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What would Bill Green do as chair of School Reform Commission?

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 2, 2013 12:40 PM

City Councilman Bill Green has long taken a special interest in the School District of Philadelphia, and a few years ago he laid out a detailed education agenda that, in essence, favored the abolition of the School Reform Commission, expansion of charters, and more parental choice. 

Sources confirm that the councilman now would like to head the SRC and has spoken to members of Gov. Corbett's administration. One Harrisburg source said that Green is "definitely in the mix" as Corbett looks to fill the vacancy left by Pedro Ramos, who resigned for personal reasons. A second vacancy is expected when Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky's term expires in January. Dworetzky is a holdover appointment of former Gov. Ed Rendell.

In an interview, Green would not comment on whether he is interested in the SRC post or had talked to Corbett's team about it. However, he was willing to discuss education policy generally and clarify how his thinking has evolved since he released the policy papers on the School District in 2010 and 2011.

In essence, he said that he had been influenced by more recent data analyses and research on the school reform movement. He no longer thinks that simply creating more charters and shrinking the District, in and of itself will solve the city's educational problems. He would not abolish the SRC. And he has much more faith in the leadership of Superintendent William Hite than he did in former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who led the District when he wrote the papers.

“The thrust of the papers is true, in terms of the intent of the policies behind them, but the means is not necessarily what was provided in those papers,” Green said. “The most important thing is that now we have more and more data. I would look at it today in terms of all the evidence and data that exist today and the leadership of the District today vs. the leadership of the District at the time I was writing those papers."

In the 2011 paper, Green advocated splitting the governance of Philadelphia schools between the city and the state by creating two separate entities, a state Recovery School District and a Philadelphia Board of Education. 

The RSD members, appointed by the state secretary of education, would have been in charge of turning around all the low-performing schools in the state, not just those in Philadelphia.  

A reconstituted Board of Education, with members appointed by the mayor, would have been in charge only of the city’s high-performing schools. 

The plan was based on the Recovery School District in Louisiana, which was created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Ten years later, 80 percent of NOLA's public school students are in charters.

Green said he would not advocate that governance structure today. And he said that he now is convinced that a school doesn't have to be a charter in order to have the elements of a successful school. 

"I have much less of a preference for where the good seats are," he said. "The general policy I hold is to create good seats and eliminate bad seats as quickly as possible, regardless of whether they are in existing public schools or charter schools, or any other method. We need good seats. ... Some research would say that you have to take a hard look at charters and make sure you are shutting the [ineffective ones] down."

Green was influenced by M. Night Shyamalan’s book, “I Got Schooled.” The movie director looked at data and concluded that schools were successful not because they were charters, but because they shared certain characteristics. Shyamalan concluded that five things were key: having effective teachers (and the ability to remove ineffective ones), enough time (as in longer days and years), a principal able to concentrate on improving teaching methods and building a positive school culture, constant feedback for teachers and principals, and smaller size in terms of enrollment. Shyamalan says that schools must do all these things -- they can't try two or three and expect to do better. 

But Green doesn't know whether the District is "nimble" enough to make the necessary changes. “The fundamental question the District has yet to answer is, Can they bring best practices … into poorly performing neighborhood schools or not?” Green said. 

In his 2011 paper, Green wrote: “The age of school districts having monopoly power over publicly supported education has passed. We must now move aggressively, purposefully, and quickly to put in place a system of great schools. ... For meaningful school reform to occur on the massive scale Philadelphia desperately needs, reform initiatives cannot be shoe-horned into the existing District bureaucracy and made to compete with other priorities and mandated responsibilities for scarce resources.”

Green said, though, that leadership is important. And he said that he likes Hite, calling him "the right person" for the job now. But he declined to comment on any of Hite's specific policies.

The councilman also declined to comment directly on whether he thinks the District needs more resources to do its job more effectively. Instead, he reiterated that Ackerman spent money on her reform plan, Imagine 2014, that has had no lasting effect. He said that she counted on competitive federal grants that never materialized to fund her programs. 

“She wasted hundreds of millions a year on unsustainable programs," he said. "We [Council] pointed this out to them in advance. They ignored it." Ackerman's main legacy, he said, is the Renaissance Schools initiative, in which low-performing schools are converted to charters. 

Green did not speak about whether he thinks the teachers' union is an impediment to reform, instead taking a page from Shyamalan's book, which calls on policymakers to resist the urge to reduce the debate to a battle between good guys and bad guys. In his 2011 paper, he gave some space to the idea of “pilot” schools, which are prominent in Boston. These schools are operated by teams of teachers who are union members, but who don’t operate under the union contract. He called it a “faculty takeover.” There have been several attempts to do something like that in Philadelphia, but they have never really gotten off the ground. In Boston, these schools get help and support from a resource center.

