The Cruel Charter School Addiction in Philadelphia

hite0Dr. William Hite Jr is involved in charter schools fiasco in Philly. The lure and promise of magic with millions of dollars squandered on charter schools that are no better–and often worse–than the public schools is an endless blame game which appears to have no end in sight.

Eileen DiFranco, a retired school nurse in Philadelphia, describes an episode from “The Twilight Zone” in which a sober family man encounters slot machines in Las Vegas and becomes an addict. He can’t help himself. He gambles everything and can’t stop.

She compares this gambling fever to the charter school addiction of districts like Philadelphia. No matter how many charter schools fail, the district leaders led by Dr. William Hite Jr want more of them. They are in love with the lure and promise of magic and they can’t stop. Meanwhile, the public schools suffer as do the children who attend public schools, while millions are squandered on charter schools that are no better–and often worse–than the public schools.

She writes:

With their “no excuses” mantra, highly paid charter school CEOs promise school administrators that they will bring students up to grade level in no time at all. It all sounds so attractive. And believable. School districts all over the country have been sucked in by this big, brash idea that sounds wonderful on paper, but has largely failed to deliver on its promises. This has not stopped the charter school operators from repeating their claim of educational superiority over and over again until it takes on the ring of truth.

But the reality is that the charter schools’ claims contain more “truthiness” than actual truth. According to Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a national study by CREDO that many cited to tout the superior performance of charters actually found that “less than one hundredth of one percent (<0.01 percent) of the variation in test performance in reading is explainable by charter school enrollment.”

Let’s put that alleged 0.01 percent success rate into a Philadelphia perspective. The SRC has approved charter school establishment and expansion even while the traditional public schools languish. As children are injured, or even die, as did Laporshia Massey at Bryant Elementary, or as violence occurs, as it did at George Washington High School, the fault somehow lies with the resource-starved schools and not the SRC’s addiction to the lure of charter schools.

The underwhelming performance of charter schools for an overwhelming amount of money should set off alarms. Their quick solutions to educational woes follow the logic of past failures: Just hand over the money and we’ll do it all for you. In the end, however, there is only one certainty: If something is too good to be true, it is not the truth.

Several questions need to be asked about this scenario. The first is, why would the SRC allow the majority of Philadelphia’s children to attend dirty, unsafe schools without counselors, nurses, and assistant principals while other children clearly do not? Why is there hardly any discussion about this glaring disparity?

I have a couple of answers. The first is that there is a plan afoot to break public schools deliberately so that they can be handed over to charters. Thus, the SRC and Hite are wreaking havoc by deliberately deferring maintenance and cutting staff to dangerous levels in traditional schools. This practice effectively insures the failure that is necessary to hand over the now low-performing, intentionally broken “seats” over to more “successful” charter operators who feel justified in cutting into the resources available to District schools. This is being done in a calculated way in order to break the teachers’ union, the whipping boy of modern school reform.

The second is that District leaders and politicians are trying to appease elected officials in rural areas who perceive city schools and urban children as great leeches feeding off public dollars who divert resources away from more deserving populations. For them, giving more money to ”those” children in urban areas is like throwing money into a pit. The idea in the Pennsylvania House and Senate is that throwing money at schools doesn’t fix them, although they believe that having enough money fixes just about everything else.

The third is that the SRC has become the ball carrier for hedge fund managers for whom education is a place where they can make money. The fact that school reform is being led by MBAs rather than by educators is telling.

Philadelphia public schools are dying. Who will be held accountable? The legislature? Former Governor Tom Corbett? Superintendent William Hite?

The leaders are chasing a rainbow, bright promises that have never come through for the children. They are killing a democratic institution that society depends on and needs. Can they sleep at night?

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