The Quest for Quality: Recruiting and Retaining Teachers in Philadelphia

Ruth Curran Neild, Elizabeth Useem, and Elizabeth Farley, Research for Action
2005

This well-written, accessible report is ostensibly an update of the same outfit's 2003 examination of the quality of teachers in the city of brotherly love (see Gadfly's take here and original report here). But there are at least three interesting sub-plots lurking beneath. First: where else but in Paul Vallas's Philadelphia could researchers gain access to such useful data on teacher quality? (Example: "More than one quarter of the teachers at the lowest-income schools were in their first or second year of teaching in the district.") Second: No Child Left Behind's "highly qualified teacher" requirement is apparently having an impact here, at least for new teachers. (Because of the federal law, for example, new middle school teachers are giving up their elementary certifications for credentials in the specific academic subjects they will teach - a big step forward.) Third: will Vallas's new contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers - and specifically its compromise provision on "seniority bumping rights" - succeed in smoothing out the distribution of new and experienced teachers across the district's schools?

There's reason to be skeptical on the last point, since veteran teachers can still elbow their way into half of the district's schools, but Research for Action is bullish. Let's hope they're right. Let's hope, too, that, in the next installment, the analysts drop their schizophrenia about recruiting teachers from non-traditional backgrounds. (On the one hand: "We argue that, in the long term, Philadelphians should not settle for allowing inexperienced and untrained teachers into its public school classrooms." And on the other hand: ". . . the city began a partnership with Teach for America that has brought to the Philadelphia Public Schools about 200 carefully selected teachers with strong academic records.") We understand any number of medications can help.

Overall, it's a worthy endeavor with lots of useful data that tell a compelling story of one city's attempt to boost teacher quality. Both the research effort and the policy initiatives are worth emulating. See for yourself by clicking here.

 

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