Ex-High-Ranking Philly Career Public Educator Vouches for School Choice

A Friday quick hit from Pennsylvania… It is noteworthy to see a career public educator, recently retired as superintendent of one of the nation’s largest school districts, go public in her support for expanded school choice not only through charter schools, but vouchers as well. I’m talking about former Philadelphia superintendent Arlene Ackerman, whose new online column is worth the read — if for no other reason than its refreshing perspective:

Meaningful education reform must be forced upon the system from outside by giving parents of all income levels real choices about where their children go to school. That requires giving parents comprehensive school choice that includes an expanded charter-school system and a voucher program for low-income parents with children trapped in a failing school.

The debate about improving failing urban schools has raged for decades, but solutions have been unacceptably slow in coming. Unless progress in student achievement accelerates, it will be 2123 before all children are at grade level in reading and math. During that time, we will continue to lose an increasing percentage of African American and Latino males to the criminal-justice system and an increasing percentage of Philadelphians will be sentenced to a permanent underclass requiring increased social services. The lack of quality education harms the community as a whole. We can do better.

I’m not the only one to offer up a hearty “Amen.” Independent columnist Chris Freind gives Ackerman high marks for her remarkably bold and honest take about effective education reform. The columnist’s only regret? That the former superintendent waited so long to declare her support:

But it is a sad note that revelations like hers must come after her departure. Just imagine how different things could have been had the Philadelphia School Superintendent come out of the gate advocating school choice. While certainly not a slam dunk, it would have infinitely increased the chances for the adoption of choice, particularly since a majority of the legislature and Governor Tom Corbett also favor it.

While voucher legislation came up short in Pennsylvania this year — defying the 2011 “Year of School Choice” trend — a column like the one written by the former Philadelphia schools superintendent may add momentum to push a bill over the finish line in the Keystone State in 2012. And the momentum keeps growing….