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Our right to know

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

Ensuring progress toward the goal of a highly effective teacher in every classroom is not simply a matter of improving human resource capacity. It also requires regular public reporting and open access to information about the teacher workforce.

Such access is crucial to making any government body more accountable, building public trust and involvement.

Recent history in Philadelphia bears this out. For several years, the District made significant progress toward reducing vacancies and improving teacher qualifications. It is no coincidence that during this period, local advocacy, research, and organizing groups were closely watching.

But in the turmoil and leadership turnover from 2007 till this year, there has been little public dialogue or reporting on whether the District was maintaining these gains. Sure enough, we soon found ourselves slipping on key indicators. For one thing, teacher vacancies soared.

Last year, Education Resource Strategies – hired by the District to study its professional development – noted in its report how hard it was to get data on staff characteristics and teacher quality. This May, the District told the Notebook it was too busy to respond to all our requests for teacher data. Much of what we wanted is information that should have been at their fingertips – for instance, absenteeism and new teacher retention rates.

Regular reporting of data is necessary to keep the District’s eyes on the prize. That is exactly why the Obama administration is requiring districts to step up and modernize data collection as a condition for receiving large chunks of federal stimulus funds.

The Ackerman administration can improve its track record for publicly reporting key data. It has announced plans to purchase and install new systems in the coming year. This upgrade is a good time to be vigilant that District staff and leadership have the capacity, mandate, and commitment to keeping the public fully informed.

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