Americans. Then there’s millions from the Gates, Broad and William Penn foundations. Pro-business politicians in both parties, including Mayor Nutter and Gov. Corbett, are also on board.
The alternative to mass privatization is mass activism. Last fall, the Chicago teachers’ strike boasted popular support thanks to hard-won community alliances. The Philly Federation of Teachers must follow suit. Schools statewide are in crisis, and a political majority for fair funding is waiting to be organized. To win, the movement must be bigger, broader, louder and more militant. The doomsday budget is morally unacceptable. It must become politically impossible.
. @wendykopp On a day that even District officials said was a dark day for #phillyeducation, your tone deafness is stunning.— Helen Gym (@ParentsUnitedPA) May 31, 2013
See the related Storify post on our news blog, Naked City.
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