Donate today!
view counter

The Main Scoop

Despite progress, problems keeping enough qualified teachers

By by Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 3, 2009 02:59 PM

As contract negotiations stretch out into January for the first time in recent memory, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan is concerned that new teachers in city schools still are not getting the support they need to come to the city, stay on the job, and improve their practice.

This year, Philadelphia hired more than 1,700 new teachers and counselors – a record. The high number reflects the addition of nearly 900 positions, coupled with resignations and retirements.

The new jobs were added to improve academic counseling in middle and high schools, reduce class size, allow for common planning time, and add extra teachers in some of the lowest-performing schools.

Nearly one-quarter of the new teachers were either emergency-certified or intern-certified. Emergency-certified teachers have not finished their coursework or demonstrated content knowledge by passing the Praxis exam in their area.

Intern-certified teachers have passed the Praxis, but have not taken courses in education. Most of them come from Teach for America, for recent college graduates, or Philly Teaching Fellows, which recruits career-changers.

The District reported that as of the middle of November, 80 of the new hires had left. Jordan suspects the numbers are even higher, based on reports from the PFT staff.

“I’m hearing from those that are calling the union, new teachers feel unsupported in the buildings,” Jordan said.

A major priority of the Effective Teaching Campaign is recruiting high-quality teachers and keeping them in Philadelphia. While longtime observers say that the District has streamlined the human resources department, speeded up the hiring timeline, and made the application process more user-friendly, there are still concerns.

For instance, 163 of the new teachers had emergency certifications – meaning that even with the recession, the District could not fill its classrooms with people who had the proper credentials.

While the District has made improvements in its recruitment and hiring, “we still have more emergency-certified teachers than we want to have in the system,” said Brian Armstead of the Philadelphia Education Fund, a leader of the campaign.

Unlike intern-certified teachers, who have passed the Praxis test in their subject matter, there is no way of determining the qualifications, if any, of those with emergency certifications. Some of them have full credentials from other states, but are still completing their paperwork. Pennsylvania, unlike some other states, does not automatically recognize out-of-state certification.

More than 30 of those 163 teachers were in middle and secondary math. “It’s concerning that there are so many emergency-certified math teachers,” said Ruth Curran Neild, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who has studied Philadelphia teacher supply and demand for years. With emergency-certified teachers, unlike those who are intern-certified, “we don’t know if they know anything about math.”

The District did not provide data about where the emergency-certified teachers were placed, but generally they wind up in needier, hard-to-staff schools because those are where the vacancies are. In many comprehensive middle and high schools, less than 10 percent of students reach proficiency in math on state standardized tests. These students presumably need the most expert math teachers.

Jordan said that despite all the recent attention on supporting new teachers, the District’s system is still lacking. While there are coaches for new teachers who float among buildings, they are stretched thin this year with so many new hires. And most buildings still don’t have mentors in the building who are more readily available to teachers who may be struggling.

“A mentor can say to a teacher, ‘Why don’t you come to my classroom, watch me teach a lesson,’ and talk about it later,” Jordan said. “They would also have support when things were going well.”

Armstead agreed that teacher support is one area where the District has yet to put into place an effective program.

“I think there’s been good progress in some of the qualifications of teachers, but there hasn’t been as much progress in focusing on the mechanics of how you help teachers excel and flourish,” he said.

Adding so many new teachers “is both an accomplishment and a financial risk,” said Bob Strauss, who has done extensive research on the hiring practices of Pennsylvania school districts. He noted that “the state budget is still in chaos,” and that Philadelphia made the decision to expand its teaching force while assuming more state aid than the District ultimately received.

Also, the increase in the District’s budget this year is due almost entirely to federal stimulus money, “and when that disappears, the ability of the Commonwealth to support education at the current levels is a question,” he said.

On the contract, Jordan said that the two sides met through the Thanksgiving weekend in an effort to reach a settlement. They are discussing some weighty issues, including new compensation models, against a backdrop of renewed federal attention on teacher quality. The Obama administration has come out in favor of performance pay for teachers – an idea endorsed by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who also said she wants more power to assign teachers where they are most needed.

No Child Left Behind, the federal law passed in 2001, set a requirement that all students would have a highly qualified teacher by 2006, but that deadline came and went with little progress in getting the most experienced, effective teachers to the schools where they are needed the most. The Bush administration did not do much to enforce that part of the law, concentrating instead on student testing and the parts of NCLB that allowed students in low-achieving schools to transfer out or get private tutoring.

