Many students across the city are attending schools with overcrowded classrooms, inadequate staff and scarce resources, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said this week.
Conditions haven’t changed much since public schools opened in September and staffing issue remains a serious, ongoing issue with about half of the academic year remaining, Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said. There are 160 vacant teacher positions and a staffing agency has fallen far short of target goals for filling temporary vacancies with substitute teachers.
“These vacancies are having a tremendous negative impact on student learning in schools across the city,” said Jordan, who reported no one ever responded to requests for substitute teachers last week at two of the city’s public schools, Warren G. Harding and Louis Wagner middle schools. And George Washington High School has tried unsuccessfully to fill two long-term absences.
“The lack of educators is leading to the deterioration of school safety and climate, and robbing our children of instructional time. Conditions in our schools are getting worse and will only improve if the district puts the needs of our students ahead of the bottom lines of for-profit education providers.”
Fernando Gallard, spokesperson for the school district, said it has hired 1,050 teachers since the summer but noted the district has seen a higher than normal rate of attrition, with teachers resigning or retiring. Meanwhile, teachers have been forced to cover gaps by giving up lunch, taking shorter breaks and planning periods.
“We are aware of the challenge,” Gallard said. “Our teachers are going beyond the call of duty to cover classrooms that don’t have full-time teachers. That’s a tremendous service for students. We should celebrate that.”
At Dimner Beeber Middle School, class sizes for seventh- and eighth-graders has increased to 45 students. Northeast High School is running without two special education teachers, a Spanish teacher and a physical education teacher. Harding Middle School is coping with overcrowding in sixth- and seventh-grade classes, and has vacancies for a sixth grade teacher, an English teacher, a math teacher, and a physical education teacher. Wagner Middle School has vacancies for a life skills support teacher, a literacy teacher, two seventh-grade math teachers, two science teachers and a social studies teacher.
Jordan said the staffing shortages have put a strain on the school employees and called on school district’s leadership to cancel its contract with Source4Teachers, an out-of-state agency with a multimillion-dollar contract to supply substitute teachers.
The district, on average, filled 60 percent of daily vacancies, forcing other teachers and staff to take on additional responsibilities when no substitute teacher showed up. Some classes ran without a teacher in place. The school district has since outsourced the job but Source4Teachers is now being criticized for falling short of targets. The staffing agency has increased pay rates in an attempt to make substitute teaching vacancies more attractive to prospective candidates.