What Kind of Regime Does Philadelphia Have?


 Urban Public Policy

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Into the Public

Changing the Rules of the Game

and New Regime Politics in

Philadelphia Public Education

Katrina E. Bulkley

Montclair State University

Substantial policy and political changes have resulted from a 2001 state

takeover of the Philadelphia School District and the subsequent hiring of Paul

Vallas as the district’s new CEO. Using the lens of urban regime analysis,

which emphasizes the importance of public and private actors in forming a

governing coalition, this article analyzes the Philadelphia education regime

and the policies it has promoted. The author determines that although deci

sion making is highly centralized under this governing coalition, the role of

private actors helps to define the regime as a “contracting regime,” in which

public-private interaction shapes the political and policy context.

Keywords: privatization; urban regimes; Philadelphia reform


During the past several years, Philadelphia’s public education system

has undergone major changes, sparked by a state takeover in 2001 that

created a strong sense of urgency for change in the school system. Changes

have included both centralizing reforms and alterations in school governance.

Some of these reforms were initiated by the state, whereas many were ini

tiated by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paul Vallas and the School Reform

Commission (SRC; the CEO and SRC replaced the roles of superintendent

Educational Policy

Volume 21 Number 1

January and March 2007 155-184

© 2007 Corwin Press



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Author’s Note: An earlier version of this article, written by Katrina Bulkley and Eva Gold,

was presented at the 2006 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association

in San Francisco. The author would like to thank Eva Gold, Suzanne Blanc, Jolley Christman,

Benjamin Herold, Eva Travers, Elizabeth Useem, and two anonymous reviewers for many

helpful ideas and suggestions. Partial funding for the preparation of this study was provided

by the William Penn Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Carnegie Corporation of

New York to Research for Action. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author

and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.

Section 2: Case Studies of the

Politics of Privatization156 Educational Policy

and school board as part of the takeover). The centralizing reforms include

a districtwide core curriculum and benchmark tests. The significant alter

ations in school configurations and governance include: a shift to K-8

schools, the creation of new small high schools, and the implementation of

a diverse provider model in which 46 schools were put under the manage

ment of for-profit, nonprofit, and university “providers.” Despite early con

troversy over some of the reforms (especially the diverse provider model),

they have generally met with little resistance.

Overall, the years since the takeover have seen a significant increase in

test scores in elementary and middle grades, although the explanation for

these increases is still under study and overall scores are still low relative to

suburban schools (Casserly, 2005; Useem, 2005). Vallas and the SRC have

also improved the sense of legitimacy for the system (Useem, Christman,

& Boyd, 2006).

Clarence Stone (1998b) has argued that to make significant changes in

public education, it is critical that not just policies but also politics change

to support this effort. According to Stone:

Reformers have a strong tendency to focus on what should be, and they often

have great skill in showing why an alternative set of practices would be better

than what is in place. But they frequently fail to pay attention to political

context—to the relationships that are necessary to establish and sustain a

body of practices. (p. 17)

For this article, we use the lens of urban regime theory, which examines the

role of governing coalitions composed of both public and private sector


In working to build a coalition supporting the schools and at times to

minimize dissent, Vallas and the SRC have brought private actors into the

public fold through formal mechanisms such as contracting and formal

partnerships. This article focuses on the changing nature of such formal

relationships with private actors in Philadelphia and the implications of that

for the nature of the urban regime around school improvement.

This study builds from a much larger study, “Learning from Philadelphia’s

Reform,” that brings together researchers from Research for Action (a

Philadelphia-based research organization) and a number of other universities

and research organizations to study the implementation and impact of changes

under state takeover. In the course of doing research for the larger study, it has

become clear that there are not only changes in the policies for school reform

in Philadelphia but also changes in the “players” and the relationships amongBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 157

the players governing the reform. Thus, we turned to regime theory to better

understand this new political environment for the city.

Specifically, in this article, we seek to understand what kind of regime

appeared to be emerging in Philadelphia as of the spring of 2006, the role

of private sector actors (both nonprofit and for-profit) in that regime and,

ultimately, the ways in which the overall structure for governing the district

has changed. Understanding the politics linked with reform in the city is

critical to determining the potential for the current reform to be sustained.

In the following sections, we first discuss literature on urban regimes,

including different types of regimes. This is followed by a description of the

governing coalition that has emerged and the policy changes that they have

initiated in Philadelphia. Building on this description, we analyze the

nature of the regime itself, offering a new type of market-based regime—

the “contracting regime”—as a way to understand the politics governing

change in the school district of Philadelphia.

Although this analysis is important to understanding Philadelphia itself,

we believe that there are also implications for changes in cities nationwide,

as many of the same pressures toward bringing in the private sector (includ

ing from No Child Left Behind, NCLB) are being experienced elsewhere

(Burch, 2005).

Regime Theory

Urban regime theory is based on the idea that effective governance in

cities requires stable and durable governing coalitions that include both

public and private actors (Brown, 1999; Mossberger & Stoker, 2001;

Shipps, 2003a; Stone, 1989). As Stone (1998b), one of the original thinkers

in this area, argues, “Urban regime theory posits that policy change comes

about only if reformers establish a new set of political arrangements com

mensurate with the policy being advocated” (p. 9). To do this, reformers

must combine the political and material resources of public actors with

“complementary actions from nongovernmental sources” (Stone, 2005).

Thus, understanding the nature of a governing regime (and whether a

regime is even present in a particular context) is critical for understanding

the path of policy change and its potential for sustainability.

Although many cities have coalitions of public and private actors who

are working on policy issues at any given moment, not all of these coali

tions can be considered regimes. This is because of the focus on stability in

urban regime theory, as Stone (2005) argues:158 Educational Policy

The [urban regime] model focuses on the combination of factors that promise

viable and durable arrangements. The agenda (the problem-solving task),

resource adequacy, and alignment by key actors (the governing coalition) in

that absence of a command system (hence, a need for a scheme of cooperation)—

these are the elements that need to be brought to strength and aligned for gov

erning arrangements to be viable and stable. (p. 331)

However, developing this kind of stability is challenging; noting Stone’s

work, Mossberger and Stoker (2001) argue that regimes are “difficult to

maintain because participants have divergent and overlapping interests”

(p. 815), and the bringing together of the public and private sectors makes

these divergent interests all the more challenging to overcome to sustain a

regime. Regimes can pursue a range of policies, with no particular ideo

logical approach inherent in the concept.

At the center of urban regime theory is a focus on “the partnerships

between public and private institutions through which power in the city is

exercised” (Brown, 1999, p. 73). Originally, the emphasis was on the busi

ness community as the “private” element of this equation, but that concep

tion has been broadened over time to include other nonpublic entities such

as nonprofit organizations and community groups (Brown, 1999). Of par

ticular importance in developing strong civic capacity (necessary, it is

argued, for a strong regime) is engagement by city government and the

business community, Stone (2001) found, with unions, universities, parents,

and community organizations also playing key roles. Urban regime theory

is used to better understand who has power in a particular context and how

and why it is that those with power work together to further policy agendas.

