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A coalition for effective teaching that didn't consult teachers?

By Timothy Boyle on Apr 23, 2013 12:38 PM

The School District of Philadelphia needs all the help it can get, so I’m happy to see a number of local nonprofits band together to offer their advice.

The member groups of the recently launched Coalition for Effective Teaching are calling for reforms to the teachers' contract. As I looked over their list of recommendations, I saw a mix of ideas, some already happening and some that would be helpful. But many of them are misguided. The coalition would have greatly benefited had the members bothered to talk to rank-and-file educators during the planning process.

First off, there is much to agree with in the coalition's proposal:

  • Maintaining class-size caps. Many teachers are struggling to get to know the 30 or 33 students under their charge well enough to personalize their learning. Increasing the cap size would only make things worse.​

  • Implementing research-based school-climate programs. The time has come for the School District to demand that "positive behavior supports" or restorative justice practices be employed in schools that are not only persistently dangerous, but also schools that have dozens of serious incidents each year.

  • Training principals on meaningful teacher evaluation that is meant to help teachers grow as professionals. This is a win for everyone. Teacher evaluation must do much more than pick the satisfactory and the unsatisfactory. Teachers thrive on feedback. We don’t just need to know what we are doing well or poorly; we need to know what resources are available to improve. 

These recommendations have across-the-board support from teachers, administrators, parents, and students. But I am concerned with the recommendations that expose the coalition members' lack of classroom experience. A few of the recommendations would not help create quality learning conditions for students.

  • Universal site-selection. There is a great overreliance on site selection, which doesn't often work in practice as designed. There are schools without functioning committees; often the principal just picks the candidate he or she wants. If there is little to no trust between teachers and administration, site selection becomes a farce, counter-productive to those who strive for more site-based decision-making.

  • More use of blended learning. This is naive. Increasing class size through technology is not really about innovation, it’s about hiring fewer teachers. In this austere budget climate, everyone needs to be honest about that. So, despite the coalition's call for a cap, endorsing this will lead to unwanted results.

  • Limiting teacher raises for additional education unless research shows that the degree attained leads to better student outcomes. This leads me to ask: Whose research? There also needs to be a thoughtful examination of what kind of coursework teachers find most beneficial. The union and the District should seriously study this in collaboration with each other. Coming to a mutual agreement that includes the people who are actually teaching students is the best way to discover what the District should reward.

  • Reward principals "for meeting high and clearly defined standards of student performance and school safety." Principals are already working as hard as they can, giving everything they have for the staff and children where they work. To think that the lack of merit pay is preventing some leaders from reaching their potential or keeping them in our schools is a concept that I just don’t buy.

Finally, if you are going to call yourselves the Coalition for Effective Teaching, you should have teachers included in your coalition from the start. Teachers have plenty of thoughts on what conditions need to exist in a contract in order to provide students with quality learning conditions. That these groups are sharing opinions about how to improve education in the city is great. But asking teachers to join the cause after the fact is parental at best. The coalition has cut out of the process those who are living the reality of the conditions it wants to improve. 

Timothy Boyle teaches at the Academy for the Middle Years Northwest and is the operations director for Teachers Lead Philly.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (26)

Submitted by TRMebane (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:25 pm
Thank you Tim... you beat me to some sort of rebuttal to the assertions made by that group of people. I thought that I could not have been more insulted as I read that article in such a well read newspaper. The part of the whole thing that I was having a problem with is this... our contract has always thought to include best research based practices... issues that are agreed with by the two parties in question... but if we members are not privy to "on-going negotiations" then that should go double for members of the general public that have not much idea of the hard won concessions made by both sides of the table... time is money... and then are some hard pressed issues that could have rather by looked into... a looked into last contracts will show the progressive changes that were war rented by the times in question... and since times are changing still ... so will the new contract change with the times... but not to hoodwinked, fooled, sidewinders by a wolf in sheeps clothing... we can not afford to give back hard won and fair practices
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 3:13 pm
My thoughts exactly. What a farce, disgrace and insult! Why should they be any different, when it comes to disrespect for teachers. What could I possibly know, I am only WITH the kids in the classroom 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 180 days!
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 6:50 pm
One of the co-sponsors is Aspira - an anti-union employer. So, not surprise teachers were not even consulted.
Submitted by tom-104 on April 23, 2013 4:58 pm
What about the willingness of this group to do away with seniority Tim? Your comment about Universal site-selection: "There are schools without functioning committees; often the principal just picks the candidate he or she wants. If there is little to no trust between teachers and administration, site selection becomes a farce, counter-productive to those who strive for more site-based decision-making." If there is no seniority protections the principals will be able to dismiss and pick whomever they want, particularly if there are layoffs. All due process protections would evaporate. The District will also be free to layoff higher paid teachers with more seniority to save money.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 7:38 pm
Thanks for adding this aspect of seniority. There are many ineffective and inept principals in Philly that use their power to bully. Without union protected due process, far too many principals would pick their friends over competent teachers. We see this with internal leadership positions far too often. Those of us with more than 2 decades but not 3 certainly do not need the threat of "at will employee." Principals enjoy having staff who are easily manipulated - anyone with experience is a threat.
Submitted by Timothy Boyle on April 24, 2013 9:07 am

So I believe due process is right tenured teachers need to have sustainable careers. I believe that administrators need to be able to identify teachers within the first 3 years in the profession as deserving of due process protections or not. 

