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Summer 2009 Vol. 16. No. 4 Focus on Teacher Excellence

Theme articles

New data – same staffing inequities at high-poverty schools

By Text by Paul Socolar; data analysis by Ruth Curran Neild on May 20, 2009 11:04 AM
Photo: Source: School District of Philadelphia

Despite efforts to more equitably distribute teachers, School District data obtained by the Notebook this spring show that schools with the highest concentration of poverty still have the most teacher turnover and the lowest percentages of highly qualified and experienced teachers.

Differences are most striking at middle schools and high schools. For instance, at high schools where more than 85 percent of the students live below the poverty line, nearly one in three teachers is not highly qualified and one in five has two or fewer years of experience. In the highest-poverty middle schools, nearly one in three teachers has two years or less of experience.

The same pattern is true for teacher retention and turnover – higher rates of poverty correlate with higher rates of turnover. Again, the differences are most striking in middle schools. Many schools lose 30 to 40 percent of their teachers or more each year.

At the same time, the data show that the District has seriously regressed since 2006 in filling all teacher vacancies by the beginning of the school year. There has also been a decline in applicants from high levels achieved between 2003-04 and 2005-06. The percentage of African American teachers has been declining as well.

26 District schools have had teacher retention rates of 75 percent or less in each of the last four years
Schools and the percentage of teachers from 2007-08 who returned in 2008-09

School Retention rate School Retention rate
Gillespie Middle* 33.3% Roosevelt Middle 61.3%
Sulzberger Middle* 36.7% Clemente Middle 62.1%
Smith Academics Plus 51.9% Alcorn 66.7%
Rhodes High School 53.7% Youth Study Center 66.7%
Phila. HS for Business 54.5% L.P. Hill 66.7%
Locke 55.2% Cramp 69.2%
Turner Middle* 57.1% Ethel Allen 70.8%
Vare Middle 57.1% FitzSimons HS 72.2%
Shaw Middle 57.7% Hartranft 73.5%
Stetson Middle 60.0% Potter-Thomas 73.7%
Carroll HS 60.0% Kenderton 74.1%
Tilden Middle 60.5% Munoz-Marin 74.1%
Dunbar Academics Plus 61.1% M.H. Stanton 75.0%

*school planned for closing

Source: School District of Philadelphia
Source: School District of Philadelphia
Source: School District of Philadelphia
Source: School District of Philadelphia
Source: School District of Philadelphia

Comments (29)

Submitted by Margaret Plotkin (not verified) on May 23, 2009 2:29 pm

Just you wait until voluntary transfer is completely eliminated. The rate of teacher turnover will go through the roof, because the only way to get out of the craziness will be resignation.

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Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on May 25, 2009 7:32 pm

Word has it that Ackerman is trying to "voluntary transfer" all the experienced teachers to the unemployment line.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on May 25, 2009 8:45 pm

Enuff...Ackerman should solve our economic crisis, handle the North Korean acquisition of nuclear technology, and raise our abysmal Philly drop out rate...

Dang...Ackerman gets paid more than Obama, Nutter, or Tim Geithner!

She gets paid for saying bon "children come first..."

With that salary...the drop out rate should be at least 49 percent...

What do you say?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2009 8:40 pm

Here's a cheap and easy way to keep teachers in high-poverty (and any other) schools: Hire principals who are real leaders, not just administrators. No matter where a school is located or who its students are, when the principal cultivates an esprit de corps among its teachers by standing by them, communicating with them, encouraging them and showing them consistent appreciation, those teachers will stay. I've taught in half a dozen schools over the years and most of them have been run by colorless, toneless, sometimes antagonistic administrators, rather than leaders who inspire loyalty. The principals who have shown us appreciation and respect are the ones we'll go the extra mile to please - because they appreciate what we do. It's the principal, not the kids, who sets the tone of the school.

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on May 28, 2009 8:42 pm

Well, said, if the district spent more time on hiring captains that knew show to sail their ships forward instead of trying to intimidate the crews they would have a hell of lot more successful voyages to brag about. A school full of great teachers can't turn around a school run by a deadbeat principal. Philly is lousy with principals that get run out of the good school districts and end up here.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 8, 2009 6:52 pm

I completely agree. Having worked part-time at several schools in high poverty areas and full time in one, a major difference btwn those that function well and those that don't - in my and many others' opinions - is how effectively, cohesively the school is run , it's "top-down" as they say . The principal is a MAJOR factor.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 8, 2009 8:03 pm

Anonymous...Arlene Ackerman disagrees...she believes in the "broken teacher theory"...if the teacher is "deficient" then get rid of the teacher...thus the schools will prosper...

I say get rid of more "deficient" teachers...and we shall truly see the Philly schools soar...

Did anyone see the quote from Ackerman...something like was in the Sunday Inquirer: "A student with an empty stomach...can not fill his/her mind with knowledge and enrichment...if his/her enegry is low...a filled stomach equals an enriched mine..."

Ackerman is so eloquent...I think she should start writing the inside parts of Hallmark cards...that is a very lucrative field...believe it or not...