Brown (1999) demonstrates the complexity of the private sector in his

study of the provision of AIDS services in Cristchurch, New Zealand. Like

education regimes, the governing coalition he studied focused on one pol

icy area. He describes how participants in this issue-specific regime are

often connected to multiple organizations—public and private—and that

these intersections and community connections allow for the implementa

tion of policies that involve both public and private sector actors.

Just as the conception of private actors has expanded beyond the for

profit business community, the understanding of what actors constitute the

“public” part of the regime equation has shifted beyond local government.

For example, Burns (2002, 2003) has drawn attention to the important role

that actors at the state level can play in urban regimes. In one study, he exam

ined the urban regime in Hartford, Connecticut, and found that the gover

nor played an important role in education politics in the city because localBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 159

actors did not have the “capacity to address educational problems,” whereas

the governor “controlled the financial and institutional resources that

Hartford’s educational system needed” (Burns, 2002, p. 66). In another

study, he examined the governing regime in Newark, New Jersey, follow

ing a state takeover (Burns, 2003). He described how the state-appointed

superintendent and the mostly state-appointed district advisory board were

able to alter relationships among key players in the city’s education gov

erning coalition (including the unions and school administrators) and bring

new players (including the business and foundation communities) and new

resources into the district.

Although regime theory highlights both formal and informal relation

ships between the public and private sector, this article focuses on the chang

ing nature of the increasing number of formal intersectoral relationships, as

this is potentially a significant shift in the way that educational services are

provided and thus in the politics that surround the provision of these


An important role for governing coalitions is to bring and make decisions

about using resources. One set of resources available to regimes are “selective

incentives” or “selective benefits” to different actors to engage with and sup

port the regime’s policy agenda. According to Mossberger and Stoker (2001),

“Regimes overcome problems of collective action and secure participation in

the governing coalition through the distribution of selective incentives such as

contracts, jobs, facilities for a particular neighborhood, and so on” (p. 812).

However, selective incentives are not the only reason that actors may partici

pate in regimes; as Stone (2005) discusses, a strong sense of purpose can also

motivate engagement in a governing coalition.

Although regime theory has largely focused on regimes in cities as a

whole, it has also been used as a way to analyze urban educational regimes

(Burns, 2002; Shipps, 2003a, 2003b; Stone, 1996, 1998b) and civic capac

ity around education (Henig, Hula, Orr, & Pedescleaux, 1999; Stone,

1998a). Although education in cities is technically a part of broader urban

governance, education policy and politics are often distinct from city gov

ernment, both formally (in terms of who’s in charge) and informally (e.g.,

in terms of a less central role for business; Mossberger & Stoker, 2001; Wirt

& Kirst, 1997). However, although Mossberger and Stoker (2001) argue

that education coalitions are not necessarily regimes, this article operates

from the stance of Stone (1998b) and others who argue that educational

regimes can and do exist and play an important role in shaping educational

policy. Among other issues, Stone argues that leadership linking noneducators

with professional educators is critical for a strong regime in urban education.160 Educational Policy

Regime Types

Analyses of urban regimes formed around education have identified dif

ferent types of education regimes. Shipps (2003a) argues that it is critical

to understand the link between a particular reform effort and the regime that

is in place to support it, as different kinds of reforms require different coali

tions to be sustained and potentially to become institutionalized. Stone

(1998b) discusses the idea of performance and employment regimes,

whereas Shipps, whose work is based on careful examination of Chicago

education politics, adds to this empowerment and market regimes.

Stone (1998b) argues that although many cities may have education

regimes, few have the kind of regime that leads to sustainable substantial

improvements in education for all children. Such a regime, which he labels

a performance regime, incorporates both public and private (both for-profit

and nonprofit) entities with a shared purpose of school improvement.

Specifically, he argues that changes in leadership in a district are insuffi

cient to build and sustain a performance regime; rather, other kinds of

changes and supports are needed, including resources and popular support.

Shipps (2003a) modifies and narrows Stone’s definition of a performance

regime, describing it as a regime that seeks to change teaching and learning

and has as its core participants teachers, parents, and elected or appointed

officials. Both Shipps and Stone argue that these regimes are difficult to

develop because so many actors need to be engaged, and the regime must

be sustained for a long enough period to lead to deep educational change

(see also Stone, Henig, Jones, & Perannunzi, 2001). For example, based on

his review of case studies in nine cities, Stone argues “that [performance]

regimes now exist only in embryonic form is a sign that politically they are

hard to bring about” (p. 14).

Two other types of regimes are employment and empowerment regimes.

Stone (1998b) discusses employment regimes, in which regime leaders

focus on maintaining the status quo. Core members of an employment

regime are “those groups who materially benefit from the existing gover

nance and teaching arrangements” (Shipps, 2003a, p. 857). In a city such as

Philadelphia, where the school district is a major employer, the pressures

toward employment regimes can be particularly strong (Henig et al., 1999).

Shipps (2003a) also describes empowerment regimes, which aim “to alter

the power relations among adults working in and concerned with schools.

It does so to spur new thinking about, and experimentation with, old prob

lems” (p. 850). The core members of the governing coalition in an empow

erment regime are parents or teachers, politicians, and bureaucrats.Bulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 161

Finally, Shipps (2003a) discusses market regimes. In general, a market

regime “shifts the incentives and rewards for both adults and children from

the professional and bureaucratic expectations that dominate government

run schools to the economic and survival consequences of markets” (p. 850).

Overall, the business sector and its supporters are central to different types

of market regimes. Shipps identifies two types of market regimes: entre

preneurial and corporate. Entrepreneurial market regimes emerge, Shipps

suggests, when school choice becomes central to reform as a strategy to

drive educational change through market forces. In this case, parents are

“core constituents,” as they must be willing to take active roles in the deci

sions about what school their children will attend. In a corporate market

regime, the business community takes an important lead in seeking to redesign

public education in the image of corporate restructuring, including increas

ing bottom-line accountability measures, replacing the superintendent with

a CEO, and downsizing.

Using regime theory as a lens for studying the reform in Philadelphia

can lend important information about the nature of governing coalitions not

only in Philadelphia but also in other cities experiencing growing pressures

to think “outside the box” about educational change, including who is cen

tral to decisions about educational change and the role of nonpublic actors.

Data and Method

This article is a case study of political relationships in Philadelphia (Patton,

1990). The primary data for the study come from a series of papers written for

“Learning from Philadelphia’s School Reform,” a study of Philadelphia’s

reform under state takeover. The broader study brings together researchers

from Research for Action and a number of other universities and research

organizations and includes analyses of issues related to school governance and

civic engagement.

