Coalition to District, PFT: make teacher equity a priority
A coalition of over twenty community organizations in Philadelphia is calling on the School District and the teachers’ union to ensure that current contract negotiations include strategies to address the uneven distribution of experienced, certified teachers throughout the school system.
At a February School Reform Commission (SRC) meeting, representatives from five of those organizations gave public testimony urging SRC members and District officials to address the long-standing inequities in teacher distribution. After the SRC meeting, about 30 student members of the Philadelphia Student Union rallied in support of the coalition’s teacher equity platform outside of School District headquarters.
As reported in the Notebook’s Winter 2003-2004 edition, schools with high poverty levels and many students of color are most likely to have the least experienced teachers, higher rates of emergency certified teachers, and higher rates of teacher turnover.
"Teachers and higher officials of the School District need to put this madness to an end," said Andrew Hopkins, Gratz High School senior and a member of the Philadelphia Student Union. "If this is supposed to be the land of equal opportunity, we need to equally distribute qualified teachers."
The coalition’s seven-point set of recommendations includes: offering extra incentives for teachers at hard-to-staff schools, including smaller class sizes and extra planning time; capping the number of emergency certified and inexperienced teachers allowed at hard-to-staff schools; and making it easier for schools to adopt site-based selection by requiring a simple majority vote of teachers for schools to adopt the policy, rather than the two-thirds majority required under current contract rules.
SRC Chair James Nevels remarked on the speakers’ "powerful words," and told them that the Commission "heard you loud and clear."
"This Commission…feels absolutely committed to focusing on the classroom and the clients that learn there and know that it is of critical importance that we focus on site-based selection," he stated.
After the meeting, CEO Paul Vallas said that ensuring the equitable distribution of teachers is a "top priority" and that the District has already implemented a majority of the group’s recommendations through the Campaign for Human Capital, a task force of District administrators, teachers, and civic and business leaders convened by Vallas in 2002.
Coalition members were "pleased" that the SRC and Vallas offered general support for their recommendations, said Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth Education Specialist Aldustus Jordan.
But Jordan cautioned against a narrowed focus on site selection, which was the only component of the coalition’s recommendations that Nevels specifically endorsed at the SRC meeting.
"The bottom line is that we believe that all of the initiatives in collaboration is what’s needed to address the inequitable distribution of teachers," Jordan stated.
Whelan encouraged speakers to take their concerns to the "other party" involved in contract negotiations, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Coalition members said that they had already been in conversation with the union.
The teachers’ contract expires August 31, 2004.