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Drunk and Blind

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dwight evans.jpgThe thing that tends to get overlooked in the whole Bob Archie-Dwight-Evans imbroglio is that the reason the district sought to make major changes at Martin Luther King High School was because its performance sucks.

Despite the presence of Evans' darling, the firm Foundations, Inc., at the school since 2002, student performance still lags far behind the district average. According to the latest PSSA results available, 36.3 percent of the district's 11th graders performed above average in math, while at King the number was 17.8 percent. When it came to 11th grade reading, the district average was 42.6 percent, while at King it was 20.7 percent.

Not only does King lag behind district averages, it also compares unfavorably to neighborhood high schools with similar profiles. It performs worse than West Philly, Germantown, University City, Ben Franklin, Bartram and Overbrook, according to district data.

The only conclusion you can make in looking at the data is that the kids at MLK aren't being served by the existing system. To use a technical term, they aren't learning.

In fairness, Foundation did make improvements around the margins at King -- attendance is better, discipline better, test scores have risen slowly over the last five years.  But, improving at the margins isn't enough when the core remains rotten.

In short, there is no doubt that the district did the right thing when it decided to target King for a takeover.  And there is no doubt that most of the parents, educators and others on the School Advisory Committee formed to study the issue favored Mosaica, a for-profit firm that planned to turn King into a charter school. The vote was 8-1.

And there is no doubt that neither Evans nor a member of his staff  chose to participate in the SAC process. Why should he? He had no intention of letting Foundations, Inc. go.

As he later told the SRC in an executive session, he wanted to use Foundations as a lynch pin in a plan he had for education in his state House district in Northwest Philadelphia.

In other words, he was going to take the provider that failed at King and give it more to do. Now, that is a frightening thought.

I don't blame Evans for wanting what he wants, even if it is dumb. He's been a power in his neighborhood for 25 years and has done a lot to improve the life of his constituents. He's done that be exercising his God-given right to think, act and be what he is: a politician. Albeit, judging from the Markman report, a politician drunk on power and blind to the realities of Foundation's failure.

Drunk and blind. Not a good combination.

I blame Bob Archie. As chair of the School Reform Commission, his job was to insulate the district and Arlene Ackerman from Evan's pressure. The school cried out for a takeover. A process was followed that led to Mosaica being picked as the provider. The SRC approved the take over and Mosaica, with Archie recusing himself from that vote because his law firm, Duane Morris, did business with Foundations and Evans.

But, that recusal was only for show.

In a private, post-SRC session at Archie held the firm's president, John Porter, while Evans hit him with his brass knuckles and did the whole Godfather routine. Later, he served the same role with Ackerman when Evans turned his wrath on her.

What we have is an SRC chair actively working to undermine the decision of his superintendent and his fellow SRC members. If that's not a crime, it ought to be.

I've written before that Philadelphia isn't so much a city as a collection of principalities, each with its own prince or princess, a political Big Dog whose power is substantial.

In the Northwest, Dwight is the prince. But this is not Europe and this is not the 14th Century. He is a state representative and not the Sun King. (L'etat c'est moi!)The range of his power should not include running the public schools in his district. That is someone else's job.

Evans is at the twilight of his political career. He lost his position as Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He is, in effect, a back bencher in Harrisburg. Ove the years, he has done a lot of good.

But, this sad incident is likely to be what he will be remembered for. And that is a shame. A shame he brought upon himself.

-- Tom Ferrick

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