Now for the return on the investment

Ackerman says the new contract is a win for children and the teachers.

Now that the Philadelphia School District has finally reached a new contract with its teachers, let the work begin to fix the failing schools.

Both the administration and teachers union described the pact as a “groundbreaking.” How groundbreaking the deal is for students remains to be seen.

This much is clear: the teachers got a very good financial deal and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman got the flexibility she wants to implement her reforms.

Going forward, there should be no excuses for boosting the quality of education for students, and in giving taxpayers a return on the increased investment.

For now, at least, the teachers should be happy.

In addition to the 4 percent raise they received in March, teachers will get 3 percent hikes in September and January 2012. The generous health and pension benefits remain virtually unchanged. Overall, the raises will cost taxpayers an additional $200 million.

The increased spending comes in what is supposed to be a tough economy. But the school district is not feeling the pinch.

The district’s $3.1 billion budget grew by a hefty 12 percent compared this year, thanks to increased state funding and federal stimulus money.

Only time will tell if the three-year contract yields better results in the classroom; produces more effective teachers; and increases accountability across the district.

The contract embraces the spirit of reform called for by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to turn around troubled schools by closing them if necessary and reopening them with new teachers and principals.

It also clears the way for Ackerman to implement her “Imagine 2014” plan, which has been slow taking shape. Ackerman now has the flexibility she wanted to make the reforms needed in a district where about half the students drop out or fail. (Though daily school violence remains a serious roadblock to achieving any major educational gains.)

The changes include a longer school year at the 95 worst performing schools and an extended school day at other failing schools.

The contract also allows for changes in how teachers are evaluated and assigned — long a contentious issue with the teachers union. The contract provides for group bonuses to staff at the most-improved and highest-performing schools, a watered-down version of merit pay designed to reward top teachers.

Some teachers are already griping about the possibility of working two Saturdays a month or 22 extra days in the summer. But any added work will include even more pay and won’t apply to every teacher.

Some provisions in the contract hinge on whether the state gets $400 million in federal education funding for low-performing schools, a gamble that could derail some reforms.

Rather than impose most of the changes using the district’s broad powers under the state takeover law, Ackerman negotiated a generous deal with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers that should foster more cooperation.

The proof rests in how quickly Ackerman makes changes that deliver a real and lasting impact on the quality of education for the nearly 200,000 students.