Philadelphia Student Union
Hammon converses with Craig Weeks
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
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
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
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
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
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
Not yet. I have my own personal goals. I'm planning
on educating as many students as possible about what is going
Did the teachers discuss with their classes
what was going on?
I don't think teachers were actually allowed
Did the Administration do anything to educate
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
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.