Our Listening Campaign & Bid for Union Leadership


From Left: Amy Roat, Yaasiyn Muhammad, Ismael Jimenez, Kelley Collings.

[UPDATE: Read about the launch of our Listening Campaign in The Notebook, The Examiner, and Raging Chicken Press.]

We are thrilled to announce our first-ever citywide listening campaign!

Over the next several months, the campaign will ask the 11,000 rank and file members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) to weigh in about what they need most from the district and the union so  they can best serve the students of Philadelphia in the city’s public schools.

The campaign will develop a platform and slate for the Caucus of Working Educators to run for  internal PFT executive leadership. At Wednesday’s meeting, four “officer candidates” were presented to the Caucus membership. These candidates come recommended by the Elections Committee of the Caucus, who worked over the summer to organize the campaign and begin identifying candidates. They are not yet slated in any particular order.

  • Kelley Collings is a math teacher at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences with fourteen years teaching in the School District of Philadelphia.
  • Ismael Jimenez is a history teacher at Kensington CAPA, with seven years teaching in SDP.
  • Yaasiyn Muhammad is a history teacher at Central High School, with seven years teaching in SDP.
  • Amy Roat is an ESOL teacher at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, with thirteen years teaching in SDP and twenty years experience as a teacher.

Over the course of the campaign, we will organize listening sessions around the city, to reach every school building and neighborhood, with these four candidates at the center of the work.

“We are not coming to you with a set agenda or platform,” Collings said to the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting. “Instead we are listening to all PFT members across the city and building a platform that reflects our collective vision for the schools Philadelphia’s students deserve.”

We will be presenting the final slate to the Caucus membership for confirmation at our annual convention on November 14th. According to PFT bylaws, internal elections will take place between January and April of 2016.



Why are Philly parents opting out of standardized testing?

Philadelphia parents talk about why they decided to opt their children out of the PSSA and Keystone tests.

Watch the video here


Testing is ruining public education.

You have the power to stop it.

Get all the information you need to opt out of the PSSA and Keystone tests in the Opt Out Organizing Toolkit

Like the Opt Out Philly facebook page https://www.facebook.com/OptOutPhilly



Parents Speak Out: The new PSSA and Keystone scores are ‘loaded guns’ aimed at our kids


Parent activists call new PSSA and Keystone cut scores “loaded guns” that rob schools of resources and kick the school-to-prison pipeline into overdrive. Parents are intensifying organizing efforts to increase opt out rates during the 2015-2016 school year.

Philadelphia parents are urging students and families across the city to refuse PSSA and Keystone standardized tests by legally “opting out”. Families across PA are outraged by significant drops in PSSA scores and similar projections for yet-to-be-released Keystones scores. Administrators claim more ‘rigorous’ standards are the cause, but parents see it as setting the bar out of reach for the students who are most at risk.


“It is calculated and predetermined that kids who are raised in poverty, who have english-language differences or special education needs, don’t pass these tests,” explains Philadelphia public school parent Robin Roberts. “It’s orchestrated. It has nothing to do with the kids or the teachers.”

Parent Tonya Bah maintains, “The Keystone state exams are ‘loaded guns’ aimed at taking any shred of opportunity from our children and their future, while widening the gap between the haves and have not’s.” A new law requires students to pass the Keystone exams in order to graduate. The drop in scores will prevent students from graduating, increase drop-outs, and wreck havoc at schools. “If high school students do not pass the Literature, Biology, and Algebra exams they will be denied high school diplomas,” explains Bah, who was instrumental in getting 171 families to opt of out the PSSA’s at one of her children’s schools.

“Those tests determine the number of jail cells that are built. I don’t want my children or any other child to feel like there’s anything built for them but success,” says Shakeda Gaines, Philadelphia public school parent and Member at Large of the Philadelphia Home and School Association.


The pattern of introducing “more rigorous” tests, followed by a huge drop in performance and subsequent implementation of punitive measures against schools, students, and teachers is one that has played out in other states -- most recently New York and New Jersey. In both states, drops in test scores led to massive parent-led opt out mobilizations.



Opt Out Philly – a coalition of parents, teachers, and students formed last year to organize opt out campaigns at local schools across the city and suburbs – is intensifying outreach efforts targeting community events, street fairs, and back-to-school events to inform parents about their legal right to opt their children out of the test. Movement leaders expect opt out rates to soar during the 2015-2016 school year.

