Is Governor Corbett Education's 'Caped Crusader?'

T.E.A.C.H. representative asks a Jimmy Olsen question: 'If public schools are broken, why not fix them?'

Superman, where are you?

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim tells us America’s waiting for a caped crusader to solve our education crisis. We regular Joes just aren’t up to the task. Well, look up in the sky, it’s a bird ... it’s a plane ... no, it’s a Republican governor! 

Fresh from slashing $860 million from public schools budgets, Gov. Tom Corbett has swept in to finish the job of “saving” Pennsylvania’s school kids with his . 

Just in the nick of time, too. This year alone, Pennsylvania’s public schools have increased class sizes, stopped tutoring those children who fall behind, eliminated electives like music and art, stopped replacing crumbling textbooks or outdated computers, started charging fees to participate in extracurricular activities like sports and fired more than 14,000 educators.

Who’s to blame for such short-sighted policies? It’s that darn Obama and his stimulus money, isn’t it? I never trusted him with his hope and change. But, no. Schools funded all of these things BEFORE any stimulus money came in. So why did they stop? 

Governor Corbett, no doubt donning a red cape and wearing trunks outside of his pants, cut education funding far below what it was before the stimulus money—he just put a huge chunk aside for a rainy day and called it all “education funding” so his creative accountants could claim he’s INCREASING education budgets. Maybe math is different on his planet. 

Why not actually increase education budgets or at very least leave them untouched? Because Kal-el (i.e. Corbett’s Krypton name) has sworn to his father Jor-el (Read: conservative anti-tax ideologue Grover Norquist) that he won’t increase taxes no matter what—not even on an abundant natural resource like Marcellus shale that every other Marcellus abundant state taxes. He won’t even use a $1 billion tax surplus. Nor will he prioritize funds for education over, say, $2.48 billion in additional prison spending. 

Unfortunately, our hero’s “principled stance”  isn’t working out so well. But never fear. Here he comes to save the day ... again. 

Corbett surveys the damage around him and figures the best way to help students is to make sure they DO go to schools that have lower class sizes, have opportunities to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, attend schools that have tutoring, new textbooks and technology.

It’s just those schools won’t be public schools. They’ll be parochial and charter schools. 

The problem, he says taking a heroic stance, is that public schools are broken and the only way to fix them is to allow kids to escape into the hands of corporations and the clergy.

Um. Excuse me, Governor? Jimmy Olsen here with the Daily Planet. Just a few questions. Setting budget constraints aside, how are public schools broken? 

Yes, urban districts with a preponderance of poor children have higher dropout rates than more affluent districts. Is that really surprising? Many underprivileged students are more worried about where their next meal’s coming from, where they’re going to sleep and if they’re safe, than with reading and writing. That’s not a failure of education. That’s a failure of society. Until we tackle poverty—the root cause of the achievement gap—we’ll never solve the disparity in test scores. How is going to a different school building going to fix that? 

Second, is there any evidence that charter and parochial schools do a better job than public schools? There have been dozens of studies on the matter and they’ve all found that, taken as a whole, public schools outperform their corporate and religious counterparts. Yes, there are some charter and parochial schools that do better than public institutions but they are few and far between. If that’s so, what makes you think sending kids to these institutions will benefit them?

Finally, if public schools are broken, why not fix them? Wouldn’t it be more fiscally responsible to repair the damage instead of hopping into the life boats? That would take an honest evaluation of the real problems, such as slashing education budgets and a national love affair with modeling schools after corporations and sports teams forcing them to compete for limited resources. Kids aren’t widgets or test scores. They’re people and require different methods to succeed. After all, in a competitive model, there’s always a winner and a loser. In education, we don’t want any losers—we want everyone to learn.

But there’s no answer from our hero. With a quick “Up, up and away!” he’s off into the sky, but we can see the outline of his bulging wallet as he flies. It’s a wallet filled to overflowing with contributions from parochial and charter school lobbyist like the Koch Brothers and Michelle Rhee.

Will we have to wait for another hero from on high to set things right? Or will truth—our governor’s only Kryptonite—be enough to bring him and his cronies down to Earth? That, dear reader, depends on the credulity of the voting public.

Tune in next time...

Steven Singer


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