The publications that form the foundation for this secondary analysis are

based on careful analysis of extensive interviews conducted from 2002 to 2006

with approximately 45 district and school administrators, 27 political, civic,

and community leaders, and representatives of groups contracting with the

district. These interviews used semistructured interview protocols and most

were recorded, transcribed, and then coded using Atlas.ti. Interview data were

supplemented with documents including district press releases, SRC resolu

tions and newspaper accounts, and observations of SRC meetings, district con

ferences, meetings, and professional development given by both districts and162 Educational Policy

providers. Among the key papers that were analyzed for this study are

Bulkley, Mundell, and Riffer (2004), Christman, Gold, and Herold (2005),

Gold, Christman, and Herold (in press), Gold, Cucchiara, Simon, and Riffer

(2005), Simon, Gold, Mundell, Riffer, and Cucchiara (2004), Travers (2003),

Useem (2005), and Useem et al. (2006).

Two research questions drove the analysis of these studies and research

summaries: (a) What is the nature of the regime that has developed in

Philadelphia following state takeover? (b) In what way are private entities

engaged in the governing regime? The papers used as data were read care

fully for any discussion of power within the current governing coalition,

including the roles of different actors and “missing voices” (those actors

who were not discussed in the papers). Careful attention was paid to any

inconsistencies across documents.

The Seeds of Reform

To examine the nature of Philadelphia’s governing regime, it is impor

tant to have a basic understanding of the political and policy contexts for



Prior to the state takeover, the Philadelphia School District had a

long history of significant fiscal and academic problems and continually

struggled with the state over finance issues. Longstanding fiscal problems

for the districts were exacerbated by the state’s decision to freeze state

funding for public schools at 1993 levels, with annual adjustments that did

not allow for enrollment changes or specific needs of students (Boyd &

Christman, 2003; Christman & Rhodes, 2002).

Philadelphia had several significant efforts at reform prior to the

takeover, most recently through the Children Achieving program, created

and led by Superintendent David Hornbeck in the 1990s (Corcoran &

Christman, 2002). Children Achieving, supported by an Annenberg

Challenge Grant and funding from local foundations, focused on bringing

ideas of systemic reform to Philadelphia (Corcoran & Christman, 2002;

Smith & O’Day, 1991). It was “based on the assumption that previous

attempts at reform have largely failed because they were too incremental,

too piecemeal, and too narrowly framed, and because they did not attempt

to alter the ‘system’ itself” (Boyd & Christman, 2003, p. 103).

On the one hand, Hornbeck and Children Achieving brought substantial

private resources to the district ($150 million through the Annenberg

Challenge Grant and the money raised to meet the challenge). Indeed, the

reform did lead to some test score gains (Christman, 2001). However,Bulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 163

Hornbeck encountered significant problems both within and outside the dis

trict and was unable to build the kind of governing coalition needed to sus

tain his reform. Overall, there was a “lack of consensus around the important

values underlying Children Achieving” (Boyd & Christman, 2003, p. 104)

within the district. In addition, according to Boyd and Christman (2003), sup

port for the reform from teachers, who did not feel respected by Hornbeck,

and principals was limited. Hornbeck’s relationship with the Philadelphia

Federation of Teachers (PFT) was particularly strained. City corporate and

civic leaders who had been instrumental in bringing Hornbeck to the district

supported him in the early years of the reform (Boyd & Christman, 2003).

However, their support waned when Hornbeck was unable to win conces

sions from the teachers union and when struggles with the state over fiscal

issues caused state-district relations to become increasingly confrontational.

Relations between Hornbeck and local community groups were mixed, with

some feeling like they had a place in the reform, whereas others became dis

illusioned over time (Christman & Rhodes, 2002).

Outside the district, Hornbeck’s efforts at reform also faced difficult cir

cumstances, especially with state actors. Although some of these challenges

predated Hornbeck, many of them were exacerbated by his confrontational

approach to working with state policy makers (Boyd & Christman, 2003).

When Hornbeck took the position in Philadelphia, the governor’s office and

legislature were held by Democrats, who are far more inclined than are state

Republicans to lend a sympathetic ear to the plight (especially the fiscal plight)

of the city’s schools. This changed in 1994, when voters elected a Republican

governor and gave the Republicans majority control in both of the state leg

islative houses, and tensions with Hornbeck quickly escalated.

Tensions between the state and Hornbeck were exacerbated when, in

1998, Hornbeck threatened to approve an unbalanced budget. In response,

the governor and legislature passed the first of two bills (Act 46, which

focused on fiscal issues in districts as the basis for takeover) that enabled a

state takeover of the district (Boyd & Christman, 2003; Maranto, 2005).

Two years later, the state adopted a second bill enabling state takeover (Act

16, which targeted districts with high levels of low student achievement).

Hornbeck’s time in Philadelphia came to an end in 2000, soon after the sec

ond bill was adopted, when he resigned in protest of the city’s and state’s

unwillingness to provide additional funds to the city’s schools.

Following Hornbeck’s departure was a time of uncertainty in Philadelphia,

which included the appointment of an interim CEO for the city’s schools

(Philip Goldsmith) and the election of Mayor John Street. Then, in 2001,

Governor Tom Ridge, who had previously demonstrated a commitment to164 Educational Policy

market-based reforms in education (including vouchers and charters), gave a

$2.7 million contract to Edison Schools to conduct a study of the Philadelphia

School District and propose changes to improve the city’s schools. The Edison

report, released in October 2001, recommended that a SRC, with four

members appointed by the governor and one by the mayor, replace the dis

trict’s school board (and have much broader powers than the board) and that

management of many of the city’s struggling schools, and the school district

central office, be placed in the hands of a private company (e.g., Edison itself).

Protests ensued in response to Edison’s recommendations, especially

those involving the role of private companies (Travers, 2003). However, not

all in the city were opposed to either the takeover or the involvement of pri

vate companies; according to Useem and her colleagues (2006),

Even some of Philadelphia’s most prominent African American legislators,

fed up with [the] district’s lack of progress, supported the idea that the com

bination of a radical change in governance along with involvement of exter

nal groups in school management might jumpstart change. (p. 7)

Then, in December 2001, the governor and Mayor Street compromised on

a “friendly” takeover of the district, in part because of the mayor’s concerns

about the increasingly dire fiscal condition of the district. As a part of that

compromise, an SRC was created (as recommended in the Edison report),

but with three gubernatorial and two mayoral appointees, and the proposal

to have a private company manage the district was dropped. In addition,

both the city and state agreed to provide considerable additional funding for

the new reform ($45 million from the city, $75 million from the state).

Local businessman James Nevels became the first member of the SRC,

and its chair, and the SRC was fully operational by spring 2002. Moving

forward without a new CEO yet in place, the SRC quickly decided to shift

away from a single private manager for the district’s lowest-performing

schools, opting instead for a diverse provider model (described below).

Several months later, in July 2002, the SRC hired former Chicago Public

Schools CEO Vallas to head the Philadelphia district. Vallas quickly estab

lished himself as a “man of action” and initiated a flurry of new reforms

(described more below). One of his first decisions was to move even further

away from the original Edison report recommendations than had the SRC

by eliminating the idea of contracting out major district functions; he was

quoted as saying, “There’s no need for that. That’s what I’m here for”

(Brennan, 2002, p. 3). While eschewing the idea of private management ofBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 165

the district as a whole, Vallas (who has been called the “ultimate pragma

tist”; Useem, 2005, p. 8) was clear about his openness to involvement of

outside organizations (for-profit and nonprofit) in district reform efforts.

