It's Our City
Today's New York Times story on Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite was strange, mainly because of what was left out. Which was mostly everything. This school district is undergoing one of the most profound crises in American public education, but readers outside this region will learn very little about that crisis from this article.
There is little context, and no mention of the fact that many blame Gov. Tom Corbett's budget cuts for the ensuing public-education crisis. Also no mention that this issue is the largest obstacle confronting Corbett in his reelection campaign, or that it is the issue that has turned him into America's most vulnerable incumbent governor.
Indeed, there's not even a mention that the state controls Philadelphia schools, and has done so since 2001. Indeed, it is entirely unclear as to whether Hite can make any independent decisions on his own without asking permission. After all, he serves at Corbett's behest, through his proxies on the SRC.
That would have been nice to mention.
The critical political context of Hite's tenuous existence—the governor, the mayor, City Council, powerful outside interests, unions—is basically absent.
Case in point: "He had to close 24 school buildings."
The Times writes that Hite has "endured night after night of personal attacks from hundreds of angry parents, teachers and students at public meetings as he tried to explain the [school] closings last winter."
But we hear nothing from those angry parents, teachers, and students — or really any of the many Philadelphians who have opinions about what's going on.
Instead, the story quotes Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, as saying that he "think[s] that Bill Hite is the right person at the right time in the right place." And then, a mere paragraph later: "If anybody would be able to do it, he's the right guy."
It's an odd, conflict-ridden choice for a quote. That conflict, however, goes unmentioned. A representative of the School District of Philadelphia sits on the Council's board.
Casserly's group can often be counted on to heap praise upon a superintendent.
The Council named late Philly schools chief Arlene Ackerman the nation's top school superintendent in 2010 — less than a year before she was pushed out amid fiscal crisis and political scandal.
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall got the same prize — the Richard R. Green Award — in 2006. Now, she's at the center of an enormous cheating scandal, fighting criminal charges for racketeering and theft.
Instead of hearing about about the crisis in Philly classrooms, we learn that Hite is "bald and muscular 6-foot-2" and "swims four times a week ... and sometimes goes bike riding with his media spokesman" in order to "to ease the pressures of the job."
It goes on to compliment Hite's "personal charm and management skills" without citing a single instance of the latter.
This is a downright bizarre moment for a long, soft-focus profile on the front page of the National section of the nation's paper of record.
Hite, reporters like to note, is a nice guy. Okay. But is that news?
You guys don't really care who's going to be your next Councilman, right?
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