More information can be found at: http://www.workingeducators.org/opt_out_philly_hits_the_streets_in_2015_2016 


Opt Out Philly members include: the Caucus of Working Educators of the PFT, Action United, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, Parents United for Public Education, Asian Americans United, Philadelphia Student Union, Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign, and Teacher Action Group.


Opt Out today! 
For more info:

Community Power Survey: 3-5 Minutes to Build Grassroots Power!

There's never been a more exciting time to be a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. We've built a base of educators, parents, and community members that have taken Opt Out to the streets, fought to Reclaim our PD, and brought together almost 200 people from around the city to discuss racial justice and education for this summer's book clubs-- and that's just this summer!

But this has only happened because individuals have come together to share their knowledge, skills, and passion with one another. Jane McAlevey, who visited us in April, explained that as we build relationships with one another, we begin to recognize collective resources --personal relationships, social networks, and knowledge--which can be mobilized to build power and transform our communities.

As the next step in building power, we've created a survey that will allow us to better understand and map our collective power across the city. 

Please take 3-5 minutes to fill out this Power Survey (especially if you're in an all-day 'Driven by Data' PD!). We want all WE supporters to take this, no matter what your role or involvement so far:

Just to get you interested, here's our starting map of all Philadelphia public schools. Yellow dots are elementary schools, orange are middle schools, and blue are high schools:

If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about power mapping, please email contact@workineducators.org to get in touch.



State of Emergency Book Share

In Philadelphia, teachers must beg, borrow, and (hopefully not) steal books and materials to start the school year. Until the Pennsylvania legislature, releases a budget that fairly funds public education in our state, City Council releases funds they have allocated for schools, and the SRC prioritizes teachers and students over administrators and data, our students will go without many of the materials they need to learn effectively.

WE members have been hearing from teachers across the district about desperate lack of supplies. This spreadsheet is an emergency response to post books that are needed to start classes, and any surplus books that may be hiding in book closets around the city or nearby suburbs:


Please take a look to see if you have anything to offer, and if you know of someone in need make sure they post here as well.


Then contact your State legislators [www.pa.gov/Government] to demand and end to starvation budgets in Philly!


It's Time to Take Back Our PD!

If you're tired of the "Driven By Data" agenda of corporate ed reformers, why not take back your professional development days? This year's PD from 440 was designed by administrators that have since left Philly for more money. What they left is a mess. What school staff have always known is that we can do much better because we know what our students, families, and school communities need. Working Educators are growing the idea of grassroots collaboration in schools as an alternative to top-down PD. 

September 3rd and 4th are professional development days and the chaos at 440 has left a vacuum of leadership. Many principals may be willing to shorten the district-mandated materials if there is something worthwhile or site-specific for their staff to engage in. Ask your principal to carve out some staff-led PD time - an hour, a day - for staff to design and lead meaningful and inspiring workshops and collaborations before school starts! Here are some suggestions to offer your colleagues:
  • Present a book or article you read over the summer.
  • Plan ways to address the needs of your ESL students and families.
  • Discuss how to facilitate dialogues on race and #BlackLivesMatter.
  • Invite community-based organizations to partner with school staff.
  • Choose your top 3 priorities for the year as colleagues.
  • Share strategies and cool things to use in the classroom.
  • "Turn-around" a training that you took over the summer.
  • Explore ways to engage teachers and youth in critical pedagogy.
  • Develop a year-long PD plan that staff can build on each PD day.
  • Address any real needs at your school site. Who knows best what solutions to try!

Once you've created the space for staff-led PD, share the great things you're doing with the Caucus blog or Facebook page. Take photos, video, and share materials to build momentum! Later this year, the Caucus of Working Educators will start to grow and share quality cross-school collaborations on district PD days. Think about the possibilities for upcoming staff-led workshops on all of these days!

  • October 28th (1/2)
  • November 3rd 
  • November 25th (1/2)
  • December 18 (1/2)
  • January 22nd (1/2)
  • February 16th (1/2)
  • February 26th
  • March 14th (1/2)
  • April 26th
  • May 10th (1/2)
In Solidarity and Collaboration,

Member-driven Caucus of Working Educators


Weekly Update 8/31: Reclaim Our PD and End-of-Summer Invitations


As students and educators across Philadelphia prepare for the first days of school, we have several invitations for you. The first is to participate in an easy campaign that will help you and your colleagues make your professional development meaningful:

Reclaiming PD

If you're tired of the "Driven By Data" agenda of corporate ed reformers, why not take back your professional development days? This year's PD from 440 was designed by administrators that have since left Philly for more money. What they left is a mess. What school staff have always known is that we can do much better because we know what our students, families, and school communities need. Working Educators are growing the idea of grassroots collaboration in schools as an alternative to top-down PD. 

