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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 09/ 8/2010

School board president: Ed reformers ‘just don’t get it’

By Valerie Strauss

Charlotte Hummel is the president of the Board of School Directors of the William Penn School District in Pennsylvania, which serves approximately 5,500 students. She recently addressed the district’s professional staff with powerful remarks, which are unusual in that they are highly critical of education reformers.

In this speech, she offers a different vision of education and says to the staff: “I see my job as standing firmly between you and those who are misguided in their beliefs about what education is and just how hard it is to go about the job of educating our youth.” Here are Hummel’s remarks:

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I have been looking forward to this moment for nine years, which is how long I have served on the school board. It is in the last 8 months that I have had the privilege of serving as your school board’s president. I must say up front that I don’t intend to avoid the political in my remarks. In fact, it is my job to be political...

Despite the national and state political movements which purport to improve education – movements I think of as being based on the idea that “the beatings will continue until morale improves,” I have come to firmly believe that those of us who know what public education is really about – like those of us in the William Penn School District family – those of us in this room, others who work for the students in the district, the parents, students and community – must adopt and live by our own philosophy, a new approach to how we approach public education and that is: “We are wearing our own Ruby Slippers.”

Of course, where national and state policy and practice make sense we should embrace it; but where it doesn’t make sense -- like funding schemes that ensure apartheid education and community disintegration, the turning of children into data generators, teachers into script readers and test proctors and administrators into Pavlovian competitors for the next race for the money – in those instances, we should and will speak up, point out that the emperor has no clothes and take the rational albeit radical path of resistance.

We must not, as they used to say in the civil rights movement – participate in our own oppression. So it’s a good thing that WPSD has one of the most radical superintendents and school board presidents in the state when it comes to speaking truth to power. We are wearing our own Ruby Slippers and you’d better not be stepping on our toes.

So what do I mean by this? Well I have come to realize – and to tell anyone who will listen that no one – not the state or federal government, not the major foundations or education think tanks; not those who run charter schools or who propose vouchers; not those who purport to have simple answers to complex questions or who offer quick fixes to long-term challenges – no one who currently holds positions of leadership and power in our governments is going to save us.

They simply just don’t get it. They don’t realize what true education is and they have no clue the challenges we face in helping students engage in it.

So, we have to take matters into our own hands, look to each other to find our strengths and possibilities, marshal our resources, count our blessings and save ourselves.

As I have told my daughter and countless young women, Rapunzel didn’t have to lament her fate in the tower, she didn’t have to waste away alone and isolated, she didn’t have to waste her time and potential in waiting. Had she been thinking differently, she could have cut off her own hair, tied it to the bedpost and rescued herself decades before the prince appeared on the scene. If you think about it, even after he did show up, she still needed to provide the rope.

I look forward to this new year, this new beginning.

You have my respect, my admiration and deepest appreciation for what you do to teach and empower our young people to learn – about themselves, each other and the things they need to know to make their way in and contribute to the world.

I see my job as standing firmly between you and those who are misguided in their beliefs about what education is and just how hard it is to go about the job of educating our youth. Joe [Joseph Bruni, Superintendent] and I speak truth to power, we ask for your support, your ideas, your encouragement, insight and perspective. I have no doubt we can overcome whatever challenges lie ahead. So, let’s click our heels three times and let’s get going.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | September 8, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  charlotte hummel, education reform, school reform, william penn school district  
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Next: Rhee in D.C.: The myth of the heroic leader

Comments

Ms. Hummel as a recent school board member I am giving you a standing ovation for your courage and integrity. You and the district are fortunate to have the support of a superintendent and board willing to look clearly at the issues, make the efforts to critically analyze them, and the honesty to speak your minds.

There are too many in education circles who are too willing to engage in conspiracies of silence, too intellectually lazy to delve deeply into complex issues, and too comfortable with their funding sources to risk challenging self-serving political schemes.

Posted by: speakuplouder | September 8, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful post Ms. Hummel. May you be successful!

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 8, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

If the majority of the administrators and teachers in this country had the savvy that Ms. Hummel has to see beyond the current education reform rhetoric and the courage to actually speak up; perhaps the corporate politicos driving the accelerating public education train wreck aka pseudo-accountability would be replaced by educators who actually care about children. In turn, we would have policy makers who make sound pedagogical decisions that focus on the whole child instead of the posturing political "reformers" who focus on sophomoric sound bytes and who treat children as nothing beyond data bytes . Kudos to a real agent of change...

Posted by: PGutierrez1 | September 8, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Bravo Ms. Hummel!!!!May other true educational leaders follow your example.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | September 8, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Very well said......

Posted by: isupreme | September 8, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Vince Gray, please get this woman's number. You have a job opening up real soon!

