On Keystone Testing: A Philadelphia Teacher’s Reflection

Early last week, I stripped the walls of my classroom bare. I took down the flags students had created to represent themselves, I took down the project we’d been working on since February - a Literacy through Photography project that gives a complex vision of student identities - and that has inspired considerable pride and interest in my students. I took down the maps, the art, even my calendar. I moved the desks out of the large square we normally use, into sterile rows. It’s not the end of the year, though it may feel like it. For the second time this year, it’s Keystone season.

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Classroom: Before and After

For six days spread over two weeks, our school is disrupted. From 8 to 11:30, we are in testing rooms. For the rest of the day, we run through 30-minute classes. The attitude from students is that these days don’t count - and the feeling around school is that the year is already over. It’s a shame, considering our last day of classes is June 18. It’s not an illusion for students - grades close June 9 and the Keystones aren’t fully finished until May 27 (including students being pulled for makeups).

The day before testing began, I had a circle with my students in order to give them space to express their feelings about testing. As an introductory activity, I gave each student 3 post-its, and had them write a thought or feeling about standardized testing in general and the Keystones specifically on each. Then, I had them stick their post-its on the wall on a scale of “Positive” to “Negative”. Below are the results from each of my classes.

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Student thoughts on testing. (Left side = Strongly Positive, Right side = Strongly Negative)

As you can see, the results leaned strongly negative. The most common word was “hate”, followed by “stupid”, “boring”, and “pointless”. In addition to variations on these common words, there were also words like “stressful”, “anxious”, and “scared”. And I can hear the critique: Sure, but no kid is going to love or even like a test.

From my students, though, I see something different. Through the conversation that followed this brainstorming, I got the real sense that my students believe these tests to be harmful to them - and really not supportive of their best interests or their visions of the future.

If you look at our school results, you can see that as the case. No more than 20 percent of our students passed any exam, and under 10 percent passed Biology and Algebra. For our 10th graders, this is a graduation requirement. The “project” replacement requires staff our school doesn’t have. There is a disaster looming when this test becomes a graduation requirement in two years.

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From: http://paschoolperformance.org/Profile/6830

I think it’s appropriate that we strip our walls during these days of testing (I was even told by a School District of Philadelphia observer that I needed to erase the date from the board during testing) - because testing forces me as a teacher to strip all value from my practice. I suddenly have to become more authoritarian, uncaring, robotic. These are things I try to push out of my teaching practice, but on these days I feel forced by the state to bring them back in.

Assessments, what we ask students to do, should have real value in this world. What is the value of sitting silently and filling in bubbles? I feel more like a prison guard these days - patrolling the room, unable to speak with or support kids, escorting students to the bathroom. The most meaningful words for nearly 3 hours of my day are “Be quiet”, “No talking”. Even though I’ve spent most of my time doing nothing, I feel drained.

It’s hard for me to continue to subject my students to something they hate - and not because it’s hard, but because they feel it is hurting them and not spending their time wisely. Keystone testing only deepens the disengagement of many of my students with the education system. It is certainly not a motivating factor. This morning, we have 129 students present in the building out of 479. That’s 27%.

There’s a far better way we can be spending our time - activities that empower students, enrich their lives, and make them come alive. We need to opt into opportunities for self-actualization, and opt out of this system of testing that is psychologically harmful, and isn’t preparing our students for success in their visions of their futures.

Out of fear for my job, I continue to proctor this exam. I keep quiet about my feelings on the tests in front of my students in the classroom. But, I’m not sure how much longer I can continue this way. After 6 days of testing, with my soul drained, I’ll hang the student work back on the wall, move my desks back into a square, and get back to real education.

 

Charlie McGeehan is an educator at Kensington CAPA High School, and a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. He can be found @cmcgeeiii on Twitter, and charlie.mcgeehan@gmail.com.

 

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TAG & WE Present: Summer Reading Series 2015

The results are in! Thank you for helping us choose the books for the 2015 TAG and WE Summer Reading Series. We are looking forward to spending time with you this summer to learn together and share visions for how to defend and transform our schools and city.

Take a look through the list below, and sign up for the book groups you’re interested in. We encourage everyone to join-- no education experience required, just the willingness to read good books and talk honestly about tough issues!

