Thursday, November 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Philly, be like Colorado!

Colorado has a schools solution that Philadelphia should be looking at

Philly, be like Colorado!

Since it's Frank Bruni week here at Attytood, here's an interesting look at what's happening in Colorado where -- unlike a City of Brotherly Love we all know -- the operators of charter schools and the teachers' unions are actually on the same side of fixing schools:

If the overhaul were a socialist sop to teachers’ unions, the campaign for it wouldn’t have received $1 million from Michael Bloomberg and the support of some prominent Colorado businesses.

It does direct more money proportionally to poor schools and at-risk students, but as Hickenlooper said to me, “Everybody has a self-interest in reducing the number of dropouts.” He noted that more and better-educated high school graduates would mean less crime and a stronger work force, attracting investment to Colorado.

He’s by no means a conventionally liberal Democrat. Neither is the overhaul’s chief architect, a young state senator named Mike Johnston who used to be a schoolteacher and principal and previously sponsored a law that ended traditional tenure in Colorado’s public schools. It drew robust Republican support.

His education overhaul is a shrewd grab bag of ideas from different camps that recognizes the political imperative of such eclecticism and the lack of any magic bullet for student improvement. It invests in early childhood education, teacher training, a fund for innovative projects, charters. It ratchets up local control and flexibility, giving principals an unprecedented degree of autonomy over spending. It also enables parents to see, online, how much money goes into instruction versus administration at their children’s schools. There’s transparency. Accountability.

I'm not an expert on all the ins and outs of the measure, and I'm sure that like most things produced by government that there are flaws in it. That said, this seems to be the kind of thing that people always claim that they want but that so rarely happens: A compromise that has a little something for everyone and actually seeks to make things better and not worse.

Giving principals more flexibility in hiring, etc. -- OK in theory but often prone to abuse in reality -- is a long-cherished conservative goal, but it's a lot more palatable when coupled with liberal ideals like early childhood education. And you see, all it took was...money.

OK, OK, I know what you're saying. But when we talk about money, what we're really talking about in huge bureaucracies like the state of Pennsylvania (which, you'll recall, runs the schools here in Philadelphia), is priorities. Nobody writes angry online screeds about how much of their tax dollars are spent/wasted on prisons like they do for schools.

Colorado is deciding whether to spend a few more dollars upfront now on its schools so maybe it can spend a few less on jail cells down the road.

Why isn't Pennsylvania doing the same thing?

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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