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Community Groups Turn Up Heat on Philadelphia Contract Talks

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While school district leaders and teachers' union officials in Philadelphia remain at the negotiating table to hammer out a new, multiyear contract, local community organizations are ramping up the pressure on both sides to deliver key reforms that they believe are necessary to transform the quality of the city's teaching corps.

A new contract for Philadelphia is expected at the end of this month, after two extensions.

The effort to improve teacher quality is called "Effective Teaching for All Children: What It Will Take," and its advocates are pushing to overhaul the district's teacher-evaluation system, assign the best teachers to the neediest schools, and to grant principals and their teams full authority over hiring, among other changes. All of these are policy changes that Arlene C. Ackerman, Philadelphia's superintendent, has pledged to demand from the union.

To help make the case for scrapping Philly's teacher-evaluation system, Research for Action, a member of the quality-teaching campaign, put out this new pamphlet that's meant to illuminate its flaws. It highlights things like the single classroom observations per year for tenured teachers, and two observations for those with less than three years on the job as the basis for whether they are rated satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Betsey Useem, a researcher for Research for Action, told District Dossier that the campaign recently sent thousands of signed postcards urging changes to Ackerman, Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and Michael Nutter, the city's mayor.

And later this week, the group will also sit down with the Accountability Review Council to push that independent body to include teacher-quality metrics in its annual evaluations of the Philadelphia school system.

While teacher quality has become the issue in the current school reform conversation, it's been on the agenda of these Philly community groups for several years. The last time the union and the school district negotiated a new contract, in 2004, the groups called for many of the same changes they are seeking now.

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The community groups have great ideals, but they don't understand that they are mutually exclusive. Yes, we need equity. Yes, poor schools get the weakest teachers, as the deplorable conditions drive the best young talent out of the poorest schools.

But think of their solutions such as "Distribute experienced and effective teachers equitably across the District." How can you have "teacher input and creates a 'culture of collaboration'" when you want to treat teachers as indentured servants?

I love inner city teaching but its not for everyone. Transfer teachers who is effective in a magnet or lower poverty school into a school like mine and almost all will resign.

And they want to "Open school with NO teacher vacancies." Those non-teachers are taking a risk of opening schools with virtually nothing but longterm susbstitutes. If Arlene Ackerman handles her "reforms" wrong, the exodus out of high poverty schools will become a flood.

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