If you're interested in helping to facilitate any of these book groups (you don't have to have read the book!), please contact us at contact@workingeducators.org. 

Thanks for helping us make this summer's book groups amazing!

(Click here if you can't see the sign-up form below)

 

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More Outsourcing by School District-- Fight Back on Thursday for the Nurses Philly Students Deserve

Last week the School District of Philadelphia issued a request for proposals to outsource school nurse jobs. Following a decision to privatize substitute teachers last month, it is clear that no one is immune from the attack on schools and educators. Fight back with nurses this Thursday outside the SRC meeting!

School nurses have been decimated in the last few years, with many schools having a nurse only 1-2 days a week (or even less frequently). Now the SDP is banking on entrepreneurial thirst to commodify students by billing insurance companies for services provided by school nurses. 

"If the District was really concerned with improving health care for our students the first step it would take would be to recall the 100 nurses who have been laid off as a result of an austerity budget adopted three years ago" explains PCAPS in their statement on the issue.

For more information, listen to WE Member and Palumbo H.S. Nurse Eileen Duffey interviewed by Reverend Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church.

And this Thursday at 4:30pm, stand up for the nurses our students deserve!

Click here (or below) to download the flyer to print and share.

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Check out the first-ever issue of WE News!

Hot off the press is our May 2015 WE News- the very first Caucus of Working Educators newsletter! Come get your own copy at our 1-Year Anniversary Party this Friday, May 15th.

Issue 1 includes an explanation of our platform, FAQs, Opt Out at Feltonville, summer book groups, racial justice trainings, and more.

Download WE News Issue 1 Here

Wanna write for WE News? Looking for copies to distribute at your school? Email contact@workingeducators.org

We want to get copies of WE News into every school and teacher's lounge in the city! As well as lobbies, playgrounds, and anywhere else that parents, educators, and community members want to transform public education in our city.

With your help, we'll be newsie-ing like the pros in no time:

 

 

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Working Educators Get Out The Vote!

Screenshot_2015-05-11_at_8.50.56_PM.pngWith the Democratic Party primary election approaching fast on May 19th, Philly educators are working with their communities to help elect candidates who support pubic education. We wanted to share two examples of this with you. If you are able, we'd like you to be a part of these events. We also hope these will spark ideas about how you will plan to get out the vote in your own school neighborhoods.

The final full week of the campaign is the last chance to spend quality time talking to voters before heading into a full on Get Out the Vote operation in the last weekend before Election Day on May 19th. This is an important time to canvass, give out information, or hold neighborhood meetings to support the candidates. The school community at Stephen Girard Elementary is planning to do all three.

Caucus Member Tom Hladczuk has been working on canvassing plans with his colleagues at Girard Elementary. Those colleagues include Girard volunteer and Action United activist Wilma Frazier. Wilma reached out to her pastor at St. Barnabas church, Allen Jenkins Jr. to take part in the planning. The results were three events on three consecutive days:

  • On Monday, May 11th starting at 3:30, the Girard school community will canvass the neighborhood for James Kenney and Helen Gym. 
  • On Tuesday morning, Girard staff will be out in the neighborhood before school handing out flyers to community members inviting them to a meeting at St. Barnabas the next day.
  • Pastor Jenkins is also inviting his congregants to the meeting, where community stakeholders will discuss why James Kenney and Helen Gym are the two best candidates for their school and neighborhood and how everyone can help them win. If you'd like to attend the meeting, come to St. Barnabas Church at 1814 Wharton St. on Wednesday, May 13th, at 6 PM!

The final days of the election must be focused on Get Out the Vote operations. There are two goals. First, let as many people as possible know that election day is upon us. Second, check in with everyone you can and make sure they're voting!

WE member Tom Quinn designed a flyer for our endorsed candidates. We'll tackle the first goal by canvassing one of the largest events that weekend, the Italian Market Festival. We'll meet at noon on Sunday, May 17th. Point people will give out stacks of flyers to volunteers at 9th & Christian and 9th & Washington. We'll flyer the whole crowd and eat some incredible food afterwards. WE members and friends will also distribute the flyer in our school and home neighborhoods, as well as farmers' markets, stores, and other popular areas before Election Day. We encourage you to download the flyer, make copies, and help us spread the word!

