“I had connections with teachers, it was relationships I built,” reports Othella Stanback, a Philadelphia high school senior whose high school was closed over the summer. She knows no teachers at her new school well enough this fall to ask someone to write the recommendations she needs to apply for college. In Dispatch from Philadelphia: The Brutal End of Public Education Julianne Hing reports for ColorLines on the meaning for students of the school closures in Philadelphia and the implications of similar problems in other struggling city school districts.
“Last year the governor slashed $1.1 billion from the state’s K-12 budget, cuts that particularly devastated Philadelphia’s state-controlled schools. On the advice of a private consulting group, school officials announced that the district would need to close a stunning five dozen schools, and noted that the district ought to brace itself for dissolution… In the spring, the district closed 23 schools, including Stanback’s. This fall, students went back to schools with skeletal staff after the district laid off 3,859 people, one of every five district employees.”
At Ben Franklin High School in Philadelphia where hundreds of students were transferred this year from closed schools, cuts in previous years have pared the curriculum, eliminating pre-Calculus, honors classes for ninth graders and an advanced writing class. Today the school is served by only one counselor. In November, after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett finally released an additional $45 million to the Philadelphia schools, 80 counselors were hired by the district, ensuring that every high school has one counselor. The reporter notes: “Instability is the norm at Ben Franklin now. Seven weeks into her last year in Philly public schools, Othella’s course schedule has been changed three times.”
Compounding the financial problems in Philadelphia is the imposition by the state imposed School Reform Commission of a “portfolio school reform” plan, prescribed by the Boston Consulting Group. This is a plan designed with business-model “creative disruption” in mind—open and close schools including private charters in a continuing cycle, rewarding success and punishing failure. But as the reporter notes, instability and loss are the way this looks to the students, and they are adolescents who desperately need stability in the institution on which they depend.
“Philadelphia is deep into worst-case scenario territory, but it’s not alone. In cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Chicago—all of them with sizable black populations and long histories of entrenched poverty—lawmakers have responded to budget crises with cuts to public education and market-driven education reform agendas. In a city like Philadelphia, which has the worst poverty rate of the ten largest U.S. cities, in which 39 percent of the city’s children live in poverty and in which blacks and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be poor…. the consequences of the collapse of the city’s public school system are falling squarely on the backs of Stanback and her classmates.”