The Dayton Public Schools, like so many other urban districts, has been in a state of decline. The district enrolls about 13,700 students; less than a fourth of the system’s peak (1965) enrollment, and down from 25,000 students in 2000. As the district has shrunk student achievement has languished. A majority of the district’s students (53 percent) attended a school building rated academic watch (D) or academic emergency (F) in 2011-12.

The numbers don’t lie and very few familiar with the district’s travails would deny it has long struggled to deliver the quality of education the city’s children need; 94 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged. There are many reasons behind the district’s struggles, but one thing is certain. For the district to improve academically it must have a high quality teaching force. . We know from researchers like the Stanford economist Eric Hanushek that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.”

Teachers matter greatly, especially those teaching our neediest students. It is in recognition of this fact that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Learn to Earn Dayton teamed up with the Dayton Public Schools to request a review of the district’s teacher policies and practices. No organization does this work better than the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), and their in-depth study Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in Dayton offers powerful advice on how the district can improve its teaching force.

Among the report’s key takeaways:

  • The hiring and assigning of teachers happens too late in the summer resulting in top candidates taking teaching jobs elsewhere;
  • Principals have little say over the teachers assigned to their buildings;
  • Teachers are not dismissed for poor performance; and low performing teachers are often passed from school to school;
  • Teacher salaries in Dayton are not competitive with other urban districts in Ohio or with suburban districts around Dayton;
  • Chronic teacher absenteeism is a serious problem – on average, teachers miss more than 15 school days a year; and
  • The district struggles to collect, analyze and report evaluation data for teachers and student-teachers.

NCTQ offered 25 recommendations for improved district policies and five recommendations for changes to state law that would help Dayton and other school districts modernize their teacher staffing policies. The most urgent of these recommendations include:

  • Hire teachers earlier in order to get the best candidates. This is especially urgent as Dayton has a large number of teachers retiring in the next few years;
  • Give principals authority over the teachers they accept for their schools;
  • Find ways to raise revenue in order to pay teachers in Dayton competitive salaries;
  • Provide principals monthly reports on teacher absences so they can address chronic absentees; and
  • Improve data systems so administrators can make data-driven decisions about teacher placements, hiring and dismissals.

Dayton’s superintendent Lori Ward, the Dayton School Board, and the Dayton Education Association’s president David Romick are to be commended for opening the district up to such a rigorous, objective and detailed outside evaluation of district teacher policies and practices. Because of their leadership and encouragement over 25 percent of the district’s teachers and 70 percent of school leaders responded to NCTQ’s survey questions about district policies. Such openness and participation is critical to improving problems that go back decades.

But, Dayton and many other urban districts has a long history of generating reports on needed reforms, and then failing to implement the recommendations. Over the last two decades, as Dayton has lost families and struggled academically, the district has undergone significant reviews by groups like Phi Delta Kappa and the Council of Great City Schools. These reports and their recommendations ultimately ended up on bookshelves collecting dust without having any real impact to how things got done in the schools.

This time has to be different.

Dayton is now well-positioned to improve the quality of its teaching force and ultimately of its schools. The NCTQ report offers a roadmap for reform while district superintendent Lori Ward, the school board, and the teachers union have shown leadership in putting themselves and their schools under the microscope. Dayton and its community, business and philanthropic leaders now need to step up and give the district and its leaders the support they need to move from recommendations to action.

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