District leaders' recent actions set schools on the right path
by thenotebook on Aug 20 2013 Posted in Commentary
by Ashley DeMauro
The fiscal situation in the School District of Philadelphia demands our immediate attention, and it has been encouraging to see Gov. Corbett, Superintendent William Hite, Mayor Nutter, and the City Council work together to find a solution that allows all schools to open Sept. 9.
It may be tempting to think that a quick fix to keep the District afloat is sufficient. But it would be irresponsible to not implement long-term reforms that help to ensure schools in Philadelphia – and across the state – will be effective and financially sustainable.
Philadelphia schools have been in dire need of improvement for some time. Student achievement, graduation rates, and college attendance rates are well below the state average, and the shocking violence in Philadelphia schools is well-documented.
In fact, families have been demonstrating their dissatisfaction with their feet: SDP lost more than 10,000 students between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years.
In short, there was a huge amount of work to be done even before this crisis. Thus, the takeaway here is that it is our responsibility to not simply spend more on our schools, but to spend wisely. We need to be sure that each dollar is making the biggest possible impact on student achievement.
The School Reform Commission’s decision to suspend seniority requirements for rehiring laid-off teachers – a power granted years ago by bipartisan legislation – moves in that direction. Allowing the District to call back teachers based on effectiveness instead of seniority will keep our best teachers in the classroom. Considering that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor in student achievement, this is a clear win for kids. Hopefully state-level policymakers will work to allow all districts to staff schools based on student need instead of union rules.
We should also begin paying teachers based on impact in the classroom. Currently, teacher salaries are determined by a series of “steps” based on seniority and academic credentials. This system is based on the assumption that teachers are equal, interchangeable widgets – an assumption that every teacher, parent, student, and administrator knows to be false. By paying teachers more for being effective, we can reward and encourage excellent teaching instead of mere longevity.
We also need to strengthen fiscal transparency. The crisis in Philadelphia is a result of years of bad policies and financial mismanagement hidden away by closed-door budget trickery. Thankfully, the current leadership of the District is committed to setting the District on the right path. However, if we want to prevent further crises across the Commonwealth, it is imperative that we require greater transparency in school budgeting and hold districts and policymakers accountable for budgeting decisions. Education is one of our largest and most important state expenditures. Our students and parents deserve to know where their dollars are going.
Leaders in our Commonwealth and the city of Philadelphia need to realize that our students deserve more than a quick fix. Simply borrowing millions of dollars without implementing long-term reforms would be nothing more than a Band-Aid – a temporary relief that ultimately changes nothing. Students and families in Pennsylvania deserve better.
Ashley DeMauro is the state director for StudentsFirst in Pennsylvania.