Helen Gym: The Agitator

Fiery Helen Gym has been the bane of school reformers. Is she eyeing the mayor’s office next?


Helen Gym Parents United P.A.

Photograph by Colin Lenton

Helen Gym advances, and Mayor Nutter inches warily back. She waves a thick stack of papers at him, each sheath a complaint lodged by parents lamenting the calamitous conditions in Philadelphia’s reeling public schools. There’s the kid with dangerous asthma at the school without a nurse on hand. The dyslexic, orphaned high-school senior applying for colleges with no counselor to lean on. The bullying victim who fled Overbrook High only to find it impossible to enroll at another school.

“This is what we’re fighting against,” Gym tells Nutter. The Mayor is just a few yards from his office door, but he’s the one shifting his feet, looking to get away.

Minutes earlier, Gym had wrapped up a news conference in the ornate Mayor’s Reception Room, where, with the assistance of City Council, she’d usurped a podium usually used by Nutter and his invited guests. Gym and her allies were there to tout their latest pressure tactic: written complaints designed to compel the state to meet basic education standards and shake loose some badly needed dollars for the district.

“It would be nice to have your support, Mayor,” Gym tells him. Nutter issues a few noncommittal mumbles, cleans his glasses, and back-steps for the stairway. Gym shrugs. Powerful figures often look for the exits when she approaches.

That’s what happens when you develop a rep as perhaps Philadelphia’s preeminent public agitator. Relentless, whip-smart, meticulously prepared and utterly fearless, Gym—a private citizen who works without the heft of any meaningful institutional support—has managed to build herself one of the city’s largest bully pulpits.

And bully she does. Her foes are “hilarious and dishonest.” Education reformers are “corporate raiders” and “party shills.” Columnists she disagrees with are operating a “Corbett PR flack machine.” And that’s just a sample of a 10-day run on Gym’s Twitter feed. She’s equally relentless when face-to-face with her targets.

Gym’s critics, and they are legion, consider her assaults out of bounds and unhelpful—and that’s sometimes true. But it’s a little rich to hear some of the city’s most powerful people complain that they’ve been wounded by a school parent. (Gym’s three kids attend Masterman and Central, two elite magnet schools.) More importantly, in a city where there’s precious little public questioning of authority, and where most movers and shakers would actually prefer that not much move or shake, Gym’s candor is bracing.

It was Gym (and, she would insist, her allies as well) who refused to let the school district get away with covering up horrendous racial violence at South Philadelphia High in 2009. It was Gym who ratcheted up the political pressure on the patronage-dense Philadelphia Parking Authority, helping produce reforms that have generated millions of dollars for the schools. And it was Gym’s constant banging of the transparency drum that has led the district—and City Hall—to make public formerly secret documents, contracts and arrangements.

A youthful 45, Gym is as ferocious as ever, and her public profile has never been larger. But these days, she’s laboring mightily not so much to remake the system as to preserve what’s left of it.

Philadelphia has become a premier battleground in a high-stakes national debate over the future of K-12 education. On one side are the self-styled reformers, a group with not much patience and a thirst for bold experimentation. On the other sit the teachers unions and, more interestingly, activists like Gym, whose opposition to the reform agenda is layered and nuanced but boils down to an aversion to the dismantling of traditional public schools and a deep-seated mistrust of the reformers’ motives.

All of which has meant that Gym now expends much of her energy resisting the potent forces working to transform the nature of education in Philadelphia. These days, Gym says “no” an awful lot. No to unchecked charter expansion. No to dramatic union concessions. No to the philanthropists using their checkbooks to influence public-education policy.

The iconoclastic Helen Gym is digging in. So I ask her: Helen, have you turned into an advocate for the educational status quo?

Her eyes widen.

“That’s such fucking bullshit,” she says.

