Charter School Testimony: Alison McDowell

alison.jpgHere's my testimony from Thursday's charter hearing. It was so odd. There weren't any SRC or District officials, just a lady up front with a laptop. Strange. On the positive side, I was surprised given the crowd, that quite a few people clapped when I was done and someone I don't even know thanked me on Twitter. We are slowly making an impact. We just have to keep showing up.

It is not a choice when they close your neighborhood school.

It is not a choice when they starve your school of staff and resources with the goal of creating an unsafe environment.

It is not a choice when in exchange for much needed private funds, schools are compelled to fire over half their teachers.

It is not a choice when stranded costs from charter enrollment drain resources away from regular public schools.

What about those of us who choose and fight for non-charter schools?

We don’t have branded t-shirts and glossy posters, but we have a fierce devotion to the idea that schools are community anchors.

We believe that every neighborhood should have a school that accepts anyone who lives in that community-regardless of their home life or testing prowess or special needs.

We believe that public schools are the foundation of democracy, and that charter schools are chipping away at that foundation.

We believe that soon we will be in the same boat as New Orleans, Newark, and closer to home, York-very soon.

The choice will have been made. Not by parents, but by those who tug at the strings of a broken political system.

Charters are a false choice. They are the ones doing the choosing-gaming the system and counseling out the unworthy come January or February before testing season gets underway.

They quietly put out applications requesting illegal information that helps them screen out children who lack supports at home to burnish their reputations.

They expect a double standard when it comes to data-driven evaluations.

They expect us to look the other way at the fraud and ethics violations that have become a norm in this industry.

I am here today to say that I stand with neighborhood schools. I endorse the community school approach. And I request that you look at the barriers to access audit done by PCCY and PA Ed Law Center in April 2013. Any school on that list with identified barriers should absolutely not be given any more schools.


An Inside Report from the Charter School Hearings

By Diane Payne

On Monday, I went to 440 N. Broad Street to testify regarding the 40 charter school applications being submitted this week.  I wasn’t able to be there all day for the presentations, so I didn’t hear the bells and whistles that Monday’s group of charter school applicants presented. I was speaker 29 and discovered that a fellow public school advocate was speaker 30. I left after the 30th speaker and want to note that only four people were there to speak against the expansion of charters. The 26 other speakers were students, parents, politicians, community leaders and charter school personnel that spoke in favor of their particular charter of choice.  This included the newly elected president of the NAACP. 

In addition to hearing the virtues of the “charter of choice”, it was very disheartening to often hear the disparaging remarks made about public schools.  I really, really urge any public school advocate to try to get down to 440 N. Broad Street, 2nd floor auditorium on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday to offer your 3 minutes of public testimony to say “NO MORE CHARTERS” and to support our neighborhood public schools.  The total time from sign in to the end of speaker 30 was 1 1/2 hours.

Here is my testimony from Monday.

I am speaking today to request that the SRC suspend the consideration of any further charter school applications. The current rhetoric of our families needing “choice” is a false dialogue laced with false hope and false promises.  What you are deciding today isn’t about giving parents choice it is about taking away a basic, founding principle of our country…a free and quality public education for all. Not a mish-mash of unregulated “choices” which promotes itself as an easy answer to complex problems.  The complex problems of poverty, English as a second language, broken families, abuse, unequal job opportunity, lack of health care, crime to name a few, do not have easy answers and will not be fixed by Charter Schools. There is more and more hard evidence coming out on a daily basis that point to the problems inherent in charter school expansions. To name only some:

*Charter school expansion causes the further starving of public schools

*Fraud and financial mismanagement that enrich savvy members of the charter school network via real estate deals, management contracts, service contracts, equipment purchases, and pricey CEO salaries

*Lack of transparency in operation and finance

*Re-segregation of student populations

*Failure to mirror the neighborhood school’s demographics because of how students are admitted and then how students are retained if problems of any nature arise

*Here in Philadelphia, an absolute budget crisis that cannot sustain any further draining of resources

*And last but not least a total lack of available oversight again due to lack of resources

Although there are reputable and honorable charter schools functioning and helping children that do not mirror these problems, it is difficult if not impossible with the lack of fair regulation and oversight to manage the current number of schools, much less additional ones.