About the Author

Contact Notebook Contributing Editor Dale Mezzacappa at

Comments (8)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 13, 2009 9:17 am

Wait until the raft of resignations you see this summer, as the job market improves. Arlene Ackerman will have driven out record numbers of teacher by the end of the year, with her self serving, "I SAY children first, but I mean "(childishly self-centered) me first" agenda.

The new teachers I know have gotten support from their colleagues, but none from the district, which is too busy persecuting the educators in "empowerment" schools to pay them any attention.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 13, 2009 9:29 am

The loss of teachers thus far is nothing compared to what you're going to see next summer, as Arlene Ackerman's self-aggrandizing (I say "children first," but mean "childishly selfish me first") agenda. She is driving the best teachers out, including many that will retire early when under another superintendent, they might have stayed around for another five years.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 29, 2009 7:12 am

I'm a new teacher in Philadelphia. The article is right about mentors being stretched thin; in my case the building mentor is supposed to help 5-6 teachers but since she also teaches after school Extended Day ("Power Hour") that means she's available to help the six of us for only on Friday afternoons for an hour.

Meanwhile everyone assumed that I would know how to find everything I needed on School Net (student data, etc) but I didn't. Forms and deadlines? nobody told me about them until a day or two before they were due.

This is all very stressful for someone trying to learn how to do a good job in the classroom. I don't want a bad record but all this can be extremely overwhelming. Two times I almost quit just because of stress and worry.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 29, 2009 3:13 pm

The 15 high schools that offer the Extended Day program cater to teachers with seniority who make pounds of extra money teaching after school. Take a look at the day school roster and you will see that most of them do not teach a full course load. The teacher "mentor" mentioned by the new teacher also gets paid extra to do that position, as well.
These Extended Day teachers cannot possibly be doing a good job, teaching five classes during the day and teaching after school, because it is too exhausting. So, they hold back during the day, and rake the money in after school. It takes a lot of guts to put in to be paid as a mentor and teach afterschool 4 days a week. How greedy can you get? Typical school district scenario: put on a show. Ackerman is no better.
They should reconstitute the administrative structure that supports these scenarios. Start the reform at the top, for a change.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 29, 2009 10:15 pm

While I agree with reforming the top administration I think you're misguided about Extended Day. At our elementary anyone who wants to do Extended Day can do it regardless of their seniority. As a matter of fact, the principal often has to cajole teachers into doing Extended Day since they are so tired from all the busy work Ackerman is trying to pass off as school reform. Is the teacher mentor a full time teacher? Everyone puts in a full day in elementary so there is no "holding back". I don't think the above poster fully gets what Extended Day or Teacher Mentors are about.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 31, 2009 1:35 pm

Sorry, but I do get what Extended Day and Teacher Mentors are about in my high school, it is money. You underline my point when you say, at your elementary school, people who carry a full load are just too tired to stay after school to do this. I am saying at the high schools, the Extended Day program's staff in peopled by those who do not have a full roster and I challange the admininstration at 440 to prove me wrong. They also have phony rosters filled with AOR students and those who rarely attend school. My point is, if one has to carry a full load during the day, and one does do a decent job, there is no way one can work 3 hours after school (which is the length of the high school Extended Day program) and do an effective job. Something has to give, somewhere, and students lose, as usual.
I don't know the elementary school world, only that it is vastly different than high school, and they need to have some people in charge at 440 who understand the high school situation. Elementary school people are just too naive.
There are students in high school who are effectively in 9nth grade for the third or fourth consecutive year. They have not earned enough credits to be in the Extended Day program. They are old enough to vote. Try looking at the entire continuum, not just grade school children.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 31, 2009 6:32 pm

Granted elementary is different from high school, but calling elementary teachers "naive" is a little caustic. I don't know any elementary teacher at my school that is not working full time and then some so the idea that some high school teachers might be working only parttime is somewhat alien to us. Most of us are having to stay after school to finish all the busy work the District wants to pass off as school reform. It's obvious those steering the ship don't no where they are taking us or what is going on in the schools. I think elementary Extended Day is about 1 1/2 hours, but part of that involves feeding the kids (a waste of time and money). 440 is out of touch with things and is actually making things worse.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 31, 2009 1:46 pm

I guess what I am suggesting is that if students need extra help, schools should be constituted to provide this help during the regular school day. Cut the class size in the worker bee teachers' classes.Make all staff carry a full load. Let administrators do the other work. If one is a teacher, then teach, and teach the entire school day. Use all this Extended Day overtime money during the day, so that these programs do not have to exist, in the first place.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Read the latest print issue

Philly Ed Feed


Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy