A coalition pushing for greater accountability and better conditions for teachers and students in Philadelphia’s public school system has widened its support base, drawing four new major partners to its side, including two organizations with vast resources and political clout.
The Coalition for Effective Teaching has joined forces with local affiliate of the NAACP and the Urban Affairs Coalition. An alliance with the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, an umbrella group that advocates for issues of regional importance, and Parent Power, a grass-roots group focused on helping students in low- and moderate-income households identify and overcome challenges to academic success, was also announced at a press conference Wednesday morning.
By adding three groups with an Afrocentric focus, the coalition gains broader representation in a public school district that is one of the country’s largest and also one of the most racially and ethnically diverse.
The majority of students are Black, 55 percent; followed by Hispanic students at 19 percent; Caucasian students, 14 percent; and Asian/Pacific-Islanders, 8 percent, according to the latest figures from the School Reform Commission, which is appointed by the state to oversee the district.
Philadelphia NAACP branch President Jerry Mondesire and Sharmain Matlock-Turner, president and CEO of The Urban Affairs Coalition, both stated their organizations were interested in ensuring that all children are given a “fair chance” to obtain a quality education.
Other members include ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania, Congreso, The Urban League of Philadelphia, Public Citizens for Children and Youth and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
Quibila Divine said members of Parent Power, a Philadelphia-based group working for children’s rights and improved education for under-served students, are eager to push for education reform in light of severe budget cuts that have forced cutbacks in instructional programs as well as extracurricular activities, athletics, and arts and music programs.
To address a $304 million budget shortfall, the SRC has laid off more than 3,800 district employees, including teachers, assistant principals, secretaries, counselors, nurses, librarians, and part-time aides who help monitor students in halls, cafeterias and playgrounds.
There has been public outcry over the loss of non-teaching staff who are deemed essential to keeping schools safe and running smoothly since the SRC adopted its tentative budget in May. The public is growing increasingly impatient and more concerned with the prospect of starting a new academic year in September with layoffs still in effect.
That so-called “doomsday” scenario appears inevitable with the City Council and the Legislature unable to take action on rescue funding package until after classes have started in the fall.
Some of the reform measures proposed by the coalition have been suggested in the past. Some proposals would require contractual or legal changes and others do not.
Proposals include: eliminating seniority rules as basis for staff reductions, transfers and rehiring; extending site selection to all teaching positions in all schools; and tying pay increases for additional degrees or certifications to documented proof of student achievement.
George Jackson, spokesman for Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday that the union welcomed discussions on reform measures that would improve school conditions but he characterized many of the issues that would be addressed by proposals put forth by the coalition as “non-issues.”
He was critical of the coalition, saying its member groups do not have a background in education and would rather dictate reform rather than invite PFT leaders to discuss how best to elevate the teaching profession. “And we’re the ones with the most experience in the classroom,” he said.
Jackson said the union is open to suggestions for reform measures supported by “research and evidence” that has shown it to be effective. He stated that the district struggles constantly with high turnover among teachers and that more emphasis should be placed on finding ways to attract, support and retain teachers.
“Tinkering with site-selection in Philly hasn’t worked,” Jackson said. “It is clearly not the answer to what ails Philadelphia public schools. If you don’t have the resources and support for teachers in your school, your vacancy will remain for a long time. It always comes down to resources. That’s what our conversation needs to be.”
He also said that 34 is the average of age of district teachers and the majority, about 60 percent, have fewer than five years of teaching experience.
“We don’t have enough resources or support to retain teachers where they are are needed most,” Jackson said.
Contact staff writer Wilford Shamlin III at 215-893-5742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.