What matters most for School Improvement in Philadelphia’s public schools

Joseph Batory

Author & Commentator on Politics and Education

April 11, 2023

By Joseph Batory

(…article rejected for publication by The Philadelphia Inquirer)

 Here are a few priorities to help to create some significant educational improvement in the School District of Philadelphia.

  1. Prioritize a “world class” education for each student. Test scores do indeed matter. However, while “teaching to the test” may in fact improve annual standardized test scores and earn simplistic applause, such one-dimensional gains are not the same thing as creating a high-quality education for students.

 Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, now translated into at least 12 languages and used as a resource for many businesses and corporations, offers a thesis of what it will take to succeed in the world of tomorrow. It is very much the opposite of what is often happening in schools today. Pink notes that what matters most in enhancing student abilities are in the right hemisphere of the brain—artistry, designing, innovation, inventing, and synthesizing. This is certainly not the current practice of obsessing on and trying to create a few more correct answers on tests each year and then proclaiming educational success.

 2. Stop riding dead horsesPhiladelphia’s schools need to find new ways to link young people into the academic ballgame. Technical and vocational offerings are seriously underrated in American society and in the city’s neighborhood schools yet these courses have appeal and high level potential for many students. Additionally, maximizing/rebuilding opportunities for pupils in music, dramatics, art and subjects (e.g., technology) that invite curiosity and creativity at school can pay great dividends as a way of engaging pupil interest and involvement. 

 3Motivate the students. Schools must do a better job of inspiring and encouraging success by young people. Ongoing positive reinforcement for all students from additional guidance personnel as well as key teaching staff members is critically important. In simplest terms, students are likely to become what we tell them they are or can be!

4. More Effective Parent Involvement Is A Key. Schools need to be more aggressive about “demanding that parents be educational partners with the school.” Parents have been and continue to be the primary and most important teachers of their children.

 5. Cultivate and treasure “caring staff members.” Excellent teachers are the most valuable assets for any school. They bring out potential among the average and the bright and save the kids no one wants. Classroom teachers are underrated in American society and sometimes by school administrators. Top-down bludgeoning schools to greatness is a naïve management concept that has been tried many times in the recent past of the School District of Philadelphia, yet it has never worked anywhere in the world.

 6. Fix the buildings. There is no excuse for flaking lead paint or friable asbestos or unsanitary bathrooms or unappealing settings indoors and outdoors.

 7. School leadership matters. In most cases, the success of any school can be correlated to the length of the shadow cast by the school principal. That leadership ranks right behind effective classroom instruction as the best way to improve schools. Principals need to be exemplary and they need support and encouragement as well as “plenty of rope,” i.e., the freedom to innovate and take chances with new programs and ideas. 


Joseph Batory was the superintendent of schools in Upper Darby (PA) from 1984 to 1999. A resident of Philadelphia, Batory is believed to be the only area recipient ever of the Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of School Administrators.

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