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Teachers accept new contract

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

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers ratified a new three-year contract Thursday night that for the first time ties some compensation to growth in student achievement and establishes an intensive system for mentoring and evaluating novice and struggling teachers.

PFT president Jerry Jordan hailed the agreement as “progressive, a professional contract. Teachers are going to be in the forefront of working to make sure we have effective teachers in every classroom.”

It creates a Peer Assistance and Review program (PAR), based largely on ones in Montgomery County, MD and Toledo, OH in which specially trained consulting teachers will work with new teachers and those who have been rated “unsatisfactory” to help them improve. If they continue to flounder, a joint committee appointed by the District and the union can recommend termination.

It also sets up a central committee and one in each school to periodically review and discuss safety and climate issues.

After a nearly two-hour meeting, the vote was 1,831 for to 885 against. The voting at the Liacouras Center at Temple University was overseen by the American Arbitration Association. The PFT has 17,000 members.

The agreement calls for a 3 percent raise in March and another in January 2012, and largely preserves the union’s relatively generous health benefits. Although there was a loud contingent of "No"s in a voice vote, teachers leaving the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, for the most part said that they were satisfied with the financial and benefit package.

“I’m excited about the health care,” said Nicole Gaughan, an English teacher at Central High. “There’s not much change. In this economy, you don’t often see that.”

Shortly after the vote, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman issued a statement saying the "historic" agreeement, which is over three years, "will be a critical tool in implementing important reforms in the District, recruiting and retaining the best teachers, increasing student achievement, closing the achievement gap as well as meeting the goals set forth in our five-year strategic plan."

The School Reform Commission is set to vote on it January 27.

The contract makes provisions for teachers working in so-called Renaissance Schools – those among the lowest performing that will be slated for “turnaround” under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Imagine 2014 plan.

These teachers will be required to work an hour longer each day and in an extended school year, through July, as well as up to two Saturdays a month. Teachers will be compensated for the time and can opt out of the summer program.

But the idea is to give students a longer, more intense academic experience with the same teachers all year rather than a separate summer school program, Jordan said.

The state and District have indicated that within the next three years, there could be as many as 76 turnaround schools, which could all be deemed Renaissance Schools.

The agreement also expands site-based selection – thus cutting a little further into treasured seniority rights. Now, about half the teacher vacancies are filled by site selection; this will increase it to about 70 percent, the union said.

All schools that are in Corrective Action II – more than 90 – under No Child Left Behind due to persistently low test scores will have full site-selection without requiring a faculty vote. Up to now, full site-selection in a school has been voluntary and about 60 schools have voted to fill vacancies this way rather than through seniority.

In Renaissance Schools undergoing turnaround, teachers will be force-transferred out and can reapply for their jobs through site selection, but no more than 50 percent can be rehired.

Representatives from the Philadelphia Effective Teaching Campaign, who have been pressing for better teacher evaluation and more equitable distribution of the most effective teachers, are still reviewing the contract in detail and plan to issue a report card on it at an event next Tuesday. They said they were impressed with the new PAR provision in the contract.

The Campaign has said it favors site selection for all schools rather than the complicated system that exists now, in which half the vacancies are filled by site selection and half through seniority, except in the schools that have voted for full site selection. This contract expands the number of full site-selection schools and moves toward a consensus model for school hiring decisions, but doesn’t reduce the complexity of the system.

Nationally, the Obama administration is pushing improved teacher evaluation and school turnaround as two major strategies to compete for $4 billion in so-called Race to the Top money. Pennsylvania is one of 40 states that applied for the funds, and changes in the contract reflect the union’s willingness to tread in previously uncharted waters can only improve Pennsylvania’s chances of being among the winning states. For instance, 76 of the 128 schools in the state eligible for “turnaround” are in Philadelphia.

Along with the Peer Assistance and Review plan, the contract includes a plan for all new teachers to get a school-based mentor teacher, who will be trained and required to spend a certain amount of time with each new teacher.

“Teachers will be responsible for their own professional growth,” said Dee Phillips, a PFT executive committee member who was on the negotiating team. “It’s a big leap for all of us. We’re putting professionalism in with protections, having teachers help teachers more than ever before”

The “value-added” compensation component will pay unspecified bonuses to all PFT members in a school that shows significant growth in the school’s performance index – no just in test scores, Jordan said.

“It will reward the entire school, secretaries, non-teaching assistants, paraprofessionals,” Jordan said. It takes all staff to move a school forward.”

He opposes awards to individual teachers, which he said pits them against each other, and basing the rewards just on test scores. A District-union committee will determine the amounts of the awards.

In 2011, money goes to schools with the highest level of student growth, and a year later, money will go to the top quarter of high-need schools and the top 10 percent of schools that don’t have high needs.

The contract also ends a nearly 30-year agreement to racially balance school faculties. Jordan said that the agreement was no longer legal because the school desegregation case has been formally ended.

Ackerman will have a press conference Friday at 10:30 a.m. to outline the agreement.

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