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Posted at 11:34 AM ET, 10/16/2010

Supt. Ackerman's critique of 'manifesto'

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Philadelphia Schools Supt. Arlene Ackerman. She was one of 16 big-city school district chiefs who signed onto a reform “manifesto” published in the Washington Post this week that was long on rhetoric and short on substance. It was initiated by New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and signed by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has since resigned, and 14 others.

Yesterday Ackerman told me that she had not seen the final version of the manifesto -- which views charter schools as a big answer to urban school failure, bashes teachers unions and supports market-driven “fixes” to schools -- and though an aide gave permission for her name to be added to it, she does not agree with it. Here is her statement.

By Arlene Ackerman
Some may feverishly await the arrival of Superman to resolve the problems that overwhelm our public education system, while others prefer to enlist with the personality of the day or prescribe to the scripted agenda of the hour. However, my preference, which remains unchanged for the past 42 years, has been to tackle school reform through collaborative efforts, with the start and end goal of providing quality educational opportunities for all children who attend public schools. Period.

This said, I have written this letter in response to the Washington Post piece entitled, “How to Fix Our Schools: A Manifesto{hellip}” after discovering that the original document (from Superintendent Peter Gorman) to which I affixed my name was not what later appeared in print, nor did it fully encompass my core principles. Unfortunately, the views of this career urban educator are not likely to make the big screen because the facts are too complex and there is no kryptonite.

Yes, there are ineffective teachers who shouldn’t be in our schools. However, it is far too simplistic to castigate them or leave the impression that the failure of our children would cease if we eliminated tenure or the entire union. The truth is our public schools havebeen asked not only to educate children but also to solve many of the ills that the larger society either cannot or will not fix. I am speaking of issues directly related to poverty like hunger, violence, homelessness, and unchecked childhood diseases (asthma and diabetes) to name a few. In spite of these challenges, there are thousands of dedicated and committed educators who are working hard to make access to a quality education for all children who attend public schools a reality.

I contend that if our intended goal is to ensure that all parents have viable educational choices in their neighborhoods then we must stop the finger pointing and blame. We must be honest about the myriad of challenges we face in achieving this goal and articulate a strategic and integrated approach to solving a complex set of issues that include effective teaching. We must come together with the same kind of hard hitting, strategic and focused leverage that the President used to inspire and capture the hope of a faithful nation, unwilling to give up on the ills of the economy, world peace, and the environment.

Yes, teachers matter. Thus, it is imperative that we help them or remove those who cannot effectively teach our children. Let us also enlist the entire nation in the pursuit of teacher quality. Let us focus our efforts on the role of the teacher as a pivotal position of new knowledge in a changing society. And in doing so, let us raise the value of teaching as an intellectual and highly prized career, much as it is in other countries.

Lastly, with these perspectives, I also offer some stern, unsolicited advice to all of us who care about fixing our public schools: Be careful in this time of polarity not to get caught up in the scripted political agendas of individuals or organizations who seek to divide rather than bring us together. A collaborative approach to reform may not be easy, glamorous or movie-worthy, but it is a stronger and sustainable solution that is likely to outlast the tenure of individuals or politicized agendas.

Arlene C. Ackerman, Ed.D.
The School District of Philadelphia


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 16, 2010; 11:34 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, School turnarounds/reform, Teachers  | Tags:  arlene ackerman, charter schools, joel klein, manifesto, michelle rhee, school reform, teachers  
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I must admit that I was shocked when I saw Superintendent Ackerman's name attached to that very vacuous "Manifesto." Thank goodness, that was not her intent.

When I joined DCPS in 2005, veteran teachers spoke of Dr. Ackerman with deep respect. In addition, she has led two school districts since leaving DCPS, in addition to occupying a professor's chair at Columbia Teacher's College. These are the kind of school leaders and thinkers that have grappled with the tough issues involving urban education, and have fought to transform urban education to the high calling that it should be.

What we experienced here in D.C. the last three years was a failing experiment with problematic outcomes for our children, the shallow media's elevation of Rhee notwithstanding.

Posted by: vscribe | October 16, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Where is the "accountability" for...
/> the CIA and other corrupt
govt. & Wall Street-affiliated players
being involved with international drug smuggling
& distribution for decades (!)
-- deliberately inundating
communities & specific neighborhoods with heroin,
cocaine, meth, pills (MDMA/ecstacy), etc.
It is a documented fact that the CIA
& corrupt elements of the U.S. govt.
& freemasons have been involved in large-scale
heroin distribution operations and also
involved in the deliberately induced
crack cocaine epidemic targeting black neighborhoods (for the purposes of social undermining & political-economic control).