I believe experience matters and should be rewarded. I also believe that if you want a great teaching staff, then you build a culture that supports teachers. That means an administrator places at least equal importantance on their ability to provide opportunities for professional growth, and provide resources/tools/networks to help teachers improve as their ability to work the evaluation process to its logical conclusion for those who should not be in the profession. Some principals in Philadelphia operate this way, and some do not. Some principals aren't good at either evaluating their staff or providing growth opportunities. Due process protects us against those poor leaders. That said, we should focus on what we want, not what we want to prevent.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 24, 2013 9:17 am
I agree with the need for due process. Why is this only granted to tenured teachers? What protects families from poor leaders who do not counsel out those that should be counseled out? These individuals also hurt their colleagues by being allowed to remain. How can poor leaders (on up the line) be truly held responsible? Shouldn't the PFT work to find answers to these questions? Now especially when they are being threatened by the exodus of families to charters mostly because of inadequate leadership in the SDP?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 4:44 pm
I can't get past the fact that they spelled 'coalition' wrong on their sign. A good teacher would have caught that!
Submitted by walkaway (not verified) on April 23, 2013 5:15 pm
What do you get when PSP and PENNCAN work on a document with PCCY and PEF? A pointless document.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 8:01 pm
Don't forget that for high school teachers (as well as some middle school teachers), that's 33 students per class and at least 5 classes per day (165 students per day). It takes me a week or two just to attach names to faces, let alone learn their individual learning styles! Increasing the class size to, let's just say, 40 and adding an additional class per day would mean 40*6 = 240 students per day. That's a 45% increase. I think this math gets lost on a lot of people who see a change from 33 students to 40 students as not such a big deal. 7 more students, that's not a huge deal, right? But multiplied by all those classes and adding another class....it is a big deal. No one could possibly spin this as good news for teachers or students. It WILL harm teaching, learning, and relationships.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 23, 2013 9:40 pm
Timothy, You make some good points. I do have to disagree on your points made about the following parts of the Coalition's proposal: Limiting teacher raises for additional education unless research shows that the degree attained leads to better student outcomes. The research should be peer-reviewed scientific research published in journals. There's a lot of think-tank research and foundation research that is not peer-reviewed. If education is to be a research-based, evidence-based profession, this has to extend to incentives for advanced degrees just as it does for reading and math. Reward principals "for meeting high and clearly defined standards of student performance and school safety." Based on experience, I know that not all principals are working as hard as they can. My current principal could do more, but doesn't. How about walking around the building to see what is going on? The principal's main concern is with meeting AYP. There is no enforcement of expectations or rules. Teachers who do paperwork instead of teaching get away with doing this. These teachers like the principal because the principal doesn't get on their case about actually doing their job. Special ed teachers had to fight for their students to attend specials. The principal is a nice person, but doesn't do their job as a principal. You're in charge...act like it! Take responsibility for what's happening in your building! EGS
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 23, 2013 11:16 pm
EGS----The very same could be said for Jerry Jordan. Jerry, are you there, do you care? The REAL deal is this coalition or colition or coaltion is about destroying unions and worker rights as well as segregating even more the haves from the havenots. By the way, Mr. Jordan is on their advisory board in some capacity. Do you think The President of The Chicago Teachers, whose name is escaping me, signs on with a coalition designed to end unions, rights like seniority and proposes a Caste System for the kids and families????
Submitted by AnonymousS (not verified) on April 24, 2013 9:28 pm
Karen Lewis
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 24, 2013 9:49 pm
Thank You.
Submitted by Philly Activist (not verified) on July 26, 2013 9:43 am
Perhaps it has to do with the saying and the part I most remember - "Hold your enemies close." It doesn't mean that because someone is a part of a board that they are in agreement with all or any of the coalition's ideas. Perhaps his will be the voice heard among the nay saying.
Submitted by Timothy Boyle on April 24, 2013 9:23 am

We are actually in agreement about raises tied to additional education/certificiation. I too am wary of what research says, because of the concern you bring up. Teachers are doing research (formally and informally) in their classroom all the time. So should administrators. It is the people in front of the children that know what programs made their practice better, and I believe it within the capacity of the SDP to find out from those on the ground what programs deserve compensation. 

