The School District of Philadelphia is in desperate need of reform, but its many problems cannot be solved by simply raising taxes and increasing spending.
Given our still-sputtering economy, Americans have grown used to their public schools facing tight budgets. This fiscal squeeze has drawn out a hidden crisis in public education: How do we keep our best teachers in the classroom? The short answer is, we don't.
When government unions engage in labor disputes, they use their power and monopoly to remind the public of the value of their service. However, schoolchildren should never have to bear the brunt of the union’s grievances.
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Good news from the Pittsburgh School District, where the Pennsylvania Department of Education granted three year approval of Pittsburgh’s new teacher evaluation system. This despite the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers’ efforts to undermine and weaken the standards it originally helped craft.
As we've noted before, the evaluation model identifies both successful teachers and those who need to improve. In the 2013-14 school year, 28 teachers were evaluated as unsatisfactory by the new system. A second straight year of unsatisfactory performance could lead to dismissal. The district will provide teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations with extra support in order to develop their skills.
Previously, Pittsburgh teachers were evaluated solely on classroom observation. The new system maintains a strong observation component, but it also accounts for student performance. Accurate, reliable, and meaningful feedback is the only way to ensure that teachers—or any other professionals—have the necessary tools to grow and improve.
Sophisticated teacher evaluation models are an important reform for school districts seeking to retain their best talent and move away from inflexible seniority rules like "Last-in, First-out" (LIFO). In the event of layoffs, LIFO puts up-and-coming teachers at greatest risk—regardless of job performance. And since schools in poorer districts have large numbers of new teachers, LIFO disproportionately affects schools in low-income areas.
If a school is in the unfortunate position of needing to reduce staff, it must be able to make decisions based on the specific needs of its student population. A longer-tenured teacher is not necessarily a more effective teacher, and it is precisely the most effective teachers who should be protected and rewarded—be they young or old.
Thankfully, the approved Pittsburgh evaluation system offers a robust measurement of teachers' classroom performance.
It is impossible to do more with less, they say; you cannot expect schools to achieve better results without increasing spending.
Yet an essential new report from the University of Arkansas dispels this myth by measuring the cost effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) of charter schools compared to traditional public schools (TPS). The authors find significant advantages for charters in their study of 28 states.
When it comes to cost effectiveness, or bang-for-your-buck, the authors measure National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores per $1,000 of per-pupil revenue.
In this category, charter students achieved an average of 17 more NAEP points in math and 16 more NAEP points in reading than TPS students. In other words, charters were 40% more cost effective—while receiving less funding per student than their traditional counterparts.
Consider this most recent study another piece of the ever-mounting evidence that school choice is a win for students, a win for parents, and a win for taxpayers.
Last week we highlighted a California judge who ruled that laws enforcing teacher seniority and tenure were unconstitutional and violated students’ rights to a quality education.
But here in Pennsylvania, public school union leaders still defend these laws. While legislation is moving through the state House—with bipartisan support—to implement the commonsense reform of considering teacher evaluations in furlough decisions, union lobbyists are pulling out all the stops.
The PSEA’s latest lobbying push features the scary headline “Your job security is at risk.” Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has its own lobbying effort, talking about how the bill is “anti-teacher.”
Current seniority and tenure rules hurt younger teachers, regardless of their performance, and undermine the quality of education. Yet union executives continue to cling to the status quo—despite the fact that at a recent hearing, the president of the PSEA admitted he didn’t know how teachers’ themselves felt about the issue.
Indeed, union leaders rarely ask for member input on issues, since they use taxpayer resources to collect their political money rather than collect it directly from members.
Who are We?
The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.