A new coalition of researchers, activists, community groups, parents, and students will kick off a campaign today to press the Philadelphia School District to overhaul its hiring process and make improving teacher quality a top priority in the district.
Called "Effective Teaching for All Children: What It Will Take," the project will urge Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and the Philadelphia School Reform Commission to "recruit, reward, and retain talented school staff, distribute teachers equitably, and support their development in every school."
The Education First Compact, a consortium of local education-reform organizations, and the Philadelphia Cross City Campaign, a collection of community groups, will unveil their campaign today in City Hall at 4 p.m.
Although Ackerman has said she placed a high priority on improving teacher recruitment, streamlining the hiring process, and developing strategies to retain talented staff, coalition members said they were disappointed that teacher quality was not given a top priority in the draft of her strategic plan, Imagine 2014.
Her plan does call for hiring teachers by June instead of August and requiring teachers who want to transfer to inform the district by May.
At a media briefing yesterday, coalition members said the groups had joined together to develop a six-point platform that includes distributing effective teachers more equitably across the district, creating a "deep bench" of teacher applicants, and making sure there were no teacher vacancies when school opened in the fall.
"Every child deserves an effective teacher," said Brian Armstead, director of civic engagement at the Philadelphia Education Fund. "And every school needs a stable workforce of effective teachers."
Coalition members said that the district's cumbersome and lengthy hiring process and seniority provisions in the teachers contract that give teachers the right to transfer to other schools resulted in the least-experienced teachers' being concentrated in the neediest schools.
And, because 70 percent of teachers leave the district within six years, the neediest schools rarely have a chance to develop a stable staff. The lack of stability and the constant influx of new teachers contribute to the gap of student achievement, the group said.
"This issue has been with us for a long period of time," Elizabeth Useem, senior research consultant at Research for Action.
The nonprofit educational research organization based in Philadelphia has released three studies on teacher quality in district schools in the last few years.
Useem said the district had made improvements but needed to do more.
"Right now there was a general agreement that we have a tremendous opportunity to really make significant progress," Armstead said. "We have a new superintendent who has expressed a sincere commitment to eliminating the achievement gap and who understands the importance of quality teaching."
He also said that the time was right because the district was in contract negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and because President Obama had made a commitment to improving teacher quality in public schools.
PFT president Jerry Jordan said inexperienced teachers could be effective and creative.
The union prefers that schools have a mix of veterans and new teachers.
At schools with large numbers of low-income students, the best incentive for attracting and keeping effective teachers "is having great leadership and good working conditions for teachers," Jordan said. "Those are the things that make the biggest difference."