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Activists push for broad teacher quality strategy

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

As the current teachers’ contract negotiations proceed behind closed doors, several local organizations have been working to ensure that the new contract includes measures to promote the equitable distribution of qualified teachers throughout the District.

Youth from the Philadelphia Student Union, in cooperation with the legal advocacy group Education Law Center (ELC), organized a public hearing to collect formal testimony from parents, teachers, and students for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, focusing on the inequities among schools in teacher quality.

According to an ELC complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights in March, the way the District hires and assigns its teachers violates the civil rights of students of color in Philadelphia because they are more likely than their White counterparts to be taught by inexperienced and uncertified teachers.

Student Union Executive Director Eric Braxton said that remedying teacher quality inequities districtwide means adopting a broad-based strategy, including targeted incentives for the particularly hard-to-staff schools.

"Everybody has been focusing on site selection," he said. "I think people aren’t really talking about what we need to do about the inequitable distribution of teachers."

The Student Union is a member of the local Teacher Equity Campaign – a coalition of groups advocating that the next teachers’ contract put forth a comprehensive strategy to distribute experienced teachers more fairly across the District.

Coalition representatives discussed their platform with CEO Paul Vallas and Tomas Hanna, the District’s teacher recruitment and retention chief, at a citywide meeting of education advocates in mid-May.

Hanna subsequently applauded the broad-based platform put forth by the groups during a recent gathering of principals and teachers from 44 site selection schools.

Acknowledging that site selection alone won’t reduce teacher quality gaps, Hanna noted that many school systems using site-based hiring practices started the school year with vacancies.

"There are a lot of things we have to work through," he said.

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