Alongside the many changes happening in Philadelphia itself, the broader

context of school reform nationally has also played an important role in the

city’s reform efforts. Specifically, just a month after the official state takeover,

the federal NCLB legislation was adopted. NCLB, with its strong focus on

outcomes and encouragement of solutions outside the public sector, hap

pened amid a general trend toward privatization (Burch, 2005; Gold et al.,

2005; Useem, 2005); these pressures had a significant impact on the

Philadelphia reform. Other ideas in the national water, such as focusing on

teacher quality (linked with NCLB) and the creation of small high schools,

also showed up in the Philadelphia reform.

Philadelphia’s Governing Regime

Under State Takeover

This section describes the decision-making regime that has developed

around education in Philadelphia under state takeover. The following section

discusses the substance of the reform that has resulted from the work of this

governing coalition, for it is the interaction of the nature of the reforms them

selves and the governing coalition that has critical implications for the poten

tial for sustained and institutionalized change. First, however, it is important

to describe what makes the Philadelphia governing coalition a regime, as

defined by Stone (2005) and others. Stone argues that, at its core, a regime

needs to have stability. Although the long-term prospects for the Philadelphia

regime are unclear, the current governing coalition is going into its 5th year,

by urban reform standards a relatively long period. As well, the core members

of the reform (described below) have remained relatively constant during this

period. With additional resources coming to the district from the state, city,

and private actors, the current governing coalition has also had more adequate

resources than available in the past (although the continued availability of

these resources is in question). Combined with a clear agenda that is shared

by most of the central players, the Philadelphia governing coalition appears

to meet Stone’s definition of a regime.

Although there were protests, particularly around the role of Edison, at

the time of the takeover, the political scene around the takeover has been

relatively calm. As Simon and her colleagues (2004) note, Philadelphia’s

regime under Vallas166 Educational Policy

has encountered minimal opposition to its agenda. This lack of protest is par

ticularly striking in light of the activism that occurred earlier against privati

zation and the extent to which the grassroots community had been mobilized

around education issues at the time of the state takeover. (p. 17)

Central Players

There seems to be little question about who constitute the core members

of Philadelphia’s governing regime—at the center are CEO Vallas and the SRC.

Although Vallas and Jim Nevels (the chair of the SRC) are clearly the public

faces of reform, Vallas and the SRC work closely together on the direction

for change and appear to generally have a “we’re in it together” attitude that

is combined with a shared sense of purpose. District central office staff also

play important roles, but there is less “give and take” than in the Hornbeck

administration. For example, one participant in meetings of top administra

tors said,

Paul comes in, sits at the head of the table, and all these people sit around,

they don’t really say anything, there’s not any exchange….Paul talks and

people say, “Yes, Paul.” (quoted in Useem et al., 2006, p. 43)

The SRC has been an active and engaged partner with Vallas and has sig

nificantly more power under the takeover legislation than a regular school

board; in part, this is because of the changes in state law that opened the

door for the takeover and gave the SRC much broader powers than a regu

lar school board, including taking away teachers’ right to strike (Useem

et al., 2006). As well, the SRC has presented a more unified front than is

often the case with school boards. As Useem (2005) describes,

The absence of a contentious and narrowly focused school board means that

CEO Vallas has had the freedom to direct his attention to solving district

problems without the distractions of board divisions and interventions that so

often bedevil urban superintendents. . . . Disagreements [among SRC

members] have, for the most part, been kept behind closed doors. (p. 6)

Two other groups also play important roles in overall decision making—

state-level actors and the PFT. As Burns (2002, 2003) shows, governors and

other state officials can play an important part of local urban education

regimes, especially when the state takes a more active role in educational

governance. In Philadelphia, state actors (especially the governor’s office

and key local state legislators) have continued to participate in discussionsBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 167

about the future of the district, and Vallas has made a point of building good

relationships with them. The facts that more than half of the district’s fiscal

support comes from the state and that additional state allocations fund some

of the reforms have made close contact with state leaders a necessity. The

governor’s power to appoint the majority of the SRC members ensures a

continued strong role for the state.

Although the majority of the SRC members are appointed by the gover

nor, the SRC quickly established some independence from the state by

moving toward a diverse provider model and away from using Edison as the

primary provider of school management services (Useem et al., 2006). In

addition, the SRC challenged the state over the flexibility of state money

coming to the district; Useem and her colleagues (2006) argue that this

linked the SRC with the city against the state, helping to build trust both

among SRC members and between the SRC and the Philadelphia commu

nity. Although the state is not controlling the SRC, it is more closely

engaged with the Vallas regime than it was with Hornbeck, and in a gener

ally more positive way.

During the Hornbeck era, relationships with the two main education

unions—the PFT and the Commonwealth Association of School Adminis

trators (CASA)—were strained (Boyd & Christman, 2003; Maranto, 2005).

Prior to Vallas, the PFT was “long a thorn in the side of reform-minded dis

trict administrators” (Useem et al., 2006, p. 16). From the beginning, Vallas

has worked to develop a more positive relationship with the unions, espe

cially the PFT, which has been aided by a considerable amount of general

agreement about the direction of reform (e.g., during the Hornbeck admin

istration, the union was interested in a core curriculum, something provided

by Vallas). According to Useem et al. (2006),

Vallas makes a point of talking with PFT leaders on a regular basis, seeking

out their counsel, informing them in advance of changes in policies or prac

tices and involving them in the rollout of various pieces of the reform. He

goes out of his way to regularly praise the PFT as indispensable partners in

the reform effort. (p. 39)

The fact that Vallas has had a better relationship with the PFT than

Hornbeck did was also influenced by the union itself being weakened under

state takeover and Vallas’s need to have the labor force cooperate for his

reforms to be effective (Useem, 2005). The increasing prominence of char

ter schools, a relatively small issue under Hornbeck, has also diminished

the power of the PFT as an increasing number of public school teachers are168 Educational Policy

not working in unionized environments. Vallas’s efforts to work with the

PFT, as least in the early days of the reform, were aided by the “thin man

agement” aspect of the diverse provider model. Under thin management,

providers were granted control over some aspects of schooling, including

curriculum and professional development, but were not provided with con

trol over critical issues including the hiring and firing of teachers (Bulkley

et al., 2004). Thin management meant the union was asked to give up very

little in the way of “bread-and-butter” issues such as salary and job secu

rity. Other than through their unions, principals and teachers have not

played significant roles in guiding this reform.

Particularized Influence: For-Profit and

Nonprofit Groups or Companies

The tight core of the current regime involves a relatively small number of

players. However, with the active engagement of many outside actors in the

reform, it is inevitable that these organizations will have some influence on—

and stake in—the regime itself. The period since Vallas and the SRC began

their work has been marked by a substantial increase in the formal engage

ment of private organizations (both for-profit and nonprofit) with the district.

In some cases, these groups had little engagement with the district prior to

receiving contracts (including some of the providers in the diverse provider

model), whereas other organizations have worked in the Philadelphia public

schools for years.

