Charter schools are a fraud. The leadership at school district headquarters is clueless. Powerful interests are combining to ruin public education in this country. Teachers are being made scapegoats for the failure of urban schools.
The Notebook offers straight forward and well-reported accounts of doings in the district, but I also always make it a point to read the comments section below each story. There you will find a lot of passionate, often angry, words about the state of the public schools.
There are parents who sometimes add their two cents at the end of a story, but the majority of commenters are teachers. Though most post anonymously or use aliases (youngphillyteacher, Science Teacher, Tom-104, etc.), it is clear they are knowledgeable about the workings of the district and they often identify themselves as teachers.
Looking through the last four months of comments reveals the Philly teachers' state of mind -- at least among those who take the time to write.
For starters, they are pissed. And they have reason to be. Public schools teachers have been hammered by layoffs, budget cuts, a dysfunctional and dictatorial front office during the reign of Queen Arlene, as Arlene Ackerman is almost always called.
They feel beset by the outside world; are not reluctant to defend themselves and, on occasion, they will whine about their fate in life.
To quote one anonymous comment posted last week: "There is a lot of teacher bullying going on. I don't understand why there is such a sudden attack on teachers. I feel that
They loath charter schools. At best, they see them as educational frauds, which cream off good public school students and send bad ones back to the public schools. They do not believe data that shows some charters out perform public schools. In their worst moments, they see charters as part of a vast conspiracy to privatize education to benefit corporations that operate charter schools.
To quote another anonymous comment in a January post: "Education is now very big business, as in the charter fraud. If we're not careful, the corporations -- which is exactly what charters are -- will take over the inner cities which will be the end of hope for the have nots. This is one of those times in history where a decision will be felt for generations. Which way America????"
Their displeasure does not end there. Many commenters are also unhappy with Mayor Nutter and President Obama, whom they believe are playing into the hands of anti-public education forces. Almost universally, they despise Ackerman, the former superintendent, but they have no particular regard for her successors or her predecessors, for that matter. They are not enamored of the leadership of their own union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and PFT President Jerry Jordan. "The war on the teacher's union continues," said one anonymous poster last month. "It will continue until Jordan grows a pair and calls for a strike."
Finally, they do not like No Child Left Behind, nor the great emphasis put on standardized testing these days. Come to think of it, at least among these posters, the list of things they do not like is a long one.
As one anonymous poster put it last month: "We can't have it both ways folks. We hate the tests, hate the administration, hate the pressure, hate the walkthroughs, hate the corrective. The increased results of the tests over the last years have been used to justify the programs and policies we all hate. Now we have a movement to uncover the inflation of the scores and we hate that, too. To top it off some of us can't even acknowledge an opposing viewpoint and attack teachers when we hate that teachers are blamed for everything...."
Two things about the comments:
One. They are generally a cut above the comments you see on websites. The posters are articulate and often provide useful information about what is going on in the schools. Two. They may not accurately represent the feelings of the majority of teachers -- often its the angry who take the time to type in a comment.
But, they also reveal how out of touch teachers are with the realities of today's educational landscape. There will be no rolling back of the requirement of testing. Charters are popular with parents (witness the 30,000 wait list in Philadelphia) and no one is going undo that reform. Teachers are not held in the esteem they once were -- but neither are doctors, journalists, politicians and clergy.
Times have changed. Accountability is here to stay. Diversity of educational offerings is destined to grow, not shrink. Urban education is now and always will be underfunded.
Wouldn't it be wiser to adapt to these new realities, instead of trying to wish them away?
-- Tom Ferrick