Arlene Ackerman

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Arlene C. Ackerman
Born (1947-01-10)January 10, 1947
Died February 2, 2013(2013-02-02) (aged 66)
Nationality American
Alma mater Harris–Stowe State University;
Washington University;
Harvard University
Occupation Educator

Arlene C. Ackerman, Ed. D. (January 10, 1947 – February 2, 2013) was an African-American educator whose jobs included superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools, San Francisco Unified School District and Philadelphia Public Schools.[1]


Dr. Ackerman received her doctorate in Administration, Planning, & Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Urban Superintendents Program. She held a Master of Arts in Education from Harvard University, a Master of Arts in Educational Administration and Policy from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Harris Stowe Teacher's College in St. Louis, Missouri.[2][3]


Dr. Ackerman's had experience as a classroom teacher at both the elementary and middle school levels; principal at the middle school level; Director, Upward Bound Program for first-generation college-bound students; Director, Basic Skills Academy[where?] for at-risk high school youth; Assistant Superintendent, Special Services; Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Academic Achievement; and Deputy Superintendent/Chief Academic Officer.[4]

Washington, D.C.[edit]

Ackerman was superintendent of the D.C. public schools from May 1998 until July 17, 2000.

San Francisco[edit]

In July 2000, Ackerman became the first female superintendent of San Francisco's Unified School District. She held that position until 2007. During her time, Dr. Ackerman positioned San Francisco Public schools as one of the five finalists for the 2005 Broad Prize for Urban Education, given annually to the best urban school district in the country. In spring 2005, California announced that for the second year in a row, San Francisco had the highest student achievement of any urban school system in California.[5] While superintendent, 86% of the district's underperforming schools made continued progress after Dr. Ackerman introduced a program to target additional resources and create a new equitable funding formula for those schools. All ethnicities and all groups of students including special education, gifted and English Language Learners (ELL) demonstrated gains on state mandated exams, and all students consistently scored above the state and national averages in reading and in math.[6] During her tenure in San Francisco, the city's public schools with, 62,000 students and 117 schools, attained five consecutive years of improved achievement for all groups of students while also holding the distinction as the highest performing large urban school district in the state of California during the last two years of her superintendence.[6] Ackerman won national acclaim for initiatives she implemented in San Francisco's schools, including extra support for low-performing schools; the "weighted student formula," in which funding followed each student in different amounts depending on the student's needs; and "site-based budgeting," which gave schools (as opposed to district bureaucrats) far more control over their own budgets. In May 2007, after her departure, she sued the district, asserting that they had not paid $170,000 of her agreed-on severance compensation.[7][8] She dropped the suit the following month.[8]

New York[edit]

Dr. Ackerman joined Teachers College, Columbia University, where she served as Director of the Urban Education Leaders Program and Chairperson of the Superintendents and Scholars Symposium. The Urban Leaders Education Program is the College's largest doctoral program for public-school leaders. She joined Teachers College's Education Leadership faculty as the Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice in 2006.[9]


Ackerman joined Philadelphia public schools as superintendent in 2008.[2] Ackerman developed Imagine 2014, her five-year plan for school reform and strategy to secure more resources to needy schools. Under her leadership, half of all Philadelphia school children met standards on state exams, a first for the district since federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 had been enacted.[10] Ackerman's claim to have overseen an improvement in Philadelphia students' performance on standardized tests was challenged by the emergence of evidence that students' scores were inflated by widespread teacher-assisted cheating.[11]

Arlene Ackerman was forced to resign by Mayor Michael Nutter and the School Reform Commission, after a variety of complaints from state senators, teachers, parents, and students.[citation needed] Rampant school violence, dictatorial policy decisions with no teacher involvement, racial intimidation against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School and other Philadelphia schools, unethical bidding for multi-million dollar contracts,[12] the largest school deficit in district history, and recent allegations of test score manipulation clouded Ackerman's legacy of work for the Philadelphia school district. After three years, she reached an agreement with the Philadelphia School Reform Commission to resign her post in return for $905,000 plus $86,000 in unused vacation pay.[13][14] In November 2011, she caused surprise by filing for unemployment compensation.[14][15]

Awards & Recognitions[edit]

Ackerman received numerous honors and awards including Apple for the Teacher Award-Iota Lambda Sorority, Distinguished Alumni Award-Harris Stowe Teachers College, and recognition from Harvard University's Urban Superintendents Program. Ackerman served on The President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities which advises the President and the Secretary of Education on strengthening these institutions. In 2004 she was named 'Superintendent of the Year' by the National Association of Black School Educators. In 2010, she received the Richard R. Green Award for Urban Superintendent of the Year from the Council of Great City Schools in recognition of her contributions to urban schools and students. As the winner of the Richard R. Green Award, Ackerman received a $10,000 college scholarship to give to a student. Dr. Ackerman selected Emilio Garcia, a 2011 graduate of the district, to receive the scholarship.[16][17] In 2011 she received the Dr. Effie Jones Humanitarian Award which honors leadership in educational equity and excellence.[16]

She held the Christian A. Johnson Endowed Chair in Outstanding Educational Practice at Teachers College, Columbia University.[5]

Ackerman and her team earned praise from President Barack Obama and United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for an intervention approach aimed at turning around the District of Columbia's struggling schools under the Empowerment, Renaissance and Promise Academy initiatives.[13]


Dr. Ackerman died in Albuquerque, NM on Feb 2, 2013 from pancreatic cancer.[18]


  1. ^ School District of Philadelphia's Superintendent of Schools profile: Dr. Arlene C. Ackerman
  2. ^ a b "Superintendent of Schools: Arlene C. Ackerman, Ed. D.". The School District of Philadelphia. Archived from the original on March 29, 2011. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Ackerman Bio"
  4. ^ "Senior Advisors, Dr. Arlene Ackerman"
  5. ^ a b "San Francisco Superintendent Has Raised Test Scores among Minorities; Is Chair of Council of Great City Schools"
  6. ^ a b "The Philadelphia School Reform Commission Selects New CEO"
  7. ^ "Ackerman sues S.F. school district". San Francisco Business Times. May 18, 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "School board hires new supe, Ackerman drops suit". San Francisco Examiner. June 12, 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Outstanding Educational Practice"
  10. ^ "Hornet Alumni Messenger"
  11. ^ "ExpensiveLesson Arlene C. Ackerman, Ed. D.". 
  12. ^ Woodall, Martha (July 19, 2015). "No-bid schools contract is costing millions". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved July 19, 2015. 
  13. ^ a b "President Obama and Secretary Duncan Praise Ackerman and Team"
  14. ^ a b "Ackerman: We're nickel & dimed". Philadelphia Daily News. November 30, 2011. Retrieved November 30, 2011. 
  15. ^ Cornfield, Josh (November 30, 2011). "After 905G buyout, Ackerman is seeking unemployment check". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved November 30, 2011. 
  16. ^ a b "Dr. Effie Jones Humanitarian Award Winners"
  17. ^ "Richard R. Green Award"
  18. ^