A letter to PA State Senator Jeffrey E. Piccola

Dear Jeffrey E. Piccola,


Greetings Mr. State Senator.  I am writing this letter in response to the legislation you introduced last month in Harrisburg known as the Education Empowerment Act.  I’d like to thank you for making an effort to improve Pennsylvania’s struggling public schools.


If I understand correctly, your empowerment act will give local PA school boards the power to overhaul struggling schools by turning them into charters or schools run by education management organizations. 


I read in the Inquirer that you based your proposal on the recent academic gains made by the Philadelphia School District, which you attributed to charters and private managers. 


No, I’m not offended that you refused to give credit for this improvement to Philadelphia school teachers like myself who work hard every day educating children in traditional public schools.  I know you’re very busy in Harrisburg, so you probably didn’t read the report prepared by the Accountability Review Council for the School Reform Commission in February of 2007.


The report showed that from 2002 to 2006, PSSA scores went up 23 percent in math and 14.5 percent in reading in district-managed schools, while EMO-managed schools only had gains of 19.6 in math and 11.9 in reading.  In other words, traditional public schools out-performed private managers across the board. 


Working in Harrisburg can be quite time consuming, so it is perfectly acceptable that you failed to read the study conducted by RAND/ Research for Action which concluded, “Schools managed by private providers, with additional resources provided for that management, gained at a similar rate as schools in the rest of the District that did not receive additional resources.”  Loose translation: EMOs did no better even with extra money.


As chairman of the State Education Committee you’re undoubtedly bogged down with loads of data.  This probably explains why you also missed the story in the Washington Post dated June 29th, 2008, headlined, “Setback for Philadelphia Schools Plan”.  The article detailed how the experiment with private managers was basically a flop.


“This month, the experiment suffered a severe setback,” the article reported, “as the state commission overseeing Philadelphia‘s schools voted to take back control of six of the privatized schools, while warning 20 others that they had a year to show progress or they, too, would revert to district control.” 


In 2009, after it was shown that 10 of the 16 elementary schools run by private firms did worse than district-run schools, the district demoted the firms from the status of “manager” to the status of “consultant”.     


Charter schools have a whole boat-load of issues that I won’t bother getting into.  But education management organizations?  Their poor track record speaks for itself. 


So why, Mr. Piccola, is your Education Empowerment Act so set on recycled reforms that don’t work?  Is it politics?  Or is it simply less time consuming to blindly drink the EMO Kool-Aid?    


I thank you for your dedication to education, but you might want to actually research your ideas before you jump on the reform badwagon.         


Yours Truly,


Christopher Paslay

School Teacher