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Just 25 District teachers rated unsatisfactory

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

Despite steps to improve the District’s teacher evaluation system, only a tiny fraction of one percent of the School District’s nearly 11,000 teachers were rated unsatisfactory during the last two years, and fewer still were dismissed as a result, according to District data.

The data, requested by the Notebook, show that systemwide just 25 teachers were rated unsatisfactory in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. In 2007-08, the number was just 16. Two consecutive ratings are necessary for dismissal of a tenured teacher.

In 2008-09, five teachers were dismissed; in 2009-10, three teachers were dismissed based on an “unsatisfactory” rating.

An additional 13 teachers agreed to resign in lieu of further action in 2009-10. The District doesn’t have data for 2008-09 on voluntary resignations after unsatisfactory ratings.

School District officials say that the numbers do not reflect the efforts being taken in cooperation with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to identify and either provide support for or dismiss poorly performing teachers.

“We’re certainly putting systems in place every day,” said Wanda Graham, the executive director of new teacher supports.

In 2009-10, the District started using a new teacher evaluation rubric that for the first time requires the reviewer, generally the principal or assistant principal, to rate whether a teacher “does not meet” to “exceeds” expectations in a number of areas. Before, the reviewer was only required to rank the teacher on a scale of 1 to 4.

The evaluation now also follows the teacher evaluation model laid out by Charlotte Danielson and judges teachers in four areas:

  • planning and preparation,
  • the classroom environment,
  • instruction, and
  • professional responsibilities.

“The big difference this year is that the document is more explicit in what the expectations are for teachers,” said Karen Kolsky, the deputy chief for professional development.

Both Kolsky and Graham stressed that the District is upgrading its hiring pool and giving additional support to new teachers.

But none of that explains why principals give so few unsatisfactory ratings. Many people, including Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, have complained that the state-mandated and time-consuming rating system does not identify poorly performing teachers or result in their dismissal.

It certainly does appear that principals are reluctant to rate teachers unsatisfactory for whatever reason.

Last year, the District and the PFT worked out an agreement to establish Peer Assistance and Review, in which principals can identify new and veteran teachers that need help. A rotating group of exemplary teachers will offer help and can ultimately recommend termination.

The program is beginning as a pilot in 45 schools and will become districtwide in three years.

New teachers will automatically get help through PAR, but veteran teachers will need to be identified by principals.

PFT president Jerry Jordan said that teacher turnover remains high, so teachers must be leaving because they know they aren’t doing their job well.

Graham said that yes, many teachers leave, but very few of those because the rating system identified them as ineffective.

Both the District and the PFT have high hopes for PAR, but its effects are not likely to be felt for several years.

Nationally, pressure is increasing now to weaken teacher tenure and tie teacher ratings to test scores. Even though problems are emerging with that model, the new Republican majority in Harrisburg is likely to step up such efforts in Pennsylvania, especially if districts like Philadelphia seem unable to more effectively use teacher evaluation systems.

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