Where is the "accountability" for...
/> The 'entertainment' industry
flooding our youth with heinously toxic
& cognitively poisonous VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES
that promote
crime, substance abuse, disgusting conduct,
mistreatment & violence against women,
anti-educational achievement,
anti-positive values, anti-professional careers,
anti-healthy, responsible behaviors !

Where is the "accountability" for
self-proclaimed edu-profiteer BILL GATES & MICROSOFT
in producing, promoting VIOLENT, PATHOLOGICAL
VIDEO GAMES, including first-person shooter games,
such as HALO !!!??? --
which, unfortunately, too many of our country's
children, our country's students
heinously waste too much time messing
around with, messing themselves up with --
instead of healthfully, smartly & beneficially using that time
productive experiences, studying, exploring/learning, participating in sports, teamwork, creative arts + music,
outdoor activities & nature, significant time
with friends & family, or engaging in community service !!!

Where is the accountability for VIACOM
& other media corporations
(eg. instead of the "BET" channel being utilized for positive, inspirational, educational or meaningful programming --
it has mostly
broadcast the worst sociopathic, demeaning,
undermining junk -- promoting
gangsterism & exploiting our vulnerable youth
with pernicious mind-killing crap.

FACT! --
Where is the "accountability" for Wall Street
& elite financiers,
owning majority stock in the company
that produced the 'GRAND THEFT AUTO' video game
as its main product !!!

Also, what about the corporate soda-pop
& junk food pushers targeting children ?!

The reality is that ethical, caring, and dedicated
public school teachers have been the
'good samaritans' courageously
teaching with tremendous effort daily
to educate & constructively help chidren --
to transcend, overcome hardship,
to cultivate wellbeing & achievement --
despite the grotesque obstacles
& destruction foisted on us by
irresponsible, unscrupulous, rapacious and
duplicitous corporate execs. & financial elites,
corrupt oligarchs, such as Goldman Sachs et. al.
who've caused millions of chidren & families to be homeless.

Posted by: honestpolicy | October 16, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

This is nice, but ---

I'd like to see the version that Ackerman originally signed her name to. Knowing that it came from Rhee and Klein, it's hard to believe that there was much in it about collaboration. I'm afraid Ackerman and other school leaders are too often drawn in by the big names in school reform.

That must stop if true educators really want a "stronger and sustainable solution that is likely to outlast the tenure of individuals or politicized agendas."

Posted by: efavorite | October 16, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Dr. Ackerman for expressing your views!! I was floored to read your name on the "Reform Manifesto!"

Certified educators with a Doctorate in Education are not "Wannabe Superintendents or Chancellors!" Certified Superintendetns are part of the educational solution instead of the Reformer Agenda!!

All public school students deserve a certified Superintendent, Principal, Professional School Counselor and teacher(s) with credentials!

Posted by: sheilahgill | October 16, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

This is very encouraging.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 16, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

This sounds great but if I recall Arlene Ackerman left DCPS as one of the worst performing school districts in America and Philadelphia is a mess! It's great to say things like we need to think about complex issues that kids come to school with like asthma and diabetes...but how many kids actually suffer from this? How many of us went to school for years without health insurance and still learned--I did! What Ackerman is realy saying is--We don't know how to do this so let's just blame our failures on conditions we don't control....because she has never been successful in moving achievement!

Schools must change because our market needs and demands have changed. If we are going to compete globally then we need to stop with all the excuses and begin to demand innovative solutions to teaching and learning. This means that we need to reform the whole process- teacher recruitment, retention- leadership development, course offerings, school days and calendar, union bureaucracy and yes even our societal supports for children.

Our children are falling behind every industrialized nation in math and science. Let's stop defending the status quo simply because we are afraid to rethink our approach. Change is hard, scary and unpredicatble--3 words that educators are often afraid of--but, let's be honest--it's necessary.

Dr. Ackerman's perspective is one that no longer fits with the times. It's time for her and other educators of this mold to make the change or to leave the tough calls up to those who are ready to acknowledge the obvious- We are failing our children!

Posted by: teacher6402 | October 16, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

teacher 6402 - no one is defending the status quo - least of all Dr. Ackerman.

