Bill Green’s Education Views: Way More Reasonable Than Tom Corbett’s Views

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As someone who is interested in weakening the power of the Building Trades Council over Philadelphia politics because of their inflationary contribution to Philly’s construction costs, I want to share Sean Kitchen’s hit on Johnny Doc’s long-standing support for education privatization while quibbling mightily with his bottom line.

Sean does a good job of contextualizing the Bill Green nomination within recent news events, and makes it all sound very sinister. But it seems to me that whether or not this is a sinister thing hinges critically on your opinion of Bill Green’s stated views on public education, which Sean blockquotes at length near the bottom of his post.

“If we were building a school system with $2.8 billion from scratch, what would it look like? . . . We really have to start with a . . . Louisiana recovery school district type model, and . . . unlimited expansion of charter schools. . . .

“The recovery school district is statewide. It takes the worst X percent of schools – it probably would need to be 20 percent in Philadelphia – and . . . basically focuses on underperforming schools. And usually makes them charter operated. . . . The success has been tremendous. Because if the charter operators aren’t working, they quickly move them. There are no politics involved. It’s the state Department of Education that makes the decisions and that’s it. . . .

“Part of the problem now is you have a school district that is managing great magnet schools, some great neighborhood schools, and some horribly run schools. You can’t do all of that well. You need more of a hyper-focus, and I think we need a separate entity with just a hyper-focus on our worst performing schools. . . .

“I would create the recovery school district, I would eliminate the School Reform Commission, and I would have the mayor appoint the school board so that there’s local accountability for the public school system.”

I personally don’t really see what the problem with this is supposed to be. Green pretty clearly isn’t saying that he always prefers charters over public schools, or that public schools can’t do a good job.

He’s saying that there are good public schools and good charters, and bad public schools and bad charters, and he wants to let somebody else have a try at educating under-served kids where they’re being, well, under-served.

And reading the tea leaves of today’s Inquirer article a bit, it’s notable that he’s saying this is about traditional public schools and public charters. He’s not saying that private schools will do a better job of educating kids, because of some blind faith in privately-run for-profit organizations like Tom Corbett and the Republicans are saying.

I read the evidence as saying that public charters and traditional public schools have similar AYP scores (some good, some bad), that private charters have worse scores on average, and that private cyber schools are running an evil scam on us all.

In light of this, Green has a decidedly non-ideological take on the issue, especially in contrast with the highly ideological view that puts seniority, and other status quo teacher union-friendly management practices ahead of what the data says is working best for kids. The main reason to oppose public charters is if you support seniority and oppose moves towards merit pay, which I personally don’t.

At bottom, this is what we should want from the head of the School Reform Commission, as long as it continues to exist in this form. (Notice Green is also saying he wants to abolish it and have the Mayor appoint a local school board). We all agree that the Philly School District has a huge funding problem driven by state cuts. But the SRC doesn’t have the power to raise revenues, so Bill Green can’t do anything to fix the revenue problem. His one mission is internal reforms – management reforms.

This entry was posted in Education.

18 Responses to Bill Green’s Education Views: Way More Reasonable Than Tom Corbett’s Views

  1. Peter Cook says:

    Refreshing to see an even-handed take on Bill Green’s views on how to improve education. I didn’t understand why Nutter put out that press release attacking his appointment.

  2. jkudler says:

    “. . .the highly ideological view that puts seniority, and other status quo teacher union-friendly management practices ahead of what the data says is working best for kids.” Is there actual good data on this?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I’m going off the AYP scores piece I linked to that shows cybers dragging down the overall charter performance. Without cybers they’re roughly equal. I think that’s why you see John Hanger, who’s a wonk first and politician second, only singling out cyber schools for his ire, and largely sparing physical charter schools from serious criticism.

      • jkudler says:

        No, I meant about seniority specifically.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Oh well seniority’s just bullshit. Why don’t we just flip a coin to see who to fire? If we’re interested in retaining the best people we have to figure out who they are. No evidence that there’s any relationship between length of tenure and effectiveness.

          • jkudler says:

            That doesn’t seem to be what the piece I linked says. I honestly don’t know. But you said below: “This Brookings paper has also persuaded me that the current measures of teacher quality are basically bullshit and have no relationship to actual skill at teaching. “, so I’m asking if we actually have any better measures and thus any better system than seniority, which is at least clearly quantifiable. The sense I have gotten is that we don’t, unless you really heart standardized testing (and want to encourage more cheating scandals).

          • Jon Geeting says:

            I really do like testing and think that it’s possible to detect cheating through statistical analysis of test scores, which we did. My mother-in-law is a HS principal in Tennessee and just got her PhD in educational organization management so I’ll hit her up for some studies. I defer to her on this issue because she’s probably the least ideological person I know, loves public education, and is very frustrated with the people who claim we can’t measure teacher performance.

          • Seniority is NOT bullshit at all. With seniority comes experience, institutional knowledge, and all sorts of intangibles.