The second goal, getting people out to vote, can best  be achieved by working with the campaigns and their GOTV operations. Our four endorsed candidates have all run terrific campaigns. They have detailed records and plans on who to reach out to, but they can't do all that they want to without much needed volunteers. Follow the links below to offer your help. There has been a lot of money thrown around in this race, but far more valuable than all those commercials are dedicated people who are motivated to make change happen. Talk with your colleagues, work with your community, reach out to the campaigns, and let's GET OUT THE VOTE! 

Volunteer for PFT Canvasses and Phone Banks

Volunteer for Jim Kenney

Volunteer for Helen Gym

Volunteer for Sherrie Cohen

Volunteer for Derek Green

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Help Select This Summer's Book Club Texts!

We are excited to announce a list of texts that WE and TAG members have suggested for the 2015 Summer Reading Series - but we need your help! 

Please select your top THREE choices in the survey below so we can take the next step in generating a final list of groups and facilitators. The poll will close on Wednesday, May 13th at 5pm. If you're interested in helping to facilitate one of these book groups, email contact@workingeducators.org for more info.

This year, groups will be reading through the lenses of organizing and racial justice as we work together to continue to build a movement together. Last year, nearly 100 people from across the city participated in ten different book clubs to explore how teachers and activists are building a movement for quality public education.

The final selections will be announced at the Caucus of Working Educators 1-Year Anniversary Party on Friday, May 15 at 7:00 pm. See you there!

Fill out the survey in this blog post below the picture, or at this link: http://goo.gl/forms/Wh1LFZKPzN
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Celebrate with Working Educators on May 15th!

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Everyone knows that educators are the best partiers. Thanks to inspiring educators like you, it's been an incredible first year, and we're excited to party together. As a member-led organization, this year we have:

On May 15th, join us to celebrate the One-Year Anniversary of WE with:

✭Great food & drink specials!

✭Live music and a DJ!

✭Kids Fun and Crafts area!

✭Fun for the Whole Family!

✭Catering and entertainment provided by educators and supporters!

Bring your friends, colleagues, kids, significant others, neighbors, and all other friends of public education. Everyone is welcome, whether you're a longtime WE member, interested in learning more, or just want to party!

Want to help spread the word? Download the flyer to hang in your school or give to your coworkers.

RSVP online here

WHEN
May 15, 2015 at 7pm - 11pm
WHERE
Local 22 Union Hall & bar
415 N 5th St (right above Callowhill)
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Parking available at venue!

Free to enter, but donations highly appreciated to cover costs! Donate ahead of time here, or at the door on Friday.

Music by:
-The Jackroses (Rock/Folk)
featuring WE Member Chris from Bartram H.S.!
https://thejackroses.bandcamp.com/
~
-Tamara Anderson (Singer/Performer)
Parent, community activist, and WE Steering Committee Member!
~
-Little Strike (Electronic/Alternative)
https://littlestrike.bandcamp.com/
~
-Jason Cohn (Acoustic/Indie)
http://jasoncohnmusic.bandcamp.com/
~
-Carter Woodz (Hip Hop)
Local Philosophy Professor and Member of the Hip-Hop ItAG!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFy3qFB8eSo

Food by:
-Rochelle's Soul Food from Taggart Elementary 

Drink specials:
-$1 domestic draft.
-$2 well drinks and domestic bottles

Children's Area:
-Arts & Crafts
-Board Games
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May Day 2015: Forming Bonds of Solidarity

We have said that WE cannot win the struggles we are currently waging for the future of our schools without forging bonds of solidarity with unions across the city. This Friday, join caucus members to enjoy music, food, and conversation with union members and activists from across the city-- don't forget to wear your WE shirt!

MAYDAY Rally and Festival

Friday, May 1st, 3 to 6PM

Clark Park: 43rd and Baltimore 

School nurse and WE steering committee member Eileen Duffey explains why she'll be there:

May day, the international celebration of workers is recognized here in Philadelphia in a joyous gathering including many local activists we've seen at rallies this year. It's a great opportunity to celebrate with union supporters from across the city and to honor this year's recipients of the Aggie Moran award which is given each year the May Day event. Aggie devoted her life to furthering the cause of unions and justice.

