Plan to privatize 3 schools is inconsistent and a gross overreach
The following letter was sent on Feb. 9, 2016, to the School Reform Commission on behalf of a number of area academics. Also copied were Otis Hackney, Philadelphia’s chief education officer; members of Philadelphia City Council; and Mayor Kenney.
Dear Members of the SRC and Superintendent William Hite,
We are professors from different Philadelphia-area institutions and from different fields, including political science, education, urban studies, and law. All of us study, write, and teach about the role public education plays in the United States and in Philadelphia. We share a commitment to the value of public education as a public good that is essential to a functioning democracy. In that context, we write to express our deep concern over the SRC’s recent decision to privatize three more neighborhood schools — Wister, Cooke, and Huey. The views we express are our own; we are not speaking on behalf of our institutions.
Too many of those who demand privatization of public schools in the name of "choice" completely dismiss the choice of parents who want a neighborhood public school. Before the SRC vote on privatizing Wister, Huey, and Cooke, Jonathan Cetel of PennCAN argued that Wister parents weren’t being heard — but he ignored the strong voices of Wister parents who rejected charterization of their school. By his own data, a strong majority of the in-catchment families have not opted out of their school — 66 percent to 34 percent — according to him. Parents of Wister, Cooke, and Huey were not even given the respect of being allowed to vote on who should run their schools.
Then the SRC adopted Commissioner Sylvia Simms’ last-minute, unannounced resolution to privatize Wister even after Superintendent Hite determined that Wister should remain a public school. Simms asserted that she was moved by parents who supported privatization — but she never met with the parents who opposed the move or attended any of the community meetings on Wister’s future. No one on the SRC ever offered the parents the option of voting, which would have been a more democratic means of allowing parent voice than simply listening only to a select group of parents. Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams’ recent op-ed similarly lauded parental choice — while totally ignoring the fact that Wister, Huey, and Cooke parents were given no choice in this process.