I am the parent of two Philadelphia public school children, and I have seen what happens when decisions about our children's education are based solely on seniority in hiring and transferring teachers.
Two years ago at our neighborhood school, we lost a highly regarded teacher who was "bumped" from her classroom by the rules of the current system and replaced by a teacher who had more seniority. This more "senior" replacement quickly demonstrated that she was nowhere near the caliber of the teacher who was bumped. And the impact of this transfer decision was evident at the end of the school year - at least as far as many in the community are concerned - when it comes to the lack of progress these young children made toward the educational milestones for their grade level.
We will never really know how much this year will hurt these children. But here's the point: It never should have been allowed to happen in the first place. Why should any child's education take a back-seat to the wishes of adults, based solely on who has more years on the job? We should be putting the needs of children first.
I am not "anti-teacher" or "pro-management" in the current contract negotiations between the School District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. I do not believe that eliminating teacher seniority is the "silver bullet" that fixes our public education system. I also do not believe that more funding is the silver bullet either. The reality is, both are very important pieces of the overall changes and resources needed to improve public education for all of our children.
To anyone who defends the current teacher seniority system, here's my question: What if it were your child in this classroom? Would you accept the argument that seniority is "just the way it is," or would you demand changes to ensure that the most qualified people are teaching your children? To be clear, "qualified" must be measured by more than years of experience, or the number of degrees or certifications earned, or even changes in student test scores. It also must include an ability to connect with students and families, a willingness to go the extra mile to make a difference in a student's educational life, and, especially, a true love of working with and teaching children.
I believe that the majority of our teachers rate very highly in all of these categories. But there are others who do not, and they should not be allowed to hide behind the current seniority rules.
I love our city, and I love my children's school, warts and all. But we do a huge disservice to our fellow citizens by not standing up for and investing in high-quality public education in every classroom. School is the place where our children - our future! - spend a significant amount of their waking time for nine months of the year.
If we believe in public education, then we each have an obligation to support changes that put our children first. I hope the adults involved come to the same conclusion.