Prior to the takeover, many of these groups had, as the core of their

mission, providing services to and a voice for some of the city’s most dis

advantaged communities. Now, many of these groups are directly involved

in the district’s reform efforts. However, the heavy use of selective incentives

(especially contracts) may be shifting the focus of these groups from dis

trictwide challenges to the specific purpose of fulfilling the expectations of

their contracts. Such a shift has the potential to inhibit these groups from tak

ing an active role in broader discussions about the direction of the reform

effort and its effects on the populations that they have traditionally sought to

serve (Gold et al., 2005).

In their study of the role of several civic organizations in Philadelphia’s

reform, Gold and her colleagues (2005) found that

once groups (or individuals) have accepted a contract with the district to pro

vide a service, they are, to an extent that varies from case to case, tied finan

cially to the school district. As a result, their ability to set their own agendaBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 169

around education—and to influence the district’s—is constrained, account

ability can be limited to contractual terms, and “partners” can have a more

difficult time expressing criticism of district initiatives. (p. 10)

This concern was particularly pertinent for grassroots nonprofits and

community-based organizations that have “little in terms of material resources

to offer the district (and, hence, fewer forms of leverage)” as opposed to

institutional nonprofit organizations (universities, hospitals, museums, and

cultural institutions) that “may be able to accept contracts from the district

without sacrificing their ability to exert pressure when and where they see

fit” (Gold et al., 2005, p. 10). In addition to contracting with outside groups,

the district has hired a number of key individuals who have worked for

these groups, bringing the groups links with the formal power structure.

The combination of the use of selective incentives to tie groups to the

regime and the hiring of key individuals from the community may help to

explain why “while grassroots and community organizations are clearly not

among the key power brokers in the current administration, they have largely

refrained from openly challenging Vallas or the reforms that have been imple

mented since he took office” (Simon et al., 2004, p. 20). Although there have

been “vigorous efforts by Vallas and other district leaders to build ties to

public stakeholders, parents, and community groups” (Useem et al., 2006,

  1. 13), these efforts have been more about building support for the reform

than engaging these groups in decision making about the reform.

Less Influential…

Although Vallas and the SRC clearly operate in the center of the regime,

some of the other actors who the literature suggests are critical for a strong

governing regime are relatively peripheral, including the mayor, the business

community, parents, and the general public. Burns (2002) notes, “Local gov

ernment officials and business leaders are central to many regimes because

they allocate resources, such as authority, productive assets, finance, and

information that make urban governance possible” (p. 56). In the original

debates about the state takeover, Mayor Street played a critical role in fight

ing the state’s efforts to assert control, despite his statements while a candi

date for mayor that suggested he was uninterested in gaining a greater role

in the schools if elected (Boyd & Christman, 2003). However, following the

compromise with the state that led to a “friendly” takeover, Mayor Street and

the city government have taken an overall backseat role in the reform,

although they have been engaged in particular areas (i.e., coordinated170 Educational Policy

services). The relationship between Vallas and Street has been described as

“cordial but not particularly close” (Useem et al., 2006, p. 34).

The Philadelphia business community, with the exception of involvement

in specific projects, has been supportive of, but relatively unengaged in,

broad decisions about district policy under Vallas and the SRC. District

leaders have sought to keep the business community informed of district

efforts, and business leaders helped with the “Campaign for Human Capital”

initiative (an effort to improve teacher retention and recruitment), but the

business community does not appear to be influencing the overall direction

of the reform (Useem et al., 2006). This is a result not only of the engage

ment of the existing business community but also of the shrinking of the

local business community as a whole because of broader economic changes.

As one funder of Children Achieving described, “What happened was a

rapid transformation from businesses led by Philly people to businesses

without a vested interest in Philadelphia, or an understanding of the city”

(quoted in Boyd & Christman, 2003, p. 110).


Parents, parent organizations, and the public more broadly have not

played strong roles in the Vallas regime. The public has been limited in its

ability to provide input on decisions about reform, such as the selection of

providers for the diverse provider model and the design of new discipline

policies (Useem et al., 2006). For example, one of the ways that dissent was

minimized in the early days of the SRC was through the rules for speaking

at SRC meetings; as Useem and her colleagues (2006) describe, “Speakers

had to give district staff prior notification that they would speak, had to pro

vide 10 copies of their comments, and were limited to three minutes of

speaking time” (p. 24).

Vallas has made an effort to reach out to individual parents; however, as

Useem and her colleagues (2006) point out, “When it came to decisions

about the reform plan itself,… the SRC and CEO Vallas made little effort

to seek parent and community involvement in deliberations” (p. 27).

Specifically, in the area of contracting, “the process of developing and

approving contracts has been largely hidden from public view” (Gold et al.,

2005, p. 9) or input.

Overview of the Philadelphia Regime

Although the Philadelphia governing coalition under state takeover is

fairly narrow, with limited involvement with decision making by actors

including the mayor, the business community, and civic organizations, there

are a number of reasons why the reforms have generally (so far) been metBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 171

with support rather than significant political tensions or power struggles.

Useem and her colleagues (2006) argue that the SRC and Vallas have suc

ceeded in building public confidence in the Philadelphia schools and sup

port for the current reform, aided by positive press and rising test scores.

This has enabled the reform’s leaders to experiment in ways, such as

engagement with private actors, that would be politically very challenging

in a less positive environment. In addition, as discussed earlier, the use of

selective incentives (especially contracting) has created a situation in which

many of those who might challenge the Vallas regime are in fact a part of it

and thus no longer critical outsiders. Finally, the broader context of NCLB,

with its focus on many of the same types of reforms as those initiated by

Vallas and the SRC (increased use of testing, engagement with private

actors, etc.), has provided the regime with a strong external justification for

its decisions (Useem, 2005).

Policy Changes Since the Takeover

Shipps (2003b) argues that understanding the substance of reform is crit

ical to understanding the regime itself. Thus, this section describes the major

reforms currently underway in Philadelphia. Beginning with the appointment

of the SRC and dramatically accelerated by the arrival of Vallas, the govern

ing coalition described above has promulgated a flurry of broad changes in

Philadelphia public education. Overall, since Vallas’s arrival, there has been

a general trend toward centralizing district operations but doing so through

reforms initiated by the central office and often supported by contractors.

Throughout this section, we include descriptions of the roles of these private

contractors, as their engagement sets the stage for understanding the regime

operating in Philadelphia. The reforms adopted have, overall, been consistent

with the policies and goals of NCLB; as Useem (2005) argues, “Both SRC

members and the Vallas administration have embraced the spirit of NCLB

and have taken very seriously the enforcement of its regulations” (p. 4).

