PHILADELPHIA – President Obama spoke at the Masterman School of Philadelphia Sept 14 to deliver an inspirational message. Obama’s appearance at the elite school played into the elitist image the president may wish to shed.
Many Philadelphia residents wonder why President Obama did not choose beleaguered South Philadelphia High School for his speech. Last December 2009, the South Philadelphia school provoked outrage when thirty Asian students were attacked in a day-long outbreak of violence. “Southern” is on the list of several Philadelphia schools termed “dangerous”.
Masterman is different-officially designated a “laboratory and demonstration” school. An October 2004 edition of Philadelphia Magazine ranked Masterman in the top 20 schools in the U.S. Contributing to that is the manner in which Masterman gets its students. Masterman students represent the “top draft picks” of students in the 167,000 strong Philadelphia system.
A White HOuse press release of President Obama’s speech has the president saying: “And just last week, you were recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School…..” Masterman routinely receives such awards and accolades.
But “Failure is the Rule” at many Philadelphia Schools, according to a September 13 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Yet, President Obama barely mentioned the troubled state of public school education in Philadelphia.
A task force established by the School Reform Commission found that 45 percent of Philadelphia’s black male students failed to graduate. It’s just as grim for Latino males, of whom only 43 percent get a high school diploma.
The single nod to the nagging problems of Philadelphia public education was a line where President Obama mentions the word “bullies.” Did you know that there were “neighborhoods in my (Obama’s) hometown of Chicago, where kids have hurt one another. And the same thing has happened here in Philly?”
Public schools often seem like an experimental battleground where student guinea pigs test the theories of ivory tower academics. The recommendations of the task force which studied Philadelphia schools are as bankrupt as any. One of the task force recommendations was that Philadelphia should look to Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy for inspiration.
Urban Prep Academy has open enrollment, students are chosen by lottery, receives millions in private donations, and is often touted as a triumph by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and CNN’s Don Lemon, who famously referred to Urban Prep students as “little Obamas.”
The charter school movement has been successful in some cases, and failed in many, at the cost of public money and trust. Charter schools are no more a remedy for public school education than South Philadelphia High School has been a model of cultural harmony.
The battle for public education has to be fought where the battle is. Apparently, that location is not at the Julia R. Masterman school, according to Marsha Pincus, a master teacher who spent the “final 10 years of my 34 year teaching career” at Masterman.
“Masterman… a magnet school for academically talented and mentally gifted students from every neighborhood in Philadelphia (though in truth, more prosperous neighborhoods, filled with well-educated families, are home to a disproportionate number of its students)(sic)…..”
Notebook.org has profiled the school as 29% African-American, 6%, Latino 17 % Asian, and 45% white. Students must have no disciplinary records and have “high advanced” PSSA scores in reading and math.
How is this a message Philadelphia needs to hear? Does anyone think the students of “Southern” and “West,” Kensington, and Olney are going to join hands to sing the “Masterman Hymn?” The last line of the Masterman hymn may explain why Obama chose the school for his inspirational message: “Thy name be ever praised-Masterman School.”
Could that line be applied to South Philadelphia High School?