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Corporations Advise School Closings, While Private Charters Suck Public Schools Away

As charter proponents aim to cash in on major investment returns, Philly braces for a massive schools shakeup.

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But Philadelphians are finding ways to fight back. Teachers Lead Philly has been actively providing resources and education to people who want to get involved. And the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, a group that includes teachers, parents and students, has drafted a plan it is promoting as an alternative to the slated closures. It includes reforms that aren’t being discussed, like “support for struggling schools,” “truly safe schools,” “citywide collaboration,” and “democratic representation” in school governance. Public forums that give families a chance to speak out, meanwhile, attract opponents on a regular basis.

Students are organizing protests on their own, as well. Because they have fewer resources than the billionaires spearheading the charter school effort, they have to find creative ways to get attention. So on January 15, members of the Philadelphia Student Union staged a zombie flash mob called “Student Apocalypse: A Brainless Future.” With Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” blasting, they danced and brandished signs with slogans like, “No education, no life.” According to The Notebook, Philadelphia high school senior Chris Riley said, “This event symbolizes what would happen if they go through with the plan. I want the District to look at us, take a step back, and think.”

None of the closures and incorporations are official yet. But the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, which makes the budget decisions, is comprised of people appointed by pro-charter Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett, and millions of tax dollars have already gone to the plethora of outside agencies paid to draft the plan. The truth is that the parents, students and educators of Philadelphia do not have the upper hand, either in funding or public influence. But don’t think they will go down without a fight.


*Helen Gym was originally misidentified as a "teacher-organizer." She is the parent of three children in Philadelphia public schools and works with teachers' organizations.

Kristin Rawls is a freelance writer whose work has also appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, GOOD Magazine, Religion Dispatches, Killing the Buddha, Global Comment and elsewhere online.