Jonathan Cetel is the founding executive director of PennCAN. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

PennCAN is proud to share our inaugural education research roundup! Every month we gather the latest national education research and explain what it means for Pennsylvania’s students and schools. To receive PennCAN’s monthly research roundup, sign up here.

1. The Irreplaceables: Understanding The Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools
The New Teacher Project, July 2012


This latest TNTP report shines a light on the experiences of “irreplaceables” – teachers who are too good to replace and who often leave their schools because of neglect and inattention — and argues that the teacher retention crisis is about more than keeping enough teachers in the classroom. It’s about keeping the right teachers in the classroom.

Because the average irreplaceable achieves five to six more months of learning than a low-performing teacher, it can take up to 11 hires before a school finds a comparable replacement. Without policies that foster supportive work environments and encourage principals to keep these teachers, the nation’s 50 largest school districts lose an estimated 10,000 irreplaceables every year.

Unless we start to value irreplaceable teachers more, TNTP found that struggling schools will never achieve high-performing status, and that the teaching profession as a whole will not gain the respect it needs to make a difference in the classroom.


Pennsylvania’s recently enacted teacher evaluation system, which incorporates both student performance data and careful observations, will help schools identify their irreplaceables as well as the teachers that need extra support. But state law does not yet allow districts to use this information to actively reward and retain their irreplaceable teachers. Tenure and layoff decisions are still made based on time spent in the classroom instead of progress made in the classroom, policies that TNTP warns will only encourage the loss of the teachers our schools can’t afford to lose: their irreplaceables.


2. Fulfilling the Compact: Building a Breakthrough, Results-Driven Public Charter School Sector
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, June 2012


This report reviews the progress the charter sector has made towards increasing quality since 2005. In the past seven years the charter sector has seen some positive trends, including a bigger focus on accountability, an influx of innovative educators and more collaborative relationships with traditional public schools. To continue growing a charter school movement that serves the kids who need it most, the report recommends:

  • Building a breakthrough charter sector by removing barriers to innovation, advocating for equitable funding and attracting talented individuals to open and manage charter schools.
  • Creating a results-driven culture. A strong accountability system is essential to a thriving charter school network. Accordingly, the report recommends revamping state charter school laws to hold authorizers accountable for school performance and to include a procedure for automatically closing failing charter schools.


This past summer Pennsylvania came close to passing a charter school reform bill that would strengthened charter authorizing, increased accountability for academic performance and created a commission to address funding inequitieies. Governor Corbett has vowed to revive the legislation this fall. These reforms will help push Pennsylvania’s charter sector towards becomming the high-quality movement our families deserve.


3. No Child Left Behind Waivers: Promising Ideas from Second Round Applications
Jeremy Ayers and Isabel Owen, Center For American Progress, July 2012


In “No Child Left Behind Waivers,” the Center for American Progress reviews the applications submitted by twenty-six states earlier this year for waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind requirements. While some states have impressive proposals to improve teacher and principal effectiveness, develop better accountability systems and prepare students for college and careers, proposals by other states fall short.

The report ends by urging states to make their proposals more specific, and calls for the Department of Education to remain vigilant as it oversees implementation.


Pennsylvania is one of the few states that has not requested an NCLB waiver, but is nonetheless adopting some of the policy principles that the federal Department of Education looks for in waiver applications. For example, Pennsylvania is transitioning to the Common Core academic standards, with plans to fully implement instruction aligned with the new standards by July 2013. Since the new standards are more rigorous, the state has also committed to providing educators with the professional development they need. In the coming years, it will be important to watch whether the state keeps this promise and adequately supports our teachers as they transition to the Common Core.


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