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School & District Management Opinion

Tim Slekar: Pennsylvania Schools get the Shock Treatment

By Anthony Cody — May 13, 2012 3 min read
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Guest post by Tim Slekar.

About a year ago I published a blog that detailed how Pennsylvania governor, Tom Corbett, was using the shock doctrine to dupe the citizens of Pennsylvania into believing that a $1 Billion dollar cut to public education was necessary to help with the state’s budget deficit. I quickly pointed out that these cuts would actually weaken public schools and help push Corbett’s real education agenda (dismantling public schools) and that in the end, no money would be saved anyway. However, these cuts would hinder real learning and create the appearance of failing schools.

So what has happened since last year? A large portion of schools “furloughed” teachers to start the 2011-2012 school year to help balance budgets that were dramatically reduced by Corbett’s cuts to public schools. In fact, I also personally introduced readers to one of the furloughed teachers last year.

Across the state all public schools had to deal with less. However, some districts felt the pain more than others. For example, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were hit harder because of the inability to raise revenues from other sources. Therefore the number of furloughed employees was higher in these urban areas.

That was then and this is now. As school districts plan their budgets for the 2012-13 academic year, most are finding that the $1 billion dollar cut from last year and this year’s proposed new cuts from Corbett have made financial equilibrium impossible. In fact, as I mentioned above Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were already struggling. Now however, Philadelphia has decided to auction off 40 schools to charter operators and in the next five years Philadelphia residents will probably lose their entire public school system to a network of private charter school providers. Pittsburgh needs to layoff hundreds of teachers to balance their budget. And this has resulted in a ridiculous discussion about teacher effectiveness vs. teacher seniority as furlough criteria.

Let’s take a quick look at Pittsburgh first. Understand that the discussion of teacher effectiveness is the goal of the Corbett administration. Instead of focusing on the governor’s budget cuts to public schools, the discussion is on how to make furlough decisions (effectiveness vs. seniority). This is classic shock doctrine. Create a financial crisis and then implement reform practices that mask the real issue. So, in Pittsburgh, students, teachers, and citizens are being torn apart debating the method for furloughing teachers instead of demanding fully funded public schools.

What about the disaster in Philadelphia? This truly is a sad story, but maybe even more important is how what is happening in Philadelphia actually allows us to vividly see into the future. You don’t need a palm reader or tarot cards, just look here. The dismantling of the public school system in the city of Philadelphia is happening right in front of our eyes. What about New Orleans, New York City, Cleveland, Los Angeles, etc?

Corbett declared war on public education and he is going after the most vulnerable first--low income, minority-serving schools in urban areas. Why? Because these are the districts that already serve our most vulnerable children with the least political capital.

Of course the “failing schools” rhetoric is used along with the need for drastic changes--like charters (Even though the research on charter school demonstrates that they provide no real advantage). However, bring up the fact that these are the districts with the highest concentrations of poverty (Research has demonstrated poverty has a profound influence on learning) and you’re considered to be making excuses or your accused of claiming that poor kids can’t learn. This is also part of the plan--appear to be an advocate for poor and minority students.

However, how does cutting funds from schools with the most need do anything positive for the children, teachers and their communities? It doesn’t! It’s just shocking!

Today they declared the end of public education in Philadelphia.
And with this crime, they have surely murdered the last hope for democracy. Mr. Johnson

Is there anything shocking going on in your state?

Timothy D. Slekar is an Associate Professor of teacher education and Head of the Division of Education, Human Development, and Family Studies at Penn State Altoona. He has also worked as an elementary school teacher. He is a co-host of the @The Chalkface radio show, which takes a critical look at education reform.

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