The scoop on teacher policies in Philly

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Today's new study on teacher policies in the School District of Philadelphia is the tenth in a series of NCTQ studies examining specific school districts across the country.  In all, we focus on how districts can build teacher quality, whether through contractual changes, state legislation or improving district practices.

By some measures we find that the School District of Philadelphia is headed in the right direction: the on-time graduation rate has gone up by 20 percentage points in the last decade and state test scores have increased (albeit slightly) in the last five years.  Even with these positive indications, however, Philadelphia is facing some serious challenges.  Enrollment is on the decline and so are revenues. Current budget numbers show a shortfall of approximately $300 million for next year.  

Today's report focuses the spotlight squarely on teacher quality and is a nuts and bolts guide to the current state of teacher policies, steps the district can take on its own or jointly with the teachers union, and suggestions for Pennsylvania lawmakers on state reg reforms. 

Our key findings include: 

  • Philadelphia must do a better job hiring and assigning teachers. Principals have some say in hiring, but in many cases they have no option but to accept a seniority-based placement. Their hiring timeline -- often extended into the start of the new school year -- also makes it difficult to  recruit high quality teachers.
  • While Philadelphia systems provide better feedback to teachers about their performance, no one is making sure that the system works effectively.  NCTQ found that some teachers with unsatisfactory ratings in their first three years had not been dismissed, with nothing to indicate that they are being monitored for improvement. 
  • While the district spends $70 million each year to compensate teachers for earning additional course credits that do not, on average, make teachers more effective it doesn't put any money into providing incentives to hold onto its highly effective teachers. 

While many of our recommendations require negotiation with the teachers union or a change in state statute, we continue to find--as we have in all of our district studies-- that there are a number of areas where the district could make positive changes immediately. For example, there are no barriers to improving data systems in the areas of applicant tracking or to putting a stop to sending out unnecessary "pink slips" to warn of possible job cuts. 

For more findings and recommendations, and to read the full report, click here.