October 2002
Volume 15 No. 11

MEDIABEAT: The Powell Trap
SUMMIT NEWS: Corporate Globalization
MILITARY: The Next Arms Race
BRAZIL: Another World Is Possible
DRUGS: Marketing Fear
PALESTINE: Ethnic Cleansing By Starvation
CONSERVATIVE WATCH: Strangers in a Strained Land
HOUSING: New Jersey & Affordable Housing

CAMPUS ORGANIZING: Illinois Grads Do-It-Yourselves Unionizing
STUDENT STRUGGLES: The Struggle Against ROTC in Puerto Rico
FIGHTING PRIVATIZATION: The Philadelphia Student Union

FOREIGN POLICY: Will the US Attack Iraq?
SOUTH AMERICA: The Political Economy of a Narco-Terror State
WEAPONS: U.S. Dirty Bombs
INTERVIEW: Western Sahara
LESSON PLANS: Why So Many Exams?
WOMEN IN PRISON: The Suffering Within
THE CHURCH: Scandal of Sexual Greed

BOOK REVIEW: The Holocaust Industry by Norman Finkelstein
ENDGAME: Cartoon


U.S. and War with Iraq
Cartoon 1
Cartoon 2

Catholic Church
Cartoon 1
Cartoon 2



Fighting Privatization

The Philadelphia Student Union

Jake Hammon converses with Craig Weeks

The Philadelphia School District is in the midst of a state-mandated takeover, which will privatize some district schools, hiring for-profit companies (the largest of which is Edison Schools) to manage "poorly performing" schools. A number of non-profit organizations, such as Temple University, have also been given some schools to manage.

The Philadelphia Student Union, an organization of students in Philadelphia, have condemned the for-profit orientation of the state takeover and have actively opposed it through direct action.

Craig Weeks is a member of the Philadelphia Student Union and was part of the executive council for the union at Simon Gratz High School in Hunting Park, Philadelphia where he is a sophomore.

HAMMON: How would you assess the quality of Philadelphia public schools before the state takeover?

WEEKS: It's not necessary for there to be a takeover. If there was funding, the schools would run a lot better than they are now.

What's the typical class size?

About 30 kids.

What textbooks are available?

The textbooks.ripped, missing pages, drawn on. The stuff that we use is not really up to date.

What about the argument that they have to hold these schools accountable instead of letting people slide by or else they'll shut down schools that don't do well. Is that going to improve education?

They're going to pay all these for-profit companies and consultants large sums of money that they could be paying the school district to do what the school district was already doing. It's no use.

What problems does the Philadelphia Student Union have with the state takeover?

I see it as, basically, the state hiring people who don't necessarily care about the students they are being hired to help. When Edison was hired to research the schools, what they recommended was that they be hired to run the schools. It's so obvious. All they're worried about is how much they are going to make from this whole thing. Edison has a track record that is horrible. They were hired by New York, but never got to run one school because New York got rid of them.

Are there a number of other organizations that will be running other schools?

There's Temple, Chancellor Beacon.there's a couple of others. I'm not really sure about their names, but the biggest problem I see is Edison, who's track record proves it should not be employed by the Philadelphia School District.

Do you have any information about what they will be doing?

They will basically be doing the same thing Edison is doing. But I would rather have Temple run schools because they are from Philly and they have a way better track record than some of the for-profit companies that are being brought in.

You have a problem then with the for-profit aspect of the companies coming in?

I have a problem with a company coming into the Philadelphia school system, feeding off kids to make large sums of money. The way to take care of a problem is to fix it, not enlarge it.

What have you done personally or what has your organization done to prevent or combat the state takeover?

We protested. We've done civil disobedience. We went to Harrisburg and talked to the legislature. We've talked to city reps. We've talked to Mayor Street. We've been to SRC [School Reform Commission] meetings. I really don't see what else we can do. We've petitioned, we've walked out of schools to have big rallies down at city hall. We conquered the CEO's office of the school board of education. That's pretty much all we've been allowed to do this far.

What do you mean by "allowed?"

There are other things that we've tried to do. When Mayor Street and Schwiker met at the convention center to announce the state takeover, we weren't allowed in the building. There were a lot of places we weren't allowed to go to because we intended to speak at meetings. We make ourselves known. They're making a lot of decisions that students, parents, and community members aren't being allowed to comment on and go to meetings to discuss. When they shut us out they are not concerned about what we are saying. The city council even passed a bill, which said parents should be allowed to speak at meetings, but it was ignored.

What is the response that most students have had to the state takeover?

There are a lot of students who aren't really aware of what's going on. Then there's another group of students who don't want it and don't agree with it and don't like it, but feel there's nothing they can do about it. We're all worried about the impact this is going to have on our learning.

How involved have the parents been in the school situation?

Well, there's different numbers, depending on where the meeting is or when it is being held, but the parents that go to events, they're making their points clear. They don't want it, they won't settle for it, they won't sit around and let it happen, they don't agree with it. They don't think that city schools should be privatized at all. They've been to public schools as far back as you can think and now all of a sudden they want to bring in these companies to make money.

How important do you think it is, in general, for parents to be involved in what's going on now?

I think that's the key factor to the decision. Students can make a voice, but we're still students. Our parents are our authority figures and they have the most impact on the decisions that are being made. If parents don't take a stand, then they're allowing companies who could care less about their children to come in and destroy their learning experiences.

Do you agree with using standardized tests as a measure of achievement?

No, you can't realize how a child is doing by testing. You have to look at the work that he or she does in the classroom. You have reading, writing, math, and class work. When you look at how a child is doing in school, you have to look at the whole thing.

What is your reaction to the Bush voucher plan to use public money to send kids to privatized schools?

They are putting public schools further down because they are taking money that we don't have and giving it to schools that have double and triple what we have. It's not working. You can't make one school better than another. All students have to learn at some point.

What do you think is going to be the result of sending students to privatized schools on public money?

More school districts ending up like Philadelphia: barely any money, 30 kids in a classroom, messy buildings.

Does your organization have anything planned this year?

Not yet. I have my own personal goals. I'm planning on educating as many students as possible about what is going on.

Did the teachers discuss with their classes what was going on?

I don't think teachers were actually allowed to.

Did the Administration do anything to educate the students?


What do you think is the most important issue facing Philadelphia students?

We need up-to-date books. We need more and new technology. The new budget that was passed- 55 million out of 80 million is going to schools that are being privatized.

What would you like to see instead of the state takeover?

The money they're spending on these companies and consultants, spend it on the students. Spend it on the people who need it.

Jake Hammon is a high school social studies teacher in Holland, PA.

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