Vallas-Initiated Reforms

One of Vallas’s first initiatives was to institute a districtwide core cur

riculum in four academic subjects for grades K-8. The district worked in

partnership on the writing of the K-8 core curriculum with the Philadelphia

Education Fund (PEF), a well-known and respected organization in the city

that had worked closely with the Hornbeck administration. Simon and her172 Educational Policy

colleagues (2004) argue that hiring PEF put a “stamp of legitimacy on the

curriculum for Philadelphia teachers” (p. 19) and brought an important

organization into “the fold” of the Vallas regime. In 2003-2004, the district

added a requirement that all elementary students have 120 minutes of liter

acy and 90 minutes of math per day, based on the core curriculum (Travers,

2003). Increased testing, including 6-week formative benchmark tests

(written by a contractor and inspired in part by Edison’s use of benchmark

tests) also accompanied the new core curriculum (Useem, 2005). Alongside

the creation of the K-8 core curriculum (which was mandatory for regular

district schools but voluntary for those managed by providers) was a move

to eliminate middle schools in favor of K-8 schools.

Although the initial focus for curricular and structural changes was

schools serving K-8 students, there has been increasing attention to the

challenges of high school reform. This has included the adoption of a new

high school curriculum designed by Kaplan K12 Learning Services and a

push to create more smaller high schools throughout the city. Originally,

some of these new high schools were supposed to be working with private

“transition managers” (Kaplan K12 Learning Services, Princeton Review,

SchoolWorks LLC, and ResulTech), but these contracts were abruptly ter

minated in spring 2006 because of financial constraints. Other high schools

have private organizations, including Microsoft and Philadelphia Citizens

for Children and Youth, participating in their development. Vallas’s goal is

to have 66 high schools operating by 2006 (as compared to 38 in 2002),

with all but 4 of them serving fewer than 500 students (Useem et al., 2006).

Vallas and the SRC also initiated a school quality review process, begin

ning in 2002-2003; this process included regular district schools, those in

the diverse provider model, and the city’s many charter schools. Christman

and her colleagues (2005) argue, “Like the core curriculum, the school

review process was a way for the district to exert its influence on providers

and their schools” (p. 12).

Another of Vallas’s new initiatives was the expansion of extended-day and

summer-school programs for poor-performing students. The district con

tracted with Princeton Review and Voyager Expanded Learning to provide

the curriculum for the extended-day program. This curriculum is used both

by the district directly and by local organizations (some of which had previ

ously been operating their own after-school programs) that have received

contracts to serve 4,300 students (Simon et al., 2004; Useem, 2005). In out

sourcing to community organizations, some groups had to shift their existing

programs to meet the district’s standards, including placing a greater empha

sis on test scores. Thus, it was “clear that the organizations involved haveBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 173

become incorporated into the district’s structure and agenda . . . in a way that

they were not in the past” (Gold et al., 2005, p. 11).

From the beginning, bringing new strategies to discipline problems has

also been a focus for Vallas and the SRC, and they have adopted a zero

tolerance policy for certain behaviors. The district outsourced management

of disciplinary schools to four national for-profit companies and one non

profit organization, serving nearly 3,000 students in spring 2005 (up from

1,000 students in 2000) (Christman et al., 2005). Finally, the district began

the implementation of new information/data management systems (SchoolNet

and SchoolStat) designed to provide those at the district and school levels

with up-to-date data about students and schools.

The Diverse Provider Model

Although not initiated by Vallas, the creation of a diverse provider model

was probably the most visible change to result from the takeover in the

landscape of Philadelphia public education (Bulkley et al., 2004). Building

on work by Paul Hill and his colleagues (Hill, Campbell, & Harvey, 2000;

Hill, Pierce, & Guthrie, 1997) and the Edison report recommendations, the

diverse provider model was a response to a push from the state to create a

more “market-based approach to the challenges facing Philadelphia public

schools” (Bulkley et al., 2004, p. 1). The diverse provider model “dramati

cally extends the practice of outsourcing educational services into the core

functions of public schools—the design and delivery of educational

programs” (Christman et al., 2005, p. 4).

In total, seven different organizations (three for-profit educational man

agement organizations [EMOs], two locally based nonprofits, and two uni

versities) were hired to provide some level of management services in 46 of

the district’s 264 schools (Bulkley et al., 2004). To support these and other

changes in Philadelphia, in July 2002, the state provided $55 million in

additional funding to the district, $37.5 million of which was devoted to the

adoption of the diverse provider model. The SRC also created a separate

Office of Restructured Schools (ORS) as its own internal provider to over

see 21 additional low-performing schools, granted additional funding to 16

low-performing schools that were making progress, and converted three

additional schools to charter schools (Useem, 2005). Thus, the creation of

the diverse provider model initially affected 86 schools (Research for

Action, 2005).

One important aspect of the diverse provider model as implemented in

Philadelphia was that it relied on thin management. The Philadelphia174 Educational Policy

School District has retained control of facilities management, school safety,

and the school calendar, and, most importantly, school employees (includ

ing teachers and principals) remain district employees under their respec

tive union contracts (Bulkley et al., 2004; Gold, Christman, & Herold, in

press). Although the original discussions of involving private school man

agers included partnering those managers with community-linked organi

zations, the diverse provider model in practice does not include a formal

component that connects providers with communities.

In theory, a diverse provider model involves shifting decision making

away from districts and toward outsider managers. However, the schools

and providers involved in the diverse provider model have felt the pull of

the Vallas-initiated centralizing district reforms. As one provider’s repre

sentative commented, “Vallas is changing all the rules. We feel like we are

being sucked into the tidal wave of centralized control” (quoted in Bulkley

et al., 2004, p. 6). For example, many of the providers (with the exception

of Edison) are using parts or all of the district’s core curriculum and the

benchmark tests aligned with it. The provider schools have also seen

changes in their grade configurations to align with the district’s push to K-8

schools and have been required to provide extended day programs. According

to Useem et al. (2006), “What looked initially like a quasi-decentralized

system of externally-managed schools actually became part of the more

centralized system in practice” (p. 35).

The broader message of these district expectations on provider schools

was that the diverse provider model is a part of the district, not separate

from it. As one district administrator noted, “The EMOs [here referring to

the full range of providers] learned that they had to do it within the frame

work of what was already here. They had to become part of us, not [expect]

us [to] become part of them” (quoted in Gold et al., in press). This is con

sistent with the idea that, to the extent that there is a market for educational

services in Philadelphia, the district is the consumer whose needs must be

met (Gold et al., in press).


Changes in District Management and

Public-Private Engagement

These substantive changes have been accompanied by an important set of

shifts in the operations of the district central office and reflect changes in the

relationships between the district and private organizations that include, but

extend beyond, the diverse provider model. The involvement of private and

nonprofit organizations with the Philadelphia public schools did not beginBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 175

with the state takeover; indeed, Superintendent Constance Clayton pro

moted increased engagement of the nonprofit sector in the 1980s (Boyd &

Christman, 2003).

