Radical changes in Philadelphia

"This plan is aggressive," warned School District of Philadelphia Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon at a Tuesday press conference announcing a massive reform of the city’s K-12 education. Good. Changes are desperately needed: Philly's public schools face massive deficits, declining enrollment, and rank among the worst of large urban school districts. Unfortunately, aggressive plans often entail mindless slashing of schools and headcount so that "business as usual" can continue elsewhere. To their credit, Philadelphia’s policy leaders—embodied in a board jointly appointed by the governor and mayor—are mostly resisting that fatal temptation. While forty of the district’s 249 schools would be closed by next fall, the goal is to bolster parental choice, prizing the development of "high-performing seats" wherever they can be found over protecting the legacy school district. Encouragingly, the district also plans to restructure employee benefits, saving $156 million of the projected $218 million deficit for next fiscal year. A proposed 7 percent reduction in per-pupil payments to charters is worrying, though. Still and all, the School Reform Commission deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future.

Phila. School District plan includes restructing and school closings," by Kristen A. Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 24, 2012.

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