This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Convincing the School District to provide a “pot of money” to hard-to-staff schools to fund approved reforms that would help those schools attract more qualified teachers is the goal of a new campaign spearheaded by the Philadelphia Student Union.
These proposed “teacher equity grants,” are at the top of a list of demands the group discussed with District officials, prior to staging a protest on a cold and rainy December day outside the School Administration Building, as part of a campaign targeting unequal distribution of qualified teachers among schools.
“The main thing is, put more money into teacher incentive grants,” Student Union Executive Director Eric Braxton, said, noting the group’s members hoped to set up meetings with District officials to continue discussing the option.
Although the District celebrated the addition of more school-based teacher hiring opportunities as a major teacher-equity initiative in last fall’s new teachers’ contract, a number of education advocates have insisted this and other contracted steps do not go far enough in providing incentives for teachers to work in schools that are chronically plagued by higher teacher turnover and a lack of certified and experienced staff.
The Student Union also called for other measures targeting hard-to-staff schools: more new teacher coaches, more teacher mentors, smaller class size, additional money for supplies and materials, a cadre of permanent substitute teachers for hard-to-staff schools, the best principals for the most challenging schools, and better access and communication regarding teacher qualifications.
During the protest and news conference, Student Union member Nasir Farlow, a junior at Bartram High School, relayed one ninth-grade student’s issues with inadequate teaching: “He told me it’s hard for him to pass because he has had no math teacher for two months. They send a different ‘sub’ every day, along with a different worksheet. This is no way to learn.”
Farlow said a Teacher Equity Platform, signed by 27 organizations, some of whose representatives also spoke during the protest, had provided suggestions to address the issue prior to teacher contract negotiations.
“However, now that the contract is done, it is clear that it does little to solve this problem,” Farlow said.
Tomas Hanna, the District’s executive vice president for Human Resources, said the District was interested in the students’ suggestions as well as other options that could increase teacher equity.
“We’re looking to identify funding” that would support additional efforts, Hanna said.
He also pointed to the District’s own steps toward promoting teacher equity – including the school-based hiring practice that the District said will give schools a say in the filling of some 75 percent of teacher vacancies, and establishment of a list of 25 “incentive schools” where teachers can get up to $2,400 in tuition reimbursement.