CANDIDATES, pick up your No. 2 pencils - it's time to practice for a standardized test.
The aim is to find out - especially now since we know that Paul Vallas is on his way out of town - which of you is best poised to be the next "education mayor" of Philadelphia. (And the answers are based on the candidates' own policy papers.)
The first question is easy: What do public schools need? All the Democratic candidates agree basically that schools have to be fully funded and well-organized for the maximum benefit of students.
The much harder question is how to make it happen most effectively. Funding tied to governance is one point where the candidates offer wide differences of opinion.
State Rep. Dwight Evans boasts of his record in securing the passage of the 1997 charter school law, after which he opened his own charter in West Oak Lane. He also sponsored Act 83, which enabled the state takeover of the cash-strapped Philadelphia schools.
He then promoted Foundations, one of the new educational management organizations, or EMOs. Mr. Evans received $66,103 in campaign contributions from EMO officials from 2001 to 2006, more than Mayor Street or State Sen. Vince Fumo.
Mr. Evans is a firm believer in the concept of "diverse providers" even though there is little evidence that this model improves school performance. And it's costly. One of his EMO contributors, Edison Schools, for example, recently had to explain why the company received over $1.6 million in fees for students who never attended its schools.
The other candidates share the goal of returning more governance of schools to the district, with some important differences.
Michael Nutter, for example, wants to reduce contracting and increase in-house management of programs like early childhood education, especially the district's Head Start program, which has consistently outperformed all its counterparts in the private sector. The advantage: If early-childhood education is located at school sites, teachers must be fully qualified and under the direct supervision of the administration.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah favors using some outside providers for early-childhood education, and would keep the partnership between the state and the district, with some adjustments, and only because it makes funding easier to procure. There has always been the threat of withholding money from Philadelphia if state control is dropped.
After obtaining proof of accountability, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady promises to use his impressive political skills to secure more funding from Harrisburg and Washington. Businessman Tom Knox also plans to use his contacts and experience to obtain greater state funding. He also believes that the mayor, not the state, should be the one accountable for the schools.
All candidates acknowledge that there is a serious equity gap in the formula Pennsylvania uses to fund school districts. Its support of Philadelphia schools over the last 30 years has dropped from 55 percent to 36 percent.
The state ranks 48th in the U.S. in how it addresses fiscal equity. With the additional operating costs of implementing the federal No Child Left Behind law, it's no wonder that the arts, for example, are disappearing
School funding is now connected to a state-controlled, diverse, privatized-governance model, with mixed results.
Would a proficient mayor stick with that policy or try to change it? Pencils down. *
Gloria Endres is an adjunct assistant professor at Temple's College of Education. Her email address is