Some intriguing questions have been raised by the floating of Councilman Bill Green's name as a possible successor to Pedro Ramos, who quit as chairman of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission in October, three months before the end of his term.
Speculation that Green will run for mayor in 2015 has subsided somewhat, but leaving City Council for the unpaid SRC post would allow him to remain visible despite the requirement that Council members and other city employees resign to run for another position. (By the way, Councilman David Oh is trying to get that rule changed.)
Leaving Council also might help Green shake criticism that he is too chummy with electricians' union boss John Dougherty, whose union has been accused of skirting city campaign-finance laws by funneling funds to Green's 2011 reelection effort through Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer's campaign.
Beyond the politics is the question of what Green would do if Gov. Corbett appointed him to the SRC. Green hasn't specified, but his past policy papers suggest he would follow the lead of former Philadelphia schools Superintendent Paul Vallas, who went on to transform the New Orleans district. Nearly 90 percent of that city's students now attend charter schools.
Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, jolted New Orleans out of its tolerance for schools with a 70 percent dropout rate and abysmal test scores. Vallas took over in 2007 and expedited a move toward charters. A new study by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes lauds New Orleans' charter schools, saying 90 percent of their students perform at grade level in math and 80 percent do so in reading. They receive the equivalent of 120 more days of learning in reading and 150 more in math than students in the city's traditional public schools.
Numbers like those should get Philadelphia's attention. But that doesn't mean that what worked there would work here. For one thing, charters seem to be better-regulated in Louisiana, with the state wielding more control over the organizations that run them. In Pennsylvania, local districts have limited authority over charters, while the state is mostly missing in action.
New Orleans also eliminated most attendance zones, allowing students to choose almost any district or charter school, and it got rid of collective bargaining agreements. That's unlikely to happen in Philadelphia, a city justifiably proud of its union history. But it is worth noting as faces on the SRC change and members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers continue to work without a contract.
The union may have plenty of time to ponder the SRC's next move, since the governor won't be able to get Ramos' replacement confirmed before the state Senate recesses for the year. Former Convention Center director Al Mezzaroba has also been mentioned as a candidate for the job. Corbett will also have to replace the commission's Joe Dworetzky, whose term expires in 2014.