Posted by: isupreme | September 8, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Think what could happen if this broke out in districts across the nation ...

Posted by: ambientlight | September 8, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Wow, I can't imagine how different DCPS would be if we had a school leader who approached educating children in this way.

This philosophy would move more mountains than all of the education fads, paid consultants, market based reforms and data combined!

Posted by: letsbereal2 | September 8, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

This blog is always good for broadcasting what obscure and stupid people have to say. Her whole message is about blocking inner-city poor people from escaping her control via charter schools or scholarships. What an evil and misguided person -- truth to power, indeed.

Posted by: educationobserver | September 8, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

The comments seem to think that she is implying a back-to-basics solution. She is not. While implying that blaming teachers and unions and curriculum or what have you is not the answer, she is in no way providing a direction for her district. True education may imply factors such as parental responsibility, diverse career paths, and long term curricular initiative. If teachers are capable as she claims, then we who use education are using the system improperly and need to change how we approach schooling as a service.

I would tend to think that DC has needed improved management in its schools (much of which Ms Rhee is providing). It also needs parents and the community to use the system properly so that they can benefit from the buffet of services the system is already attempting to provide them.

Posted by: Droffas | September 8, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

"This blog is always good for broadcasting what obscure and stupid people have to say. Her whole message is about blocking inner-city poor people from escaping her control via charter schools or scholarships. What an evil and misguided person -- truth to power, indeed."

Your right. We should listen to people like Bill Gates. Wait, what? Oh his small school initiative tanked? Uh, maybe we should listen to Eli Broad. It's a lot easier to produce a widget than a critically thinking, well-balanced individual.

Posted by: stevendphoto | September 8, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

correction-you're right.

Posted by: stevendphoto | September 8, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

As a proud product of suburban Maryland public schools, and a School Board member in Delaware County, PA (same county as Ms. Hummel), I have a unique perspective on this commentary. Let me keep it brief. PA is a very different place than MD or VA, and our school districts are organized very differently. We have 500 school districts(!), most of them fighting relentlessly to resist any accountability at the state or federal level. In contrast, the larger county-wide districts in MD and VA force greater standardization across a larger population. While I like the small districts in PA, we could use some greater standardization like you have. But most districts absolutely resist any efforts to adopt any form of regional, statewide, or nationwide unified curriculum or standards. They demand complete "local control." Yet they whine that the state does not give them enough money and forces them to fund with local taxes. They embrace Diane Ravitch's new-found opposition to testing, yet they conveniently forget her continuing strong support of unified curricula and standards. The attitude seems to be "send us more money and we'll keep doing what we've been doing, only better." They need to realize that more money will only come if there is more accountability. If you have legitimate concerns about testing to achieve accountability, then you'd better propose some better way to have accountability. But much of this smacks of resistance to all accountability. I've met Ms. Hummel and know her to be a well-read supporter of education. Although I respect her, I disagree with her on many of these issues, mainly because I hear too much raw opposition with little in the way of alternative proposals.

Posted by: DC-PhillyTransplant | September 8, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

This blog is always good for broadcasting what obscure and stupid people have to say. Her whole message is about blocking inner-city poor people from escaping her control via charter schools or scholarships. What an evil and misguided person -- truth to power, indeed.

Posted by: educationobserver


educationobserver - Sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here. After all, we have Rhee and Fenty...and you.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 9, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

@educationobserver:

The overriding assumption in your post is that all of this reform is actually good for our students and communities. I know that's false.

Unlike you, i am not an observer. i teach on the front lines in Philadelphia, a district that struggles to fund the education for almost 170,000 overwhelmingly poor students. there are no easy answers or simple solutions. if there were, they would have already solved the problems and they haven't.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | September 10, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

I am sure that this post has Mrs. Hummel believing that the President will invite her to the White House for Cosmos to debate Arne Duncan about education reform. Despite Mrs. Hummel's lofty and "speaking truth to power" rhetoric, her actual ideas and policies have brought our school district to its knees, financially and from an education standpoint. On the education side, Mrs. Hummel has been the chairman of the Education Committee for many years and has presided over the rapid decline of children's quality of education by any measurable standard. Test scores have declined appreciably under her leadership. Of course, she will reject the results of any standard testing; however, let her point to any objective measure of improvement in education. She cannot. This superintendent, her third in nine years, has stated publicly that he spends most of his time cleaning up the mess left by Mrs. Hummel's hand-picked former superintendent (who has now moved on to his third district since the time Mrs. Hummel hired him). Mrs. Hummel has led the fight to defeat any charter school from coming into the William Penn School District, from large charter schools that have proven successful in a similar district to small, minority-led charters that would give children and their parents a real voice in their child's education. Of course, that is Mrs. Hummel's real point here - she knows better than everyone and demands a system where parents have no choice and she cannot be held accountable. Financially, she has destroyed not only the school district finances but the six communities that the school district "serves". Her budget is $90,000,000 for a district with 5000 students, an overwhelming amount when compared to other PA districts (please check the PA Dept. of Education website to compare). She has publicly stated that there is no limitation to the tax increase she would vote for - and her actions have backed up her proclamations. As a result, more minority-owned homes are pending for tax sale by the sheriff than any other area. Apartheid indeed - caused by her policies.

