Public education activists are living through an interesting moment now in Philadelphia. The School Reform Commission is being disbanded. In the coming months Mayor Jim Kenney will be appointing a school board from nominations put forth by a select panel. The process is murky, and a pattern of closed-door education policy decision-making has been established here, here, and here. Last night, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce held a ticketed event to discuss the future of business in our schools at Girard College, an important site of struggle in the Civil Rights Movement. You had to be a Chamber of Commerce affiliate to purchase a $35 ticket for the event, which included the following language on the event website.
One of the lead sponsors of the night’s event was Comcast, the Philadelphia-based telecommunications giant that established a partnership with Khan Academy in 2013 and would benefit tremendously from increased digitization of public education. It appears the future of public education in our city is being mapped out by industry, venture capital, and well-connected non-profit and higher education partners. The people, meanwhile, are left standing outside the gate. Last night, however, the real action WAS outside the gate as a dozen activists carried out an act of civil disobedience to contest policies of exclusion and shine a light on the mayor’s hypocrisy in casting this new school board as a step towards accountable local control. Because what does “local control” actually mean if educational policies are being directed by the hands of elite interests in Greek Temples with no teachers, students, or parents present?
On January 29, 2018 from 5-5:45pm we claimed the space in front of the entrance to the Girard College campus, carrying banners that read “Nothing About Us Without Us,” “Public Schools NOT Private Profit,” “Teachers Before Tech,” and “Our Children Are NOT Data, Human Capital, or Impact Investment Opportunities.” This blockade compelled attendees to park along a nearby street and walk past the people to the gates where members of the Caucus of Working Educators pressed our demands for transparency in school governance into their hands. Click here for a copy of the handout we gave attendees. The video below provides a 15-minute overview of the action.
A second video features remarks directed to Mayor Kenney, including the following five demands:
No private “stakeholders” who have financial dealings with the Philadelphia public school system will sit on any policy boards or committees. The voices and needs of students, teachers, and parents must take precedence over those of private interests, including corporations and non-profit organizations.
No public official or employee of the school system or school board may be present at any closed-door meetings where public education business or policies are discussed. Public education policy and business will NOT be developed in any venue that restricts public access. All provisions of the open meeting laws will apply: nothing about us without us.
Philadelphia’s corporations and non-profits are obligated to pay their fair of taxes and PILOTs and vigorously advocate for the full public funding that is needed to make our neighborhood schools whole.
Establish a clear public commitment to early literacy by reducing class size, restoring school libraries with librarians, and providing reading specialists to all schools. Refuse technological solutions, like Waterford UPSTART, and adaptive online learning systems that isolate and data-mine children.
The City of Philadelphia must take a public stand against the use of social impact finance “solutions” including Pay for Success contracts and social impact bonds to fund early childhood education, K12 education and workforce development. Public schools should be funded with PUBLIC dollars, not philanthropy or venture capital.
We have requested the Mayor’s Office of Education address our demands publicly by February 9, 2018. Please support us by asking our mayor to respond to these demands by tweeting a link to either video to @PhillyMayor and @OtisHackney (the Mayor’s Office of Education) using hashtag #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs and #PhlEd. Our demands are provided as the first comment in each video.
These are the prepared remarks issued via video by Alison McDowell, Philadelphia public school parent, to the Honorable Mayor James Kenney, at Girard College on January 29, 2018.
“Tonight the Chamber of Commerce is holding a private event here at Girard College with representatives of the Mayor’s Office of Education, The Philadelphia Education Fund, the Read By Fourth Campaign and various corporate and non-profit partners. They will be discussing their roadmap for growing business engagement in Philadelphia’s schools.
Students were not invited to this event.
Parents were not invited to this event.
Teachers were not invited to this event.
Unless you were affiliated with the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, you did not even have the option to purchase a $35 ticket to this event.
The website for this event stated that pre-registration was required and that as a privately sponsored event no demonstrations or disruptions would be tolerated and that if there were dissent, those people would be removed and face legal remedies.
And so I ask:
Is this the type of partner you would want for your school community?
And why exactly should we trust the Chamber of Commerce with our children’s futures?
The Chamber of Commerce has presided over an economy that leaves a quarter of our citizens in poverty and twelve percent in DEEP poverty.
The Chamber of Commerce sees a future where corporate interests mine Philadelphia’s abundant poverty for profit. The social impact investment economy they envision will employ technological “solutions” to privatize public services through outcomes-based contracts while at the same time using Big Data to profile children as human capital commodities. The incubator for these programs is the ImpactPHL initiative.
As concerned citizens, we will not stand idly by and let that happen.
WE are the true stakeholders of public education.
We are parents and teachers and community members who know that our children deserve better than to become pawns served up to industry as a just-in-time, precariat workforce, trying to scrape by in an increasingly automated gig economy.
We stand here today to demand fair and transparent governance of our public schools.
We demand our schools be managed as a public trust for the people, not for private profit.
We demand an end to closed-door meetings where government officials make plans for our children that prioritize the interests of corporations and their non-profit and higher education partners.
We demand education based in human relationships and well-resourced classrooms that promote curiosity and community.
We demand supports for literacy that include reduced class sizes, certified reading specialists, certified librarians and functioning school libraries.
We reject a model of education that ties our children to digital devices designed to extract their data and generate profit for private interests. We reject online learning programs like Waterford Upstart online pre-school.
We demand our city publicly renounce outcomes-based government contracts, pay for success and social impact bonds to finance public education and other human services. Such “innovative” financial instruments use Big Data to profile children as human capital commodities.
We stand here today in this highly symbolic space where in 1965, for seven months, Cecil B. Moore and the youth of North Philadelphia led pickets around this wall. They fought tirelessly to access educational opportunities denied them based on the color of their skin.
We stand here today on their shoulders as our schools disintegrate and our children and teachers face unhealthy building conditions, overcrowded classrooms, and a profound lack of resources. This is due to intentional austerity. Public funds withheld from public education to create impact investment opportunities for venture capital. It is strategy perpetrated by those who attend tonight’s event, cloaking themselves in false charity.
Mayor Kenney, our schools are not a charity. Cardboard checks and volunteers do not make up for the tax revenue our children lose to abatements for the elite. These so-called community partners have an obligation to pay their fair share of taxes and PILOTs and vigorously advocate for full public funding for our schools. Even as you laud this moment as one of progress, we stand here exposing the truth. Local control means nothing if exclusive events like this take place with participation from the Mayor’s Office of Education. We stand here witness to a fraud.
In addition to being a parent of a Philadelphia public school student, I am also a member of the Saturday Free School. We meet weekly at the Church of the Advocate and on February 23 we will launch a year of reading the visionary scholar, writer, and activist William Edward Burghardt DuBois. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of his birth we are inviting people from all over the city to join us as we experience and discuss his revolutionary writings. Through education for liberation, we believe we can reclaim our humanity and build the kind of future our children deserve.
In closing I share these words from his essay The Immortal Child published in 1920 in Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil”
“Can we teach Revolution to the inexperienced in hope that they may discern progress? No, but we may teach frankly that this world is not perfection, but development; that the object of education is manhood and womanhood, clear reason, individual talent and genius and the spirit of service and sacrifice, and not simply a frantic effort to avoid change in present institutions; that industry is for man and not man for industry and that while we must have workers to work, the prime object of our training is not the work, but the worker-not the maintenance of the present industrial caste but the development of human intelligence by which drudgery may be lessened and beauty widened.”