Can Green escape politics as SRC Chair?

Opinion January 23, 2014 0 Comments

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by Pete Mazzaccaro

The choice of City Councilman Bill Green as head of the School Reform Commission is an interesting one. And not just for the fact that a Republican Governor would tap a Democratic politician for the job.

At first pass, one wonders if Green sees the job as a stepping-stone to a run for Mayor. Green was considered by many political observers to be trying out for a mayoral run when he first ran for City Council in 2007. His father, Bill Green III, held the job, and his grandfather, Bill Green Jr., was considered to be one of the most powerful Congressmen in the country in the 1950s and early 1960s.

It would stand to reason that the third generation of Green politicians would be ambitious.

But the thing is this: Green is taking on responsibility for what might be the most unsolvable problem in Philadelphia – fixing what would at best be described as a struggling public school system. The safe bet would be that Green will likely not be able to effect change, and that his best bet would be to stave off further decline.

There are nearly 200,000 children in the Philadelphia public school system. Only 60 percent manage to graduate from high school. On top of that, the district is in a constant state of financial peril. The district has also been involved in a widespread cheating scandal that has landed it in hot water with the State Attorney General.

A solution always seems impossible, not just because of the economic realities of some of the city’s most struggling neighborhood schools, but also because it’s hard to imagine just how the district could be saved. Many minds have been put to the task and have come up short.

Green knows that the challenge ahead of him is a great one. Over the course of his time in City Council, Green has authored two position papers on education. He has called for the overhaul of the SRC, transforming it into two new agencies.

He also has called for other changes that are not in accord with standard Democratic policies, such as more charter school seats and teacher accountability. It’s no doubt that those views helped earn him less than favorable public comments from Mayor Michael Nutter and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Green, however, says things that should appeal to anyone who wants to see better days for the city’s public schools. Primarily, he says he wants to close the achievement gap between the city and suburban schools. And he believes that change has to be “transformative.”

“We have to do things very different from the way we’re doing them today,” he told WHYY last week.

Green said recently that his ideas have evolved since authoring his position papers on education reform. While he will certainly seek more funding for the city’s schools, he will also look to make big changes that would help a Republican-run State House view additional funding more favorably.

He seems willing to try new things – from sweeping reforms for teacher evaluation to charter school governance. No matter what you believe the school district needs, a new approach is hard to argue against.

What remains to be seen is if Green can manage to bridge gaps between Democratic politicians in the city, Republican politicians in the state legislature and the Philadelphia teachers union, due for a new round of contract negotiations in the near future.

Green might be the right guy for that job. He’s certainly demonstrated an independent streak in City Council. He’ll certainly need independence and some thick skin for the job. The future of 200,000 students and the city depend on it.

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