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August 26, 2016

Anthony Williams says John Oliver 'went too far' on charter schools

State senator responds to comedian's skewering

John Oliver’s segment on charter schools from Sunday night had no problem making waves throughout Philadelphia.

The "Last Week Tonight" host discussed some of the city’s questionable charter schools and the strength of Pennsylvania’s charter law as a whole during the segment. But it was mostly the shots he took at Eagles fans and cheesesteaks along the way that drew responses, even one from Mayor Jim Kenney.

State Sen. Anthony Williams, however, had a problem with Oliver’s comments on Philadelphia and the state as a whole and posted a letter (which we have not edited) to him Thursday.

“This an official 'Dear John' letter – we have to part ways,” Williams wrote. “I really do enjoy your wit and informative style, but you went too far with your segment on Pennsylvania’s charter schools.”

In Oliver’s segment, he pointed out the questionable and illegal actions of some of the city’s charter schools in the past, highlighting the Harambee Institute more specifically, which made headlines back in 2010 for doubling as a nightclub.

After showing a clip from a press conference from Aug. 3 where state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Pennsylvania had the worst charter school law in the United States, Oliver remarked, “That is not good.”

“It is not like having the worst something is new for Pennsylvania,” Oliver said. “Remember, this is the state that has the worst football fans, the worst bell and the worst regional delicacy. Yes, if I wanted Cheese Whiz on my steak sandwich, I’d eat at kiddie cafeteria, the restaurant run by 6-year-olds."

Williams addressed those comments first before going into his argument defending the state’s charter school system.

“My Friend (that’s a Quaker reference), this is also the state that has TWO NFL teams that compete ever year for the RING (Okay, maybe only one),” the letter reads. “This is the state that has world renowned art museums. This is the state that has the best food, amongst which are the best cheese steaks in the world. This is the state that gave birth to Ben Franklin’s ideas and our country’s experiment with democracy.

“And yes, this is the state that has some of the best public charter schools,” Williams added, “delivering quality education to children who can’t afford to move to a better district!”

Williams went on to explain that public schools within the state have their own issues, citing reports of cheating and embezzlement. He also pointed to a Stanford University study from 2015 whose findings concluded that urban charter school students had significantly more success in math and reading.

“So, my man (that’s a Philly reference), I did say this was a 'Dear John' letter which means: good bye,” Williams wrote. “I can’t watch you anymore, though I’m probably lying to myself.”

In the letter, Williams referred to Oliver’s segment as “‘charter schools are terrible’ commentary.” But for the record, Oliver did say from the start, “We’re going to set aside whether or not charter schools are a good idea in principle.”