August 20 — 3:58 pm, 2009

Citizens will have to work harder to ensure accountability

Heidi Ramirez announced her resignation from the School Reform Commission Wednesday. Over the last two years, Ramirez has been the most active of all the commissioners. At SRC meetings she has continually asked tough questions about the budget, the strategic plan, and hiring practices. These questions often put her in conflict with Dr. Ackerman.      

I believe that asking tough questions is a responsibility of SRC members. This is not because I have a problem with the administration.

It is because checks and balances are an essential part of our democracy. Even the best administration needs a body that ensures equity and public accountability and makes sure that abuses of power do not occur. I have written in the past about other SRC members’ failure ask questions. Without Ramirez, other commissioners will need to step up.

This is true for two reasons. First, the problem in our schools is not that we do not know how to educate low-income young people.  The problem is that there is little political will to do so. How else can we explain the funding disparities between Philadelphia and its suburbs and the years of acceptance of failure? Communities must come together and demand the education that their children deserve. They must put and end to bureaucracies and traditions that get in the way and ensure that, in the end, the decision-makers answer to them. Even the best-intentioned administrators cannot change our entrenched bureaucracies without this force behind them and watching them. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

The second reason that citizens must get involved is that schools cannot change by themselves. They need the support and involvement of their communities. Schools and communities have a symbiotic relationship. One cannot thrive without the other. Connections must be made between what is happening in the school, the home, and the community.
Commissioner Ramirez played an important role, but now is the time for the public to step up, not in opposition to the administration, but in support of high-quality education for all young people, because no administration can be successful without this. It has been said that in democracy, people get the leaders they deserve. I’m not sure we showed that we deserved Commissioner Ramirez. Let’s not make that mistake again.    

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