Inquirer editorial insults teachers and oversimplifies education reform




Using clichés and sarcasm, the Inquirer endorses the district’s recycled ideas.      


by Christopher Paslay


“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that students struggling academically need more, not less, time in the classroom.”


This is a quote from a recent Inquirer editorial headlined, “A new deal for schools”.  It wasn’t the condescending tone of the article that caught my attention, but the fact that the phrase It doesn’t take a rocket scientist got past the newspaper’s copy editors and actually made it in print; the Inquirer’s cliché police must have been asleep at the wheel when this article crossed their desk. 


Anyway, in this rather generic editorial, the Inquirer sarcastically criticizes the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for wanting to fight for real education reform, and for wanting to be treated with a minimum level of respect.  In particular, they comment about the PFT’s opposition to extending the school day by 24 minutes.


“Do the math, Mr. Jordan,” the Inquirer writes. “Twenty-four minutes lost every day for 180 days? That’s 72 hours, or the equivalent of about 10 days’ worth of learning. Philly kids need those minutes in class.” 


Since when is the Inquirer concerned with instructional time?  For the past nine months, their editorial writers (headed by Harold Jackson) have churned-out numerous articles insisting that children be allowed to eat breakfast in the classroom during first period, despite the fact it would cut into instructional time and disrupt learning (and despite the fact that all Philadelphia children are already served breakfast free of charge in their school cafeterias 20 to 30 minutes before first period begins). 


Can you do the math on those precious minutes, Mr. Jackson? 


Increasing instructional time is not always the answer.  Especially when an overwhelming majority of students aren’t even taking advantage of the instruction already being offered by Philadelphia schools.


District data shows that 7,500 students cut school a day—they never make it to the front door.  More than 20 percent of students enrolled in Philadelphia schools were picked-up by truancy officers on the street during the 2007-08 school year—a total of 35,000 students.    


Lateness is an even bigger issue.  So is the fact that final report card grades are due into the district’s computer system two whole weeks before the last day of school; in district high schools this year, the grading system opened for non-seniors on June 5th, when the last day of school wasn’t until June 23rd.  As always, students were wise to this fact, and stopped coming to school after the first week of June.


The Inquirer, as well as Dr. Ackerman, have adopted the “more is better” approach.  But more isn’t always better.  As Jerry Jordan stated, “A longer day does not mean a better day.  What we would like to talk about is how to make the day a better day.”


So how could we make the day better, aside from cracking down on truants and fixing the report card system? 


We could start by finding ways to get parents more involved in their child’s schoolwork; we could acknowledge that Philadelphia children frequently change schools, disrupting their learning; we could admit that our city’s kids suffer from lack of health care; we could admit that they watch excessive television; we could admit that they grow less academically over the summer than their suburban counterparts; and we could admit that they are less likely to be read to as babies—all factors which have a bigger impact on student achievement than the length of the school day. 


We could address these problems and try to find legitimate ways to fix them, instead of falling back on the same tired solutions.                        


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, to borrow the Inquirer’s hackneyed phraseology, to figure out that parents and the community are a significant part of a child’s education.                   


But editorial writers are not educators, so they are quick to endorse stale, recycled ideas dressed-up as education reform.  They are also quick to treat educators less than professional, which might explain why they agree with stripping Philadelphia teachers of seniority in order to reassign them “to the schools where they’re needed most”. 


Well Mr. Jackson, why don’t we strip you of your seniority, and send you to a newspaper that could use some extra help?  Would you mind packing up your things and relocating to the Philadelphia Tribune?  How about the Northeast Times?  Or the Philadelphia Weekly?


Like most non-educators, the Inquirer’s editorial writers lack experience and expertise when it comes to public schools (by the way, the instructional year in Philadelphia is 181 days, not 180).  As the saying goes: It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. 


Here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice to Harold Jackson and his editorial staff: Do some research before your churn-out boilerplate articles on public schools.  Your lack of insight and originality is probably one of the reasons the Inky is going belly-up.