THE NEW Action Plan 2.0, presented by Superintendent William Hite at last week's School Reform Commission meeting, contains some worthy goals. As the Daily News points out in its Feb. 18 editorial, no one can argue with the goal of having a great school for each and every child in Philadelphia to attend. The teachers and professional school staff in Philadelphia work to make this a reality every day.
However, there are some profound disconnects in the plan about how teachers and other school staff can work with the administration to reach that goal. The Action Plan states that its major goals are to "strengthen neighborhood schools" and "create and launch new, evidence-based school models." It is disappointing that Dr. Hite's plan was formulated without any meaningful contribution from the people who know best what has worked in Philadelphia's classrooms, and what has not.
Dr. Hite seems to have forgotten that the district's most astute sources of information, ideas and on-the-ground research are the teachers and principals who spend every day with the students we educate. If the School District truly hopes to have all 8 year olds reading on grade level, Dr. Hite will have to ask those who teach pre-K, kindergarten, first- and second-grade students what strategies and programs actually work in schools. New programs may sound impressive when presented to the non-teaching bureaucrats by eager salespeople, but they should be vetted by experienced teachers before precious resources are invested in them. Teachers know what works in their schools and for their students. We know what we need! Ask us, Dr. Hite.
The plan states: "It is crucial that we continue to recruit, hire, and retain quality teachers. . . . " Does Dr. Hite expect to retain and recruit effective teachers by cutting the salaries and benefits of those who are already among the lowest paid in the state? How would elimination of long-standing union protections serve to attract a highly qualified staff? Teachers and staff need assurances that we will be treated fairly, and that we will not be subject to the political whims of administrators who, unfortunately, are sometimes trained too quickly and left to handle the pressures of running a school with little support.
These same protections - contracts reached through collective bargaining, fair work rules, tenure and seniority - are enjoyed by teachers in such wealthy, high-performing districts as Lower Merion, Lower Moreland and Radnor. These protections do not interfere with the ability of great city schools like Masterman and Central to achieve excellence every year. Finland, which is cited by politicians and educators alike as the best model of what works in education, has a highly unionized and well-paid teaching force. It seems, then, that tenure and reasonable work rules are not the issue. Perhaps it is poverty and chronic underfunding of our schools?
Dr. Hite and the SRC should know that those of us who work in the classroom with Philadelphia's children every day have developed many innovative ideas and creative plans that have helped our students to succeed. Rather than blame and punish teachers, they need to partner with us, to ask us as professionals what our kids need and deserve. Teachers stand ready - as we do every day - to help our students. Do not squander our valuable knowledge by consistently naming us as a problem when we may be the best resource you have.
Kristin R. Luebbert