Like language-arts educators throughout Pennsylvania, I am charged with helping my students develop and strengthen their understanding of and facility with numerous language concepts. Thankfully the School District of Philadelphia’s initial contract proposal provides fertile ground to apply what we have learned.
Bias: To hold a perspective or inclination at the expense of possibly equally valid alternatives.
The School Reform Commission and those who appoint its members appear interested in a central leadership that views the business-model approach, which has masqueraded as school reform here and nationally for the last two decades, as the elixir to improve educational outcomes for the children of Philadelphia.
Not to suggest that they are either incompetent or malevolent. On the contrary, Superintendent William Hite seems to be a talented, affable, and committed educator and administrator. But before the ink has dried on his lucrative contract, you can bet that he and the education policymakers here and in Harrisburg aren’t interested in new ideas, just a rebranding of those as-of-yet unsuccessful “reforms.”
Equally certain is that the road to success will be paved with little or no substantive input from those closest to the front lines -- teachers, who are contemptuously seen as too self-serving to care about helping children.
Propaganda: Communication designed by deception or omission to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause.
The latest proposal reeks of the tired idea that teachers have been living large off the fat of the land for too long and that the District needs a modern teachers' contract that benefits children. This perpetuates a baseless and virulent tenet of the reform movement: Teachers, their contracts, and their unions are the real impediments to improved educational outcomes.
I don’t know what else could have hurt a generation of our students, but let me try. Could it have been the squandering of hundreds of millions of dollars on failed charters, consultant fees, no-bid contracts, testing excesses, and private-sector-type packages for upper-echelon central administrators? Could it have been the fact that every few years a new sheriff comes to town, launches bold initiatives, then leaves, forcing us to start over again?
Probably not. Most likely, teachers are the problem. How dare they even dream of approaching the salaries of their suburban counterparts while spending out of their pockets for their students daily?
Irony: Words or ideas that convey a meaning different than their literal or expected meaning or outcome.
The School Reform Commission was created in 2001 to restore fiscal solvency to the District and improve educational outcomes for all children in Philadelphia. How’s that working out? Twelve years and about six superintendents later, we find ourselves with a debt heretofore unseen and modest, albeit steady, academic gains. Now here comes a contract proposal that threatens to worsen conditions for students and educators, while wreaking financial havoc for educators and their families to right the wrongs of rampant ineptitude and mismanagement. Fortunately, Dr. Hite considers teachers the district’s “greatest assets” or they could really be in trouble.
Multiple-meaning words: Words that have several different meanings based on how they are used.
Socrates demanded that we define our terms. The SRC and the District’s leadership may be dedicated to public education, but clearly they have a different definition of the word “public.” Apparently, for them, the word refers to any learning institution able to get its hands on public funds — this includes unproven charters and other private management outfits that use incestuous business and political-donor networks to obtain lucrative contracts, bleed traditional public schools of limited resources, and then, largely, fail to outperform them.
That is a far cry from the public school systems that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called the great equalizer. The current contract proposal is beyond austerity; it guarantees less for those who need it more. When schools “fail,” those funds will be directed to new charters, albeit “public” ones. It’s interesting, by the way, that charters aren’t seen as necessary or desirable in homogeneous middle- and upper-middle-class districts. Talk about taking advantage of minorities and our most at-risk children and families.
The language and terms of the District’s first contract offer (even allowing for a strategic, low starting point) reveal that the negotiators haven’t learned from their predecessors, who lauded our soon-to-expire contract as historic because of its groundbreaking changes and newfound flexibility. A few short years later, it appears that things are worse than ever.
Matthew Mandel is a National Board Certified Teacher in the School District of Philadelphia.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.