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The Main Scoop

Ackerman: 'This has got to be radical.'

By the Notebook on Jul 30, 2009 03:44 PM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman

District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman had a series of meetings with newspaper editorial boards earlier this summer focusing on issues surrounding the ongoing teachers' contract talks. The Notebook had an hour-long interview with her on July 8, in which she made clear her desire for nothing less than a radical transformation of the teachers' contract – a wholesale change in how teachers are paid and assigned to schools.

Ackerman fielded questions from Paul Socolar, Notebook editor; Wendy Harris, managing editor; Dale Mezzacappa, contributing editor; and interns Rose Howse and Anders Hulleberg. Here are excerpts from the discussion.

Notebook: What were you hoping to accomplish by going to newspaper editorial boards and explaining your goals for the teachers' contract negotiations?

Ackerman: I wanted to give them a big picture, if not the details, of our proposals that we either have put on the table or will put on the table. I wanted them to have some examples of why these things needed to be changed.

I didn't want anyone guessing, and I didn't want the PFT or CASA articulating a message that may not be aligned with what I know as the District leader we are trying to do.

Notebook: Did anything happen in the negotiations to convince you to go public?

Ackerman: This is the second negotiations that I've been in with the PFT. I was pretty sure that it's important for the District to clearly articulate our position. This is a district full of tradition and things that are done because it's been the culture to do it. In the first round of negotiations [last year], I was willing to play by those rules [and negotiate in secret]. At some point I decided that if we couldn't get further with the negotiations and accelerate them, it was important that the larger public understood what we were trying to do.

Notebook: The campaign for "Effective Teaching for all Children" is advocating for certain changes.

Ackerman: Yeah. I'm looking at all the things that are in [the campaign's platform], and I'm thinking, "We're trying to negotiate this, but nobody knows it." And, I felt like we were sort of being hammered [by the campaign] for something we're trying to do. So I wanted to say, here are the issues that the District is trying to address in the broadest sense: teacher flexibility and assignment of teachers, teacher compensation – and in this we want differentiated pay: what this looks like, we're willing to talk about – [a longer] day. So if we could just pick four or five big areas, then the larger community would know we are working on these issues and not being driven by a report [the campaign's platform] that came to light in March, when we've been negotiating for months with these things on the table.

Notebook: What do you think about the argument that there should be more robust incentives to get teachers into the hard-to-staff schools?

Ackerman: Money is not the only thing that is going to get them there. [Teachers] ask for several things: a great principal—they will not go if you don't have a great principal. They ask that we address some of the larger societal issues that impact children's learning—health issues, emotional, social kinds of issues, psychological—which is why we put in place the social service liaisons, the student advisors, the parent liaisons.

The other thing that [experienced teachers] have said to me is that they want to be in the lowest-performing schools in cohorts or groups of five or six, because if you're there as a singleton or a doubleton, it's too hard. Those teachers get overwhelmed not only with the issues that they're dealing with in their classroom, but then they're trying to support and mentor new teachers.

And I think on top of that, we just have to look at paying teachers differently. Teachers are in this 19th century model: we all get paid the same thing, and you earn more money by the number of years you put in. That doesn't make sense, and that doesn't happen in any other business but education now.

Notebook: Are you going to try to measure teacher effectiveness and try to use that in compensation? There is a reference to this in the consent decree in the desegregation case.

Ackerman: I do think that that's important. We have started that work. We took a look at a random sample of fourth grade classrooms across the District, because one of the things that PFT will say to us is, "We have to have more resources" – whatever those resources are – "before you can hold us accountable." We were looking for teachers who made two or more years' growth [per year] with kids, regardless of where they were teaching. Some were in magnet schools, some were in regular schools, and then some were in our lowest-performing schools. We found 40. They were consistently – over three, four, five years – getting two or more years' growth. And my question to my staff and to the PFT would be, "Don't these teachers deserve to be rewarded differently? Year after year they do it, regardless of what the circumstances are."

I like the tiered compensation strategy, where we raise the base for everybody, so we start everybody at $50,000—I'm just making this number up—which would be great, and then you start tiering the compensation based on the use of expertise and where you use it, and then finally, results.

[Reform] starts actually at the colleges of education; they perpetuate this "Let's all stay the same." You can specialize in elementary, and middle, and high school. You can specialize in the content area. I want to push them to go even further.