These problems relating to charter schools are not unique to Philadelphia. It is a nationwide issue that is harming our poor and urban areas. You will notice that you rarely find Charter Schools in wealthy suburban districts and that is only because you don’t find the complex problems I previously mentioned in those neighborhoods either.  Expansion of charter schools will not be the savior of education but they could be the demise of a cornerstone of our democracy, fair and equitable public school for all.

Please do not expand charter school options at this time.  Thank you.  


Call City Council: Support the Standardized Testing Resolution!

Councilman Squilla, Councilwoman Sanchez, and Councilwoman Blackwell have introduced a resolution to City Council calling on the School District to scale back its standardized testing.

The resolution will be introduced for a vote during the week of December 8th. Please take five minutes to call your councilperson -- or an at-large representative -- to let them know that you want them to vote YES on this resolution!

Think about all of the days your students give up on these exams. Five minutes of advocacy is worth it.


Calling upon the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission to analyze the financial and human impact of standardized testing, to identify strategies to minimize its use, and to request a waiver of the Keystone Exams from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to adopt assessments that better serve local needs and priorities.

WHEREAS, Standardized testing has dramatically increased since 2002’s No Child Left Behind Act imposed federal mandates requiring the testing of every student in reading and math from 3rd grade to 8th grade and again in high school, implemented in Pennsylvania through the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests; and

WHEREAS, In addition to federally-required tests, states have layered on additional assessments, including in Pennsylvania new requirements for Keystone Exams that will be required for high school graduation as of 2017; and

WHEREAS, On average, students in large urban school districts take a total of 113 standardized tests between Pre-Kindergarten and 12th Grade, with students in 11th grade forced to devote as many as 27 days or 15% of the school year to testing and yet many more hours to test preparation; and

WHEREAS, Since 2002 spending on standardized tests has skyrocketed, with the Keystone Exams projected to cost hundreds of millions even billions, without the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania providing any corresponding or dedicated funding to local districts for these costs or for the necessary supplemental education to help struggling students; and

WHEREAS, The over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing interferes with educators’ efforts to focus on students’ development in areas such as problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking, thus undermining skills needed to excel outside of the classroom; and

WHEREAS, There are indications that this increase in testing is causing children to experience stress, anxiety, and even in some cases even physical illness; and

WHEREAS, Minority and low-income students, special-needs students including those impacted by trauma and those with Individual Education Plans, as well as students who do not speak English as their first language, are disproportionately harmed by the overuse of standardized tests, particularly when those tests are used to determine ranking, admission, and graduation of students or to evaluate teachers and school staff as well as overall school performance; and

WHEREAS, the City of Pittsburgh engaged in a thoughtful process to evaluate how to minimize and mitigate the use of testing, and has adopted a plan that will cut over 33 hours of annual testing for students in certain grades; and

WHEREAS, Pennsylvania law provides the opportunity for local districts to request waiver of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement and seek approval of alternative assessment strategies; and

WHEREAS, Philadelphia’s ongoing and serious budget crisis as well as its high concentrations of minority, low-income, special-needs, and Limited-English Proficient students, justify the critical examination of state-mandated testing as applied to Philadelphia students and the development of a more streamlined, demographically-appropriate, and cost-effective testing structure for the Philadelphia School District; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, THAT THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA respectfully calls upon the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission to analyze the financial and human impact of standardized testing, to identify strategies to minimize its use, and to request a waiver of the Keystone Exams from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to adopt assessments that better serve local needs and priorities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that an engrossed copy of this resolution be sent to William R. Hite, Jr., Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, and the members of the School Reform Commission.

Councilman Mark Squilla

Councilman – 1st District

Maria D. Quiñones Sánchez      Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell

Councilwoman – 7th District Councilwoman – 3rd District




Working Educators Respond to Eric Garner Case

In light of recent no indictment ruling in the Eric Garner case, the Caucus of Working Educators stands in solidarity with the family of Eric Garner and everyone across the country fighting for #blacklivesmatter.

