On Thursday, April 3rd at the Arch Street United Methodist Church, the Philadelphia Education Town Hall included the delegates to the American Educational Research Association Convention and was hosted by the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, Edu4, ReclaimAERA, and Philadelphia Parents United for Public Education. Approximately 120 were in attendance and it represented a combination of parents, teachers, researchers, and activists from across the United States and Canada.
Philadelphia is at the center of the media since the latest debilitating budget cut and major layoffs. It continues to be in the news as the school district limps along without an elected school board and continues to make decisions with little to no pubic input. The School Reform Commission (SRC) has been in charge of Philadelphia Public Schools since 2001and many of the superintendents are outsiders. The SRC just recently enacted work rule changes that include the elimination of seniority, and it has been taken all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers issued a claim in response to the SRC. And just the other day, the Department of Education in Harrisburg publicly sided with the SRC in an article published in the Inquirer. The corporate reform machine continues to work diligently at replacing traditional public schools with charters, and this Race to the Top continues to dismantle public education and employment in the public sector. This was the center of the discussion at the town hall and it made us even more aware that everyone across the country is watching Philadelphia and wondering what will happen next.
The two panels were Connecting the Dots and Philadelphia Education Crisis followed by several breakout sessions. Kenneth Derstine, a member of Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools organized with members of AERA in order to make this important meeting a reality. Daiyu Suzuki, a member of AERA from Teachers College, Columbia University served as moderator for both panels.
The town hall opened with a discussion of neo-liberalism and how “Private entities are deregulated as public entities receive more regulations.” Tax dollars are viewed as steady income and “Corporations expect returns.” The emotions around the strike in Chicago were shared by individuals who participated. The strength in numbers and the support from parents and the citizens encouraged the participants to stand fast and that they were not alone. “Connecting the union to communities and to parents,” Nunez.
Looking around the room, I realized that Philadelphia is not alone. It is also becoming more and more apparent that the peasants are becoming more and more restless. They want answers and even those who for years have hidden behind scholarly doors of privilege are beginning to re-embrace their activism and connect the dots, especially because the monster of corporate reform is taking over all aspects of education including higher education. If you doubt me, check out Pearson’s new testing baby, edTPA.
Parents from Philadelphia Parents United for Public Education, Sabra Townsend and Robin Roberts, (founder, Helen Gym) and Opt-Out Philly (founder, Alison McDowell) spoke about the process of opting children out of testing. The additional struggles of battling with the Philadelphia School District when your child has an IEP also came to light. One teacher spoke of the challenges that face ESL students when they are rejected from school choice with reasons that nearly appear illegal on paper.
Analogies of boats sinking and taking back schools, and overt agendas circled the room in active discussions throughout the evening. Connections were made that will fortify individuals and groups in this battle that is far from over. I just hope that the energy for change and activism from those who were visiting does not end when the American Educational Research Association Convention leaves Philadelphia.