You can help teachers make the decision to specialize, not just in reading, but specialize in urban schools, specialize in urban under-performing schools. I want people to come into our lowest-performing [schools], and I'm actually in conversations with Temple [about this], like emergency room doctors and nurses. You've got to do triage in these schools. It's very difficult and challenging, but as far as I'm concerned, the most rewarding kind of job you can have.

Notebook: Are you planning to expand the study you did with the fourth grade teachers?

Ackerman: Yes. We're working on it by grade level.

Notebook: Some advocacy groups have said they are nervous about forcing teachers to work in schools where they're needed the most. They are all for "carrots," but don't think "sticks" will be productive, that you can't beat people into going into certain schools.

Ackerman: You didn't hear me say that I want to beat anybody to do anything. I'm not saying, just put them there. But if we make the environment such….

You know what I say, though? Anybody who's nervous about that, your kids aren't in those schools. Anybody who wants me to cajole, wait, negotiate with the union, I know their kids aren't in those schools, because if they were, they wouldn't tell me to do that. They wouldn't be nervous, they would be standing shoulder to shoulder with me.

It's always interesting to me, the advocacy groups that say, "We want change" [are] the first ones to say, 'You're going too fast.'" Their children are not in those schools. Parents [whose children are in the schools] have a very different conversation with me.

That's why I really have gone after the parents. When it comes to making courageous, bold, unadulterated, by-any-means-necessary [decisions], it's not going to come from those groups. It's going to come from the people who are most impacted.

Notebook: Why do you think the percentage of teachers of color has declined from 28 to 24 percent from September to June?

Ackerman: I'm not sure why we lost 4 percent. That's almost a hemorrhage. The number of African American males is in the single digits in a school district that is [62] percent African American, which is why we aggressively went after them using a placement firm.

I think there are a lot of reasons why we see fewer and fewer. That's why we have to be more creative in differentiating pay—using pay differently. When I graduated and started working in education, some 40 years ago, there were very few options. I grew up in a segregated society, and if you got to college, you were either a teacher or a nurse if you were African American. I think as more opportunities have opened for African American students in particular, then you tend not to pick teaching, because the starting pay is so low.

My youngest son is a mathematician, and he taught for three years, and he's a great teacher—a tall African American guy, the kind of guy you want in front of the kids. He didn't say [he left] because he couldn't make enough money, [but] he saw his brother take his mathematical background and go into computers, and make three times what he was making. And so at some point, he said, I've got to make money for my family. I think he would have stayed if he had been able to get some of the resources that I was talking about, because he was in really tough schools. But also, had we been able to differentiate that pay…because he was in math, he was an African American male. I think we should look at the areas [where] we really need teachers, and that's where you start differentiating the pay. That way, as far as I'm concerned, a teacher could make $100,000.

We have got to get out of this old way of thinking about teacher compensation, where it's about longevity. It takes radical reform to make some of the changes that are needed here and in our other urban school systems. We've been tinkering around the edges, and we approach the negotiations in the same way we've always done it: "Let's not talk about it;" "Let's keep our proposals secret;" and "Don't let anybody in."

Notebook: One of the Obama administration priorities is to change teacher evaluation to make it more meaningful. What do you think of peer review, in which teachers participate in helping struggling colleagues?

Ackerman: I've been a strong proponent and in every place I've gone, I've put it in place. It's one strategy to be used for helping new teachers and [tenured] teachers who are experiencing difficulty. I found it was helpful, [but] I don't think it can be the only thing [we do]. We're putting in teaching standards next year. Three hundred new principals went through the training to become familiar with the new teaching standards.

A good evaluation system has clear standards, a clear rubric for what good teaching looks like, and you can explain to teachers where they fall on a continuum of good teaching to unsatisfactory, and then you marry the professional development needs of that teacher with the evaluation and supervision process. Nothing can take the place of that, and that happens with the principal. What peer assistance and review will do is supplement it.

Notebook: When you talk about site selection, are you thinking that's a collaborative model? A leadership team in the school that does hiring?

Ackerman: Absolutely.

Notebook: Some teachers fear site selection will give the principal more authority.

Ackerman: Absolutely not. Where do these fears come from? Where do these rumors start?

Notebook: Some of it is actual practice…

Ackerman: It's teachers' lives. Believe me. I met with about 15 retired teachers a couple weeks ago. They came in wanting to hate me—I knew they did, I could feel it—but after two hours, one of them said, "You're nothing like the teacher blogs [say you are]. I wanted to hate you when I came in here, but, you know, we actually agree."