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  • David

    What a crock. Gym is a relentless self-promoter who likes the status quo of an entitled teachers union turning out generations of unemployable inner city kids whose future is doomed. Don’t change anything. The status qui provides a platform for her rise from irrelevancy. She just got slapped down by the Ethics Board for her meritless complaints about Jeremy Nowack and BCG. She likes to protests but is ineffective

    • Helen Gym

      Hi David: I doubt anyone would call a year long investigation and a three page letter of explanation a “slapdown.” But feel free to read the entire Ethics Board letter here: http://parentsunitedphila.com/2013/12/16/ethics-board-responds-to-parents-united-lobbying-complaint/

      • David

        They rejected your complaint. You did nothing but antagonize philanthropists who aren’t obligated to do ANYTHING for the PSD. You rhetoric makes everything personal. You demonize those you disagree with you about policy. You offer no solutions.

        • Helen Gym

          I think the issue is when philanthropists “do something” for PSD, should we be obligated to them above and beyond? http://thenotebook.org/blog/136614/school-district-court-case-opens-questions-about-pay-play

          • Sean

            Helen –

            I clearly see that one side of the reform movement wants to create an budget Katrina that will break up the SDP and the chartize large portions of the system. I think that is a risky plan at best, and with the size of the District and the poor overall quality of the charters here not actually possible. The question I what are your answers? I understand very clearly what you are against, but I you, PCAPS, and other advocates don’t seem to have much in the way of solutions given current circumstances. Whatever the fantasies of one side of the reform movement the SDP is a poor performing district with a ton of poverty and poor governance (before the SRC and since) There is no money coming from the state anytime soon, Corbett has a good chance of being reelected, and there is a massive State budget deficit coming for next year. The mayor is lame-duck and cannot bring the different factions around the table to do anything. Middle and upper class populations in the city won’t invest in high poverty neighborhood schools (even you have kids in who have attended charter and magnet schools) schools like Central and Masterman don’t serve much in the way of low income populations and specialized schools draw resources away from neighborhood schooling. Nonprofits are too plentiful and working in silos. It seems to me that there are too many people who are invested in the weakness of the system. Even this article is an example of who cares what you are complaining about when so many people are underserved…when your and our collective failure is very clear.

          • Helen Gym

            Hi Sean: Have we met? If not, I do hope that you wouldn’t presume a 2500-word piece in Philadelphia Magazine would present the final word on the progressive education movement in Philly. In your comment above I think you presume an awful lot – for example, that education policy is or should be segregated from other financial or social policies, that politics locally and statewide are permanently intractable and that there are no alliances to be built regionally, or that our neighborhoods are not evolving. I would suggest that Parents United, PCAPs and many others have tried to think through ideas – whether it’s local funding initiatives (U&O), creative sources (PILOTS, Parking Authority medallion sales) or concerns about District spending – that offer a fairly practical set of solutions in tough times. The fact that some of these ideas didn’t pass doesn’t mean we’re absent solutions. We’re working on it like everyone else.

            Our primary expertise is on education policy and practice, specifically teaching and learning, parent and community engagement, and building a broader public will for schools. On that level, we’ve had an enormous amount of success, some of which you can read about here: http://parentsunitedphila.com/our-accomplishments/ . Our success in this area is about promoting practical measures rooted in research, history and experience. I am a former teacher, a curriculum writer, I’m on the board of a national teaching journal, I’ve founded my own school and worked to bring resources like the Public School Notebook to the wider public. I think we’ve shown that we are practitioners, students, historians and researchers in this area – not just critics. We’re trying to see a difficult issue from multiple angles to better understand priorities, build common ground, and define boundaries.

            A cautionary word on the notion of “solutions”: The struggle of high poverty districts today is not going to be solved through a set of “solutions” cutely and glibly laid out in a series of talking points. As you articulately pointed out, we are in the midst of a serious debate on not just education policy but on the larger concept of public goods. If we’re not giving you a “10 Steps for Extraordinarily Poor Districts Starved By the State to Reach Fiscal Balance in 3 Months and Send Test Scores Through the Roof!” it’s largely because I don’t think such a plan exists in that manner. I’d caution you on the ed reformers who make “we’re about solutions” statements that have no basis in research but sound just fine as long as you don’t ask any questions.

            Believe me I am the most uncomfortable person in the room when PhillyMag tags public ed on one person. Our collective failure is great on this issue, but the collective responsibility still exists. I think the primary point of the article is less about me than it is about what we can do to uplift our public schools and see them as a transformational point of change and justice for our children, our neighbors and our neighborhoods, and our city.

