Education Week, Part 3: Schools Without Teachers?

Not a good idea.

But the School District of Philadelphia apparently never got the memo explaining that.

Last spring, Philadelphia’s school district announced that it was hiring an outside company called Source4Teachers to supply substitute teachers for the city’s classrooms. It’s a big job: the school system employs nearly 8500 teachers, so on any given day, plenty of teachers are out sick or injured.

The school district hasn’t had a great deal of success finding substitute teachers in recent years. When it awarded the contract, it said it was only able to fill 64 percent of its vacancies itself, leaving about 400 classrooms without substitute teachers every day.

copy bookSource4Teachers said it would top that performance right away by filling 75 percent of the vacancies from day one, in September, and 90 percent of them by the following January.

So with the prospect of filling more vacancies and saving $2 million a year on substitute teachers, the school district thought awarding such a contract was a great idea.

Oh, yeah, the $2 million in annual savings. That played a pretty big role in deciding to delegate responsibility for hiring substitute teachers to an outside company.

But how can a company that has owners, investors, and its own administrative staff save $2 million?

By paying its substitute teachers less than the city was paying them.

Because if you have to skimp on some aspect of educating children, it should be the educators, right?

So how’s it working out?

It isn’t.

That day one performance promise of filling 75 percent of vacancies?

It turned out to be 11 percent.

Which even an alumnus of Philadelphia’s public school system like The Curmudgeon can tell you is less.

A lot less.

(He still remembers Miss Silverman’s second grade lesson on the use of the “<” and “>” signs.)

But surely things got better, right?

Well, yes – but “better” is a relative term.

Source4Teachers nearly tripled its performance by mid-November: a 30 percent fill rate.

Not exactly peak performance.

So what’s the problem here?


It always comes down to money, doesn’t it?

In the past, Philadelphia paid non-certified substitute teachers $126 a day, certified teachers $160 a day, retired teachers between $209 and $239 a day, and retired special education teachers $212 to $242 a day.


It pays less.

A lot less.

How else could it possibly save the school district $2 million and still make money?

How much less?

$75 a day for non-certified teachers, $90 a day for certified teachers, and $110 a day for special ed teachers.

And for some reason, people who had been substituting in the city’s school district for years weren’t beating down Source4Teachers’s door looking for work.

Source4Teachers just didn’t understand it and insisted pay wasn’t the problem.

A Source4Teachers spokesperson told the Philadelphia Inquirer that

I think we’re getting back to a more reasonable pay structure, that we’re getting to a point where we’re paying market rate, and I think people can appreciate that. A lot of these teachers are not in it for the money. They find themselves missing teaching, and have caught up on all the books they want to read, and now they crave being back in the classroom.

The Curmudgeon wants some of whatever she’s smoking.

Source4Teachers’ CEO also was mystified – mystified! – by the lack of interest in the wonderful opportunities he was offering.

This is the perfect opportunity for aspiring teachers hoping to get a foot in the door and community members looking to make a positive impact on Philadelphia’s children.

(Actually, those who want to teach in Philadelphia’s school system don’t need to do anything at all to get their “foot in the door.” As of mid-October, the system still had nearly 200 classrooms with no full-time, permanent teachers. Anyone with a pulse and certification who isn’t on Megan’s list can get a job in the city’s schools. Good for teachers – but bad for kids who have gone a few months without a real teacher. Such is life in the Philadelphia school system.)

As you can see, the CEO, like the spokesperson, is clueless.

As for that “market rate,” when the going rate for certified substitute teachers in Philadelphia was $160 and for retired teachers was $209, that was the market rate. When you’re offering $90, you’re offering a lot less than the market rate – in some cases, less than half the market rate (and remember that even at that higher rate, Philadelphia still couldn’t find enough substitute teachers).

Let’s take a brief detour for a moment and look at those substitute teacher day rates and use the $90 a day Source4Teachers wanted to pay certified teachers. That’s $90 for what we can call, for the sake of discussion, a seven-hour work day, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

That’s $12.85 an hour, which isn’t much for someone responsible not only for teaching children but also for controlling a room full of them.

Now, let’s compare that to a few other salaries.

Walmart’s starting salary is $9 an hour and its average salary is $13 an hour.

The national average for retail workers is $11.39 an hour.

Costco’s average salary is $20 an hour.

Since we’re looking at Philadelphia public schools, let’s consider what some city workers earn.

The starting salary for a clerk-typist working for the city is $27,627 a year, which breaks down to $13.28 an hour. The starting salary for a semi-skilled laborer working for the city is $32,000 a year, which breaks down to $15.38 an hour.

Should we be comfortable with the idea that what we pay substitute teachers is competitive with what Walmart pays and what stores at the mall pay? And what are we getting when an outfit like Source4Teachers pays non-certified teacher $75 a day, or a hair more than $10 an hour?

Now, let’s get back to the matter at hand.

By mid-November, the school district finally surrendered – well, sort of: it announced that Source4Teachers was being demoted to (trying to) fill only short-term vacancies and the school system would resume finding its own long-term substitutes. Of course, Source4Teachers should have been fired, and for the best possible reason: incompetence. No one outside the school system, and probably few inside the system, has any idea why a contractor that failed so miserably to deliver on its contractual promises wasn’t kicked to the curb.

Well, at least the city’s classrooms are finally filled with qualified, full-time teachers, right?

If only.

The first report card period is now over in Philadelphia’s public school system and 136 classrooms still don’t have full-time teachers.


School officials say they’ve been doing their best but it’s a challenge everywhere.

Here’s what they don’t say.

There’s “a market” for teachers and the salaries they’re offering aren’t competitive.

Philadelphia’s teachers have been without a contract for several years now.

The people who run the school system are using the courts to attempt to reduce teachers’ salaries, reduce their benefits, and lengthen their work day.

Why would anyone who has a choice choose to take a job teaching in the city’s public schools under those circumstances?

What a mess.

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  • aaron  On December 9, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Substitute Teachers also suffer ungodly abuse from the students…Who consider substitute teachers as nothing more than a babysitter..

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