Notebook: It's a lot of work to be on the site selection committee.

Ackerman: It's not that much work.

Notebook: You've done it?

Ackerman: Yeah. My teachers [wanted] to be on it. I have never thought that you shouldn't have site-based teams with the principal as the leader.

Notebook: Does the final decision rest with the team or the principal?

Ackerman: I think the final decision has to rest with the principal. That's who I'm going to hold accountable.

Near the end of my tenure as principal, I didn't even have to go to be on the team, because the parents and the teachers—they made better choices than I made. The teachers, because they wanted people who were going to come in with the same mindset and the same work ethic—they didn't want somebody walking out at 3:15 pm, because they were probably there until 7 or 8. And the parents wanted the same kinds of teachers.

Notebook: Schools may not be in the habit of having principals and staff really put their heads together.

Ackerman: They're not in the habit of having site selection, period. I don't see it as that difficult. You put together a leadership team that will help with hiring. We just hired 30 new principals, and it was the first time, again, that we got everybody together—because every region used to have their own way of interviewing. Every school had a team [to hire the principal]. Every school. And it wasn't a problem getting them there on a Saturday. It wasn't a problem keeping them all day, and when they didn't find who they wanted, it wasn't a problem with them coming back to say, "Okay, we want to be on the next round until we find who we want." And everyone said to me, "Oh, it'll never work. People won't come out on a Saturday." It was not a big deal, and we hired 30 principals. We did it over three weekends.

Notebook: I've heard the union say that having site selection at low-performing schools doesn't necessarily lead to teachers going to them—nobody applies, and good younger teachers leave low-performing schools because site selection gives them the opportunity. I'm wondering whether site selection is actually getting you where you want to be.

Ackerman: Everybody is trying to compartmentalize this, [but] it's a system that we're trying to put together. So if you just do site selection without putting all those other resources there—without getting a great principal, without involving parents whose children are at stake here—if you don't do that, then maybe it won't work.

So you've got to do all of those things: differentiated pay, taking care of the whole child, putting in place those supports for young people, [having] a great principal, a team of teachers.

But if you just do one piece of it, no, it won't work. That's why with negotiations, I didn't want to just look at this as tinkering around the edges.

This has got to be radical. And Philadelphia can be radical. But it's going to take the entire community not being afraid, not second-guessing me and saying, "Well, what is she doing? Is she moving too fast? Should she give them a few more carrots?" No. Not at the expense of somebody else's child, no.

About the Author

Edited by Dale Mezzacappa.

Contact Notebook Contributing Editor Dale Mezzacappa at dalemezz@comcast.net.

Comments (23)

Submitted by Mr.Boyle (not verified) on July 30, 2009 5:16 pm

"not second-guessing me and saying Well, what is she doing". The cornerstone of accountability is asking questions of what people are doing or attempting to do. If we are serious as a school district about holding every adult accountable, it should start with the CEO. You simply cannot say "just trust me". You wouldn't let a teacher, principle, parent, or student say it. An individual is not anti-child when they ask about proposals. I think it dangerous to claim any person or group is against you when they ask a question. These are children's lives and they deserve careful, rigorously debated courses of action.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2009 5:50 pm

Are people supposed to say anything uncomplimentary about Arlene Ackerman?

I thought that bad-mouthing the leader of the district...the leader...was verboten...here at the Philadelphia School District Notebook.

Submitted by alan kaman (not verified) on July 30, 2009 8:11 pm

Teachers will not support site selection when the principal has the final say and can overrule the majority. We've seen the "strong" principal. It doesn't work and history proves it leads to abuse. Research states "the era of the heroic principal is over." Improving schools is larger than one person.
As for introducing social supports to high need schools that is what it will take. We must build community through schools. The programs exist to do it and the research proves they not only reduce violence in schools, they improve academic achievement. This is the change teachers want, not merit pay. No one in history has successfully forced permanent change. It's why the Soviet Union failed. Let us remove the communist education system now in place and teach our children to be productive citizens who get along with each other. This can be taught.
The fact is this school district puts test scores ahead of children. Putting children first and supporting teachers who work tirelessly to build intrinsic motivation would be a radical and welcome change.