            I’m happy to have a longer conversation offline.

          • Sean

            Helen –

            We have not met and I would be happy to talk more offline. I am going to respond to just a couple of points from your great reply:

            1. Just a quick overall reaction that what you have laid out here is about the most reasonable commentary that i have heard from you in the online space. While I understand and respect pushing back on the forces on the other side of the reform debate your rhetoric has gotten a bit shrill and some of your op-eds (esp. about Universal Enrollment) embody what has become wrong about the policy and tactic debates since the release of the BSG report. While I know the tone comes with the media territory and your passion is strong i think I’d rather hear more of what you laid out above then the “Helen Gym: The Agitator” caricature your online persona has become.

            2. I don’t think things are hopeless but I do think that we need to deal with the realities of politics both in the city and the state. Before there can be any chance for regional alliances Philadelphia has to have a more untied political stance around education. There isn’t enough cohesion to actually move issues forward in the city around these issues let alone with a other municipalities and the issue will still come down to putting a lot of money in Philly because of its size and poverty which I think will break coalitions with suburban and rural districts. Also this is a very ritualistic state which gives statewide elections to men and gives them to incumbents. Also without the control of the legislature as we have seen even with a republican governor there is not much that can get done. Not that things can’t or shouldn’t change but is there enough time to do all of this by November? The District is broke now…this is not a rich city or state like NYC/NY with a bunch of liberals in it. I believe in hope but i also believe in making things happen to sustain and create hope. How do we do that in this climate?

            3. I hear you about solutions i think that someone who says that our education problems can be done this way and in no time is fooling themselves and will have another bridge to sell us in a few years. But I would also caution you against falling into the typical bourgeois liberal trap as well. It is clear that quick solutions are not possible but there are solutions and we have to find them. It is simple for people like you (I assume) and i who can be passionate but can and do walk away. Just like the Reformer wants to solve the problem with no repercussion to the implications of their “solutions” the Public School Advocate can always be working with “the people” to address problems and build hope but never solve them. As a Black Man I think we have to find solutions. What has been happening in this city for decades around poverty and schooling is a great tragedy and I/we can’t be smug that we are more reasonable but no more effective in ending that tragedy. I think but am not sure that we can be both be bold and grounded. In a city so broken in terms of services, institutions, and leadership by its long decline we are going to have to be bold in how we rethink our institution and communities around education to make a change that is going to matter to 65% of people in our city making 40K or less,,,and more importantly to their children.

            Anyway happy to talk with you more offline thank you for reading through my long comment and giving it a good response.

          • Dienne

            “Shrill”. ‘Nuff said, Sean. You’ve removed yourself from any possibility of being taken seriously. Thanks for that – now we all know we can ignore you.

          • Sean

            Why? Helen often criticizes her opponents as ” “hilarious and dishonest.” Education reformers are “corporate raiders” and “party shills.” Columnists she disagrees with are operating a “Corbett PR flack machine.”

            Why when someone pushes back that you say that you will disregard everything that they say because of one word? She herself uses this kind of language regularly.

          • Dienne

            Corporate “reformers” *are* dishonest – that’s been proven many, many times. Rhee’s lies alone could fill a twenty volume set. I disagree with her on hilarious only because there’s nothing funny about what they’re doing to the nation’s children (excepting their own, of course), but it is funny in a not ha-ha sense that they expect us to believe that billionaires and politicians have the interests of the children more at heart than the teachers who have dedicated their lives to them.

            The corporate “reformers” are also trying to turn education into a profit-making venture – how is that not “corporate raiding”? Education is being handled the same way as hostile takeovers in the ’80s.

            I disagree with “party shills” just because both parties are equally involved, but there are those who assume that if Obama is for it, it must be a good, liberal policy, nevermind that very little about Obama is either good or liberal (nor is there anything good about the Republicans). And when columnists spout exactly the same language and talking points as the “reformers”, what else can it be besides a PR machine? Are you really trying to suggest that all these people independently came up with exactly the same ideas and phrasings?