  3. Kevin Parker says:


    Where do you arrive at your distinction between a “public” charter and a “private” charter? From your post, it seems that you infer – not illogically – that since Green voices support for public charter schools, there must be private charter schools that he opposes. This may be a clever rhetorical trick on Green’s part, though I suspect, sadly, he is laboring under a misconception.

    All charter schools are, by statute, public schools in that they admit all students and are, ostensibly, free (i.e., do not charge admission). Your – and Green’s – distinction between a public charter school and a private is not codified in law. Moreover, this attitude that you share with Green regarding “good” charters and “good” traditional public schools versus “bad” charters and “bad” traditional public schools as defined by AYPs is a dangerous and destructive attitude. Here is why.

    1) While charters may be legally designated as public entities in that they provide a public good, they are not managed nor operated as such. They are not required to disclose financial information as a public school district might, nor are their employees entitled to the rights (including collective bargaining) as public schools. Further, a frequent defense of charter schools in any legal challenge is to claim that they are private entities. In essence, they are private entities paid with the public dollars.

    2) Charter schools are not neighborhood schools. This may seem obvious in that they draw students beyond the borders of a traditional neighborhood or school district, but there is an insidious aspect to this as well. The demographics of charter schools rarely, if ever, reflect the demographics of neighboring public schools. There are fewer kids receiving free or reduced lunch, fewer kids with special needs, and fewer English language learners. Further, the attrition rates at charter schools are far higher than traditional public schools, suggesting that students are “counseled out” at key grades to improve test scores. Those students who receive free and reduced lunch, have special needs, or are learning English require more services and are thus more expensive to educate. They become concentrated in the neighborhood public schools, thereby increasing financial burdens for those schools.

    3) Consistent with the free-market mentality with which they have been implemented, charter schools operate with little-to-no oversight from the Department of Education. Thus, charges of embezzlement, corruption, etc. proliferate. Moreover, when a charter closes – either through financial malfeasance or poor academic performance – the closure is extremely disruptive to the students it served. Children – particularly those that charters are supposed to help – need stability, not creative disruption. Further, as creatures of a free market, their very survival depends on expansion: charter schools compete for enrollment – and fund marketing campaigns accordingly. Citizens pay for those marketing campaigns. Finally, as happens in the free market, the charter school market is vulnerable to market consolidation, in which national chains subsume charter schools. This makes them even less transparent in their finances and practices and even less responsive to local needs.

    4) The existence of charter schools is a drain on resources for traditional public schools. This occurs, in part, from bad policy: e.g., Pennsylvania requires that cybercharters be remunerated at the same rate as brick-and-mortar charters. However, it is inevitable in even seemingly good policy. As Joseph Dworetsky wrote recently for the Notebook, the policy of reimbursing per pupil conflicts with the fixed costs of maintaining neighborhood school buildings. This is an unavoidable consequence of charter schools’ existence.

    5) Despite all of this, charter schools do not outperform traditional public schools. This has been extensively researched and documented in quality, peer-reviewed research that has decidedly not been paid for by Bill Gates, the Waltons, or Eli Broad.

    What Green is advocating, and you are supporting, is a balkanized vision of education in which the role of parents (and, I suppose) students is one of a consumer choosing their product as they might choose their breakfast cereal. That may be appropriate for breakfast cereal, but it is not when it comes to a child’s education. If you believe this vision is appropriate or convincing, I invite you to study what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Paul Vallas’s vision of parents selecting the best products in the market was supposed to lead to excellence and innovation in the Crescent City. It has not.

    The fact is charter schools compete with public schools, and that competition is to no one’s benefit – least of all children. Only a traditional public school that is reflective of and servings its community can adequately provide for the public good. What this requires in the 21st century and for children in poverty is for another time.

    I was not warmed by Corbett’s selection, though I do not think Green is any worse than Ramos. Moreover, since he obviously has further political aspirations and seems capable of evolving opinions, I am hopeful that, confronted with public opinion and the facts, Green will come to the same conclusions.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      If you scan the blog you’ll see this isn’t usually my issue, but I do think there are some things teachers unions say that, from paying attention to the news and opinion writing on this topic, are bullshit.

      Don’t get me wrong, there’s almost nothing I like about Pennsylvania’s charter school laws. Cybers are a complete scam, and the whole regulatory framework is extremely scam-friendly. They should not be allowed to keep private financial information, and should not be entitled to any proprietary claims on their methods whatsoever. The whole point is to have public schools learn from their best practices. We need to change the law to codify their status as public entities. I do not support private schools and religious schools receiving public dollars. Nobody should be allowed to skim the most privileged kids, especially not with public money.

      I do not support the concept of the neighborhood school, given how segregated Pennsylvania’s cities and suburbs are, do not support locally-based funding of schools, and do not support the concept of a catchment area. This is one of the most malign “privatization” forces in my opinion, since rich families essentially privatize access to good schools by pricing people out of the area public schools. Anecdotally, we know that people use land use controls to keep multifamily housing and renters out of good catchment areas. I hope to put some meat on the bones of this this summer with a mapping project that compares school catchment areas, real estate values, and building permits for Philadelphia County. Stay tuned.

      I think that traditional schools and charters are roughly equal in their effectiveness, but the higher degree of teacher turnover at charters, and the lower average staff age, suggests to me that charters actually get better results than one would expect.

      This Brookings paper has also persuaded me that the current measures of teacher quality are basically bullshit and have no relationship to actual skill at teaching.

      As I said, this isn’t my issue and I of course want to be open-minded about areas where I haven’t studied the issues deeply myself, but these are the premises of teachers unions and their supporters that seem specious to me. I think some charters’ success at teaching students with the same socio-economic profiles as those in nearby failing schools is sufficient evidence for me to want to see such schools gobble up poorly-performing public schools in these areas.

      • Tim says:

        Don’t throw out neighborhood schools with the real-estate-induced school segregation bathwater.

        It’s important to have schools (grade schools especially) that serve the local community and that are walkable for young children. Shipping kids around the city by car or transit to access better integrated charters is not a good solution to unequal funding and expensive catchments of the Penn Alexander/Meredith mold.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          I don’t really know what else to do about it though? Which politicians are going to propose forced upzonings in good catchment districts?

        • blurb says:

          This happens with “traditional” schools as well, in Philadelphia. School quality was so low, students in the worst catchments volunteer to get bussed to slightly less terrible catchments. Traditional schools like Rox HS, Bok and Lincoln particularly reflect this, in that they bear little resemblance to their surrounding communities, but it happened all over the district.

  4. Kevin Parker says:

    It’s amazing how you substitute “bullshit” for any coherent argument, but I still feel compelled to respond.

    So, you don’t like the way charter laws in this state have been written and implemented. But point to state where they have been written and implemented to your satisfaction. Show a state where charters have educating all children without selection, have not been rife with corruption and mismanagement, and have not drained resources from the surrounding district. I would point you to Sweden’s privatization experiment, but you may not like the results.

    Your solution (abolishing school districts) is disturbing for its implications about poor kids and their parents and indifferent to the democratic process and the value of a community. Implicit in your argument are two highly problematic ideas: good schools are only to be found in rich communities and poor kids can only be educated among rich kids. Also, if neighborhood schools really are the problem, and yours is clearly the best solution, why were so many parents protesting the closure of their neighborhood schools? Do they simply not know what is best for them. It’s good they have you to tell them.

    Neither your original post, nor my reply, mention anything about teacher evaluation. It is not even tangentially related to the issue here. Needless to say, you are way, way, way out of your depth and should probably read something other than a single Brookings paper.

    Charters get “better results than one would expect?” Who was expecting them to do worse than public schools? If so, what was the point in creating such disruption in the American school system? The original claim, which you have conveniently forgotten, was that public schools would learn best practices from them. Charters succeed because of the endless drilling and test preparation, high attrition rates, and selective students. They have an easier educational task.

    Oh, and regarding that “research” you linked to the Pennsylvania Independent, you didn’t read my full post did you? “Economically Disadvantaged” is not defined. Further, there is a huge gap between a reduced lunch and a free lunch, and both most be accounted for when comparing demographics. It is also makes no mention of special education, English language learners, or attrition rates. Thanks for the glib comment, though.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Again, not my issue so I’m not super familiar with other states’ policies, but I know what I don’t like about PA’s law – local district approval of charters, rather than state approval; proprietary control of information; lack of financial disclosure as to what they’re doing with public money; the difficulty of closing bad charters (and bad traditional schools); and the inability to hold anyone (charter or traditional) accountable for performance. There are probably more things I don’t like about it, but these are my top priorities.

      School districts in PA are massively segregated. I understand the need for a middle layer between state and schools, and I think the Intermediate Units are the best option there. Yes, I’m aware that the PSD is the IU for Philly. I think it’s obvious, and proven, that mixed-income schools are better for poor kids, but again, I found PA Independent’s article persuasive that it is possible to educate kids from more difficult home environments, and teacher quality is the important variable there. We need to know who the best teachers are, at charters and at traditional schools, and we need to pay them more to work in difficult schools. I’m aware that the idea of the neighborhood school is popular, but lots of things in America that are popular don’t work. I would argue that American education is so messed up precisely because of how hyper-local the decisionmaking is – no national standards, no national curriculum, etc. It’s the Tea Party’s dream come true.

      My point about expecting them to do worse was that people say high teacher turnover and more first and second-year teachers should have worse results than schools where seniority reigns. But that’s not what we see at all. Traditional public schools and charters get about the same results on average. Isn’t this evidence that charter school management practices are so superior that they can get the same results as traditional schools (or better in the case of KIPP) even with higher turnover?

      • jkudler says:

        “Traditional public schools and charters get about the same results on average. Isn’t this evidence that charter school management practices are so superior that they can get the same results as traditional schools (or better in the case of KIPP) even with higher turnover?”

        DUDE. you know they don’t have the same populations coming in.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Here’s a bill I supported that I think would go a long way toward holding charters accountable.