Two days after the 59th anniversary of Rosa Parks refusal to move from her seat, a New York Grand Jury ruled that police officer, David Pantaleo, would not be charged in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, a father of 6. In spite of the following two facts: Choke-holds are banned from the New York Police Department and the autopsy ruled Garner’s death a homicide and the choke hold as the official cause of death according to the coroner report. Despite the push for body cameras, this incident was completely captured on video, which questions the veracity and effectiveness of the new proposed camera policies. We hope that justice will be done for Tamir Rice.

True change will have to include acknowledgment of an always broken American Justice system, deep bias in policing, major education and training for law enforcement, firing of police officers who have violated civilian rights, and transforming our mechanisms and priorities for building truly safe communities. 

Educators, community members, and parents want our children to feel safe and for justice to prevail over bias and inherently racist laws. We want to be able to look each of our students in the face and tell them that they are safe and that their lives DO matter.

If these issues matter to you as an educator, then we strongly encourage you to attend today's happy hour hosted by Teacher Action Group:

December 5th
Prohibition Taproom
531 N 13th Street


Dear Tom Wolf: Advice on Your New Secretary of Education

Dear Mr. Wolf,

The members of PFT's Caucus of WE congratulate you on your election as Governor of Pennsylvania. It was our pleasure to help Get Out the Vote for your election. We look forward to working with you to repair the harm done by the current administration in the last four years and since the economic recession began in 2008.

We hope that you keep a few key criteria in mind when making all of your political appointments. Diversity in terms of geography, race, gender, religion and political leanings should be a priority.  Your cabinet should look like Pennsylvania.  Appointees should be Pennsylvanians with a track record of public service and notable achievements.  They should be highly qualified and bold thinkers. They should be brave enough to advise you from their experience and conscience.  Leaders can only do their best when they surround themselves with people they respect enough to listen to their dissenting opinions.

As professional public school educators and concerned citizens, we take the appointment of the PA Secretary of Education most seriously. Education was the biggest issue in the governor's race and remains a huge challenge for all of us. When your team is vetting prospective appointees, only consider men and women who have actual public school experience. They should be former teachers, administrators, assistant superintendents, and superintendents that have deep roots in Pennsylvania.

Only consider candidates who were educated and received their certifications from legitimate brick and mortar educational institutions. Temple, Penn State, and Pitt, come to mind.  Choose someone who can work with the students, parents, and teachers of Pennsylvania.

We are hungry for a leader who will lead us out of the current educational wasteland to a safe and stable place where students and staff are respected and supported. Seek out a candidate who is erudite, motivated, and compassionate. We do not need more tough talk and threats. We do not need someone who will reduce humans to data points. We need a person who can use both socioeconomic and educational data to create equity of opportunity to all of our students.



The Steering Committee

Caucus of Working Educators

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers


Working Educators in the News!

WE has been featured in a number of big news stories recently! Please read and share widely, so that more educators and community members can learn about our work strengthening our union and public schools from the ground up.


-Earlier this month, The Notebook covered our First Annual Convention:

Caucus of teachers' union focused on social justice holds first conference

On Nov. 8, the Caucus of Working Educators (WE) held its first annual convention at the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, where more than 125 teachers, counselors, and education advocates from Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey came to learn more about strategizing and organizing. 

“It’s a get-together, it’s a rally, it’s an informational setting,” said Kristin Luebbert, the communications chair of the caucus. “It’s all those things, to help expand the work we need to do for our children right now.”

The keynote speaker, Yohuru Williams, a professor of history at Fairfield University and a member of the Badass Teachers Association, compared the mission of the caucus and the goal of its first conference with Martin Luther King Jr.’s goals during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

“I want to be clear: We have the power to transform education,” said Williams. “I want to be clear, because our schools are not failing, it is our democracy that is failing. And we’re going to need to address and correct that if we’re going to be successful in endeavors to preserve public education.”

-Then, this week's edition of the Philadelphia City Paper wrote a profile of our work so far and where we're going:

Philly teachers hatch a militancy plot

WE, which boasts 141 dues-paying members, held its first convention on Nov. 8. Its quick growth could shape the larger fight to defend public education in Philadelphia, where thousands of jobs have been eliminated, charter schools have expanded rapidly with little financial oversight, dozens of schools have closed, preparation for high-stakes testing dominates much of the curriculum and now, because of the attempt to impose health-care cost-sharing, underpaid teachers face what is effectively a salary cut.

The PFT is the single most powerful force fighting for fair funding for city schools and opposing school closings and layoffs. Its weakness and inability to mobilize its members undermines the entire movement to save Philadelphia public schools.

The WE Caucus takes inspiration from Chicago's militant Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE, which took over leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2010. Then, in 2012, they led teachers out on a high-profile strike that grabbed national attention and, more important, received widespread support from parents and community members.

-This weekend, Philadelphia Magazine wrote a follow-up story to the City Paper article. Rather than citing that article, which you can read here, we'd like to offer the following response:

We are excited about every conversation on how to strengthen our union, and encourage everyone to read the full piece at the City Paper to get a more complete perspective.
While WE appreciate the shout-out, Mr. McQuade's focus on intra-union politics misses the main point of our caucus: to energize the rank and file membership of the PFT, build deep partnerships with parent and community groups, and fight for a vibrant and sustainably-funded public education system in Philadelphia. We want every teacher, parent, and student to feel supported and empowered to stand up proudly for the schools our students deserve. No matter who they are, where they work, or who they associate with. 


***Bonus news story: WE members Alison McDowell and Diane Payne were featured in various news outlets wearing their WE shirts at last week's City Council Hearing on Standardized Testing. Look out for more info on how WE is supporting the Opt-Out movement soon.


When's the public hearing for new charter school applications?

As recently reported in The Notebook, charter school applications must have a review that is open to the public. The first round of reviews are now scheduled.

We strongly encourage educators and community members to look up whether charter schools are targeting their zip code with their application -- and then attend that application's meeting to let the School District of Philadelphia know that we are committed to our public schools in these neighborhoods.

We know that educators are working during most of these meetings, but we urge you to contact your parents and community members so that they can turn out and represent your school.

Let the review board know -- charter schools are not a sustainable option for our district!

The only reason that charter applications are even being considered again is due to an add-on clause to the Cigarette Bill Tax. Parents at Steel and Marin showed the District last spring that they did not want charters in their neighborhoods. Now there are 40 applications that need the same kind of community input.

The meetings will be held at the School District Central Office, 440 North Broad Street.

