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Teacher quality study finds signs of progress

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

A new study of the School District’s stepped-up efforts under the Vallas administration to hire, support and retain new teachers finds "positive trends in teacher recruitment and retention" in Philadelphia.

"Recruitment numbers are up, the downward slide in the percentage of certified teachers is reversing, turnover among new teachers has been reduced, and the District’s overly centralized method of hiring and assigning new teachers to schools is no longer in existence," wrote co-authors Ruth Curran Neild, Elizabeth Useem, and Elizabeth Farley in their summary of a report titled "Quest for Quality: Recruiting and Retaining Teachers in Philadelphia."

The authors noted several signs of the positive impact of new teacher initiatives coordinated by Tomas Hanna, now the District’s senior vice president of human resources, including:

  • Applications to teach in Philadelphia increased by 44 percent between 2002 and 2004 due to new marketing efforts.
  • School District reports say that retention rates for new teachers through their first year climbed from 73 percent to 91 percent, and that more of them are also coming back for a second year.
  • The percentage of new Philadelphia teachers who were fully certified rose slightly in fall 2003, though it is still only 57 percent.

But data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education show that one of the challenges faced by the School District – a federal requirement that all public school teachers in core academic subjects meet standards as "highly qualified" by June 2006 – appears to be even further from reach than previously reported.

According to the state’s report, only 85 percent of Philadelphia public school teachers in 2003-04 satisfied the state’s definition of "highly qualified," down from 90 percent in 2002-03. Statewide, about 97 percent of Pennsylvania public school teachers meet the state’s standard for "highly qualified" teachers.

The drop in Philadelphia’s percentage of "highly qualified" teachers, in the midst of such a major District push on teacher recruitment and retention, appears to reflect a closer examination of credentials by the state and a determination that many Philadelphia middle school teachers in seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms lack a certification demonstrating their content-area expertise.