by Pete Mazzaccaro
Targeting teachers continues to miLast Thursday, thousands of Philadelphia School District teachers and their supporters staged a demonstration on North Broad Street to protest the recent cancellation of teacher contracts by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.
The SRC canceled the contracts a week before because, its members said, it planned on reworking teacher health benefits in order to get teachers to contribute to their health insurance plans. That move would bring up to $70 million in savings for the school district. On Monday, the SRC’s plan hit a snag when a Court of Common Pleas judge sided with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union and imposed an injunction on the SRC’s health care plans.
This new rift between Philadelphia teachers and top administration is only the most recent in a long line of school confrontations that have different details but always the same underlying message: The reason schools are failing and/or underfunded is the teachers.
The Commonwealth Foundation, which supports expanded charter schools and choice, in a site it created called pftfails.com, claims that the teachers union is the problem with Philadelphia schools.
According to the foundation, “the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers are standing in the way of tens of millions of dollars going back into Philadelphia classrooms. Their selfish agenda fails children, fails teachers, and fails the poor … They fail us when they put personal political scores ahead of what’s best for children, teachers and the poor.”
Listed on the site are numerous sets of damning statistics showing a school system that has failed. From citations of 80 percent failure rates in the district to some 2,500 violent incidents reported at city schools in the last school year, the picture is clear. If only the union would capitulate to administration demands, millions would flood the district and improve the situation.
If only it were so simple.
First, the money. Nowhere on the foundation’s site is there any mention of the massive cuts to the budget caused by decisions in Harrisburg. The $44 million the SRC expected right away and up to $70 million in two years does not replace the hundreds of millions of dollars lost in budget cuts. Those cuts directly led to thousands of lost jobs – from teachers to school nurses and other educational aides. It wasn’t local teachers who asked for those budget cuts.
Second, the idea that any influx of money would solve the problems schools face, from the effects of generations of poverty and all of the social problems that come with it. I’m sure even the foundation would agree here. Most enemies of the teachers union argue that spending more per student in Philadelphia is “throwing good money after bad.”
Yet, here we go again. Drawing a line in the sand over teacher pay and benefits that promise little more than an additional drop or two in a hopelessly empty bucket while alienating professionals we desperately need in schools that need all the help they can get is, at best, a big distraction from what is required to address the real problems. Those solutions are going to require not only a lot more effort but also a lot more money and a lot less politics. And, judging by the way we’ve handled the issue of addressing how to successfully educate children in urban centers, it’s going to take a lot of imagination.