School Reform Commission in Philly votes to dissolve

The School Reform Commission, which has governed the public schools of Philadelphia, voted 3-1 to dissolve Thursday; a new school board is expected to be in place by July 1, The Notebook reports.

Phila., Jan., Protesters demand local school control & pipeline divestiture (Joe Piette / Flickr CC)

“We fought using collective bargaining,” the news site quoted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, as saying. “We fought in the courts of law. We fought in the court of public opinion. But most importantly we fought to make our kids have a great education.” She was on hand for the historic vote.

William Hite, the school superintendent, agreed that the action was “a historic vote,” and he promised to “continue to advocate for the necessary resources to increase our successes, maintain our stability, and advance the positive momentum we have been able to achieve.”

The schools will now revert to mayoral control, but parents and other education advocates have vowed not to rest until an “elected” school board can be seated.

The vote comes one day before Friday’s 50th anniversary of the beginning of student activism in the city, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted.

“After a year of careful preparations, more than 3,000 Philadelphia public school students poured out of their classrooms and converged on the old Board of Education building at 21st Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway to protest conditions for black students,” the paper reported. “They came with a list of 25 suggested changes and requests, from the infusion of black history into the curriculum to the right to wear their hair in Afros.”

Those students were seeking to evict a school system that was dominated by whites at the top. Mr Hite, formerly a superintendent of one of Maryland’s largest school systems, is black, and the vote may signal an eventual end to top-down rule in the City of Brotherly Love.

Councilwoman Helen Gym read a proclamation Friday, honoring the actions of students in the 1967 protests. She said the issues of 50 years ago feel very modern in some ways: concerns over community control of schools, young people’s voice, matters of race.

“We want to honor not just what happened 50 years ago, but to recognize that student activists from then until today have been very present in the effort for racial and educational justice,” she was quoted as saying.

“For years, the schools were the plaything of politicians, the business community, and civic leaders,” wrote education historian Diane Ravitch. “Failure after failure. One disastrous experiment after another. Many millions squandered on privatization.

“Today, state control ends and a new chapter begins,” she concluded, pointing readers on her blog to an extensive history of school control in Philadelphia.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.