Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Nonprofit's study critical of Phila. teacher policies

Tenure and satisfactory evaluations are virtually meaningless for Philadelphia educators, and bad teachers can linger in the public school system too long.

Tenure and satisfactory evaluations are virtually meaningless for Philadelphia educators, and bad teachers can linger in the public school system too long.

The Philadelphia School District shells out too much for the health care of its teachers, who tend to be absent too often. Teacher pay ought to be revamped to keep strong performers, and effectiveness, not start date, should guide layoff decisions.

Those conclusions come via an analysis of Philadelphia teacher policies scheduled to be released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a nonprofit that works to "restructure the teaching profession."

The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Inquirer, comes down hard on the current teachers' contract as a new pact is being negotiated. It was written at the behest of local groups including the Philadelphia Education Fund and the increasingly influential Philadelphia School Partnership.

And it follows on the heels of Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.'s saying he believes teacher seniority ought to be eliminated.

NCTQ analyzed the district policies and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' contract; held focus groups; issued and reviewed surveys; and got feedback from the district.

The PFT declined to participate. On Tuesday, union president Jerry Jordan said he had not yet thoroughly reviewed the report, but had already found "several inaccuracies," and questioned both its funding and timing.

"It's really interesting to me that this organization has been asked to investigate school district policies and practices at a time that it just so happens we're negotiating a contract," Jordan said.

The Philadelphia School Partnership, which was formed two years ago to raise $100 million over five years to expand strong charter, parochial, and public schools in the city, paid $15,000 toward the cost of producing the report. NCTQ also used money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to finance the nearly 80-page analysis.

Many of the points raised in the report mirror issues brought up in at least the district's initial contract proposal, first reported by The Inquirer in March: Philadelphia teachers' workday is too short (seven hours, four minutes); they are rewarded for advanced degrees that don't necessarily correlate to making them better teachers; principals have too little say in which teachers get hired; and generally, the salary structure needs to be revamped to keep and attract strong educators.

Teachers receive too little coaching, the report said, and principals lack adequate training in hiring teachers. Teacher evaluations are often too focused on compliance - matters of paperwork or classroom environment - and not enough on how teachers are affecting student instruction.

The school system lacks an effective hiring and retention system, and too often discounts prospective teachers' own academic records when making hires, the analysis found. Its current hiring system - an amalgam of seniority-based placement and site selection, where principals and committees of teachers and others choose qualified candidates - is difficult to navigate, and too often drags into the summer, long after other districts have filled positions.

The report also concluded the district spends too much on PFT members' health care. It pays 100 percent of the premium for employees and their dependents. While previously standard for teaching jobs, it's now rare both nationally and locally for school districts to pick up the total tab for their workers' benefits, the organization found. On average, the district pays more than $11,000 per employee for health, prescription, dental, and optical care, a cost that rises annually.

By comparison, Central Bucks School District teachers pay 15.5 percent of the cost of their health care, for instance; Radnor district teachers pay about 1 percent of their salary.

Philadelphia teachers, the analysis found, were also absent too often - one out of every 15 days, a high rate compared with other school districts. More than 600 city teachers were absent more than 16 days, with a high rate of absences on Fridays. The organization suggested the district institute incentives to minimize teacher absences.

Instead of being an important benchmark, tenure doesn't speak to an educator's effectiveness, the report concludes. Teachers get tenure after working for three years with satisfactory ratings, but just 42 teachers of 9,400 were rated unsatisfactory in 2011-12, the last year for which data are available.

The district also fails to terminate teachers it has found to be consistently unsatisfactory. Over the last three years, roughly 39 teachers - less than 1 percent of the 9,000-plus-educator workforce - were terminated annually, and on average it took two years to fire an ineffective teacher, according to the report.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, School District officials called NCTQ "a leading voice on improving instructional practices," and said an initial review of the report showed that "the recommendations around recruitment, retention, principal autonomy, and other measures" mirror various district strategies already underway or planned.