June 3 — 12:51 pm, 2004

District expresses support for teacher equity initiatives

For the first time since the local coalition known as the Teacher Equity Campaign unveiled its platform on how to close Philadelphia’s teacher quality gaps, School District officials have provided a point-by-point response, endorsing many of the recommendations made by the coalition’s 27 member groups.

The District’s response includes support for the Campaign’s suggestion to offer a set of comprehensive incentives and supports at hard-to-staff schools, referred to as “Teacher Incentive Grants.”

Potential incentives for hard-to-staff schools could include teacher coaches and mentors, smaller classes, additional staff, and more money for classroom supplies and professional development, suggests the Teacher Equity Campaign platform.

Tomas Hanna, the School District’s teacher recruitment and retention chief, called Teacher Incentive Grants “critical to attracting and retaining experienced, certified teachers in the schools that need them most,” during a May 25 public hearing on teacher quality convened by the organizing group Philadelphia Student Union.

The Teacher Equity Campaign platform states, “It is essential that the entire school community, including school administrators, teachers, parents, and students, be involved with the selection of incentives,” a position Hanna also said the District supports.

Hanna noted that teacher quality gaps at hard-to-staff schools could also be reduced through the District and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers working to create “a viable and sustainable early hiring and assignment process” to be piloted at these schools during the current hiring season. The District and teachers’ union are trying to conclude negotiations on a new contract this month.

While the District’s response lacked specific details about the implementation of Teacher Incentive Grants, Student Union Executive Director Eric Braxton said he was glad “this issue is definitely being taken more seriously by the District administration.”

Speaking from firsthand experience with the inequitable distribution of teachers among schools, students from Bartram, Gratz, Kensington, Sayre, Strawberry Mansion, and West Philadelphia High Schools emphasized the need for the District to do more to reduce teacher quality gaps.

Only 75 percent of teachers at Kensington and 88 percent of teachers at Gratz are deemed “highly qualified” according to state No Child Left Behind standards, while the figure rises to 100 percent at Masterman – an elite special admissions middle and high school.

The District’s response to the Campaign’s platform was described as a welcome surprise by coalition spokesman Aldustus Jordan of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, who said that in prior meetings the District had stopped short of committing to incentives at the hardest-to-staff schools.

“The community is watching, and we expect results and changes in the upcoming school year,” Jordan said. “The key is following through to ensure that the District is held accountable.”

To learn more about the Teacher Equity Campaign, contact Aldustus Jordan of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth at 215-563-5848 x12 or aldustusjordan@pccy.org.

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