When the school nurses rallied for 22 weeks in 2012, the May Day organizers joined our rallies in solidarity. They later publicly recognized the nurses as recipients of the Aggie Moran award. In 2013 the SRC 19, a group of teachers and citizens who exercised civil disobedience when 23 public schools were shuttered, were honored at the May Day rally.

The May Day celebration is a great way to be supportive, see friends, make new friends and allies in our mutual struggles, and still be home in time to enjoy your weekend. Hope to see you there.

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What's so different about Tuesday?

Most people’s eyes glaze over when they hear “meeting”-- or even worse, “membership meeting.” 

And for good reason: meetings tend to be associated with people shouting at each other, directives from disconnected leaders, buzzwords with no action, and feeling cut out of any meaningful decision-making.

So what's different about Tuesday's meeting?

For one thing, it's a place where educators, parents, and allies come together as equals to share the issues we face in public education and strategize together for how to solve them.

It's also a place where we will be having an open, transparent discussion about caucus leadership, as well as what fights to tackle next in order to strengthen and energize the rank and file of our union. Because WE ARE THE UNION.

Sound difficult? It might be.

Sound interesting? It will be!

We hope that you will join us this Tuesday to talk openly about the work we need to do to build our union, share skills and ideas for upcoming battles, and be inspired by some of the amazing work our community is already engaged in. 

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Spring Membership Mobilizing Meeting: Tuesday, April 21st

Old First Reformed UCC

151 N 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

(Childcare and parking provided- see below for more info)

 

4-4:30: Snacks and mobilizing (plug into WE members' work)

4:30-6: Membership Meeting

 

Special break-out groups:

-Elections: Discuss WE endorsements for City Council, the endorsement process, and how we can win these races.

-Opt Out Movement: How has testing affected your students and school? How can teachers and parents work together to fight back against abusive tests?

-Reclaiming our Professional Practices: Push back against increasingly absurd evaluations and discuss empowering alternatives and pedagogies.

 

Some of the work you can learn about and get engaged with:

-Mayoral and Council Races

-Opt Out

-Organizing Skills Training

-Teacher Evaluations

-Pre-Service Teacher Campaign

-Parent Organizing Committee

-Monthly Discussion Group

-NEW: Charter Teachers Committee

-NEW: Monthly WE Newsletter!

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Report from the SRC Meeting: "Continued Violation"

This report is from PFT Retiree and Caucus Member Diane Payne.

I went to the SRC meeting on Thursday, April 16th with my prepared speech, complete with examples on their continued violation of the Sunshine Act. No democracy anywhere evident in SRC proceedings. Kensington Urban High School was there in force to speak out against the school district's proposed closing of their school. In addition, resolution #10 was to suspend the school code which spells out a 3 month process in favor of a shortened 45 day process.

Students, parents, teachers, community members all spoke against both the closing and the suspension of the school code. However once again, the SRC locked arms and in complete disregard of the affected stakeholders voted unanimously to go right ahead and suspend the code in favor of a fast track to closing. (Not to mention their plans to move forward with privatizing substitute service and the convoluted Gallery tax deal.)

Another observation, at the beginning of the meeting, Chairwoman Neff informed the audience that they would be instituting a more transparent way of handling resolutions by posting them 3 weeks in advance instead of 24 hours in advance. Public voice is to be included, etc. etc. Funny that the Sunshine Act law suit is still outstanding. I wonder if they are just trying to save face because they still certainly aren't giving even a pretend nod to public engagement.

Finally, members of the Kensington School community became somewhat rowdy as the vote neared and even cursed -- the frustration of the continually silenced. They filed out after the vote and Commissioner Jimenez had the nerve to offer a "public apology" for their behavior. The arrogance of this out-of-touch-body is mind boggling. The SRC should be apologizing to them for a laundry list of harm.

The SRC meets the third Thursday every month at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of 440 N. Broad Street. Next month, they will institute their new resolution process.  So, the list of resolutions should be posted on the website May 1st for the May 21st meeting.  To register to speak, you call 215-400-4180 by 4:30 p.m. the day before the hearing.  Also, the SRC is traveling around the city to hold "community budget meetings."  That list is also posted on the district website.  The next one is April 22nd at Bartram High School.

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