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on July 30, 2009 9:14 pm

This has got to be radical. And Philadelphia can be radical. But it's going to take the entire community not being afraid, not second-guessing me and saying, "Well, what is she doing? Is she moving too fast? Should she give them a few more carrots?" No. Not at the expense of somebody else's child, no >>Ackerman

One wants to be "radical for the right things, and you do NOT have to throw the baby out with the bath water. Why trash those aspects that have been working? . This not a private business, and we are educating students, not hammering out a product here, I don't know what about the seniority system scares her so much, because without it you basically will have chaos and resentment.Site selection can work hand in hand with the seniority system One can tweak here and there, but ther's no need for "radical change" that hasn't been proven to work.

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on July 30, 2009 9:29 pm

You simply cannot say "just trust me". You wouldn't let a teacher, principle, parent, or student say it. An individual is NOT ANTI CHILD when they ask about proposals. I think it dangerous to claim any person or group is against you when they ask a question. These are children's lives and they deserve careful, rigorously debated courses of action.>> Boyle

KUDOS for this post!! this phrase "somebody else's child" is a euphemism for : just because our students aren't our own children, we do not respect or treat them well. It's a divisive term, and what we don't need is divisiveness, putting teachers on one side and everyone else on the other side. It's an unfair tactic.

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on July 30, 2009 10:26 pm

I think he would have stayed if he had been able to get some of the resources that I was talking about, because he was in really tough schools. But also, had we been able to differentiate that pay…because he was in math, he was an African American male. I think we should look at the areas [where] we really need teachers, and that's where you start differentiating the pay. That way, as far as I'm concerned, a teacher could make $100,000.

Am I reading this right? He could conceivably be eligible for more pay given that he is an African American male math teacher? We already have a teacher racial balance system in place, and a few years back instituted extra pay for teachers in hard to staff subjects. I see a pattern here of her not being aware of what's already in place, or simply ignoring it..

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2009 2:05 am

Pretending not to know about programs that have already been started is a way that new CEOs can take credit for others work. I remember Philip Goldsmith saying something along those lines about Paul Vallas (as have others noted about Paul). Arlene wants us to believe that she is starting new ideas which have already been implemented long before she got here. Spreading disinformation (like saying that principals had could not shift teachers to different grades - anoutright lie) seems to be part of Ackerman's agenda.

I love how she talks about going public to coerce the union into doing what she wants and then talks about meeting with teachers in private, who then mysteriously end up agreeing with her! Let's see Ackerman hold a public hearing with teachers that aren't scared of her. Not the handpicked lackeys and puppets who merely ape the administration's agenda. Someone who can ask the tough questions the SRC hasn't have the backbone to ask her.

Submitted by Philly High School teacher (not verified) on July 31, 2009 8:18 am

Ackerman is very self-assured and self-serving. By negotiating "in public" via the newspapers, she demonstrates no respect for collective bargaining. By relying, apparently, solely on student test scores to determine an "effective" (4th) grade teacher, she shows little understanding of learning versus achievement. By using her son's anecdote to extrapolate a funding formula, she reinforces a corporate model that isn't backed by research. By stating not only certification but ethnicity and stature should determine compensation ("a tall African American guy, the kind of guy you want in front of the kids."), she potentially violates federal law. Also, by stating "—they didn't want somebody walking out at 3:15 pm, because they were probably there until 7 or 8," she is contradicting herself and what was one motivation for her son - his family. If I am at school until 7 or 8 pm, how am I being responsible to my children who also are students in the SDP (and no, not at magnet schools)?

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on July 31, 2009 9:59 am

Ackerman: Everybody is trying to compartmentalize this, [but] it's a system that we're trying to put together. So if you just do site selection without putting all those other resources there—without getting a great principal, without involving parents whose children are at stake here—if you don't do that, then maybe it won't work.>> Ackerman

A system IS put together, and if a plan doesn't contain all the elements described above (and more) does that mean ther IS no viable plan? No Arlene.. However, my REAL question is (and one that being avoided in her pronouncements) is, WHY in this country are teachers being demonized to the point of saying that teachers unions are responsible for holding up progress? Teacher's unions are at the forefront of educational progress, but also exist to help ensure their employees against arbitrary and whimsical practices, that are thrust upon us from the constant comings an goings of new CEO'S.

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on July 31, 2009 9:11 am

union members not employees

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on July 31, 2009 9:32 am

Arlene- working until 7or 8 in a not so safe community is a poor idea. Isn't it conceivable to you that teachers can and do take their work home, and also need family time?

