Underscoring Philadelphia’s crime problem, the Pennsylvania House voted to impeach the City’s district attorney Larry Krasner. As Philadelphia’s homicide count soars to 500 for 2022 — just one metric for the explosion of violence and crime in our city — we should no doubt hold leaders accountable.
But the reality is that there are more people that share the blame than Krasner alone. Philadelphia’s crime problem today is — at least in part — explained by decades of failing our students. An inadequate education not only hurts our children’s futures but impacts their communities as well.
And we should not overlook the blame that teacher union president Jerry Jordan shares for his longtime efforts to undermine expansion of school choice opportunities in Philadelphia. Jordan and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) have opposed every proposal to add alternative school options that are independent of our failed public school system.
Murrell Dobbins high school in North Philadelphia exemplifies the impossible learning environment available to many inner city students. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported chaotic, dangerous conditions at the school, where both students and faculty have been victims. Students often roam the halls, smoke marijuana in the bathrooms, and break out into fights. Adding to safety concerns is the number of unauthorized people that frequently access the building.
We’re failing our students if we cannot provide them safe environments to learn. Philadelphia public schools have, according to research from my organization, the Commonwealth Foundation, dismal performance records — 90 percent of eighth graders in the district are not proficient in math and 70 percent are not proficient in English.
Failing schools have community-wide consequences.
It’s widely understood that a quality education is closely linked to reducing crime and keeping communities safe. In 2011, Harvard researchers found that young people, especially at-risk students, who attend quality schools receive less absences and suspensions and commit less crime. A good education is the pathway to success and independence later in life — the alternative is associated with dependence on welfare programs and even prison, according to another report by the Commonwealth Foundation.
Philadelphia students need high-quality education, but Jordan and the PFT have, for decades, fought to undermine educational opportunity.
Jordan and fellow government union executives support a rigid, seniority-based system that can be a barrier to improving schools or rewarding good teachers. Historically, Jordan has opposed merit-pay reforms that would reward high performing educators with higher salaries and has defended seniority rules — even if that means the best teachers get fired.
Jordan and the PFT consistently oppose Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship program which currently allows over 20,000 Philadelphia students to attend a private school of their choice. While demand for scholarships far exceeds supply, the PFT has aggressively lobbied to shut out thousands of students from the program.
Jordan also works to block Education Savings Accounts (ESA) like Lifeline Scholarships, which would give almost $7,000 in direct education funding to students in low-achieving schools. Philadelphia has over 150 schools ranked in the state’s bottom 15 percent of public schools — all of which would benefit from Lifeline Scholarships.
There was also the time Jordan pressured teachers to defy the Philadelphia School District’s decision to resume in-person instruction after a year of pandemic lockdown. We now know that extended school closures caused significant learning loss for our students.
Philadelphia students that are falling behind — or stuck in unsafe schools — need more educational options. Increasing educational opportunity not only helps student futures’ but also helps keep them safe.
Students that participate in Milwaukee’s school choice program, for example, are less likely to be convicted of certain crimes compared to their public-school peers. A 2020 study out of the University of Arkansas found that Milwaukee’s program led to a 53 percent reduction in drug convictions and an 86 percent reduction in property damage crimes.
It’s not just Milwaukee. A 2014 study by researchers at Harvard and Princeton found that attending a charter school in New York reduced male students’ likelihood of incarceration by 100 percent.
Focusing on unpopular prosecutors may be politically expedient, but Philadelphia’s crime problems have been decades in the making. The key to reversing course is to invest in our students and give them the excellent education they deserve. Giving all students access to a high-quality education is critical for Philadelphia’s future.
David Hardy, co-founder and retired CEO of Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, is a Distinguished Fellow at the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.
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