Philadelphia District Plays Out Three Dramas

August 24, 2009 1 min read

Philadelphia is an interesting place these days, so interesting in fact, that it’s hard to know where to start.

First, Arlene Ackerman, a veteran urban superintendent who just over a year ago left a cushy academic position at Columbia University to run the district, is in the middle of negotiating a four-year contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers that has the potential to upend some traditions. Seniority transfers could be scrapped and cohorts of proven teachers could be assigned to work together in high-needs schools. Stay tuned for a full story on that in our next issue of Education Week.

Second, the Philadelphia Inquirer had a fascinating story over the weekend about strained relations between Dr. Ackerman and Heidi Ramirez, a member of the appointed School Reform Commission who recently resigned from the panel. The city’s ed and political community has been buzzing ever since, speculating that Ackerman might have bristled at some challenges from Ramirez, who has some real education chops: she runs a teacher training program at Temple University.

Finally (and this is of course getting disproportionate amounts of attention), the School Reform Commission voted last week to allow (washed-up?) actor Tony Danza to film an A&E reality show at Northeast High School. Danza is slated to co-teach a sophomore English class with a credentialed teacher while cameras roll to capture what Ackerman called the “joys, rewards and challenges” of being a first-year teacher in an urban school system. Um, really? What happens to the lucky 10th graders who get to be part of this little entertainment, er, education experiment? Does anyone think they’ll take Mr. Danza seriously as an instructor? Of course, the 15- and 16-year-olds he’ll be “teaching” may not know much about Mr. Danza since the last time he was a bona fide TV star was during his run as a male housekeeper on “Who’s the Boss?” which aired on ABC from 1984 to 1992. Most of his students were born in 1994.

Until now, Northeast High School was most famous for its depiction in the seminal 1968 Frederick Wiseman documentary, High School, which until 1991 was officially “banned” from being publicly screened in the city of Philadelphia.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.