Posted by: RealWholeStory | September 10, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Okay John, lets take this point by point...lets air it all out. We will only help ALL OF OUR CHILDREN when we speak with clarity and not behind a screen.

I am sure that this post has Mrs. Hummel believing that the President will invite her to the White House for Cosmos to debate Arne Duncan about education reform.

>>Wouldn't it be great, if Obama, Duncan and the PA legislature actually listened to us. Children of poverty, and its coming to the middle class soon enough, are not getting the education they deserve.

Despite Mrs. Hummel's lofty and "speaking truth to power" rhetoric, her actual ideas and policies have brought our school district to its knees, financially and from an education standpoint.

>> No, its the way PA funds schools (property taxes) that has brought us to our knees. Educationally, WPSD is getting better each and every day. Are we where we need to be, no, are we heading in the right direction, absolutely.

On the education side, Mrs. Hummel has been the chairman of the Education Committee for many years and has presided over the rapid decline of children's quality of education by any measurable standard. Test scores have declined appreciably under her leadership.

>> This not factually accurate, sorry...in fact we are making gains. Nope, again, we are not where we need to be...are we getting there..YES!

Of course, she will reject the results of any standard testing; however, let her point to any objective measure of improvement in education. She cannot.

>> I can point to a measure of improvement...talk to OUR children, sit in a classroom, listen to the band...the test scores will happen, when we listen.

Part 2 follows below...

Posted by: jenniferhoff1 | September 10, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

continued...

This superintendent, her third in nine years, has stated publicly that he spends most of his time cleaning up the mess left by Mrs. Hummel's hand-picked former superintendent (who has now moved on to his third district since the time Mrs. Hummel hired him).

>> HER third...not! As you know, but have forgotten, our board is made up of 9 members...they each share responsibility. We each get one vote. The board hired him. Our present super has moved ahead with intelligence, and unparalleled compassion for OUR children.

Mrs. Hummel has led the fight to defeat any charter school from coming into the William Penn School District, from large charter schools that have proven successful in a similar district to small, minority-led charters that would give children and their parents a real voice in their child's education.

>> Not factually correct. There have been two applications in the last 4 years and there were real educational reasons for the result.

Of course, that is Mrs. Hummel's real point here - she knows better than everyone and demands a system where parents have no choice and she cannot be held accountable.

>> Just not true.

Financially, she has destroyed not only the school district finances but the six communities that the school district "serves". Her budget is $90,000,000 for a district with 5000 students, an overwhelming amount when compared to other PA districts (please check the PA Dept. of Education website to compare).

>> Wrong budget number, wrong amount of students and ...
And, I repeat...Our board is made up of 9 members...they each share responsibility.

She has publicly stated that there is no limitation to the tax increase she would vote for - and her actions have backed up her proclamations. As a result, more minority-owned homes are pending for tax sale by the sheriff than any other area. Apartheid indeed - caused by her policies.

>> Lets see...
- a pension fund, we have not control over and no say in.
- inequitable educational funding in PA.
- national educational funding that never makes it down to the school but is used to back fill the budget coffers.
- and more...

Nobody wants folks to lose their home, but its not just about school board policies...its about failed banking policies, a wicked recession and 10% unemployment...you can't really suggest that it is one persons fault.

Look, lets be a team. Lets work together to help OUR children. Lets sit down and solve our states education problems. Lets be brave and dare to go where no one has gone - a good education for ALL.

Does Ms. Hummel have all the answers, no. What she does do is work really hard and speak up for those who have a very limited voice.

I say BRAVO!!!

Posted by: jenniferhoff1 | September 10, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Mr. Really Holey Story!

If even just half of what you've said about Ms. Hummel were true, even I might hate her. And I AM her! Whew!

Posted by: charlottehummel | September 10, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

She claims to be speaking truth to power. But who's the real power and who's the downtrodden here? It's obvious. Hummel is wielding power over a huge budget and over thousands of students' live, while sneering at charter schools and vouchers. What this really means: poor kids have to go to the school that Hummel wants, and they shouldn't have any extra choices that might diminish Hummel's budget and power.

Here's what real speaking truth to power would be: Poor parents standing up to Hummel and telling her that they have a right to choose a different school even if Hummel doesn't like it.

Posted by: educationobserver | September 11, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

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