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11.30.2010

arlene ackerman thinks she knows a thing or two about "cultural competence"

I don't pretend to know much about what it really takes run a school district. But from what I do know, Arlene Ackerman, the superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, is doing a pretty crappy job. You only have to look at her complete mishandling and failure to address the ongoing problem of violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School.

That's why I find one of Ackerman's quotes in this Philadelphia Inquirer article completely ridiculous: More relaxed, refocused, Supt. Arlene Ackerman says she's learned from last year's mistakes. Discussing former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee -- a controversial figure herself -- Ackerman says:
"I don't think she was culturally competent for the community she was trying to help," Ackerman says, though she does support some of Rhee's reform. "And I don't think she took time to listen." Ackerman adds that Rhee's mistake was that she thought she could "tell somebody she knew what was good for them when she hadn't walked in their shoes."
... And that's almost laughable, if we weren't talking about kids getting their heads kicked in, because it sounds like Ackerman is pretty much describing her own problem in Philadelphia. Columnist Annette John-Hall writes:
Which is what happened during Ackerman's mishandling of the beatings of Asian students by African Americans at South Philadelphia High School, which pretty much sealed her fate as far as many were concerned.

At a School Reform Commission meeting in December, Ackerman, who'd worked for six years with a predominantly Asian student body as superintendent in San Francisco, surprisingly sat poker-faced as anguished student after anguished student and some of their parents testified.

She got defensive. And did not offer an apology when she was asked for one.

It sure felt like cultural insensitivity.

Blasted in the media (including by me), and critics from all sides, the lifelong educator acknowledges that she's learned a hard lesson.
The piece goes on to paint a picture of Ackerman as something of a warrior and a survivor who, after going through the ringer, has come out on the other side, found peace and focus and is ready to move on. Or something.

Sorry, but did I miss something? The headline says that she's learned from last year's mistakes... but I've scoured the article and can't find the part where she actually admits to making any mistakes herself. Because from where I stand, she made a shitload of mistakes.

UPDATE: Here's Helen Gym's blog post in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, responding to the Inquirer piece on Arlene Ackerman. While she's no fan of Michelle Rhee, Helen calls Ackerman's assessment of Rhee a "racialized potshot": Ackerman and Rhee: 'Cultural competence' and the national urban education agenda.