However, since 2001, a broader cross-section of the private section then

had previously been engaged with the district has been brought more and

more formally into the public education system, with a particularly signif

icant use of contracting. For example, from 2002 to 2003, the number of

contracts from the district for more than $25,000 doubled (Useem & Rinko,

2006). In making this shift, Vallas, the SRC, and central office personnel

have gone beyond simply writing contracts with school providers and the

many private organizations that are playing a role in Philadelphia’s reform

to actually reshaping the district to better pursue this task. Thus, the central

office has made adjustments to try to be a better manager of the many dif

ferent contracts that play a role in the broader district effort, developing

what Gold and her colleagues (2005) describe as a “contracting environ

ment.” According to them, “Vallas carried out the SRC’s commitment to

involve the private sector in school management and led the development

of a new institutional infrastructure for engaging with public and private

organizations” (p. 8).

In looking at Philadelphia’s diverse provider model, Gold et al. (in press)

argue that a “hybrid” model of public-private engagement “characterized

by cross-sectoral collaboration between public and private sectors” is

emerging. Building on literature in both economics and education, they

describe a hybrid system as “A ‘stable network model’ . . . characterized by

a core public organization that develops long-term relationships with a

fixed and trusted set of private providers” (p. 22). In the Philadelphia case,

the core public organization is the district, and the challenge in developing

this stable network, has been altering the district central office to support

these public-private relationships.

Specifically, Vallas created the Office of Development, which was given

the tasks of “handling contracts with outside organizations, fostering an

‘entrepreneurial spirit’ in the district and creating an environment con

ducive to the development of productive relationships with for- and non

profit groups” (Gold et al., 2005, p. 8). In fall of 2005, the EMOs were

removed from the Office of Development and placed in their own special

subdistrict based on the justification that these schools have different needs

because they are no longer under development (some of these schools also

became part of the new Center City district as well). Gold and her col

leagues (in press) argue that this reflects the institutionalization of the

diverse provider model.176 Educational Policy

Although there has been an increasing attempt to engage outside organiza

tions, this pursuit has been focused on bringing for-profit and nonprofit enti

ties into collaboration with the district in support of the district’s own goals.

Indeed, “district officials note that the current partnership process represents a

major shift from the previous approach to external relationships” (Gold et al.,

in press), where relationships were often directly between outside organiza

tions and individual schools. Rather, the focus now is on formal relationships

between the district and outside organizations, usually either in the form of a

contract for services to be provided by the outside organization or as a “mem

orandum of understanding” that specifies what the outside organization will

do and how this ties to broader district goals.

Included in these formal relationships are often means for evaluating if the

partnership is successful in addressing district goals. Thus, the nature of con

tracting in Philadelphia is not about turning over control to private entities but

about cross-sectoral collaboration and joint ventures with blurred boundaries

between public and private (Gold et al., in press; Henig, Holyoke, Lacireno

Paquet, & Moser, 2003; Rufos-Lignos & Richards, 2003; Wohlstetter, Malloy,

Smith, & Hentschke, 2004). Overall, the rhetoric of the reform has been about

bringing in the private sector to support and enhance reform efforts through

“much-needed managerial and technological expertise, new ideas, an entre

preneurial spirit, and material resources” (Useem, 2005, p. 8).


What Kind of Regime Does Philadelphia Have?

Shipps (2003a) and Stone (1998b) identify a number of different kinds

of educational regimes, including performance, empowerment, market, and

employment regimes. As described above, the regime in Philadelphia is rel

atively limited in terms of who is regularly involved in decisions about the

overall direction of reform, and the reform itself is an interesting amalgam

of centralizing reforms that rely heavily on outside actors for both design

and implementation of specific components of reform. Returning to the

types of regimes discussed earlier, we ask, what kind of regime is this?

First, there are a number of types of regimes that clearly do not fit the

Philadelphia political context and the substance of the reform effort.

Performance regimes, as described by both Shipps (2003a) and Stone (1998b),

include a broad coalition in support of sustained efforts to improve teaching

and learning. Although a number of the Philadelphia reforms are focused on

changing teaching and learning, there is little of the broad engagement ofBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 177

teachers and parents that is the hallmark of a true (and sustainable) perfor

mance regime.

Philadelphia also looks little like an empowerment regime. Although some

civic groups and leaders have been “empowered” by being brought into the

formal structure of the district through contracts or hiring practices, their

overall influence is largely “particularized,” with a subsequent focus on spe

cific tasks or issues. There is little in either the substance of the reforms or the

nature of the governing coalition that suggests a focus on shifting power.

Finally, there is no evidence of an employment regime, whose primary goal

is maintenance of the status quo. Although not everything has changed in

Philadelphia, the status quo has definitely not been the focus.

Although the Philadelphia regime does not resemble any of the types

above, it does have similarities to Shipps’s market regimes. In entrepre

neurial regimes, the focus is on change through reforms that create a market

for schools among parents. However, although students do have more

choices in Philadelphia then they did 10 years ago (thanks in large part to a

growing charter school sector), choice as a driver for school improvement

has not been a central part of the district’s agenda.

In many ways, Philadelphia looks like a corporate market regime, with

many of the reforms consistent with business ideals (including the heavy

use of outsourcing). However, the governing coalition itself is substantively

distinct, with little direct involvement from the business community at

either the city or state levels—in other words, it is not a particularly corpo

rate regime, despite the corporate nature of many of its reforms. Although

some of the private organizations that have contracts with the state are

involved in discussions about specific aspects of the reform, they do not

participate in the broader discussions of the governing coalition. Shipps

(2003b) places corporate involvement in the governing coalition as central

to a corporate regime; based on her description, the Philadelphia regime

does not fit this category.

Philadelphia as a Contracting Regime

An important distinction between the regime in Philadelphia and corpo

rate or entrepreneurial market regimes is that actors tied to the district

itself—particularly the SRC and CEO Vallas—are the central and driving

decision makers. Neither the business community nor parents play an espe

cially important role in Philadelphia. Following Shipps’s argument that one

needs to look at the substance of reform to help understand the nature of the

regime, we considered the role of Philadelphia’s shift toward the increased178 Educational Policy

engagement of outside actors in the district’s reform efforts and the effects

of that shift on the regime itself.

Henig (personal communication, March 12, 2006) has suggested that dis

tricts such as Philadelphia may be moving in the direction of contracting

regimes, in which district central offices contract with a variety of private orga

nizations to provide services. He argues that this may become an increasingly

common form of a market regime in education, in which the private sector is

engaged with the district as a consumer rather than with individual students or

parents; this benefits both the district (which maintains control) and vendors

(which do not have to contend with “selling” to individual schools, parents,

and students). Even in Chicago, where Shipps (2003b) identifies other forms

of market regimes, contracting has been prevalent: “Big contracts to corporate

businesses, institutions of higher education, and favored community groups

encouraged in the 1995 law have also solidified financial ties between the dis

trict and other sectors of the city’s economy” (p. 122). In Chicago, Vallas

argued that such contracting increases efficiency and improves support for the

school system (Shipps, 2003b).

