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The Main Scoop

Teacher equity platform

By the Notebook on Mar 1, 2004 11:16 PM

We the students, parents and community members of Philadelphia public schools are concerned about the unequal distribution of qualified and experienced teachers across our schools. For far too long, many of our highest poverty schools with the most difficult working conditions have consistently had the least qualified and least experienced teachers.

More than twenty organizations representing student, parent, education, civic and clergy groups have joined together to seek strategies to overcome these unfair and unequal barriers to learning. These strategies include: improving District hiring and transfer policies to ensure a more equitable balance of certified and experienced teachers across schools; providing extra incentives to attract and retain certified and experienced teachers in hard to staff schools; increasing the number of schools that adopt site based teacher selection; strengthening principal leadership in hard to staff schools; implementing a "grow your own" program to further expand the teacher pipeline; and involving students and parents in the preparation and professional development of teachers.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss this platform with the School Reform Commission, other District officials and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers as we work to ensure that more of our hard to staff schools have a stable, certified, experienced, and well supported teaching force. We hope that the School District and teachers union will acknowledge the concerns of the community as they pursue their negotiations for a new contract.

1. Continue to implement policies and practices that will expand the pool of certified teachers in the District.

2. Provide extra incentives and supports for hard-to-staff schools
We urge the District to provide additional supports to improve conditions in the hardest to staff schools in the form of "teacher incentive grants." Individuals who teach in hard to staff schools endure the toughest working conditions and require more supports than are provided to individuals at schools with a more stable teaching force. National research on the most effective teacher recruitment and retention strategies and surveys of new and experienced teachers have identified extra incentives as an effective strategy for creating a positive working environment and maintaining a stable teaching force. In Minneapolis and Seattle, school district officials provide hard-to-staff schools with extra resources and professional development opportunities and assist them with the development of individual teacher recruitment and retention plans.

Possible process for distributing "teacher incentive grants":
Hard to staff schools would select from a pre-determined set of proven teacher recruitment / retention incentives or make a strong case that another strategy should be employed in order to ensure better working conditions for teachers. We believe it is essential that the entire school community including school administrators, teachers, parents and students be involved with the selection of incentives.

Potential list of approved incentives: teacher coaches, teacher mentors, smaller classes, additional staff support, financial incentives, mental health and discipline supports and personnel, additional money for classroom supplies, professional development and training opportunities to establish professional culture, reduced work loads and administrative duties, literacy supports and extra planning and prep time, strategies to ensure a regular cadre of substitutes.

3. Improve the District's teacher hiring and transfer policies to ensure a more equitable distribution of certified and experienced teachers
We urge the District to consider a variety of strategies to ensure a more equitable balance of certified and experienced teachers at schools across the District, including placing a cap on the number of emergency certified and inexperienced teachers that could exist at a school. Policies should also be created to ensure that all schools have a balance of new and experienced teachers. Cities across the nation, Districts and teacher unions have worked together to implement policies that assist in creating a more equitable balance of certified and experienced teachers across schools. In Chicago and Detroit, "teacher experience" is explicitly named, along with race, as a key factor to consider within teacher hiring and transfer polices. Detroit has a Transfer Review Board consisting of union and District officials to ensure this balance. In Cincinatti, union and District officials work collaboratively to identify schools with the highest recruitment and retention challenges and jointly set targeted goals to obtain experienced teachers at those schools.

Establish an early hiring and teacher assignment process for the hardest-to-staff schools.
We urge the District to adopt a hiring policy that would ensure that individuals willing to teach in hard-to-staff schools are interviewed and offered teaching positions in early spring. National research on teacher hiring practices has revealed that one of the top reasons why large urban districts lose high caliber teachers to the suburbs is due to hiring delays. Potential teacher recruits are often left in limbo about their teaching assignments for months and are not offered a position until mid-to-late summer, after they have to meet a deadline for accepting other job offers. Moving up the hiring process for hard-to-staff schools would help to attract a more talented pool of teacher candidates and ensure that teachers are well acclimated to the school staff, students and environment well before the start of the school year.

