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‘Declaration of Education’: all surface, no substance

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

To the editors:

The School District of Philadelphia’s Declaration of Education is much like the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law. It sounds good. But once you make your way through the advertising and public relations, you will see that substance and accountability are lacking.

Presented as a new slate of ambitious goals that will dramatically reform and enhance our city’s schools, the Declaration is more hype – much like "Children Achieving," introduced to us with the same amount of fanfare in the 90s.

Here we are in the new millennium witnessing the same thing from the same district. More fancy sayings that do nothing but exploit our children, their parents and their communities – all in the name of reform.

Take for instance the Declaration’s target goal of closing the Black/White achievement gap. Nowhere does the District address or even acknowledge the cause of the achievement gap – racial discrimination.

In her long-ignored 1994 court order, Commonwealth Court Judge Doris A. Smith stated, "The record firmly establishes that the School District is failing or refusing to provide an equal educational opportunity and a quality education to children attending racially isolated minority schools." She went on to instruct the District to "eliminate the racial disparities in educational opportunity and academic achievement that exist in the public schools."

But Paul Vallas and the School Reform Commission are forging ahead on this issue as if Judge Smith’s findings don’t even exist. They are attempting to close the achievement gap without first addressing the discrimination that’s causing it. That’s not reform. That’s repulsive. It leads African American students to believe that they are lagging behind their White counterparts because they are less intelligent – subliminally instilling a sense of inferiority in them.

Other "ambitious" goals of the Declaration are to ensure that 80 percent of students in grades 3 to 11 are proficient in basic subjects like reading, science and math and that 85 percent of high school students graduate by the year 2008. Not only are the District’s graduation and proficiency goals unambitious, they’re insulting. What happens to the 20 percent of our children who don’t reach proficiency and the 15 percent who don’t graduate? Aren’t they going to be "left behind?"

What’s further disappointing about the Declaration is the glaring absence of a target goal to implement African and African American studies in the curriculum. This absence shows that the District’s recent announcement to include such studies cannot be taken seriously as a method to bring about improvements and reform.

Jerome C. Avery
Chair, African and African Descent Curriculum and Instruction Reform Committee,
Philadelphia, PA
Javeryxx @ netscape.com

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