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Now is the time to ensure effective teaching for all children

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

One of the largest problems facing Philadelphia’s public schools is the inequitable distribution of qualified teachers. While some gains have been made in recent years, high poverty schools continue to have the least experienced teachers and the most staff turnover. We will not be able to resolve the achievement gap until we can ensure that qualified teachers go to the students that need them most.

The teachers’ contract determines some (not all) of how teachers are distributed. Every four years, the School District and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers negotiate a new contract, but there has been little room for the students, parents, and community members, who are also greatly impacted by that contract, to influence the process.

Over the last several months, a number of organizations in Philadelphia have come together to try to do just that. The Effective Teaching Campaign’s goals are to ensure that every child has an effective teacher and that every school has a stable workforce. The Campaign is calling for four critical policy changes in the next contract: School-based hiring practices, better incentives to draw teachers to hard-to-staff schools, enhanced standards and fair evaluation procedures, and better teacher development programs. The full Teaching Quality and Equity Platform can be found at www.phillytqe.org.

I have variously heard people accuse the Effective Teaching Campaign of being too much on the side of the PFT or the School District. I don’t think the Campaign has sided with either group, but rather has staked out a middle position designed to ensure that all children get the teachers they need. For example, while the Campaign supports the District in the need for school-based hiring, it supports the union in the idea that this must be done in a democratic way that empowers teachers.

The Campaign has been collecting postcards calling for change, which it will be delivering to the Mayor, Dr. Ackerman, and Jerry Jordan. In addition, there is an electronic petition that people can sign.

While this is a crucial problem, it is not simple. We cannot just force teachers to teach at hard to staff schools. As many teachers point out, the real solution is to improve conditions in those schools so that teachers will want to go there. The Effective Teaching Campaign has tried to find ways to do that. Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Education it is past time we do something about equity in our schools, and this is one important way to do that. I hope we can all get past finger pointing and do what needs to be done.

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