How many teachers are going to work those long hours for these salaries, and you are still wondering why teacher retention is so difficult? It's not always about the money though, it's about seeing teachers, who as educators, have valuable and viable ideas to briing to the table. This top down, dictatorial, mamagerial style is what's standing in the way of achieving meaningful dialog. We need shared decion making and mutal respect all around.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2009 12:44 pm

Isn't it strange that the CEO who taken the most money of all (she gets paid more to run a school district than the mayor gets paid to run the whole city!) is the same one that expects her teachers to work the most hours for the least money. Maybe Arlene needs to head back to the classroom to remember how much work is involved in teaching, especially in a district where necessities are cut more and more every year.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2009 9:13 pm

Don't fret...

Arlene's salary will be paid for by Harrisburg...when the district gets its $300 million in stimulus money...

Compared to that goody...Arlene's salary is peanuts...

I hope this time...the district has to work extra hard to get even a nickel...and is forced to account for the same...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2009 11:06 pm

Ackerman says teachers are in this "19th century model" without really thinking about what she is saying. In the 19th century most teachers got paid peanuts. There were no rights for teachers, but there was no hierarchy of bureaucrats feeding off the system either. Female teachers would be forced to leave once they married and male teachers could rarely afford to get married on what they were being paid. You could get fired for merely having a window shade lower or higher than another one. In Chester your paycheck came via the local political machine who expected you to pay some of your check back as soon as he handed it over to you. This is what Ackerman wants to return Philadelphia teachers to if she gets her way.

I love how she talks about meeting with "15 retired teachers". Why? Ackerman has yet to meet with 15 active teachers who are not scared to tell her what she's doing wrong. The 15 retired teachers can afford to "agree" with Ackerman because they don't have to put up with her crap . . . they're retired and probably damn glad to be away from her. If Ackerman actually took the time to listen to active teachers she would know where these "rumors" about site selection and principal dictatorships comes from. We've already been through it, Arlene, you have yet to come up with any original ideas that might work. Most of what you talk about has already been done and didn't work. Start listening to your teachers.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2009 8:06 am

A teacher got a black eye at Northeast...

Must be the teacher's fault...

The district still couldn't catch one of the "babies..."

Must be the teacher's fault...what did the TEACHER do to cause the "baby" to strike out...

And, Gallard has the chutzpah to say violence is down...

Yeah, right...

Submitted by Anonymous on August 2, 2009 1:48 pm

Ask Dr. Ackerman which 4th grade has a "magnet" school. Masterman starts in 5th grade, Conwell in 6th grade. There is a school in the far Northeast with "demonstration" teachers but no "magnet" program. Are there elementary schools with "all gifted" classes in 4th grade? If yes, why? When the trend is for inclusions, at least the high school where I teach, then why the tracking in 4th grade?

While I appreciate your interview, there apparently was little "challenged" to Dr. Ackerman's assertions and claims. Who are the retired teachers? Which schools? What determines a "great principal?"

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 3, 2009 6:14 pm

Ackerman destroyed San Francisco Schools and now you are stuck with her, good luck to ya, you'll need it.

Submitted by Special Education Examiner (not verified) on August 4, 2009 12:14 pm

Ackerman says: >We were looking for teachers who made two or more years' growth [per year] with kids, regardless of where they were teaching. Some were in magnet schools, some were in regular schools, and then some were in our lowest-performing schools. We found 40. They were consistently – over three, four, five years – getting two or more years' growth. And my question to my staff and to the PFT would be, "Don't these teachers deserve to be rewarded differently? Year after year they do it, regardless of what the circumstances are."<

If this is true, then why would you keep those teachers who consistently perform poorly at all?

That being said, Ackerman is good at PR and misrepresenting herself. She claimed to have raised the scores in DC of African American children when in fact, there was a pilot reading research program going on that raised the scores. When Dr Louisa Moats presented her research to Ackerman, she blew her off and discontinued the program. Later Ackerman took credit for Dr Moats work and took a new job in San Francisco. By the time she left, African American children had the lowest scores ever in San Francisco. Why schools keep hiring this person is beyond me.
http://www.examiner.com/x-4959-Special-Education-Examiner~y2009m4d9-Scho...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 5, 2009 3:31 pm

I think Dr. Ackerman must be given a chance to try things. I'm not always her biggest fan, but often when I see PFT/teacher criticism of her, all I can find is propaganda and rumors. I certainly don't agree with everything that's going on in the District under her watch, but the PFT doesn't seem to be really fighting those things (constant assessment, neglecting every subject that isn't Reading or Math, social promotion, the racial preferences in hiring/recruiting she keeps talking about, having report card grades due several weeks before school is out...). Instead criticisms are focused on site selection, length of day, and more than anything, her tone.

