Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Curriculum

Fewer Phila. Teachers Hired on Seniority Basis

By Jeff Archer — September 07, 2005 3 min read

Students in Philadelphia are set to return to class this week to schools in which record numbers of teachers were hired for reasons other than their years of experience.

Changes made last year to the teachers’ union contract have chipped away significantly at long-standing, and long-debated, rules that have guaranteed open positions in schools to the most veteran teachers who apply.

Seniority hasn’t been eliminated as a factor, but it’s been greatly reduced. At a minimum, each school now has the option to fill half its openings through site-based selection. Newly configured schools needn’t consider seniority at all, nor must schools where three-quarters of the teachers agree not to.

“The bottom line is that the vast majority of principals have been given the authority to make decisions based on talent rather than on seniority,” said Paul G. Vallas, the chief executive officer of the 210,000-student district.

As a result, the district reports that 555 teaching positions were filled using the site-selection process through the end of July, compared with 386 handled the traditional way. Last year, when the site-based option was limited to schools that got the approval of their staffs, the number of site- selected hires was 119.

Ruth Curran Neild, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school of education, in Philadelphia, said the change in the district’s teacher-assignment process was long overdue.

“It’s hard to imagine any business in any industry that would want to hire an employee without finding out about their interests, their background, their qualifications, and how they would fit into the existing employee culture,” said Ms. Neild, who has researched the issue.

But Will They Come?

Critics of the seniority-based process further say it has kept newer teachers waiting to find out which school they might work at until after their more-seasoned colleagues had the chance to make their picks of openings. That, they add, put the city at a disadvantage in recruiting novice educators.

Leaders of the district, which was put under state control in 2001, pushed hard for changes in the teachers’ contract during negotiations last year. They noted that, until then, only 42 of the district’s 270 schools had voted on their own to adopt site selection in staffing.

Even with the new contract, principals didn’t flex all the authority given them. The total number of vacancies districtwide that could have been filled through July using the new procedure was 820. District leaders argued nonetheless that it was important that principals at least had a choice of methods.

Jerry Jordan, the vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said he isn’t convinced the new contract language will improve student results. Letting schools choose their hires still doesn’t mean that better teachers will want to work in the most challenging schools, he said.

“Where you have very good working conditions, you’re going to have good teachers voluntarily site-select into those schools,” he said.

Still, he praised district leaders for working with the union to get the word out on how to navigate the new hiring process. Among other efforts, the district greatly enhanced its Web-based system for schools to post openings and let teachers shop for them.

With school leaders more empowered to choose who works in their buildings, Mr. Vallas predicts the district will continue to make steady gains in achievement. Results released last week showed the percentage of needy students who scored at the proficient level on state reading tests has more than doubled since 2002, from 15 percent to 31 percent.

“When principals are allowed to hire the best candidates, they go out and get the best,” Mr. Vallas said.

Events

School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Branding your district matters. This webinar will provide you with practical tips and strategies to elevate your brand from three veteran professionals, each of whom has been directly responsible for building their own district’s brand.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. school districts are using hybrid learning right now with varying degrees of success. Students and teachers are getting restless and frustrated with online learning, making curriculum engagement difficult and disjointed. While
Content provided by Samsung

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Clinical Director
Garden Prairie, IL, US
Camelot Education

Read Next

Curriculum From ‘Stunning’ to ‘Surprising’: How News of the Capitol Attack Was Repackaged for Schools
Experts criticized ed-tech company Newsela for sugarcoating the violent insurrection when it adapted an Associated Press story for schools.
6 min read
A man dressed as George Washington and holding a Trump flag kneels and prays near the Washington Monument on Jan. 6.
A man dressed as George Washington and holding a Trump flag kneels and prays near the Washington Monument on Jan. 6.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Curriculum 6 Ways to Help Students Make Sense of the Capitol Siege
A week after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, teachers are helping students figure out how the country got to this point.
15 min read
Image of the Capitol building shown in a rearview mirror.
Macrocosm Photography/E+
Curriculum Theater Educators Struggle to Keep Shows Going Amid COVID-19
Convinced that the show must go on, high school theater troupes are turning to livestreamed shows, outdoor performances, and radio plays.
8 min read
Wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, students from New Albany (Ind.) High School perform the musical “Bright Star” earlier this year.
Wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, students from New Albany (Ind.) High School perform the musical “Bright Star” earlier this year.
Photo courtesy of Crit Fisher
Curriculum Letter to the Editor Curriculum as a Lever for Racial Equity
To the Editor:
The special report "Big Ideas for Confronting Racism in Education" (Sept. 23, 2020) highlighted essential ingredients for creating anti-racist schools, including better teacher preparation, expanded anti-bias training, and universal internet access, among others.
1 min read