Hope Rises at Philadelphia’s Bodine High School



Unlike Bob Marley’s reggae music, when budget cuts “hit” a public school, they hurt.

Consider the case of Philadelphia’s Bodine High School for International Affairs.  The public high school lost over 10% of its teachers this year, and the school’s students and teachers acknowledge that the loss has resulted in a challenging teaching and learning environment.

Last week, I joined ED’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Shelton at Bodine High to meet with its passionate and hopeful students and teachers.  With their share of the $30 billion for teacher jobs in President Obama’s American Jobs Act, the Bodine community hopes that their teachers can be retained or even restored, thereby alleviating the stress create by recent cuts.  What does that stress look like?

During our visit, five students described how the loss of teachers caused disruptions, including:

    • Fewer teachers are available for formal and informal collaboration with students.
    • The number of study halls have decreased.
    • A drop in the number of clubs and extra-curricular activities offered this year because of faculty cuts.

Both students and teachers feel like they are less able to create the dynamic learning environment that engages the community and fosters success.  Several Bodine teachers described how the cuts had affected collaboration among peers and time available to create solutions.

When it comes to teacher solutions, the Blueprint for Reform is very clear about teacher professionalism.  If teachers have the time and resources to develop sustainable solutions to the challenges that our schools face, all of our schools will be better off.  Shelton encouraged the students and teachers to share their solutions with each other, with the hope that the sustained collaboration, in itself, could enrich the relationships within the school.  Mr. Shelton also asked the participants to consider the benefits of the American Jobs Act that would preserve 400,000 teachers jobs across the US and over 14,000 teachers’ jobs in Pennsylvania alone.

When it comes to teacher professionalism, what solutions have you come up with that can help enrich and sustain your school? Let us know in the comments below.

Gamal D. Sherif
 is a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pa., and a 2011-2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow

8 Comments

  1. Teaching isn’t a job that is mastered prior to the job being started. It is ever changing, ever growing. In my state (FL), teachers will be evaluated based on the test scores of their students. LIFO and tenure are coming to an end. My worries, as a parent, is that a beloved teacher will be offered $80,000 to take a job in a private school and jump at the chance. If there is no security year to year and your job is based on the whims of the students and their test scores, the pay certainly isn’t going to keep that teacher in their classroom. We are moving towards a system of revolving door teachers. How can a classroom be established in this climate?

  2. I appreciate your use of this specific example, Gamal, to help people understand the impact that teacher turnover can have on a school. By the way (to Rebecca), I work in a state where every teacher has a one year contract, but swapping out teachers every year or two like light bulbs is not only wasteful–it’s hurtful to students.

    First of all, teacher effectiveness is best determined by how much the teacher impacts student learning, not just student achievement. This requires more complex teacher evaluations than we have yet, but they are in various stages of development around the country. Meanwhile, simply giving administrators free reign to hire and fire without the benefit of such tools, also begs the question of the quality of the administrator and his/her ability to distinguish effective teaching. Also, growth is not only for students, but for teachers and administrators as well.

    Even in places where the teachers are considered highly effective, as Gamal correctly points out, the conditions under which the teachers must work and the students must learn can have tremendous impact on the quality of both. Much of that loss of passion in teachers is the result of frustration and heartbreak over what they are not allowed or not able to do for their students as a result of budget cuts, poor policy decisions, etc.

    Lack of technological skills among teachers is one problem; a bigger one is technologically astute teachers who are unable to use that knowledge with students due to lack of funds for hardware, connections, updated software, and outdated usage policies.

    Complex issues that do not lend themselves to simplistic solutions.

    • Terrific perspective, Renee. I appreciate the distinction between “student learning” and “student achievement.” I wonder what they mean to you.

      Are you referring to “student learning” as engagement and facility with rich, concept-based standards? I think the Common Core Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics articulate aspects of the concept-driven learning.

      As for student achievement, I wonder if you are referring to “student achievement” on poorly-designed standardized tests that divorce content from concept (or experience). The NEA, the AFT and ED’s Blueprint call for more dynamic indicators of student learning. What do these look like for you?

  3. Gamal, Thanks for sharing this information.

    You pose a salient question regarding teacher professionalism that enriches and sustains schools. With what I know about the Science Leadership Academy where you teach, there seem to be solutions that are already in place in some school buildings.

    If this is the case, then what has prevented all schools from enjoying such optimal working conditions? Is it simply a question of school leadership?

    In my experience, principals that trust the expertise of teachers are host to the most professional and collegial work environments. When everyone’s voice and perspective matters, then teachers buy-in to school-wide efforts. As in any enterprise, the serious challenges arise when workers are asked to do more with less.

    How is the Science Leadership Academy weathering the storm? How can we scale those solutions?

    • Hi Kristoffer,

      I agree that teachers can be more effective when they have opportunities to influence educational policy. Carrie R. Leana writes in “The Missing Link in School Reform” that teachers need to be more involved as the experts within schools who effectively collaborate to frame challenges and opportunities (http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_missing_link_in_school_reform).

      Leana explains that when teachers have more influence, their sense of social capital increases, and they are more able to sustain and enrich their schools. This is a sort of “lateral learning” that enriches the entire school community. I think teachers’ social capital is closely linked to what Renee is calling for with her distinction between “student learning” and “student achievement.” The latter might isolate students from each other or their experiences, whereas the former emphasizes learning in context. In other words, when students’ social capital is strengthened, they are less passive learners and more active.

      I don’t think there’s anything that can be scaled at SLA. However, I do think we should cultivate teacher leadership in all of our schools so that individual school communities can turn to their experts to develop innovations that enrich learning environments.

      I wonder how our districts, unions, and our activist and business communities consistently value, support and sustain teacher leadership, i.e. the missing link.

  4. Rebecca, you are obviously not a teacher. I teach at Bodine – it’s a great school with an excellent teaching staff and motivated students. Budget cuts have severely impacted our program and hurt the academics at our school. Get a clue before you make a moronic comment like that – in fact, why don’t you become a teacher and actually teach a child something before saying anything?

  5. Love these newsletters! Until school administrators are given the authority to hire and fire teachers based on effectiveness, schools will continue to fail. I suggest giving teachers two year contracts, no growth? Bye-bye! There are too many teachers who have lost the passion, do not have the technological skills to engage our students, and are ineffective.

    • Rebecca,

      Thank you for your comments. I found that the teachers at Bodine to be very passionate and professional. Part of the problem with the budget cuts is that their ability to be effective has been compromised.

      Teachers need effective working conditions (stable assignments, time for co-planning, opportunities to differentiate instruction, etc.) so that they can help children learn and grow.

      What kinds of professional working conditions do you think teachers need so that they could be effective?

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