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Getting beyond the blame game

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

There has been a lot of talk recently about how to improve teaching quality and ensure equitable distribution of qualified teachers in Philadelphia.

The issue is hot right now for good reasons: the PFT contract negotiations are getting contentious and group of community organizations have created a Teaching Quality and Equity Platform.

Every four years when the PFT contract is being negotiated the same thing happens: people start lining up and taking sides and it always seems like the only choice is to be on the District’s side or the teachers’ side. It’s hard to find a third position since the negotiations happen in private with no real way for the students, parents, and community members who are also greatly impacted by these decisions to be at the table.

There are some serious issues that need attention. High poverty schools still have the least experienced teachers and the highest rates of teacher turnover. If we are serious about improving failing schools this has to be addressed.

It seems like most of the time that this issue gets discussed (even occasionally on this blog) the conversation breaks down into different sides with entrenched positions blaming each other for the problems. The result of the official negotiations is usually some kind of compromise where no one (not teachers, not the District, and certainly not the students in high poverty schools) really gets what they need.

I think we have to find a way to get beyond blame, build some trust, and have some real conversations about how to solve these problems. If the PFT and the District can’t have that kind of open productive dialogue, maybe some us should start and show them how.

I think both traditional “sides” make some good points. On the one hand, I agree that the seniority system ensures that schools in wealthier neighborhoods have more experienced teachers and I think school-based hiring is necessary to improve schools. On the other hand, I agree with many teachers the best way to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools is to improve working conditions and hire principals that work collaboratively with teachers.

So my question is how do we get beyond blame and open up real dialogue to solve these important issues?

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