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Reforms for next school contract

It's not every day that we can point to a labor negotiation as a great opportunity for children.

It's not every day that we can point to a labor negotiation as a great opportunity for children.

We are members of the Coalition for Effective Teaching, a coalition of the city's education, business, and community leaders who want the public to know that, while the discussion about the Philadelphia School District contract likely will focus on money and budget issues, the negotiations also present a unique opportunity to boost the effectiveness of teaching and learning in our schools.

By committing to new union and management practices, including those that reward teachers and principals based on the success of their students rather than only their time on the job - especially for students in the city's most disadvantaged schools - we can make real progress. We are calling on the parties to seize this opportunity to put children, teaching, and learning first.

No one would argue that the status quo is good enough. Adding new bells and whistles to the system may, in some cases, make modest improvements. However, we need to make real, fundamental changes or our schools won't improve. If our schools don't improve, our students won't learn, and they won't have a chance for a better life.

We have to gather the courage to make substantial changes. We can do that by implementing a series of commonsense solutions for next school year.

On the contract level, principals and their teams should be able to consider teachers they believe are the right fit for their schools and look at a teacher's track record when hiring, retaining, transferring, and making assignments. We should allow principals, with their leaders, to build their teams and provide pay incentives for teachers who earn degrees or certifications associated with documented gains in student achievement.

Other reforms require only the collective will to change the system on issues like identifying, training, and supporting good school principals. We should reward principals based on performance criteria, such as - creating safe schools and supporting great teaching. Principals that can't, over time, operate a safe school where children thrive should be removed.

Nowhere is the necessity for reform more pressing than in our lowest-performing public schools. Too often, outdated contract rules on teacher assignments trump the needs of children, teaching, and learning.

The district should also implement changes that help principals support effective teaching and learning by developing more accurate methods of evaluating teachers, by ensuring student and teacher safety on campus, and by providing training to help new teachers become more effective in the classroom.

We have submitted these ideas to the district and to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and we urge our fellow citizens to call for these reforms to be implemented in the next teachers' contract.

Let's remember that the next contract offers a perfect chance to implement changes to improve student achievement by supporting more effective teaching and learning.

This time around, let's do the best we can for our children.