The Philadelphia Story: The Rhetoric of School Reform

61 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2005

See all articles by Susan DeJarnatt

Susan DeJarnatt

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


The words empower, accountability, and failure permeate the debate over public education, in the media, in political statements, and in the language of legal authority. This article examines how those words were used in the particular experience of Philadelphia, often described as the largest school reform effort in the history of public education. In 2001 and 2002, Philadelphia became a key battleground for the debate on education as the public school system was taken over by the state government and the governor proposed privatizing the entire school district. The arguments for privatization focused on the claimed failure of the schools and asserted that private management would provide accountability. The article examines the contrast between the reality and the rhetoric animating the debate. It analyzes the use of high-stakes testing as the sole determinant of failure; the likely effect of private management on the levels of accountability, particularly in light of the Philadelphia system's experience to date with the relative lack of accountability of charter schools, and evaluates the claims that privatization would empower parents. It concludes that the rhetoric of reform was used to try to individualize education with the goal of marketizing schooling to the detriment of more democratic reform ideas.

Keywords: Public Education Reform, School Reform

Suggested Citation

DeJarnatt, Susan, The Philadelphia Story: The Rhetoric of School Reform. University of Missouri-Kansas City Law Review, Vol. 72, p. 949, 2004, Available at SSRN:

Susan DeJarnatt (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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