StudentsFirst, a panel of prominent figures in education, came to Temple on Monday to participate in a town hall meeting discussing how to correct problems in urban education. Former Chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee headed the panel, which convened at the Student Faculty Center on the Health Sciences Campus.
“We want to focus on getting good teachers, parental empowerment and fiscal accountability,” Rhee said.
Accompanying her was Steve Perry, founder of Capitol Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn. and George Parker, former president of the Washington D.C. teachers’ union.
The main issue discussed was the accountability of teachers. Rhee discussed her past in the D.C. school system as a parent and administrator.
“If I’m going to put an ineffective teacher in a classroom, then I would have to live with it,” she said. “We need to make people do for other people’s kids what they would do for their own…politicians cannot make decisions about education that would not affect their own children.”
The issue of removing ineffective teachers was on the minds of many attendees at the meeting.
“We have a conflict between seniority and getting the best teachers. It’s that simple,” Parker said.
“Seniority should not be the predominant factor in the decision-making process when it comes to getting rid of a teacher,” Perry said.
Outside the building, a group of protesters from The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools led rallying chants and denounced Rhee for her organization’s involvement with the Heritage Foundation, Rupert Murdoch and the Walton family.
Allison McDowell, a parent of a Philadelphia public school student, handed out copies of her views on the subject.
“I want there to be sufficient funding for our schools, so that we are not vulnerable to the influence of corporations that may not have our children’s best interests at heart,” McDowell’s flyers read.
Rhee later addressed what her detractors have said about her. “I am not affiliated with The Heritage Foundation,” Rhee said.
“Where do the dollars go? Rhee said, addressing the call for more funding. “In D.C we were spending one billion dollars on education, but only 463 million on schools. The rest was lost in a needless bureaucracy. It’s important not to spend more on a system that doesn’t work, instead you should fix the fundamentals of the broken system.”
Perry gave a much more fervent response to the critics, saying that the protesters who “talk about ‘urban schools,’ which usually means black or Latino students, are encouraging racist policies.” Parker also addressed the issue of race, saying “the civil rights issue of our time is still education.”
Perry also responded to criticisms of charter schools.
“I am pro school choice, not pro charter,” he said. “For those of us who have less options, charters are the first option.”