            But “shrill” is in a class almost by itself (along with words like “hysterical”, “histrionic”, etc.). Its purpose is solely to dismiss people – almost exclusively women – who disagree with the power elite, especially those who do so firmly and confidently like Ms. Gym. It’s not just an insult, it’s a word used to marginalize and silence.

            But I’m sure you’re smart enough to already understand all that. You’re just playing the game.

          • Helen Gym

            Sean: If you read the article those comments were based on my twitter feed and it was in response to specific situations and specific individuals. If you define my twitter feed as my sole means of communications you miss the point of Twitter. You and I have never met nor have we ever had a conversation, so it’s hard for me to understand why you’d believe you know what language I regularly use. As I said, I’m happy to have a conversation offline but insisting on continued assumptions about me or wanting to run referee on my perceived behavior rather than trying to find out more doesn’t really lay the groundwork for reaching mutual understanding.

          • Sean

            Helen I would be happy to meet you and have tried to reach out to you in the past and just did recently. I said in an early comment that i was responding to the online content that i have read from you on twitter as well as op-eds. I don’t discount what you say at all and respect you for taking on powerful people but I think from the online perspective the contentiousness is divisive . I don’t think everyone is going to be friends or that you and Mark G. will sing songs around the campfire. But what have we collectively delivered for the kids of this District since the release of BSG or the buyout of Ackerman? Nothing. As strong as you have been what has really changed as things have continued down a dark path? You can’t fix these things alone (or with the people around the table at Trolley Car) neither can rich philanthropists, politicians or a family trying to figure out the mess of school choice in this city (as i am trying for my kids). We have to find coalitions that break through to find long term solutions that can change the circumstances of this District. When you or the “Corporate Reformers” demonize each other you may win arguments or turn the public tide in your favor but you don’t bring us any closer to fixing the mess that we have made of public education in this town. The fight distorts reality. Rather than healthy democratic debate it is more mutually assured destruction.

            I am not trying to dismiss you but actually engaged you. When I sit around the table with different players folks are either running scared or hardened in their positions that is not going to make things better and I feel like the discourse that you are a part of adds to a partisan animosity. Perhaps you feel this is necessary considering the other side’s tactics and power but not sure what the results are.

          • Jay

            I’d be happy to have a conversation with you offline, too…because I think you’re cool. :-)

          • Helen Gym

            Jay: Email me through the website: http://www.parentsunitedphila.com. I’d love to know which B2S Night you were from!

          • Jay

            Done. Thank you.

        • Jan Carson

          We should ALL be antagonizing philanthropists who use their “foundations” to manipulate schools into larger and larger machines for corporate profit. It appears, David, that you’ve done little research, so let me offer a starting place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2LJzEuodZw

  • John

    Wow. She is paid by the teachers union. When will the press call her out?

    • Tom

      All through history people who show that the emperor has no clothes have been attacked by the ignorant who know nothing about what they are talking about. Haven’t you noticed the union leadership is missing in action? We better treasure the freedom fighters we have or George Orwell’s 1984 will look quaint compared to the society we could become!

    • Helen Gym

      John: How about if I call you out first? I’d be interested where you’re getting this information. Feel free to let me know because I have never gotten a paycheck from “the union.”

      • jlkenedy

        Helen is a tough, intelligent dude and I’m happy to see her get more feisty and pissed at all the condescending comments. The people in this country better wake the frick up before it’s too late. These “reformers” are only trying to make money off the backs of the kids and have no interest in education in any real sense. It’s just a business model at work to enrich more the already rich at the direct expense of the poor. What else is new????

    • Connie

      Typical. Can’t win on the facts, so make up lies about the other side. “Paid by the union”, “union operative”, etc, are common lies told about parents who speak out against reform across the country.

  • pachysandra

    What a ridiculous and insulting question that last one is. What “status quo” is Kerkstra talking about? Helen has been fighting for parent and student rights for over ten years. The status quo of starving schools by the Governor and tearing down public education for the benefit of the vulture philanthropists like PSP and the William Penn Foundation, with the collaboration of the SRC, is the one he should be investigating.

    • Maureen Fratantoni

      Yes!!! Agreed!!!

