IS COUNCILMAN Bill Green a good candidate to run the School Reform Commission?
Green appears to be on the short list for Gov. Corbett's pick to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Pedro Ramos. (Others include former Pennsylvania Convention Center chief Al Mezzaroba and Farah Jimenez, of the People's Emergency Center.)
Green has many ideas about education, having issued two policy papers in the past few years on the subject, calling for, among other things, vouchers, more charters and a radical reorganization of the school system. So does that make him a good candidate or a bad one?
While we all have a stake in thinking about public education, we think that the SRC - and the city as a whole - could use more ideas on education from people who have formally studied education. Much of the education policy in this state is driven by lawmakers who have a variety of agendas, though funding schools generously is on few of them.
Mainly, though, we believe that the key question is not who should serve on the SRC but, rather, what the SRC's role should be, especially given that the city has dramatically increased its share of funding each year, by millions. (The governor has three appointees, the mayor, two.)
Formed in 2002 when the state took over the school district, the SRC has ranged in effectiveness from passive complicity to the more active governance it is known for. It provides fiscal and management expertise and oversight. Its true role has been dictated by financial crises. In fact, the SRC has little to do with either education or reform.
The SRC hires the school superintendent, who is, and should be, the chief of the city's education policies. Educational expertise doesn't often come with political expertise, though, and since the money for executing education policies is determined by the governor, the SRC must run political interference for the district. But the SRC also represents the governor's interest. How can this be considered anything but an impossible balance?
The SRC is not about reform, either. In 2002, the SRC played a larger role in pushing for reforms, like charters and other alternatives. Over a decade later, many of those alternatives have been in place - the SRC has authorized more than 80 charters, and "deauthorized" a handful. But, it has played virtually no role in scrutinizing how that system is performing as a whole. It should be offering stronger oversight of charters - if nothing else, to advise the governor and the public where the best investments are.
In fact, charters tend to be a wildly undersupervised expenditure with even more wildly variable results: the good charters are very good, but the majority, in fact, show disappointing results compared to traditional public schools. (A key study is by Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes.) And yet, the hunger for these alternatives grows bigger each year, even as the appetite for providing funds to make education work seems to shrink.