TODAY IS the beginning of the homestretch for the school year. It's a good time to break out my red pen and grade the 10 people I think have had the biggest impact on education and parenting in our area.
First, let me get the biggest "F" grade out of the way and present it to the Neshaminy Teachers Association. They still refuse to pay anything for their health-care coverage. They get special negative notice for instituting a "work to contract" protest in which they refused to fill out college recommendations for seniors and took down decorations from bulletin boards in kindergarten classrooms.
Union leadership advocated this strategy to prove how much work teachers do and the value they provide to students. It backfired badly. The union's aggressive stance infuriated parents and taxpayers. They exemplify high pay for mediocre results.
My "D+" recipients are the Philadelphia NAACP and the New Jersey Education Association.
The NAACP used third-graders and filled their heads with talk that they might end up in prison as a result of Gov. Corbett's budget cuts. The NJEA continues its fight against the will of New Jersey taxpayers. Despite the fact that New Jersey and Pennsylvania taxpayers are still struggling with tough economic times, these two organizations can't understand why the gravy trains are not running as frequently as they used to.
A "C-" goes to Philadelphia public school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for the individual accomplishments of receiving a hugely bloated salary, failing to respond effectively to Asian students who were beaten at South Philadelphia High, and her mishandling of the controversy involving Audenried teacher Hope Moffett. Her imperious demeanor solidifies her grade. I'm also being very generous and grading her performance on a curve.
My "B" students include two Pennsylvania governors and a president. Former Gov. Ed Rendell gets a B for pushing to ensure that schools across the state prove that their graduates are competent in reading, writing and math by his push to ensure that students pass "exit skills" tests before they can graduate from high school. He left office with a strong education legacy.
Gov. Corbett deserves a B for his budget cuts that try to force higher-education outfits like Penn State to adjust to the budget deficits that he inherited. He needs to be more aggressive in selling this message, but I believe he is correct. "Big College" has to realize that they need to run their institutions like any other real-world business and live within their means.
President Obama gets a B for his efforts to push for better schools through programs such as Race to the Top.
I've been very pleased with his focus on education as a national priority. He's pushed for needed reforms, putting words like "accountability" back into the vocabulary of school administrators.
My "A-" students are State Sen. Anthony Williams, and Scott Gordon, who runs some of the most successful charter schools in Philadelphia.
Williams has been the champion of vouchers and choice in education across Pennsylvania. Because he is African-American, he probably has taken additional heat for his efforts, but he is close to pushing through some much-needed change.
Gordon has turned around underperforming schools and is also a tremendous advocate for choice. I've seen the off-the-mark critics of choice in action and exposed their biases. We've seen the dangers of status-quo policies perpetuating education mediocrity. Unfortunately, things have deteriorated even further, and far too many schools and school districts are failing our children.
We need to embrace innovators like Gordon. We need to encourage fresh ideas and stop special interests from stifling and suffocating them.
My sole "A" student is Mayor Nutter for having the vision to push for a legacy that may not fully bear fruit until many years after his time in office. I admire that he saw our huge high-school dropout rate and embarrassing rate of college graduation and determined that he would chip away at them.
When Nutter took office, only 19 percent of city residents over 25 had college degrees. To give you some perspective, Pittsburgh had a college graduation rate of 33 percent.
That's right, Pittsburgh is far ahead of us! The mayor is making steady progress on these goals, and I'd like to think we might be in Pittsburgh's class pretty soon.
The mayor believes that the key to a safe, vibrant city is highly-educated citizens. I think, years from now, we'll look at his time in office as the moment we started to make important progress in this initiative. Now it's your turn with the red pen. Grade me for my commentary and insights over this school year. I await your responses.
Dom Giordano is heard on the New Talk Radio 1210 WPHT Monday through Friday from nine to noon.