    • http://cityjunto.com Patrick Kerkstra

      Yes. We don’t want journalists asking difficult or even insulting questions do we?

      • CarolineSF

        The standard, scripted attacks on critics come from the billionaire-funded “reformers’ ” propaganda shops (such as the Hoover Institution, American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute etc.). These have all been parroted over and over for years and years: “Defender of the failed status quo.” “Send their own kids to … (fill in the blank — any school that could possibly be viewed as anything but a crumbling ghetto school).” “Lackey/paid mouthpiece of the teachers’ unions” (the “paid” part used freely without regard to accuracy). “Strident, uncompromising and uncollaborative” (with edge of sexism, racism and/or homophobia if applicable). Journalists do have to ask the questions and get responses to those scripted lines, but it would be entirely appropriate for them to point out, as they do so, that the same standard, scripted counterattack lines are repeated identically and endlessly against all critics of so-called education “reform.”

      • Dienne

        Why do you feel the need to be insulting? Why do you need to parrot the standard corporate line? Corporate education “reform” has been the law of the land for at least 12+ years now – they are the “status quo”. BTW, there’s nothing “difficult” about that question, it’s just stupid.

        And this: “Gym’s critics, and they are legion, consider her assaults out of bounds and unhelpful—and that’s sometimes true.”

        Give an example of something she’s done that has been out of bounds and unhelpful, or else retract that statement.

        I think you’re trying to be “fair” and “neutral” and “balance”, but in so doing, you’re only supporting the corporate “reformers”. There is no such thing as “neutrality” and pretending to “neutrality” supports the dominant paradigm.

        You’d be better served by really exploring in depth, discovering the truth and sticking with it without pretending to be “balanced”.

      • Jay

        Actually, no. Why would we want journalists to ask questions that insult? It is a turn-off; it makes the reader avoid your writing. For your own career, I would recommend that you refrain from that nonsense. It is not provocative in an interesting way.

  • Kay Wiliams

    Helen Gym is teaching the rest of us how to save our public schools, and for that I am grateful.
    Kids in public schools need a public advocate, and they sure don’t have one in government- not city, state or federal. They’ve been abandoned.

  • http://yinzercation.wordpress.com/ Yinzer Thing

    Thank you, Helen! We here in Pittsburgh salute you. Your dedication to education justice inspires us all.

  • Tre

    I applaud the voice, the passion and the earnestness of Helen Gym, but like Sean (and yes, I’ve followed this article’s ongoing conversation in the comments section), I have historically found it troubling, as often exemplified by the media touchpoints by both folks on the Helen side vs the folks on the corporate side, that there’s a seemingly endless amount of political and rhetorical posturing that leaves folks like me-operating squarely in the middle around a lot of this–feeling dubious about the desired outcomes from either pulpit. Crassly, it does often feel like, in conversations that seem to resist the nuance of acknowledging and/or embracing even elements of the other side’s perspectives/solutions, that folks aren’t truly invested in anything other than rallying bases around their narrow agendas. I may not always fully align with the “corporate reformers'” notions of how we go about fixing things, but I do agree that, even in the absence of strong statistical data to always support their solutions, there’s a merit of truth to trying some of their proposed ideas. What’s disheartening is the persistent logjam we get as educated, impassioned adults; these constant, vitriolic attacks on ideas that don’t even seek to incorporate elements of either side (because, to be clear, I think the “corporate” side has as much to adapt and consider as the “community” side) rings false in such a fashion that I can’t fully get behind either side–and I suspect that many of our Philly citizens exist in this same “creamy middle”. And so, I too find the histrionics of how folks like Helen have contributed to the conversation to often be too shrill on saying “no” while doing little to say or offer “what if this instead”. We have such an entrenched system of leadership that feels either too neutered or too passive to champion the rights of the poor that I often feel disenchanted when watching middle-to-upper-middle class folks square off about the destiny of the city’s sizable under-served and under-resourced. The Helen’s, Gleason’s et al are great, but as these conversations become more and more gridlocked around these theses of what needs to happen, it does feel like more and more personality/celebrity jockeying for a stand at the public mic than anything else. I want to be clear that I’m not saying this as an eye-rolling comment, and certainly feel we need tons of champions around the plight of public education, but I don’t think we’re doing many in the community justice by being so reductive about things. I’ve reached out to Helen to ask and understand more too, so would also be happy to talk more offline should the opportunity arise.