Although contracting has long existed in other sectors, it has usually not

played as central a role in education (see Henig, 1989). Privatization,

broadly speaking, involves “a ‘tool-box’ of techniques from which officials

may draw down those most appropriate to meet the tasks at hand”; such

techniques might include “contracting out, user fees, vouchers, asset sales,

and deregulation” (Feigenbaum & Henig, 1994, p. 186). In Philadelphia

and many other cities, contracting out has been the primary tool used in

shifts toward privatization (Burch, 2005). Contracting can occur in many

aspects of school district life. However, Burch (2005) has highlighted four

areas—test development and preparation, data management and reporting,

content area–specific programming, and remedial services—as “dominant

domains of contracting out in the K-12 education sector.”

In a contracting regime, the use of private sector organizations to address

district problems is central to the district strategy for improvement, and

adjustments in district structures are made to support and accommodate

cross-sectoral collaboration. On the basis of their research, Christman and

her colleagues (2005) argue,

Districts must pay close attention to developing a system-wide environment

that truly supports school partnerships with external organizations. They

must remove bureaucratic obstacles, monitor performance, ensure the part

nerships are sustainable through turnover of school and district administra

tors, and create a productive tension between centralization and autonomy.Bulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 179

Districts must also get to know each external partner well so that they can

capitalize on the strengths of each organization and minimize the weaknesses.

(p. 10)

What, then, are the implications of a contracting regime for the governing

coalition itself? First, at the center are those actors who have the ability to

grant contracts—in the case of Philadelphia, this is CEO Vallas and the

SRC. Also important are those who have direct influence on the resources

necessary for reform and contracting. In the Philadelphia case, this includes

state actors (legislators and the governor) who have a strong influence on

the funding the district receives. It also includes the PFT, which has sway

with a critical resource for implementing reform—the teachers themselves—

and has helped advise the district on teacher responses to reform (Useem

et al., 2006). (However, one could imagine a contracting regime in which a

teachers union did not play a central role.)

In addition, some of those receiving contracts can play an important role

in contracting regimes, although this is not a given. As Gold and her col

leagues (in press) describe, there are incentives for public organizations to

develop a stable environment for a limited number of contractors; in such a

scenario, it seems likely that those contractors would gain greater influence

on decision making. Contractors can also gain influence, as some have in

Philadelphia, through strong political ties to the district (i.e., through staff

members who have moved from district to contractor; Henig et al., 2003;

Henig, Holyoke, Brown, & Lacireno-Paquet, 2005). Finally, contractors,

who serve a function that is difficult for the district to either fulfill or hire

someone else to fulfill, may gain influence in their particular domain.


Although the focus of contracting is on the role of outside organizations

in furthering a district’s reform agenda, contracting also has other political

implications. For example, contracting may be used to develop or reinforce

political ties between a regime and important state and local actors, thus

creating and enhancing its long-term stability and viability, even if at the

cost of the “official” justifications of efficiency and effectiveness.

Contracting Regimes and Educational Reform

What are the implications of a contracting regime for the substance and

process of reform? First of all, in a contracting regime, private sector organi

zations are central to the district strategy for improvement, and contracts are

used to address core functions of public education such as school manage

ment, professional development, leadership development, and curriculum.180 Educational Policy

Second, district central offices adapt district structure to support private

sector engagement, including the ability to issue and monitor contracts. Third,

using contracts and looking outside the district when new challenges or needs

arise become part of the “way we do things around here.” In Philadelphia,

movements in this direction include the shifts in district operations described

above. Fourth, contracting becomes a tool for addressing both long-term and

short-term district needs.

Although Philadelphia’s contracting regime and the reforms that it has

implemented have shifted in the direction of the hybrid model, this is not

the only potential form for a contracting regime. For example, one could

envision a contracting regime more consistent with Hill et al.’s (1997, 2000)

ideas, in which contractors work largely independently from the district and

are expected to meet specified outcomes, although such a regime would

require a massive restructuring of the labor market in many states.


Discussion and Analysis: Challenges for

Philadelphia’s Contracting Regime

The use of private actors to serve public functions is increasing in edu

cation (see Burch, 2005). To manage these changes, more districts are

likely to make adaptations that move them in the direction of a contracting

regime. But in the context of Philadelphia, what does this mean for long

term reform and issues such as equity and public engagement?

Literature on urban education regimes (i.e., Mossberger & Stoker, 2001;

Stone, 1989) suggests that regimes that incorporate a broad base of stake

holders, including those outside of education such as civic and business

leaders, are more likely to be sustained over time. In Philadelphia, the

highly centralized regime does not include either the business or civic com

munities at the center of decision making. Although it is possible that this

will change over time (e.g., when a new mayor is elected), the current

regime has little space for more central actors.

This lack of broader engagement has caused some to raise questions

about both the role of civic actors and the sustainability of the reform itself.

As Gold and her colleagues (2005) argue, “Contracting relationships may

be making it difficult for [neighborhood-based organizations and advocacy

groups with limited resources]—so often important voices for equity and

sustainability in the city—to take an independent stance from the school

district” (p. 3). Useem (2005) suggests that there are “rumblings” about the

practices around district contracting in the diverse provider model, sayingBulkley / Philadelphia Public Education 181

that “civic and grassroots groups, along with some district insiders, are rais

ing questions about whether contractors’ performance is adequately scruti

nized and shared with the public” (p. 18)

Closely intertwined with issues of voice and influence on the agenda is

the question of to whom organizations are accountable. With the dramatic

increase in contracting, it is possible that many local organizations that pre

viously saw their primary focus as serving parents, students, and the com

munity have shifted (at least a little) their alliances; Gold and her colleagues

(2005) argue that, in a contracting environment, “the responsibility to adhere

to the terms of the contract replaces accountability to parents and commu

nity” (p. 12).

There are also fiscal issues around contracting. In theory, contracting

allows for more efficient use of public money. In Philadelphia, however,

certain aspects of contracting (especially the diverse provider model) are

being supported by increased funds from the state. If those funds are no

longer available, will the district then choose to go away from contracting

that may actually be more costly than the direct provision of services by the



Recently, there has been tension between Vallas and the SRC

around budget issues, including the continued use of contracts, in light of

potential state budget cuts (Snyder, 2006a, 2006b) and a $73 million bud

get shortfall report in October 2006.

This leads to the question of how, over time, the contractors involved in

contracting regimes themselves will change. Jeff Henig (personal communi

cation, July 9, 2006) and Patricia Burch (2005) both suggest, in different ways,

that there may be a shift toward contractors that are larger, more national, and

corporate in nature. However, in Philadelphia, contracting with local busi

nesses and nonprofits is being used both to provide services and to promote

political support for the overall regime. This second function may be critical

and would not be served by more national contractors. Will the old adage, “all

politics is local,” be true when it comes to contracting?


There are also concerns not only about the lack of a broad-based coali

tion behind the reform but also about the extent to which the reform is dri

ven by Vallas’s sense of urgency. As is often the case in a reform associated

with a single charismatic leader, there are concerns for the sustainability of

the reform—and the regime behind it—once Vallas leaves. Finally, there

are questions of effectiveness that will have an impact on the long-term

prospects for contracting regimes, effectiveness in terms of both student

learning (e.g., test scores) and political viability, which will depend on

issues of legitimacy and responsiveness for both districts and the organiza

tions with which they contract.

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