Is that the only argument reformers have?

It's getting very old and boring. Perhaps it's time for a new generation of school reformers with a more exciting message.

Posted by: efavorite | October 16, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Well Philly School have made great. Strides. Since. Dr Ackerman has arrived . She has taken schools in Philadelphia to another level now let's take a minute and look at Michelle Rea,s last 3 years in DCPS she has disrespected the city , students,parents with her disrespectful ways because the Mayor allowed her to he told her that she had no one to answer to and she took it and had her way withThe system with her firings and school closings and last week she looked so pittful at her press conference to announce her experiment didn't work in DC and it's sad that Vince Gray had to let Fenty hand pick another clown with no experience to run the schools on a interim bases Kaya Henderson is no better than Rea so were still in trouble. And were going to be in trouble until Jan2011 when Gray becomes Mayor Vince Gray needs to try to get someone like Dr Ackerman or he'll bring her back keep doing what your doing in Philly Doc until you get the call to come back to DCPS we need YOU

Posted by: Darksecrettt | October 16, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Supt. Ackerman has got it right! I was beginning to wonder if there was a Superintendent left that would stand up and shout out what needed to be said. I was in education for decades and every five years we had a new effort to improve. That change put a wrench in previous efforts to improve. We are doing the same thing now. The obvious fault lies with the structure of the family which has just devastated children and their will and lust for learning. We haven't addressed that at all. I crave learning new things and can't understand people that don't but I'm sure that if my environment was one that caused constant interruption I'd lose some of that lust for learning. Education needs to be protected from those who use it for political gain. We need to put Education into our Constitution and protect it as we do our 1st amendment rights.

Posted by: dmyers412 | October 17, 2010 4:33 AM | Report abuse

"Collaboration" is the union code for circle the wagons because public education is in trouble. It's almost comical to see the unions attempt to put a negative spin on education reform at every turn. They'll do and say anything to keep things exactly as they have been for decades - FAILING, BIG TIME.

Sure, why don't we simply support the monopolized public school agenda. We don't really need any competition here now do we? Come on! Talk about a recipe for disaster; staying the status quo.

True, ineffective teachers are not the whole problem but they are part of the (politically correct) fault that the educational establishment needs to address. Apparently calling out poor/minority constituents for poor to no parenting is against the rules. We're not supposed to point fingers at generational public assistance "families" purportedly doing the best they can because they don't know any other way of life. We can continue to stick our heads in the sand and pretend these situations aren't the problem but as long as we do, THESE WAYS OF LIFE FOR MILLIONS WILL CONTINUE - UNABATED.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 17, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

To Mrs. Gill -- credentials, schmedentials. They are nice to have and sometimes useful. But don't forget, the droves of untalented, ineffective, and worst executives and managers of US public school systems have been loaded with those credentials. They don't guarantee much. To demand them is just an obvious anti-change position that will please the unionistas and their ilk. It won't do anything for The Children whom the anti-changers mock in their teacher-centric rants.

Posted by: axolotl | October 17, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Collaboration clearly is key to lasting impact, but the word does seem to imply an endless meeting with too many people assembled to get any work done. Hosting a collaborative gathering with clear goals is the easy part. Knowing who to invite--therein lies the rub. For a direct look at my experiences in DCPS, both pre- and post-Ackerman, please see my blog entry "Try to Rhee-member" at

Posted by: dcproud1 | October 17, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, Dr. Ackerman.

I am a teacher with twenty years of experience in a school with a significant population of minority students living in poverty. During my career, I have certainly worked with teachers who did not belong in the classroom.

Far more common, though, are the teachers who put in long, unpaid hours to help remediate those non-academic problems that you pointed out--the social issues, rather than the academic issues.

It is easy to be a firebrand critic. Increasingly, American culture seems to love the easy pugnacity with which "the enemy" can be identified, because it makes us all feel so much more righteous (or self-righteous).

Perhaps the reason that Michelle Rhee can so effectively let herself be portrayed as "Superman" is the fact that most education critics want a quick, simple solution that identifies "the problem." That's a lot easier than consensus building.

Thank you for recognizing the complexity of the problem of education reform.