I am with you on the not every principal is working as hard as they can. But I don't want to be anywhere near a principal that isn't working as hard as they can, until somebody entices them with merit pay. Anyone in a school that is holding back because they want more pay, should go find another job.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 24, 2013 8:40 pm
Timothy, I completely understand your point about research teachers are doing in their classrooms. What sets apart more academic research is that there are attempts to control variables, often in an experimental or quasi-experimental fashion. There are often attempts to randomly assign participants to different conditions. These scientific practices allow for generalizations from representative samples to larger populations. For example, bilingual education may work in a particular classroom of ELLs who speak Spanish, but how does it work for kids who speak languages other than Spanish? How well do kids learn their native language and English? Scientific research using many participants and meta-analyses of studies helps inform educators and policymakers of whether or not a policy is sound for implementing with large numbers of students. You are so right when you say that "Anyone in a school that is holding back because they want more pay, should go find another job." I do think that there are incentives and other policies---such as helpful support and professional development---that can help principals and others improve. Working conditions can help bring out the best in employees or can bring down morale, as the budget cuts and more budget cuts are doing right now. EGS
Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on April 24, 2013 9:41 am
So basicallly, this is some one like me (not a teacher) who works in say a restaurant coming in and telling teachers and principals how to run their schools? Um, yeah this is helpful.
Submitted by Marc Brasof (not verified) on April 24, 2013 9:42 am
Most of these proposed changes take us farther away from addressing the problems undermining school life. So, after the budget is eventually restored (if ever), the regular problems facing school would still be present. Building the capacity of teachers through evaluations or cutting off the incentive to become more educated won't really help improve teaching and learning. We need a radical restructure of the school day so there is more time to talk and plan around work. Cultural and structural changes are necessary if schools in Philadelphia are going to improve. Take for example RTII. A great idea but just can't be implemented well because in reality, teachers don't have time to talk and plan around it on a weekly basis. So, RTII just becomes more paperwork that does not end up serving students. In fact, the paperwork might be undermining the personalized learning approach by sapping time away from thinking and planning around students' needs.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on April 24, 2013 10:10 am
Not so fast on how well RTII would work. "Research-based" interventions include a lot of slop that's been dressed up in a glossy brochure. We need something along the lines of Nutrition Action to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to these interventions. The research upon which many of these programs are based is laughable. It's like the beauty industry reporting on itself. And the fact that we added that final I to RTI makes me cringe every time I see it. This is what we do instead of actual reform, which costs time, money, honesty, and intelligence.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 24, 2013 9:57 pm
Joan, I totally understand and agree with what you are saying. A lot of the slop that is dressed up is due to publishers and their attempts to make curricula that can be all things to all people. For example, most core reading programs teach far more skills/strategies than necessary. That is according to research reported in this great article about core reading programs called "Comprehension Strategy Instruction in Core Reading Programs" by Peter Dewitz, Jennifer Jones, and Susan Leahy from Reading Research Quarterly. Also, most of these programs don't provide enough modeling and direct instruction. See http://www.voiceofliteracy.org/posts/31236 and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1598/RRQ.44.2.1/abstract. My understanding is that it's the District's job to have some of its people examine different interventions and determine whether they meet standards for RtII. Then, teachers can select these interventions from a menu. (When I student taught, I attended a meeting at which a support person from 440 came and showed some teachers how to use the menu for choosing interventions.) It would be interesting if someone could provide information about the process that the District uses to certify RtII interventions for use in its schools, which ones make the cut or not, and why or why not. EGS
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 24, 2013 10:55 pm
The best intervention for any student who begins to fall behind in reading is a "certified reading specialist" and small group instruction conducted by the reading specialist every day all year long. Effective instruction must be done by a "stand up and teach" teacher who is an expert in reading pedagogy. There is no program, script or menu, computer or otherwise, which can do the job of a well qualified teacher. Reading is an ability. It is not a set of isolated skills. It must be developed and coached like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, music, art, dance, writing and poetry, etc. Skill and drill is not competent reading instruction because that is not what authentic reading is. Schools as test preparation factories is the worst form of instruction and the worst form of intervention. I will bet you that the district person who instructed you was not even certified as a reading specialist and probably had never taught reading.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2013 6:38 pm
Has anyone seen the link, on the school district website, to the Philadelphia Virtual Academy? Teachers are contracted by the Chester County Intermediate Unit. How can this be?
Submitted by Nicholas Barnwell (not verified) on April 29, 2013 4:47 am
Teachers should get good training man. Its really important. Anyways this is a nice article, got so many issues here. Thanks for posting it.
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Submitted by David Dallas (not verified) on May 1, 2013 6:46 am
You are quite right man, Increasing class size through technology is not really about modernism, it’s about hiring fewer teachers
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Submitted by ionica (not verified) on July 22, 2014 10:32 am

The teachers are the main people that should have an input on this. They know best what's going on in the classroom and how children respond to different changes. unelte profesionale

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