A History of Philadelphia School District

  1. 1802
    1. As Philadelphia got bigger crime was spiraling out of control
    2. In 1802 the legislature decided to provide education for the poor of the city – private schooling for the city’s poor at the cost of the public.
    3. The pauper school system culminated in the election of a Board of Controllers to organize and oversee this system
    4. Schools only open to poor students
  2. 1827
    1. Robert Vaux founded Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Public Schools
      1. Tuition free and open to all students
    2. Became reality through the common school laws of 1834 and 1835 and the Consolidation Act of 1836 which opened Philadelphia’s public schools to all school-age children
    3. Schools enrolled 17,000 students within 2 years – huge jump
  3. Segregated
    1. Prompted by wave of black crime, decline in total enrollment – Opened a school for African American students in 1822 – another opened in 1826. Allocated one for boys and the other for girls
    2. Combined the two in 1828 in building on Lombard Street
    3. Erected new building for white students just beforehand
    4. In 1854 state law was issued that allowed for the segregation of schools as long as African American students could be educated together
    5. By the time this law was repealed in 1881 segregation was already entrenched
  4. Power decentralized
    1. The controllers were solely responsible for collecting and distributing funds
    2. Elected board of directors who managed the public schools  throughout the city
      1. Composed of local business and civic leaders as well as politicians
      2. These boards hired teachers, chose principals, erected buildings
      3. At first each ward board chose its own representative to what became known as the Board of Education
      4. Entrenched in this system for a long time through civic leaders and professional educators tried to weaken and even abolish these boards
      5. 1905 Reorganization Act was passed that  created a more efficient though less democratic system
      6. Twenty years beforehand Philadelphia’s first superintendent was elected – came to reform the school systems – wanted education to include industrial education
        1. District opened two manual training high schools
    3. Superintendents
      1. James MacAlister (1840-1913), Edward Brooks (1831-1912),  Martin G Brumbaugh (1862-1930)
      2. During their terms district expanded and diversified its curriculum
      3. Started teaching foreign languages, basic science, American history
      4. Districts evening program offered citizenship and literacy classes for immigrants and African Americans
      5. District assumed responsibility for boys sports in 1912
  5. Funding
    1. Board was never fiscally independent
    2. In 1904 it spent less than its counterparts in 33 other American cities
    3. 1911 law passed that gave the board ability to borrow money but not levy taxes
      1. Reinforced by state supreme court in 1937
    4. Business manage, Add B. Anderson, balanced budget for more than 30 years by narrowing down to basic instruction and compelling its teachers to accept low salaries — this is why unionization didn’t really have a presence in Philadelphia until after Anderson died
    5. Richard Dilworth took over as School Board president
    6. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers – came into existence after the American Federation of Teachers expelled the Philadelphia Teachers Union for radical activity in 1941
    7. Didn’t have effect till 1961 when PFT mounted successful membership drive and became the exclusive bargaining agent for all the district’s teachers → lots of strikes
  6. 6 strikes in 11 years
    1. Budget more than doubled in 6 years from $312 billion to $711 billion
    2. Board scrambled to pay – had to furlough teachers, raise class size, carry budget deficit over from one year to the next
  7. Funding
    1. 1920s the state provided about 14% of public education spending
    2. By 1970s this percentage nearly quadrupled
    3. Fell back to merely ⅓ in the 1970s
    4. 1921 state began making differential appropriations – minimum salary law classified school districts by size of enrollment
      1. The smaller the district the larger the proportion of salary costs that would be offset by the state
      2. This greatly disadvantaged the School District of Philadelphia which ad the most students
  8. Racial divide
    1. Wave of southern African Americans moved to Philadelphia after WWII
    2. Settled into all black neighborhoods
    3. School board did not adopt took a full five years after Brown v. Board of Education to adopt a nondiscrimination policy
    4. 1963 committee appointed by board of Education proposed redrawing school boundary lines to integrate districts — Board didn’t want to adopt such a political policy – were presented with a discrimination suit filed by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission which remained unresolved for many years.
    5. Constance Clayton, first black superintendent appointed in 1983, proposed “modified desegregation plan” that depended mostly on voluntary participation
    6. Met with approval but many white Philadelphians shunned the city public schools anyway
    7. By 2010 white children comprised only 20% of the district’s student population
    8. Clayton
      1. 1982
      2. Stabilized Philadelphia school district’s budget and restored its image which had fallen after a series of week superintendents who bent to Mayor Rizzo
      3. Took special interest in struggling students
      4. Created programs in business, health and electrical science in some of the city’s high school
      5. Pew Charitable Trusts created small learning communities inside high schools
    9. 2001 SRC — School Reform Commission, made possible by the Education Empowerment Act, brought an end to local control of public education
      1. Vested control of education funding from the public and put it entirely in the hands of the state
      2. Decided district would be run by a committee of 5, 3 chosen by the governor and 2 by the mayor
      3. Because of competition with private schools, charter schools and suburban school districts, enrollment in School District of Philadelphia dropped from 2006 to 2010 from 207,000 to 160,000 – at the same time its proportion of low-income students exceeded 70%

Public Education: The School District of Philadelphia



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