Proposed School Name Initial hearing date Time Area of City Zip Code
Germantown Community Charter School 8-Dec 11:45 AM Germantown 19144
Liguori Academy Charter School 8-Dec 12:25 PM unkown unknown
Philadelphia Career and Technical Academy 8-Dec 12:05 PM Germantown 19144
String Theory Charter School - East Falls 8-Dec 1:50 PM East Falls 19129
String Theory Charter School - Greys Ferry 8-Dec 2:05 PM South Philly 19146
String Theory Charter School - Southeast 8-Dec 2:30 PM South Philly 19148
The Partnership School for Science and Innovation - MaST Community Charter School 8-Dec 12:45 PM Center City 19106, 19146
Urban STEM Academy 8-Dec 1:30 PM NW Philly 19138
ASPIRA Ramon E. Betances Charter School 10-Dec 11:30 AM North Philly 19120
Congreso Academy Charter High School 10-Dec 11:50 AM North Philly 19133
Esperanza Elementary Charter School 10-Dec 12:35 PM North Philly 19140
Friendship Public Charter School 10-Dec 10:50 AM North Philly unknown
KIPP North Philadelphia Charter School 10-Dec 10:30 AM North Philly 19132
Leon H. Sullivan Opportunities Charter School 10-Dec 12:55 PM North Philly unknown
Mastery Charter School - Gillespie Campus 10-Dec 2:25 PM North Philly 19140
Mastery Charter School - North Philadelphia Campus 10-Dec 2:45 PM North Philly 19132
New Foundations Charter School - Brewerytown 10-Dec 11:10 AM North Philly 19121
PHASE 4 America Charter School 10-Dec 1:15 PM North Philly unknown
TECH Freire Charter School 10-Dec 1:35 PM North Philly 19132
The Pavilion Charter School for Exceptional Students 10-Dec 2:05 PM North Philly 19132
ACES Business Entrepreneur Academy Charter School 11-Dec 12:55 PM West Philly 19151
Belmont Charter High School 11-Dec 10:10 AM West Philly 19104
Girls' Latin of Philadelphia Charter School 11-Dec 10:30 AM West Philly 19143
Global Leadership Academy International Charter School 11-Dec 1:15 PM West Philly 19131
Green Woods Charter School at Overbrook Farms 11-Dec 10:50 AM West Philly 19151
Independence Charter High School 11-Dec 11:50 AM West Philly 19104
Independence Charter School West 11-Dec 11:30 AM West Philly 19142
Innovative Dimensions STEAM Academy 11-Dec 11:10 AM West Philly unknown
KIPP Dubois Charter School 11-Dec 2:25 PM West Philly 19131
KIPP West Philadelphia Charter School 11-Dec 2:45 PM West Philly 19143
Philadelphia Music and Dance Charter School 11-Dec 1:35 PM West Philly 19139
PHMC Preparatory Charter School 11-Dec 2:05 PM West Philly 19143
Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School II 11-Dec 12:35 PM West Philly 19143
American Paradigm Charter School (Oxford Circle) 12-Dec 2:25 PM NE Philly 19111
American Paradigm Charter School at Port Richmond 12-Dec 2:05 PM Richmond 19124
Franklin Towne Charter Middle School 12-Dec 1:45 PM NE Philly 19137
Keystone Preparatory Charter School 12-Dec 1:25 PM NE Philly 19135
MaST Community Charter School - Roosevelt Campus 12-Dec 12:55 PM NE Philly 19116
String Theory Charter School - Port Richmond 12-Dec 12:35 PM Richmond 19134
Sustainable Roots Academy Charter School 12-Dec 12:20 PM Richmond 19125

WE Statement on #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter

Last night, a grand jury declined to charge Darren Wilson, the police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The Caucus of Working Educators stands in solidarity with Ferguson, Missouri and the parents of the Michael Brown in their disappointment of this ruling.

As teachers in the city of Philadelphia, we work every day to help our students see that their lives matter. We fight for quality public schools that will give every student the opportunity to feel that their voices, opinions, and lives are valued and cared for.

However, moments such as the non-indictment of Darren Wilson in the murder of Mike Brown teach our students a different story. This story -as well as the story of 12 year old Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and many others- says that the lives of black and brown youth don’t matter. These stories paint our students as criminals, rather than the intelligent and loving young men and women we know they are.

WE stand in solidarity with everyone across the country fighting for #blacklivesmatter. WE are inspired by the millions of young people in Ferguson and around the country who have said “We’ve had enough”, and have stood up for justice for Mike Brown and the countless number of black men and women who continue to die at the hands of police officers under questionable circumstances.

It is time now for the Attorney General Eric Holder to continue the federal case and find justice for Michael Brown. We encourage teachers in Philadelphia to discuss the verdict with your colleagues and students in your school. We will not be able to save public education without fighting for racial justice and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline at the same time. You can find many articles and resources to spark your discussion by searching #FergusonSyllabus.

Until we stop sanitizing the issue of race, class, and its connection to how American justice is delegated, we will never find a real sustainable solution.



City Council Testimony: Tiffany Bhavnani

On Wednesday, December 19th, many educators from around Philadelphia gave testimony to City Council in opposition to the overwhelming number of standardized tests that are administered in Philadelphia. Here is the spoken and written testimony of one such teacher.

