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From Center-Stage to the Sidelines: Community Organizations and the State Takeover of the Philadelphia Schools

During the negotiations between city and state over plans for a state takeover of the Philadelphia schools, with the state proposing extensive privatization and a large role for Edison Schools, Inc., Governor Ridge used the term ‘partnership schools’ to refer to those schools designated for private management. This ‘partnership’ was to be a collaboration between Edison and a local community organization. In fact, this plan never came to pass, and ‘partnership’ came to have a different (although not well-defined) meaning. This paper discusses the ‘rise and fall’ of the community partnership model, potential benefits of such a model in the context of school privatization, and possible reasons why the plan disappeared so abruptly. The author discusses the implications of privatization in terms of how the values of a ‘public’ education can be defined, and argues that privatization narrows the scope and civic focus of thinking about ‘public’ in the context of schools. She notes that several of the proposed community partner organizations in Philadelphia are CDCs (community development corporations) with broader aims of improving life in their communities. The author suggests that potentially community partners’ participation in the management of schools may counterbalance the more narrow perspectives of for-profit managers. In Philadelphia, during the course of the state takeover, discussion of these potential community partners completely slipped from view. The author discusses how rapid and complex changes (the hiring of a dominating CEO in Paul Vallas; battles between the city, joined by the SRC, and the state over distribution of new state funding, etc.) may have contributed to this turnaround.