Site selection is an example. The arguments against site selection are based mostly on the bad principal scenario. Properly executed site selection actually gives teachers much more control in school staffing. Under the seniority/centralized placement system now, there is lots of power for veteran teachers to voluntarily transfer to the school of their choice, but only the teacher doing the transferring has any power. Teachers complain that site selection gives the principal too much control. But with a seniority/centralized placement system, the teachers in a school still have no control over who is hired. The only person who has control is the incoming veteran teachers. With site selection, there is at least a chance, if it is implemented properly, that the existing staff at the school will have a say in who is brought to fill vacancies. The only constituency that really benefits from a seniority model is veteran teachers who want to leave their schools. New teachers, principals, existing staffs at schools, and the ability to get the best fit for each vacancy are all sacrificed to allow veteran teachers control over which school they teach in. And site selection doesn't really remove the veteran's ability to move schools. It just means that he/she must be hired at a new school in order to leave a current position. Maybe that's a crazy idea, but it's also the hiring model at a pretty huge majority of schools in this country, including the selective admissions schools in Philly, most suburban schools, every rural school, etc. I don't see why the neighborhood schools of Philly should be an exception. If it's because the principals don't do it right, then the issue is principal quality/effectiveness, not the system of site selection.

I get tired of Dr. Ackerman's somewhat antagonistic tone, but the PFT and teachers in general can't really be accused of extending an open hand to work in partnership. Back in May, the president of CASA, noted in the Inquirer, "I think, basically, my members have come to understand that while there are many issues that separate us and the PFT, there is a big issue that brings us together - Dr. Ackerman," Whether that's a sentiment shared by CASA and PFT members or not, it is a rather public portrayal of Dr. Ackerman as the enemy. Again, criticism of the specific proposals is certainly healthy. But criticizing her tone, her salary, summarily rejecting new proposals because they clash with the current system or because it's so hard to teach in an under-resourced urban school is really counter-productive. It's that sort of behavior on the part of teachers that further divides us from the administration, and leads to the public demonization of teachers. And as long as the District and the teachers are basically ignoring each other's legitimate concerns and proposals, it will be difficult to make serious improvements to the education available to the children of Philadelphia. Dr. Ackerman would be well served to tone down the rhetoric, but we, as teachers of the District, share a burden to extend a hand of good faith to work together rather than summarily reject everything she proposes just because it comes from her.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 5, 2009 6:11 pm

I also wish the union would do something of substance and communicate with its members. You list critical issues that are either ignored by the union or accepted without consulting staff. All neighborhood / comprehensive high schools have weekly testing in English and math. This is on top of quarterly benchmark test. Why not magnet school? The reason is obvious. How is weekly testing going to motivate students and teachers?

This is just one example of how other subjects are neglected. At my high school, the science PSSA was treated as a step-child. It was postponed, crunched into a few days, and basically dismissed. Students were pulled from social studies to have more time on Study Island.

For all Ackerman's rhetoric about social promotion, it is the norm. There is enormous pressure to pass students and ridiculous amount of paper work if anyone is not passing.

Is the union asking about racial preferences in hiring/recruiting ? while I agree it is important for students to "see themselves" in their teachers, bringing a person of color from the suburbs does not always "fit." Again, last year we have some new teachers who are people of color but their experience in Philly was occasionally trips to Center City or area attractions. Two left by October.

The report card nonsense at the end of the year has been going on forever. The SDP needs to invest the "chump" change compared to the 3 billion dollar budget to send report cards in the mail.