Dear Honorable Councilwoman Blackwell:

I am one of the most privileged teachers in the School District of Philadelphia, because I am an ESOL teacher at Furness High School. I work with intelligent, creative, and enthusiastic students whose native language is not English in a neighborhood school whose student population includes a great deal of political refugees, unaccompanied and undocumented minors, immigrants from over 20 countries, students with IEPs and some students who arrived only after they were ejected from Catholic, private, charter, or special admit schools, but for whom our doors are always open. English language learners account for 57% of Furness High School’s current student population of 682 students. Even our Principal is a former Furness ESOL student and refugee from Cambodia, and his ESOL teacher at the time is still teaching at our school.

Do you know the percentage of English Language Learners at Central? 1% of their 2300+ student population. Masterman 0%, CAPA – 1%, Engineering & Science – 3%, Science Leadership – 3%. Why do you think ELL students are virtually absent from the city’s academically selective high schools and charters? Because English language proficiency has a profound impact on standardized testing. The elite public schools and charters do everything possible to keep or improve their test scores, unfortunately the major indicator of a school’s success. This means ESOL students are excluded from their esteemed populations to ensure high test scores.

The widely researched and accepted facts show that it takes a minimum of 5-7 years for a student to gain academic English, IF they are literate in their first language, AND they have content knowledge from their native education, which is far from the case with many of our ELLs in Philadelphia. Yet, these same students are expected to become “native-level” proficient in English after one, two or three years of ESOL and content area coursework in Philadelphia schools. It is utterly inappropriate academically, and is a practice that repeatedly makes our students feel deficient and defeated, despite obvious gains on the ACCESS test which IS designed for their assessment.

 Put yourself in their positions for just a moment, a Philadelphia legislator for one school year in a country vastly different from anything you’ve ever known. You have no family with you, or maybe one sibling, like many of my students. The food and water don’t agree with you and you have skin problems, and an upset stomach, and the lunch you’re served every day, you have to force down. The environment is hostile, especially when you’re coming from one extreme climate and going to another, maybe from a village to a crime-ridden city. Your whole support network of friends and neighbors that you relied on before, now consists of strangers who shout at you when you don’t understand them or respond as they expect you to. You spend 7 hours a day in classes in a foreign tongue, with a different form of writing and you don’t know how to write a single word. Imagine, every time anyone in your household has to communicate in this

new language it is your responsibility, for the bills, at the doctors, shopping, when school calls for a younger sibling. Then, midway through your school year, you will be given standardized tests in language proficiency, math and science. Do you think that you, an educated professional, literate in your first language, could pass any of the assessments at a high school level in your “new” language? Now, imagine each of those advantages you have as an American professional disappearing, and you are one of my students.

Common sense tells you that second language students don’t have a fighting chance to score “proficient” on standardized tests developed and “normed” on native English-speaking test populations. Even their English-speaking educated peers struggle to perform at a proficient level, in a district devoid of support for the learning needs of our students, many of whom live below the poverty level.

English language proficiency has a profound effect on assessment and its outcomes. These tests are not appropriate for our English language learners. They do not adequately assess their progress in learning—not only the English language, but in grade-level content. These assessments are not an accurate measure of their true achievement.

My students remain in school and continue their education despite the many academic, cultural and economic challenges they face on a daily basis. And what do we do to them? We force them to take test after test that they are not ready or able to succeed at. We make them cry in frustration to comply with mandates. We ask them to reach a proficient level on standardized tests even though they have not acquired the English language proficiency needed to meaningfully interact with the tests’ content. Then these test scores are used to label our school “low performing” even though they are attending one of the best schools for English language learners in the state.

If you were able to visit our school, and I personally invite you to do so, you would see students of all nationalities, religions, and political persuasions with rich and varied histories collaborating as they navigate a new world together. You will see them volunteering thousands of service hours with BuildOn. You will see them apply to, get accepted by and receive scholarships at quality universities all over the state. You will see ESOL students working with Americans in AP classes after only a few years here. You will see students sharing their culture, their lives, their academic endeavors with each other and their teachers. You will see the true meaning of proficiency, success, academic achievement and social responsibility. You will see a high performing school. The Keystone test will never show you any of this.

