We are delighted that the Coalition for Effective Teaching (CET) in Philadelphia wants to improve public education. However, we think a more responsible approach would have been to consult with teacher leaders before publishing a position statement.
As practicing teachers, we have a few suggestions about how CET can truly enrich public education:
First, change the group's name to Coalition for Effective Education, as the current title implicates teachers. Philadelphia has thousands of effective teachers who struggle with ineffective working conditions and who passionately support children who are not necessarily "learning-ready."
Instead of advocating for site-based selection that places the authority for hiring teachers solely with principals, CET should honor teachers' professionalism by calling for teacher involvement in site-based hiring. Additionally, when a principal is being hired, teachers should have the time and resources to conduct interviews, involve students and families, and be part of the final decision.
Site-based decision-making must also involve teachers in the design of school budgets, teacher assignments, daily schedules, and school-wide programs. It should not be a mechanism for removing experienced teachers from schools simply because their years developing as professionals mean that they must be paid a commensurate wage.
On teacher evaluations, CET should first clarify what it means by "effective." For example, "effectiveness" could be the extent to which teachers have the flexibility to modify curricula, instruction, assessments, and policy to meet student needs. The definition of what makes a teacher effective should reside within the profession, as it does with doctors and lawyers.
CET should advocate for modifying the "building-wide data" section of the state's new evaluation law, as it does nothing to foster school-wide collaboration. Collaboration is a critical factor in increasing the effectiveness of our instruction. Instead, this section emphasizes things like enrollment in advanced classes, attendance, and graduation rates. Such data could be easily manipulated, but do nothing to foster teacher stewardship of meaningful student engagement.
When it comes to learning readiness, it's important to acknowledge the violence of poverty and its impact on children. Children from families that are proximate to poverty have diminished learning readiness. The solution is to provide safe neighborhoods, sustainable employment, and access to health care. Poverty, however, is outside the direct purview of teachers. It is a societal responsibility. The challenges we face in school are a result of an anti-intellectual, anti-democratic economy that maintains the violence of poverty and vilifies teachers in the process.
Can CET step outside of the "blame teachers" framework and use its extensive capacity to support teachers who are trying to make a change? What would be truly courageous would be to demand equitable funding, respect for the teaching profession, and a passionate commitment to a democratic society.