ThinkFest: William Hite on the State of Philly Schools and America’s “Dirty Little Secret”

"No one questions the fact that Lower Merion spends so much money. But when we talk about children in Philadelphia, it is, 'you're wasting it'"

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People who ask if money spent on Philly education is being wasted don’t ask the same question about richer suburban school districts, Philly School Superintendent William Hite said Friday during an appearance on the ThinkFest Main Stage.

Hite referenced the Lower Merion school district, which spends $10,000 more per pupil than Philadelphia, before mentioning a discussion he recently had with M. Night Shyamalan, the director and author of a book about education reform.

“I’m quoting him: ‘You know, I’m going to share a dirty little secret: America is racist,'” Hite said.

“There’s no one else that’s reduced its workforce by the amount that we’ve reduced, there’s no one else that’s closed the schools that we’ve closed — not even on a percentage basis,” Hite added. “If we’re going to talk about waste in Philadelphia, let’s talk about waste everywhere else.”

Three other takeaways:

• ON THE CHALLENGE OF PHILLY’S BROKEN SCHOOL SYSTEM: “Yes it’s difficult, we knew it would be difficult, but it’s critical to get it right.”

“We’re not standing still. We can’t stand still, because the kids are in school every day. They don’t get a do-over, so it’s critically important for us to do everything that’s in our control.”

• ON WHY SUCCESSES IN ONE SCHOOL CAN’T EASILY BE REPLICATED IN THE CITY’S OTHER SCHOOLS: “That theory works if all the schools were educating all the same children from all the same places in all the same neighborhoods with all the same opportunities. That’s just not the case,” Hite said. “What may work in one place, with one group of children, may not work in another place.”

• ON REDUCTIONS IN SCHOOL VIOLENCE: Hite said the district had implemented more programs — such as conflict resolution — to stop violence before it starts.

“All of these things have allowed us to begin to change the environment in schools. And those changes allow us to have fewer incidents, fewer arrests, and fewer suspensions,”he said. “You can’t arrest or suspend your way to learning.”

Check out all of our coverage from ThinkFest 2014.