Anyone here see that quote on the school lunch program...?

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on June 8, 2009 9:34 pm

Is that a coal "mine", gold "mine", diamond "mine"? Maybe it's suppose to be a "mind" which is a terrible thing to waste. Guess she missed the homophone lesson at school.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2009 10:20 pm

Anonymous...according to Dr. is the teachers who are at fault...

Submitted by Teacher (not verified) on June 18, 2009 4:50 pm

Ackerman may blame the teachers in the press, but she's hitting the principals harder than us. Whether or not these leaders are letting her mistreatment of them "roll downhill" often determines whether or not teachers will remain at a school for more than a year or two (as noted, because of inherent instability in the system, new teachers are force-transferred every year, but are often asked to stay. They choose not to do so when a principal's inability to lead makes the experience there miserable.

A teacher will thrive with encouragement, support and appreciation wherever they are assigned.

That said, it would be wrong to eliminate voluntary transfer. A teacher who has been serving for 20-25 years and can't retire because we get no post-career medical benefits and must wait to be eligible for Medicare should have the right to work in a school that is closer to home, has an elevator or has reasonably well-behaved kids.

Submitted by Teacher (not verified) on June 18, 2009 4:50 pm

BTW, I know some of the principals at the schools with low teacher retention and many have developed rather oppositional relationships with their staffs, rather than encouraging them to be part of the "family.". At one of the schools, the principal invited back only one teacher out of 17 who were on special assignment based not on performance, but because she never got to know most of them (hyperfocused as she was on AYP and benchmark statistics). When a few asked to stay, she used this as an excuse for not keeping them (and they were all quite good teachers).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2009 8:08 pm

Well, according to Michael Lerner...principal's union head...the principals don't get fired in the Philly School District because the district...his words...the district does such a good job vetting the principals...that none need to be fired...

And, what fine principals Philly has...they have a lot to be proud of...

Submitted by r.r. (not verified) on June 1, 2009 8:40 pm

What we hear- "We need 1,024 new teachers". Reality- It's probably more, since experienced teachers with less seniority than a colleague get 'force transferred'. Site selection was a bust--ditto the job fair. Today the "you have to pick a school ' message came to me. The reason my students have done well, is because they get the care and service they deserve. Now they are successful, I have to go elsewhere. Where's the equity?
The same thing happened with Title I-schools with low scores got money and extra services. Scores went up. Money and services got pulled--
"you don't need them anymore". oops.

If teachers were allowed to do their jobs without being "reassigned", and funds went for books and technology instead of recruiting, maybe the recruiting wouldn't be as necessary, because we teachers would be happy, and stay put! I'd be happy to stay in my "high-poverty" school--let me!

The union can't do anything about the "formula" used to uproot successful students and their deserving teachers. Supportive parents and administrators get voicemail boxes and the run-around.

Forget the 'incentives'--let us do the job we love!

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on June 26, 2009 10:49 am

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/18/2009 - 20:25.

Well, according to Michael Lerner...principal's union head...the principals don't get fired in the Philly School District because the district...his words...the district does such a good job vetting the principals...that none need to be fired...

Not lately! She's gotten a few of them too, but I'd like to know how the evals were done?

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on June 26, 2009 12:59 pm

When a Philly principal is caught doing wrong they are usually "advised" to retire as a way to avoid any embarassment to the hierarchy. Too bad Lerner won't give us an update on former principal union head, DiPlato, who was accused of dipping into the union's funds a couple of years back. Funny how he's disappeared from the Philly public memory. I remember how upset Teddy Kirsch, then the PFT president, got when DiPlato was arrested.

Submitted by Key28 (not verified) on September 1, 2009 8:30 pm

I want to talk on a different note about hiring teachers. My school hired 10 teachers this year and all are white females. I am not sure if this is intentional or other ethnic groups are not applying. my school is a site selection school, and I was shocked to see all the new teachers that were introduced were white. I feel upet and am bothered by this. The question in my mind is: What are they implying about other ethnic groups by not hiring them? Our school is about 45% black 50% hispanic 4% white, and 1% Asian. So, why don't we have teachers to represent some of our students?

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on April 22, 2012 2:54 pm

That is interesting. Are you in a high school? I think part of the problem is that--overall right now-- the people graduating from education programs are overwhelmingly white. Still, ten seems like quite a few to hire. In the Philadelphia School District, there are no longer any "racial balance" requirements for hiring. You would think that the site selection committee would have noticed they were hiring all white women--it is hard to know who else applied. Perhaps that was their only choice, or they felt those were the best candidates. I teach at a K-8, and we would love to have more men in the school, and we would really love to have more African-American men, but those candidates are few and far between.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2012 2:14 am

Anyone know what Jerry Jordan makes, I heard it was close to $500,000.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2012 8:32 am

Probably closer to $200,000. What about Ted Kirsch? He gets a pension for over 40 years (working 12 months for the union) and now he gets paid through the state union. Kirsch must be over $300,000. So much for representing the "workers..." (Does anyone know if union staff get health care for life?)

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