You're not speaking to me, Mr. Knudsen

It's election day. Vote! But let's remember we vote for the key issues we care about. Top of the list is the bomb out of 440 that the District faces a billion dollar cumulative deficit by 2017, will close 40 schools next year and another 24 by 2017, and put 40% of students in charters by 2017. Doing so would result in an 85% academic success rate, the District predicts. Tom Knudsen is the gas industry exec now heading up Philly schools as a short-term "Chief Recovery Officer." Recently the District contracted with Boston Consulting Group for $1.4M to develop a turnaround plan for schools. Knudsen announced the plan yesterday and made it public today.

Dear Mr. Knudsen:

I am a mother of three children in District and charter schools in this city. I have been actively involved in stopping good schools from decline and helping low-performing violent schools turnaround. I believe in the essentialness of a quality public school system and have fought for its vision. My 7th grade son will soon outlast four superintendents including yours. And I’m here to tell you that you’re not speaking to me.

You’re not speaking to me with this brand of disaster capitalism that tries to shock a besieged public with unproven, untested and drastic action couched as “solutions.” You’re not speaking to me when you invoke language like “achievement networks,” “portfolio management,” and right-sizing our schools – and say not a word about lower class sizes or increasing the presence of loving support personnel or enriching our curriculum.

You’re not speaking to me when you plan to close 25% of our schools before my son graduates high school. You’re not speaking to me when you equate closing down 64 schools – many of them community anchors – as “streamlining operations” yet you’ll expand charter populations willy-nilly despite a national study showing two thirds of Philly charters are no better or worse than District managed schools.

You’re not talking to me when your promises of autonomy come minus any resources, and when the best you have to offer parents is “seat expansion” – which just means larger class sizes without extra funds. You’re not talking to me when you say all schools are public schools. They are not.

You’re not talking to me when you’ll go out of your way to spend more than a $1 million for six week consultants with whom you’ll boast of an “intimate, hands in glove” relationship yet exclude community and public voices till you’re ready to drop the bomb. You’re not speaking to me when you’ll go to any extreme to radically transform “education delivery” yet the most basic things parents and staff and students have called for – more teachers in our schools, bilingual counselors, nurses in every school, librarians, fresh food in the cafeteria, new buildings and playgrounds – are completely and utterly absent from your “plan.”

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been around the block a few times.

We've had ten years of state takeover which called for privatization, EMOs, charters and outsourcing to solve fiscal instability and academic achievement, and we're here ten years later, privatized, chartered and tested to no end bankrupt and academically underperforming.

We’ve seen how promises of an 85% success rate fall flat when all they’re based on is rhetoric and no plan on how to achieve it; James Nevels’ SRC tried that. Contracts will do that? Sorry we’ve been around that block too. Ask yourself where the 2002 purported savior of Philly and Chester education, Edison Schools Inc., is today. Ask the Truebright Academy Charter parents how it felt when their five year contract didn’t work out, or consider ten years of Foundations Inc. at Martin Luther King High School that ended up with a school arguably worse off than when it started.

We’ve seen how privatization and charters have done little to radically impact systemic achievement and improve education. There are some great charters out there but no more than there are great public schools.

We’re tired of the ridiculous labeling of schools as high-performing and low-performing. The label-mentality assumes schools are in permanent stasis rather than in varying stages of evolution and devolution highly dependent on resources and institutional priority. By simply expanding high-performing seat capacity and closing down low-performing schools, you fail to understand or even seek to understand the very elements that make a level of performance possible. You don’t understand schools, you don’t understand success and failure, and you don’t understand how change happens.

I believe in something. I actually believe in the value of institutions, despite having been burned by them plenty of times. I believe that professional educators overall do a better job than the hucksters and hustlers and ideologues scoring off of public education’s demise (with studies to prove it). I believe in the possibility of school transformation and the role community and parent voices play in concert with schools and Districts. I believe in the value of the public sphere and the responsibilities it owes to the most marginalized of communities, our immigrant students, special needs populations and young people struggling with disciplinary issues. I believe in real creative innovation in our classrooms, not the drill and kill test prep replicated in too many of these “high performing” charters you tout. I believe in a vision of schools that is aspirationally led rather than deficit based. Your focus on the bottom brings everyone down.

I believe our communities have always been there to pick up the pieces after administrations of hubris pass on. And I believe our public schools are worth fighting for.

Mr. Knudsen, these are the things which speak to me. So if you’re not speaking to me, who are you speaking to?

Note to YPP users

Hugely important. Well said. I need to think about how huge this is before commenting more.

Given there are only so many places for people to talk about this stuff, I dialed back our spam controls, which should let more people create accounts. Hopefully the spambots cannot go too crazy.

The Mayor has to answer for this

My first thought is that this is now the Mayor's SRC, and the Mayor needs to start talking. I missed this part of his election and re-election platforms.

i don't recally that platform either

I didn't realize we had to destroy the district to save it.

This isn't so much abandoning our kids as it is throwing them to the wolves.

He's speaking to the corporatocracy . . .

that wants to own absolutely everything that's now a public asset, and turn them all into money centers. It's the same people who are trying to sell PGW, the same who want to put billboards up on everything, the same who want to sell all the City's land to big bucks developers, those who want to privatize prisons, those who think it's a big achievement to lock in the privileged tax status of hedge fund managers. It's the .000.............01%. And those of us not in that group need to get ourselves together and come up with a unified strategy to fight them before they own us too.

It can't be understated

It can't be understated how much money, effort and coordination there is to undo public ed in Philly. You've got a right wing pro-voucher machine in West Philadelphia, new legislative oriented national orgs popping up, Michelle Rhee's made multiple visits. And the problem really is that in 2001 when we fought the state takeover we had a Mayor and City Hall that resisted and took a defiant public stand against privatization. There's no vision on public ed at all.

Here's a quote by the way from Knudsen from today's Inquirer.

"I think we have to proceed down a path of basic reforming of the School District and moving into the whole idea of treating all schools as public schools as a first step."

Mr. Knudsen, parochial and private schools are not, nor will they ever be public schools. And they will be the first to say so. They have every right to serve whom they like. But they are not entitled to public dollars.

In a better universe

you're the head of a major city's SRC, Helen. Would that someone of your competence, with your passion and your knowledge of education, would head the SRC here.

Mayor Nutter should be ashamed of himself for his unqualified support for Knudsen.

Thanks for this post.

Nutter revealed himself as the tool he is

of the less than 1% when he vetoed earned leave legislation last year at the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce. His sole, and proudly stated, justification for doing it was a rent-a-paper written by a Chamber "consultant" that concluded the bill would be bad for business. In Nutter's mind, what big biz wants, is good for all of us. Now he's busy gifting the School District to the same band of robber barons that run the Chamber, taking them from the parents and students to whom they really belong, while also quietly trying to make working families pay the vast bulk of the local tax burden (more on that next week.) It is disgraceful that we let this man get away with pretending that he's remotely interested in advancing the needs of the people who elected him.


he really is horrible. I'm reminded of the time he wanted t shut down the libraries while insisting he wanted to stem the dropout rate.

of course HIS library, which had much lower traffic than Kingsessing or Fishtown, was spared. And of course HIS daughter will be on her way to college before these cuts have a chance to impact her. Nutter came out to my neighborhood and didn't even know that the local elementary school didn't have a library. he openly laughed at parents who expressed their concerns over closing the rec center. then we chased him away.

by the way, what's the point of AVI if there's no school district to save. Aren't the school supported by property taxes? Does this mean I won't have to pay taxes on my house anymore?

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