No, the Keystone will show you how our school failed. Our students are below basic. The teachers are unsatisfactory. A test which robs our students of weeks of instructional time as we complete 12 days of testing, without factoring in Benchmarks that we will also administer this year. All at the cost of millions of dollars, fully knowing that the students will not be proficient by this irrelevant test. The state of Pennsylvania will spend $58.3 million this school year alone on PSSAs and Keystone exams. Just think what that money could do to truly educate these young people.

 So, who wants to go to Fuzhou, China next fall for a reality check about standardized testing? Any volunteers? I am sure the Inquirer and Notebook would love to publish your scores. I wonder how many Chinese characters you could learn by March.


Tiffany Bhavnani, ESOL Teacher

Horace Howard Furness High School

School District of Philadelphia


Wednesday: Opt-Out Hearing at City Council

On Wednesday, November 19th, several caucus members will be participating in the Opt-Out hearing at City Council. Below is the testimony from a few of them.

Please show your support for their work by attending the event at City Hall at 3PM -- Room 400 Council Chambers. Teachers are encouraged to come after work, as the testimony is expected to go until 5PM. You can RSVP on their Facebook Event Page.

Parent Alison McDowell:

I resent the significant quantities of time and money that are being spent on standardized testing. These tests are impeding our teachers’ ability to instruct our students.  Our children are not standardized, and heaven knows the resources we put into public schools do not meet any standard of equity across districts. I trust my child’s teachers. I do not trust Pearson, nor do I trust billionaires like Bill Gates seeking to implement Common Core and its associated testing regimen.  Education should be joyful. It should celebrate the talents of our children and lift them up. We should not try to force children into the same mold. It hurts them, and in the long run it hurts our society.

Even though my child tests well, I can see that this system is broken. Her father and I will not have her scores used as a weapon against children who are more vulnerable than she-those who do not have her advantages. We are refusing the PSSAs for her this year and by doing so we will give her several weeks of time to pursue an independent research project of her choosing. By refusing, we are making a statement that we recognize this corrupt system pits child against child; school against school; and teacher against teacher.  Put simply, toxic testing is not a productive use of our limited educational resources.


District Teacher Amy Roat:

Every winter, ESOL students across the country are subjected to taking the ACCESS Test, created by the WIDA Consortium.  This company does not release data about the tests reliability or validity. WIDA does not permit outside psychometricians, from a university, for example, to examine the test questions or  the actual student results. Yet, WIDA hails itself as the gold standard for measuring what English Language Learners know and can produce.

For over 100 years, it has been a scientific standard that for a theory to be proven accurate or true, it must be able to be replicated by other scientists. Private companies, under the guise of corporate  proprietary knowledge, refuse to release the data or let experts analyze their data. It is defies logic that  we would judge students, teachers, schools and districts based on dubious tests.

Parent and District Teacher Beth Menasion:

The PSSA’s in high school have been replaced with the Keystone exams, which are now a graduation requirement starting with the class of 2017.  Last Spring, I watched a student on the autistic spectrum sit and struggle with one module of his Biology Keystone for (I kid you not!) 8 hours straight.  He wanted so badly to do well.   While he agonized over every answer, he would not admit defeat.  The rules of the assessment forbid me from taking the test from a student in situations like these.  He sat through his lunch, struggling with this test because he knew that if he didn’t pass, he would have to take it again.  

I also have a student with a math based learning disability who works extremely hard in math, but did not pass the Algebra Keystone last year.  Disappointed in herself, she wanted to see the test and find out which problems she got wrong so that she knows what she must work on for next time.  Sadly, students and teachers are prohibited from seeing the exact results of each item on these tests.  The rules also say that in the testing rooms and hallways, walls must be devoid of all words and pictures, meaning that teachers must either take down or cover up any student work that is displayed as well as any artwork or even inspirational quotes.  Due to the frequency of standardized testing, many teachers on our testing floor no longer see the point of displaying anything anymore.   Blank walls.