He also declined to speak about adequacy or equity issues in relation to how schools are funded. In his 2010 paper, Green did speak positively of the costing-out study that said Philadelphia needed about $1 billion more a year to adequately educate its students. In his 2011 paper, however, Green had moved away from calling for more government investment. Instead, he said that effective reforms -- primarily, charters -- would draw more private dollars. He noted that charters “with proven models of instruction” have received huge sums of philanthropic dollars, while traditional public schools receive very little because “private donors have shown little willingness to contribute toward perpetuating the status quo.” 

Said Green: “Data and evidence are going to influence decision making in terms of education policy for me."

According to media reports, several other candidates are in consideration for the open SRC spots. They include Farah Jimenez, head of the People's Emergency Center; Al Mezzaroba, former president of the Pennsylvania Convention Center; and Dr. Keith Leaphart, president of Replica Global LLC, a design and printing firm.

Green would have to resign his Council post to take an SRC position.


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Comments (21)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 2, 2013 2:00 pm
I do not know exactly what Bill Green would do. But, what I can attest to, is that Bill Green is a very intelligent man who prides himself in being knowledgable about education and the issues before us. In the past Bill and I have had a couple of very good discussions, one of which was at an SRC meeting as we stood along the wall a year or two ago. It was about how to choose SRC members and the fact that the SRC could very well consist of a mix of elected and appointed members. We talked about a member being selected by City Council, one appointed by the mayor and one appointed by the Governor, and the rest being elected in a non-partisan election. His answer was that at least it would give a diverse sense of "ownership." I believe Bill Green's views are evolving, and I hope to God he has read Diane Ravitch's new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. You can bet your life that when I see him and the "askable moment" arises, that I will quiz him on the book. I will also ask him to please stand up for public education and the children that we serve, along with their families and our community. That, I can promise.
Submitted by Marc Brasof (not verified) on December 2, 2013 9:30 pm
Rich, I had a chance to review Councilman Green's policy paper and it was mostly rhetoric and unsupported claims. I would be happy to point those parts out if necessary. -Marc
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 2, 2013 9:59 pm
Yes, that is why I believe he has to understand that his view and what he advocates for needs to be evolving. I do believe a good bit of what he said before was in reaction to the events at the end of the Ackerman days and the resignations of the previous SRC members. I certainly want to keep my lines of communication with him open, and of course, I would like to have some persuasive effect on him. Leadership is all about "the relationships we build" with others. If he does take a leadership role, I want him to be fully educated on the issues of the privatization of the American schoolhouse. It raises issues which strike to the heart of our common notions of what a democracy is.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 2, 2013 2:35 pm
Bill Green won't say anything to the media that would hinder him in getting his appointment to the SRC. He will be another Corbett/Republican "yes man". Green has his eyes on the mayoral election of 2015. He thinks he can't win as an at-large councilman again.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on December 2, 2013 2:41 pm
M. Night Shyamalan cannot make movies that anyone goes to see anymore. So we are putting him in charge of education reform. The guy who thought Signs was a movie that made sense; is Bill Green's Muse. Great just Great. Bring in more clowns with novel ideas. God Forbid you ask teachers.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on December 2, 2013 3:53 pm
Only a Tea Party Nut like Corbett would have the insensitivity to have a "give back" session near Phila. Ken used the word "cruel" to describe Corbett's actions towards our kids. Cruel doesn't even begin to tell the story of his evil and his girlfriend, Zogby, may even be worse.
Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on December 2, 2013 7:00 pm
M. Night Shyamalan has NO experience with public education. Both his parents were physicians. He went to private schools (Episcopal Academy) then NYU. Who is he to have ANY insights about public education? The fact Bill Green claims to follow Shyamalan's directive in public education shows Green is as clueless as Shyamalan.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 3, 2013 3:38 am
Bill Green went to Wililam Penn Charter - an elite private school. Where do his kids go to school? If they are also in private school, Green, like Shyamalan, has NO experience with public schools. Where does he get the balls to think he knows anything? This is no different than Gates, Broad, Walton, etc. controlling public education because they have money.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on December 3, 2013 9:57 am
If I'm not mistaken, young Bill supported the notion that the SRC should just ride herd on the contract and do as it pleased to the PFT. Sounds like a great replacement for Pedro. In any case, until Act 46 is challenged by striking, there is no union anyway.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 2, 2013 11:50 pm
If he is anything like his father(remember the 10% raise the PFT never received), then it will be nothing more than the "same old, same old"!
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on December 3, 2013 8:11 am
so you have to send your kids to the district to know education? that would disqualify a whole lot of district teachers. even the ones who send their kids to dr. brown's schools.
Submitted by Margot Troutt Keys (not verified) on December 3, 2013 3:01 pm
So, disqualify them. I grew up in private schools and colleges, but my daughter has only gone to public schools. Let me tell you, the difference is night and day. In private schools, teachers have freedom over how they teach, and it is my experience that they are far more supported by the students, staff, parents and administrators around them. The very notion that many who are in positions of power over school districts don't have the experience of being a public school student or parent seems absurd, and so overtly hypocritical. Walk a mile in our shoes before you tell us how you're going to run things.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on December 3, 2013 6:57 pm
the notion that a person isn't qualified to head a school policy board simply because that person went to private school is absurd. you described the difference between public and private schools as "night and day." wouldn't it be great to have a school district headed by someone who thinks teachers should have the freedom to teach and are supported by students, staff, parents, and administration?
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 3, 2013 7:11 pm
Hite and his underlings won't allow anyone to have freedom to teach. Instead, we are told to "I do, we do, you do..."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 3, 2013 3:05 pm
M. Knight should concentrate on making movies. It's been straight downhill from The Sixth Sense (except for the charming and overlooked Lady in the Water).
Submitted by linda (not verified) on December 4, 2013 12:24 am
Can we please get an educator in charge and working on the the SRC?.....someone who has taught more than 5 years in an inner city? someone who once belonged to a union? who knows what it is like to work with and for some of these incompetant administrators, educators, and other people who give the rest of us who DO work and are held up by the yahoos? Anybody?...and no, please don't send me another ACKERMAN. thank you Linda K.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on December 4, 2013 2:52 pm
Linda---You seem to have not got the memo. There will NOT be a real, qualified person heading The SRC, at least not one with the credentials you referenced. The person who leads The SRC will be a political pawn just like Pedro who will do EXACTLY as told or be gone. He/She will continue to grease the hands of charter operators and the bigger pols behind them at the very expense of the real Public Schools. That person will attend the meetings to close more "Failing Schools" and ignore the fact that the schools were set up to fail in the first place. Until the PEOPLE demand better, we will continue to get the same old, same old. Young Billy Green is hoping to become Mayor and then The National Stage just like Rooster Nutter. We have met the REAL enemy and it is WE for being so apathetic. Add Hardy "What do I care?" Williams to the money grabbers like sharks in a pool of blood.
Submitted by linda (not verified) on December 6, 2013 1:57 am
sadly there is an element of truth in what you say...if he can not be mayor maybe he seeks the govenorship.....on another topic any word or blog spot where I can find out the real reason why the principal at Bartram was yanked after 9 days?....she came all the way from CA to work here and that is a mystery in and of itself.... and the investigation of the new principal at CAPA...either he got caught touching someone inappropriately or some $$$$ went a missng.....any scoop on that? Just asking how these two admins can get paid 6 figures while the rest of the SDP is in such a state. Linda K.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 6, 2013 3:49 am
Bartram's principal is Hite's friend. Totally unprepared for a neighborhood high school. Hite gave her a much nicer assignment - cushy Bache-Martin. (Also gave her children spots at Masterman and Central....) Principal at CAPA was "caught" for changing some rosters / grades. Apparently someone with power didn't like it. Altering rosters / grades is the norm in many high schools. Welcome to Philadelphia!
Submitted by linda (not verified) on December 6, 2013 9:38 am
hhmmmm.....She is veeping at Bartram...must have a clause in the contract...funny how folks don't want PFTers to get a second chance but CASA members can?....or is it fear of a lawsuit?...... Not that I begrudge the woman.....I would not have put my hand up to be an administrator at Bartram [spent 18 years at Pepper and subbed at Bartram a few times before I was appointed to Pepper....did not really enjoy the experience and that was 22 years ago]. AS for the roster and grade are right,.....if the teacher was not made to do it, the adminstration can do it.....however as you say we know that is never a reason to totally remove a person from an administrative position....the man should have used HITE'S excuse for te lack of transparency about the $$$ being paid to the newly hired staff "computer error"... okay, well we will see how it goes.... I have gone back to find the articles about the two vps who were hired to teach due to duel certs and having admin experience, but can not locate it....maybe I need to try the Daily News archives....but I know that Jerry and the PFT were investigating how these two people get to teach one subject maybe 2 or 3 times a day and sepnd the rest of the day as Deans or doing office admin duties.... Not that I want anyone unemployed but to hire former VPS who worked with the current P's at their former schools, to teach rosters in schools where they apparently don't have enoug kids to teach all day long over teachers who also need jobs still is not right. Thanks for the 411...will keep on reading and listening. Linda K.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on December 6, 2013 9:46 am
Linda--There's always an element of truth in everything I stutter. I didn't know about the slight of hand with those Principals. Yes, I would say there's slightly less stress at Bache Martin than Bartram. In any case, thanks for letting me know. Be sure, young Billy Green ain't his Dad. He's slick as an eel but less believable. Read some of the comments he's made about the teachers in Philly to get a microcosm of what's to come.

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