Should test scores save Ackerman's job?

Philadelphians are discussing whether schools Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman should hit the road before her contract expires in 2014.

There appears to be little likelihood that the School Reform Commission, which is as glued as a tube of Elmer’s to Ackerman, would willingly go that route.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman says that if she leaves Philadelphia, it's just for the summer.

But in any discussion it should be noted that beyond Ackerman’s inability to do any better than her predecessor in balancing a budget, political illiteracy seems to be her biggest shortcoming.

If she were better at politics, Ackerman would be better at public relations and probably getting as much credit as other superintendents around the country for continually rising test scores.

In fact, Philadelphia schoolchildren’s test scores have risen for nine straight years, the last three while Ackerman was in charge.

The latest results from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams show 59 percent of the city’s students met state standards in math, up 3 points over last year. Reading scores increased 2 points, with 52 percent meeting the benchmark.

The PSSA results also indicate that the Promise Academies started this year by Ackerman are making a significant difference. There was a 6 percent increase in the reading scores of Promise students and an 11 percent increase in their math scores.

Don’t shout too loudly, because that still means only 29 percent of Promise students scored well in reading and only 37 percent in math. But their progress is nonetheless commendable, and a sign that Ackerman is on to something.

Under her Imagine 2014 initiative, the Promise schools were given additional resources and a longer school day. The district wants to open an additional 11 Promise Academies in September.

Maybe it is time for Ackerman to go. Her poor reputation certainly didn’t serve the district well politically as it tried to squeeze more money out of the legislature to overcome its deficit. And her name, for some, has become synonymous with egotism.

But if she stays, there’s work to be done. More than 40 percent of city students still can’t read or do basic math at grade level. Black and Hispanic students lag behind their white and Asian peers. Too many schools are too violent.

“The task at hand is far from complete,” says Ackerman. Agreed. But the question now is whether her missteps up to this point have so damaged her ability to provide what the district needs that she should step aside.