4. Strengthen the capacity for principals to be effective leaders
We urge the District to implement strategies that will ensure that hard to staff schools have highly qualified and well supported principals. Research has revealed that hiring high quality, supportive principals is a key component to ensuring a positive, high achieving school environment with a stable teaching staff. Specifically we support the following incentives and supports in hard to staff schools; offering financial incentives to attract and retain principals, providing support staff to assist with non-instructional duties, providing outstanding principals with opportunities to mentor principals in hard to staff schools.

5. Expand opportunities for schools to adopt a site based selection teacher hiring process
We urge the District to move towards adopting universal site based selection of teachers by changing the criteria for the process so that more schools have the opportunity to participate. We recommend that every school be required to hold a vote on a site based selection hiring process, that the current two-thirds majority vote required for schools to adopt site based selection be changed to a simple majority and once a school votes in favor of a site based selection, this process should remain for more than one year. It is also critical that site based hiring decisions include the principal and a committee that includes teachers, parents and students in real decision making roles. Research and experience suggest the effectiveness of this strategy in schools in Philadelphia and across the nation. When applicants interview at a school site with the principal, teachers, parents and students, they begin to understand the school's students, mission and curriculum and are better able to determine if the teaching assignment would be an appropriate match. In addition to creating a better "teaching fit," individuals hired through a site based selection process tend to form quicker working relationships with other staff and often receive earlier teaching assignments. Currently a number of big city school districts including Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, Denver, Baltimore, Dallas and Detroit have had success in employing a system wide site based selection process for hiring teachers. It is vital, however, that expanded opportunities for site based selection be paired with the aforementioned policies ensuring a more equitable distribution of certified and experienced teachers.

6. Include students and parents in teacher training and professional development
We urge the District to adopt a policy that would involve students and parents in District wide teacher trainings and professional development activities. Students and parents often have critical insight into the unique learning styles of our young people and effective teaching strategies for reaching students, but have few opportunities for sharing this information. Students and parents should have the opportunity to participate in finding ways to address barriers to learning in our schools. Mechanisms should be created for students and parents to give constructive feedback about what is happening in their classroom. Their voice is essential to ensuring that classroom instruction is interactive and engaging and relevant to the diversity that exists within Philadelphia's student body.

7. Implement a "Grow Your Own" program in Philadelphia
We urge the District to implement a "grow your own" program that would provide instructional aids and other para-professionals currently working at hard to staff schools with opportunities to become fully certified teachers. National research suggests that individuals who participate in these programs are highly invested in the neighborhood schools that they work, often live in the communities surrounding hard-to-staff schools and tend to return back to the hard to staff schools and remain as teachers for significant periods after receiving their full certification. In a 12-year-old North Carolina grow-your-own program that involves about one third of the state's hard to staff schools, individuals involved in the program have an 89% retention rate in hard-to-staff schools once they receive full certification. A similar program in Chicago's Logan Square community yielded an 80% retention rate in hard to staff schools among individuals who completed a grow your own program. In Philadelphia, it is estimated that 1,000 out of 1,700 SSA's are interested in pursuing teaching careers in Philadelphia public schools.

Endorsing organizations:

Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN),Cedar Park West Community Development Corporation, City Wide Youth Agency, Delaware Valley Council for Early Care and Learning, Dugan and Associates, Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP), Education Law Center of Pennsylvania / Pennsylvania School Reform Network, Institute for African American Mobilization, Institute for the Study of Civic Values, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, Philadelphia Chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, Philadelphia Education Fund, Philadelphia Futures, Philadelphia Home and School Council, Philadelphia Student Union, Philadelphia Voter Mobilization Coalition, Rev. Arthur White, Pennsylvania State Baptist Convention, Urban League of Philadelphia, Inc, Youth United for Change, 2000 African American Women

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