By Daniel Denvir
– Gov. Tom Corbett will soon choose a new chairperson of the School Reform Commission (SRC). Angry teachers, students and parents will likely (and probably rightfully) eventually find themselves screaming at this person. If Corbett makes a patently outrageous choice, the screaming will come sooner. Otherwise, it will come later, when that person assumes management of the decade-long and state-led dismantling of Philly public schools.
The reality is, Corbett and the state legislature, authors of deep education budget cuts, run the show. The SRC is a decoy — a puppet regime, with Superintendent William Hite as its figurehead. They manage the losing end of Pennsylvania’s segregated school system: separate and unequal.
Take suburban Lower Merion’s two public high schools, which per the district’s website offer “state-of-the-art science laboratories, an 850-seat auditorium … a greenhouse for environmental and horticultural studies, high-performance athletic facilities, television studios, multimedia production facilities, a musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) lab … college-style library and fully integrated technology.” In Philly, students from different grades sometimes share the same classroom. The premier arts school canceled its musical for lack of funds. And funds for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes were cut.
What of the state constitution’s requirement of a “thorough and efficient system of public education?” Lower Merion’s average class size is 21. Philly’s “target” class size is 30 to 33. Lower Merion’s student body is 8 percent black, while Philly’s is just 14 percent white. Many Philly high schools are more than 90 percent black — 99 percent at Strawberry Mansion. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that “segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a State solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation” is unconstitutional. No matter.
The SRC, of course, has power. Indeed, it should continue to check the growth of charter schools, which has rendered the District’s structural deficit terminal. Only SRC member Joseph Dworetzky, a Rendell appointee whose tenure is up in January 2014, has consistently spoken out on this issue.
The SRC makes the ghetto’s rules. But it is state government that guards its walls.