So, where is the union on issues critical to staff? Who knows. I haven't heard anything all summer except the directive to sign the contract.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 5, 2009 4:29 pm

Given the alternative a few years ago - Paul Vallas - I welcome Arlene Ackerman to center stage. I do agree, however, that she has fallen into a pit of rhetoric instead of action. Hosting community meetings is great and all, but let's see the results of those meetings in action. Bringing in the force of the state to coerse teachers into signing cover contracts to push something through, while still stating that she "understands" what we go through, is absurd. If she wants to convince teachers that she is acting in our best interests, following only the best interests of the children, she needs to step up her game. Because the only way Philadelphia is going to find its way out of perpetual failure in the classroom is with high quality teachers who are committed to the cause.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 5, 2009 5:47 pm

I find the pro-Ackerman posters just as quick to use "propaganda and rumors" to bolster their own points. The fact is that Ackerman's track record, especially in San Francisco (where it was parents, not the teachers, that finally got her to leave) is out there for anyone to investigate. So to say teachers, CASA and the PFT are being hostile towards her is wrong it absurd. She's earned their contempt through her own actions, not only in other cities, but here in Philly as well. When Philly teachers are being told to tighten their belts (yet again!) only to watch the CEO get the largest salary in the district's history how do you think they should feel? How about telling teachers, principals and administrators how important it was to keep working in school the day Obama became president? Arlene took off not only that day, but also the one before it (to meet with the other destroyers of urban school districts). She should be setting the example to follow, not this "do as I say, not as I do" scenario. How can you say Ackerman is an alternative to Vallas? They are merely variations on the same theme. Both use this district for their own agenda.

Why don't you goggle San Francisco and Ackerman? She loves getting perks paid for by the school districts she inhabits. In San Francisco she had them pay for her elaborate home security system. Here in Philly we paid to have HER LAWYER negotiate her contract with the district. Funny, I thought that was something you paid for yourself. Meanwhile, Philly teachers are told they will have even less to work with next year. One of the lowest paying school districts in PA forces its teachers to beg for scraps in return for longer days, slack security and spineless discipline.

While you're goggling try Thurogood Marshall High School, Ackerman and Dr. Butcher. It seems Dr. Butcher, a black principal at the school, was not exactly embracing Ackerman's agenda with the enthusiasm she wanted. He was removed (and quickly snatched up by another school) while Ackerman's new principal didn't even last through the end of Oct. In following 6 years this high school had a revolving door that saw 6 principals come and go. The progress that Dr. Butcher had made, in what is a tough school, was wasted by Arlene's new vision. Of course, she left town when the school board (with very active parents on it) went after her.

Don't get me started on the Urban Pioneers program and Ackerman! Philly needs to wake up to what this woman is up too. It's seems as long as it looks good on paper the politicians think she's the one for the job. Too bad they never learned how to google.

What new ideas has Ackerman proposed? Get rid of the white teachers? Find more fault with even more teachers? The fact is, most of her ideas have already been done. Turn over low performing schools to charter operators? Wow, that's really original. Especially in light of how poorly most charter schools have been doing. Sounds like money is changing hands. Wake up Philly !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 16, 2009 7:05 pm

It does take the entire community to make anything work in education. It starts with the family/home, then it moves to the schools. I teach in a K-8 school in Philadelphia and we have a community within the school that fosters a positive learning environment. We have a principal that deeply cares, and staff that deeply cares and a site selection system that finds the best teachers for the positions that are open.
We are a neighborhood school and in the three years that I have been there, we have only had a handful of new teachers. That's a huge factor! Less teacher turnover allows for continuity among grades and learning.
I hear a lot of huge changes and grand ideas in "Imagine 2014" and in this article, but is this really how to foster learning and achievement in our urban schools? The summer enrichment program was supposed to be a part of this grand plan as well...and it was an embarrassment! Without extra staff dedicated to helping the program run smoothly there was no way it would have worked! The "enrichment" teachers taught subjects like yoga, dance, art and science. They are great subjects that need to be emphasized in schools - but they were being taught by people that had no teaching experience! Some of them were not allowed to walk them through the halls or even dismiss them from school! Was this well thought out? No it was thrown together last towards the end of the school year so that Ackerman has an "earmark" to point to...its an idea that looks great on paper, but in practice it makes no sense and is impossible to implement just by throwing professionals or college students into classrooms with adolescent children and expect them to be able to manage the class and teach at the same time!
I love my job, the teachers I teach with, my principal and the kids! But its disheartening to see how Ackerman is going about her plan and trying to implement it.
The contracts are another issue, lol...I am now tenured since I have 3 years in the system, but again I get a "temporary contract" to sign because the district made a mistake - I called the District office and had to give my info and they put me on a "special" list that would receive a phone call about how to proceed next...lol...its ridiculous
Enough with these huge ideas and monumental changes - lets make changes that focuses on a better learning environment for children and promotes moral with all teachers - good and bad! Its not about Ackerman making changes just to make changes, its about the kids and getting the best for them...

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