    • Helen Gym

      Tre: As I would think your being head of Teach for America Philly would impart, I would hope that there would be some sensitivity about calling people like me, whom you haven’t met or had a conversation with, full of “histrionics” and yet complain about the polarization of rhetoric.

      At this stage of the game, for any serious observer of the Philadelphia schools to claim shock or “disenchantment” at the struggle here feels a bit like a contrivance, does it not? This past year, ed reformers – among many other things – championed the closing of 24 public schools which sent 9,000 children to schools worse off than the ones they previously attended; the loss in the name of austerity of 4,000-some librarians, scientists, counselors, administrators, reading specialists and aides; an all out union-busting effort which included supporting the unsuccessful withholding of $45 million in federal funds; and a crass attempt to push forward a regressive charter bill labeled as “reform.” The ed debate is deeply polarized for a reason. There are reasons why the struggle is so great, why there is so much pushback from communities, and why the issue is less about “gridlock” than a fundamental difference in how we view public goods, whether we make room for teacher and professional voices, where we stand on organized labor or issues of equity. Being unhappy with the level of engagement, calling mothers like myself “shrill” and full of “histrionics,” broadly labeling public actions (which have included such things as public testimony, filing formal complaints against the state, and documenting lack of services for special needs population) as “celebrity jockeying,” feels an awful lot like marginalization. More important, this is not a single person’s issue or viewpoint. This is an issue that has energized much of the city. Simply dismissing it as distasteful or somehow not civil enough means potentially missing the whole point of not just this article but the Philadelphia struggle overall. I do think there’s more we can and must do to bring this into a public sphere and broaden and deepen the dialogue (that’s been a large part of my work and my overall takeaway from this piece), but I don’t think it’s right for people to enter into a 12-year post takeover struggle demanding to play referee. In terms of reaching out, the last email exchange I have for us was almost two years ago but you know how to get in touch with me.

      • Tre

        A couple of things, 1) thanks for giving a thoughtful reply 2) that’s “former” head of TFA Philly; I haven’t been in the role for nearly 1/2 a year now 3) I actually emailed you sometime during the summer from my gmail account; it might’ve gone to SPAM, but I reached out because I was really moved with a piece you did for…CBS I think? I can’t remember now, but happy to re-send 4) I actually think that I agree with several, but not all, of your thoughts. I’ve too, struggled with the notion of the rampant school closings that the Philly community has had to endure; I think that they’ve imposed a tremendous amount of safety concerns in a climate that already has fragile security for kids in schools. I think too, it presented a plethora of questions around ensuring equitable and needs-based support in terms of teachers, services and staff, and created a flotsam of confusion around who/what/how/where for folks often already besieged by the system.

        We may have to comfortably agree to disagree about the necessity of polarization; I worry that the state sits back (I have visions of Gov doing so in a leather chair and a cigar watching on a magical monitor) and enjoys the constant (and ardent) in-fighting here in the city, because the fragmentation certainly doesn’t inspire much accountability on his part at the end of the day.

        I certainly concede the “shrill” term; I won’t use it again in reference to you because I don’t want the terminology to get lost in what I’m trying to convey. And there’s no need to trot out your motherhood; I certainly respect, and appreciate the passion and doubtless sacrifice you make in order to affect the change you want to see. As an African-American male who grow up lower-to-middle-class in Trenton, NJ, I’m painfully aware, attuned to, and passionate about the continued situation that kids like me find themselves in, and, in the midst of the conversations around so many kids and families that look like me, I feel my own marginalization often, too; it’s not terribly often that I see/hear “me” in the faces or voices of many leading these political conversations.

        I’d love to figure out more too about moving these into a more public sphere; my concern and commitment is always with the impoverished here in the city, and think that those of us who have the access and the might to command the mic, should find/create lanes for these folks to step up and be heard too. Much of this, for me, comes down to access to power and privilege, and Philly’s under-resourced minority communities are in short shrift of opportunity to engage, but have an awful lot of folks speaking for them.

