PHILADELPHIA, PA – Today Councilman At-Large Bill Green released a policy paper urging comprehensive reform of the way public schools are governed in Philadelphia and presented his proposals to the School Reform Commission during its scheduled meeting. In the paper, Green advocates for restoration of local control over successful public school and a strengthened state role in overhauling individual failing schools.
Since running for City Council in 2007, Councilman Green has been a strong proponent of improving public education in Philadelphia. Councilman Green firmly believes that fixing our school system and providing parents with more quality options is critical for strengthening the city’s economy, encouraging middle-class families to stay in or move to the city, and giving our most vulnerable citizens the opportunity to succeed in life.
In the spring of 2010, Green released a policy paper outlining 37 specific recommendations to help fix Philadelphia schools. During the last year and a half, however, many of those recommendations have not been acted upon as the School District has struggled to deal with massive financial challenges, a controversial shake-up in leadership, waning public confidence, and the implementation of school reform efforts that have been limited in scope.
Green’s new paper builds upon his prior recommendations and focuses primarily on how to restructure the governance of schools and remove the bureaucratic constraints standing in the way of meaningful reform. It also addresses the need to enhance the School District’s accountability to local officials and taxpayers and strengthen oversight of charter schools.
“If Philadelphia’s children are to be successful, we need rapid innovation and continuous improvement in our school system,” said Councilman Green. “We have been treating the School District like a ‘too big to fail’ financial institution – plowing additional public resources into it, professing that changes in leadership will translate to improve outcomes, and not coming to grips with the problems plaguing it. In my view, however, the School District is a bureaucracy that is too big to succeed. We need to create a new, nimble structure that emphasizes complete overhaul of failing schools and restores local control over the many public schools that are already working for our children.”
In the paper, Councilman Green proposes abolishing the existing School Reform Commission and splitting the governance of Philadelphia public schools among two entities – a Mayor-appointed Board of Education and a state-wide school reform entity similar to the Louisiana Recovery School District. Such a model would allow Philadelphia to regain control over the many schools that already produce impressive academic results while targeting state resources specifically toward turning around individual failing schools through a variety of innovative models. This governance structure would create a framework through which policymakers can maintain “what works” and quickly shut down and restructure troubled schools without the constraints of the existing School District bureaucracy. Restructuring of school governance is needed because:
- Philadelphia is not doing enough, quickly enough, to turn around all of its failing schools. Reform efforts thus far have been limited in scale; shoe-horned into the existing School District bureaucracy, in which they must compete for scarce resources and attention; and, too often, discarded with each turnover in superintendent. We desperately need a new governance entity whose sole long-term objective and focus is to remediate failing schools.
- The current governance structure has to manage too many competing priorities and too much bureaucracy to be an effective administrator of innovative school turnaround efforts. The School District’s mandate is simply too broad for it to effectively manage everything it is tasked with, given its structural and fiscal limitations.
- Investment and participation by state government is needed to turn around failing schools. If the state is responsible for turning around individual failing schools across Pennsylvania, then lawmakers may be more willing to invest money in these efforts and cannot blame poor student achievement on local incompetence or mismanagement.
- Restoring a Mayor-appointed Board of Education to oversee most schools will greatly improve accountability for public schools to local taxpayers.
- Putting state administrators in charge of school turnaround efforts will insulate the process from local political forces that too often exert themselves in the decisions of the School District.
When announcing his re-election campaign in March 2011, Green pledged his commitment to expanding what works and shutting down what does not in all facets of government. This philosophy guided the formation of the proposals in the paper, and the governance reforms outlined within it aim to create a more flexible system that can more effectively address and respond to the different challenges facing our public schools.
“Despite marginal gains in recent years, the School District is not doing nearly enough to turn around all of Philadelphia’s failing schools,” said Councilman Green. “We must create a new structure that makes continuous school improvement a permanent priority, restores confidence in our public schools, and creates a more flexible system that is not beholden to the bureaucracy and status quo. Philadelphia’s future hangs in the balance – we can either act now to fundamentally fix the school system going forward, or instead cling to the broken status quo and fail another generation of students. Bold and innovative action to overhaul our public schools is long overdue.”
In addition to presenting his proposal to the School Reform Commission today, Green also sent copies of his paper to members of Philadelphia’s legislative delegation to the General Assembly.
Read the policy paper here.