Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The "Nationalization" of Philadelphia Schools

When I am out at political events one frequent topic of conversation is how to repair the Philadelphia school system.  Personally I am wary of charter schools but I know people whose children attend charter schools in the city and love them.  I have concerns about magnet schools but also know people whose children attended such a school and love them.

The School Reform Commission's decision to cancel the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  This is a nuclear option.  A few things that have not been mentioned in the papers:

Public employee unions, including teachers' unions, often trade in salary increases for decreased health care costs.  Saying the teachers with basic coverage have not contributed to their health care does not take into account what is likely years of lowered pay raises.

There is an informal agreement between schools and teachers.  Because of the nature of the school year, teachers being and end jobs at set times.  Even if a teacher leaves the profession they usually do so after the school year ends.  This is part of the professionalism of teaching, knowing how difficult to find a qualified substitute and how disruptive it is to students for a teacher to leave abruptly, and how chaotic it can be to class grading and teacher recommendations.  Teachers stay until the end of the year.

Except, of course, when the school system decides to violate that mutual respect and professionalism.  The Philadelphia school system has just done that.  I would not blame any teacher who walked, just left at the end of the day and didn't come back.  Respect has to be mutual and for Philadelphia teachers, right now, the district is showing them none.

When I look at the teachers m children have had in our suburban district, I see some amazing teachers.  Many came to teaching as a second career and have years of real world experience in relevant areas.  Science teachers who worked in research labs; some have doctorates.  Social studies teachers who worked in corrections.  Veterans who were military police and now work in middle school, a population that needs boundaries and discipline.  I am always amazed at the number of teachers who were students in the same school system.  They have chosen to come back on the other side of the classroom.  There is a good mix of teachers who have been there for over a decade and relatively new teachers.  They seem to work well together and sometimes team up for joint projects.  They are responsive to student questions and comments.  I cannot say I've had warm personal feelings for each and every teacher my children have had, but I have never felt that had a bad teacher.

Why can't Philadelphia students have that?  I know that if the teachers in my school district woke up one morning and found that the school board suddenly and without notice canceled their work contract many of them would leave, and I would not blame them.  I also feel confident that the parents in the district would demand the school board reverse that decision.

The School Reform Commission says the saving will be used to hire other teachers or staff.  But since the SRC has clearly shown that any contract they make can be revoked, I don't think they will attract the best and brightest job applicants.  I also don't think they can expect people to abide unwritten rule that school employees, as a rule, don't leave during the school year.

No one I've run into at political events has a solution for the Philadelphia schools' issues.  I certainly don't.  But I do know that this latest development isn't going to help anything.  The school always seems to have the money to fulfill the contracts it makes with people like Arlene Ackerman.  It just never has the money for the people who actually work with the kids on a daily basis.

That's my two cents.

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