        I’ll resend that email…..

        • Helen Gym

          Thanks Tre. And for clarification, I don’t believe in the necessity of polarization, just that it’s so real here for reasons that are for better or worse not easily dismissable. Looking forward to re-connecting.

      • Dienne

        Sing it, sister. Simply put, it’s really hard to be civil when someone is standing on your neck. If the corporate “reformers” would agree to back down and stop their assault on public education, there might be some room for reasonable debate and discussion. But when you’re being assaulted, the only choices are fight back or die. I love how you’re fighting back. Thanks.

  • Robert Park

    I can’t read the entire article since I don’t have a subscription but the comments are very well written and the most civil dialog I’ve seen in a long time. I wish all the participants would continue this discussion here or elsewhere in public so more people can join and continue this discussion. Conversations like this is exactly what I’m trying to achieve for an education news for Pittsburgh. Over here, we don’t even have an independent school district newspaper, yet.

  • bertisdowns

    That’s a cheap shot to set her up with that silly “status quo” question at the end– not to mention cliched, misinformed and tired. You want to know what the status quo is? Read this from Sue Peters, activist parent who was recently-elected to the Seattle School Board up against all the money Gates et al could throw at her– http://huff.to/1i4pSmt Bottom line the people know.

    You know, if all that corporate reform stuff is such a great idea, then why aren’t the private schools clamoring for it? I will tell you the precise moment when we should perhaps re-consider the current view of all this testing. data gathering (and sharing), defunding, larger classes, less adults, more testing, misuse of testing results, “value-added” nonsense, etc etc– as what it is: a troubling and pernicious development in the education of our nation’s public school children: when Lakeside Prep in Seattle, Sidwell Friends in DC and other august and prestigious private academies decide they want their students to be signed up for this racket. Otherwise they will remain separate and apart from the commoners’ children in the public schools, of course. It must be easy to dictate policies that only affect other people’s children.

    Bravo for Helen Gym and her allies– in Philadelphia and in every corner of the country. From Seattle to Bridgeport, Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, Long Island to New Orleans, Newark to Texas . . . see, e.g. http://bit.ly/1dt00zw. Even with Gates et al’s million and Arne et al’s determination, parents will not allow their children’s schools to be disxmantled.

  • Jay

    Speaking of the “self-styled reformers,” the author uses the words “bold experimentation.” “Bold” implies courageous. I think the synonyms “brazen” or “impudent” would have been more apt.
    Too, she does does not appear to be iconoclastic. The writer is using words to make his article and subject more interesting – unnecessary when the subject is relevant in this city and the person and her actions are naturally intriguing.
    In any case, I’m super glad that attention is being given to this woman who cares about our children (“advocate” seems like a cliche, a jokey word anymore). She attended the Back-to-School Night at my school and was humble, warm, funny, and kind – a contrast to the photo above with the cold black leather and concrete background – not “ferocious.” I certainly did not find her to be fanatical in any way, which would have invoked distrust in me.

  • Communist Teacher

    “Powerful figures often look for the exits when she approaches”

    My kinda’ gal!

  • enufalready

    I like and agree with many of these comments, however, I have questions I’ve asked that I never get an answer to. (1) Where have the millions and millions gone? (2) Just as Catholic schools have had to face the reality of combining schools due to finances, etc. so must the public schools (3) why is it when a plan was proposed to save the city/taxpayers millions, it makes sense all ends, its put aside (4) parents have some accountability; should volunteer and ensure their kids go to school, do their homework (5) how are kids being passed through when they can’t meet the basic standards of reading, arithmatic, writing and the list goes on.

    • DTurner

      I’m wondering this as well.

      It’s admirable that folks like Helen Gym are fighting for schools, but I have to wonder what the end-game is. Can the public schools (and the notoriously corrupt district) repair themselves, or is it simply time to bite the bullet and go for an all-charter model and turn the school district into a regulatory and funds disbursement body? This is not to belittle the work of Parents United, I just wonder what there will be left to save at the end of the day.