City officials are recommending that Philadelphia Public Schools undergo a massive overhaul that would close 64 schools over the next five years and drastically increase the number of charter schools operating in the city.
The schools that escape closure will be reorganized into "achievement networks" that will be run by a mix of current district educators and outside institutions like charter management organizations. Under this plan, 40 percent of students will be enrolled in charter schools by 2017. The plan would also cut down on the number of district operational staff, giving more autonomy to each achievement network, and, consequently, less city control over policies enacted in the schools.
The proposed overhaul of Philly schools is the result of massive long-term deficits in the district budget. The leaner district operational staff will save the certainly save the city money, but it begs the question of whether school accountability to taxpayers should be sacrificed in order to try out a cheaper, experimental new district organization model. Many studies have shown that charters aren't any more effective than public schools serving similar student populations. In fact, it's more likely that a charter school will perform worse than public schools than it is to perform better. But because they're not subject to the same rules as public schools, charters are less accountable to the taxpayers for failing to perform and education students effectively. In this case, Philadelphia officials should asked themselves just what their priorities are and whether "achievement networks" are the only solution to the city's budget problems.