School choice

Talk about letting the fox guard the henhouse! Not so surprising if you’ve been following Corbett’s privatization frenzy:

IT MIGHT HAVE once seemed unthinkable: Handing the keys to a large, troubled public-school district over to a high-profile advocate for increasing privatization, including vouchers and for-profit private schools.

But activists said that last Friday’s surprise announcement that Gov. Corbett had named the Rev. Joe Watkins – an MSNBC pundit who headed the Students First PAC, the pro-voucher group that’s dumped millions of campaign dollars on Corbett and other pols – as chief recovery officer to run the Chester Upland schools in Delaware County marks a tipping point.

They said the choice proves that the Corbett administration is accelerating its push to privatize education in Pennsylvania and benefit charter schools like the Chester Community Charter School – managed by the governor’s largest single donor, Vahan Gureghian – at the expense of traditional public schools that are losing dollars, teachers and students.

Watkins acknowledged he’d also done some recent work as a consultant for Gureghian’s school, which educates more than half of Chester Upland’s elementary- and kindergarten-age kids and has a huge stake in key decisions Watkins will make.

Nationally known education pundit Diane Ravitch – a former assistant U.S. secretary of education who once supported school-choice measures such as vouchers but now opposes them – took to her blog this week to call the choice of Watkins “so astonishing, so breathtaking, and simultaneously so disturbing that I don’t know how to characterize it.”

In a phone interview, Ravitch said that she found the choice so dismaying because “they sent in someone with an agenda” – in favor of charter schools run by for-profit companies like Chester Community, managed by Gureghian’s CMSI LLC.

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