Posted by: ashevilleshep | October 17, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Publicly funded yet privately managed – Charter School fraud is an easy concept. Charters can be succesful it depends on the “agenda” of the the managing company. Accountability has not caught up to the growth of the Charter movement. In the USA we have an Islamic Imam – Fethullah Gulen (Gulen Movement) that manages over 130 US Charter schools they have taken over $1 billion in Educational monies in the last 10 years and are growing like rapid fire.
The Gulen schools have a network of foundations and instutitions layered over the schools and much of our educational money is going to non-educational expenses such as: Turkish Olympiads, trips to Turkey for the students and local politicians, H1-b Visas of over 2,000 uncredentialed teachers from Turkey (while American teachers are handed pink slips) this money is to fuel the grand ambition of Fethullah Gulen who lives in exile (for a reason) in the Poconos, PA area with his $25 billion in wealth from inflitration in: education, media, police, poltics and military. Seems the same model works very nicely in the USA. Do your research!!!

Posted by: SalesA1 | October 17, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse


I agree with you that the great majority of classroom teachers put in long hours and work very hard to teach our students.

I agree also that quick fixes have always been popular and seem even more so today.

The problem is that quick fixes don't work.

I wish we could here from more superintendents. I know they are busy, but they are the school leaders. They are not union members and might be heard. It does not seem like anyone is listening to teachers.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 17, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Why do you readers seem to think Rhee has the answer. By her own admission she was not a good teacher. She recently acknowleged that she ducted taped her 2nd or 3rd grade students to make them be quiet and when the tape was removed some had their skin come off. How do you think this n-- promoting big money stakeholders is concerned about the real welfare of children. Her child sbuse behavior should have warrant her being fired and led out in handcuffs in Balt. That why she probably left the teaching field. I hope her actions catch up with her. Acherman analagy is more of a holitic explamation.

Posted by: frankiesimmons1 | October 17, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I am a Philadelphia special ed teacher and I know first hand about Ackerman's track record in our school district.

1) Philly SD test scores has been on an upswing for many years *before* Ackerman thanks to aligning curriculum and tests. She did not accomplish this so please stop saying that. it's factually false. Gains in Philly have been incremental over many years.

2) Ackerman has brought in some curriculum that I as a special ed teacher like but is inappropriate for other groups of regular ed students (Corrective Reading & Math). If you are interested, google "empowerment schools Philadelphia." You will read scores of teacher complaints about these Direct Instruction programs. Again, I like them but I teach a very different population (Aut. Supp.)

3) Do a little research on the travesty at West Philadelphia HS before you applaud Ackerman for her stance against politicking in education. Go to On the front page is an account of how Ackerman and her political friends brought down a true turn-around school.

My opinion of Ackerman: The bad: She is a so-so communicator and tends to rely too much on her political friends.

The good: Ackerman does know education, unlike her predecessor Vallas. She is also a staunch supporter of special ed and this has ushered in an era of significant resources for our programs. I particularly want to highlight the efforts the district has made under Ackerman to improve Autistic Support services. Jane Cordero (head of the Office of Autism in Philly) is terrific!

Posted by: Nikki1231 | October 18, 2010 6:18 AM | Report abuse

I appreciate what Ms. Ackerman has to say about asking education to solve all of the social inequalities that we have chosen to ignore. Education is supposedly the great equalizor, but it has been my experience that that quality of your education predicts nothing if not socioeconomic status.

Getting rid of ineffective teachers? Helpful.
Retaining great teachers for more than 5 years? Great first step.

But we need to start addressing some of the social ills in other arenas as well.

Posted by: missmaestra | October 18, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

"Those who stand for nothing, fall for anything" Alexander Hamilton
Good for Dr. Ackerman for standing on the foundation of educating our nations children! Good for her for identifying the need that while societial issues are played out in our nations classrooms, teachers and principals are at the core of this work. Yes this is hard, emotional, tiring work. And NO ther is no "Silver Bullet" to fix the ailments of public education, afterall, we absolutely did not get here overnight; Reforms have been around as early as 1890! "The school reformers of the 1890"s low performing schools advoating control by professions... Death and life of the great american school system, Ravich, (p.5)

Everyone can jump on the banwagon of reform; but please lets not allow our children, to fall off of the banwagon and be trampled by moving tires! Our students deserve to have the best teachers, and best principals, who are the instructional leaders in the building.
Thankfully for the Vision of this Dynamic leader! Arlene,keep up the fight- keep leading the path, it does not matter that you are the lone ranger! what matters is the precious lives of students who reside in each of our districts, districts who are facing similar concerns.

Stephanie Gatewood
Memphis City Schools Board

Posted by: stephaniegatewood | October 21, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

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