September 3rd and 4th are professional development days and the chaos at 440 has left a vacuum of leadership. Many principals may be willing to shorten the district-mandated materials if there is something worthwhile or site-specific for their staff to engage in. Ask your principal to carve out some staff-led PD time - an hour, a day - for staff to design and lead meaningful and inspiring workshops and collaborations before school starts! 

For a list of great teacher-led activities, check out our blog. 

End of Summer Happy Hour / Book Series Finale

This summer, hundreds of educators participated in twelve different book clubs. Celebrate the end of the summer, and hear back about the intersectional explorations of the summer reading series!

  • Celebrate a summer of learning and organizing together with TAG and the Caucus of Working Educators!
  • Learn about the books people read in the 2nd Annual Summer Reading Series
  • Meet other passionate educators and allies
  • Share your ideas and get energized about the movement to defend and transform public education.

Thursday, September 3rd // 3-5 PM
Tierra Columbiana
4535 N. 5th Street, Philadelphia 

RSVP on Facebook

Caucus General Membership Meeting

A must-attend event for all caucus members (and anybody who would like to join -- you can sign up at the start of the meeting!) Several committees will be sharing their summer work with suggestions for the coming year. 

Wednesday, September 9th // 5-7 PM
Calvary United Methodist Church
815 S. 48th Street (at Baltimore Avenue), Philadelphia

RSVP on Facebook


Opt Out Philly hits the streets in 2015-2016

“They don’t have a counselor, they don’t have a nurse, they can’t go to the bathroom, but they gotta take this test."

-- Philadelphia public school parent

Watch the video here

Opt Out Philly parents, community members, & teachers hit the ground running this school year doing outreach at community meetings, block parties, and back-to-school events throughout the city.



Start recruiting parents and students today -- Opt Out for Justice!

Download the flyer here and the sample opt out letter here.



















Weekly Update: Read. Relax. Repeat.

It's full summer, and we hope you're having a chance to relax your body, mind, and soul. It's going to be an exciting year as we build a movement to fight for our schools and communities, and we all need to be well rested!

While you're relaxing on the couch or by the beach, catch up with some of the 11 different books being read as part of our summer book clubs. Each group has been posting notes, photos, and questions from their discussions-- so that you can take part even if you're far from Philly.

Take a look at some of the highlights below, and please add your own comments on the blog or on our facebook page:

51ekNA4OKyL._SY344_BO1_204_203_200_.jpgMultiplication is for White People, Lisa Delpit
Essential Question: How can we teach deeply so that all students learn, while still covering content?

"The first year the district rolled out Math In Context, there was a lesson about building towers in there. I started the lesson with my class of 7th graders, and many became frustrated. Then it dawned on me, the lesson was based on squaring numbers, a concept taught in earlier grades. I had made the initial assumption that the kids would know how to do that, but they did not. So I backed it up and taught the basic skills first.

Did we achieve the grade level lesson? YES! Did it take twice as long as the Planning and Scheduling Time Line suggested? YES! Nia made the point that there is so much content to cover, we never get time to teach anything in depth. I find myself picking and choosing, what is a skill that is necessary that I can go deep with versus a skill that they may see again or is not that crucial in life that I can spend less time on (box and whisker plot, anyone?). These are the struggles many of us face on a daily basis." Read more from this book club here!

More highlights below the jump (click 'read more')

Read more

What's going on with our teacher pensions?

By Dave Thomer

Much of the controversy regarding the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) rests on the distinction between defined-benefit and defined-contribution retirement systems.

  • In defined-benefit systems, the employer promises to pay a certain benefit to the employee upon retirement, usually based on working salary and length of service. The employee and the employer make contributions to an overall fund, which is then invested in an effort to grow the fund. If the fund does not grow enough to cover all of the promised benefits, the employer must contribute additional funds to make up the difference.
  • In defined-contribution systems, the employer promises to make a certain contribution to the employee’s retirement fund. The employee usually gets to choose how this individual fund will be invested from a limited menu of options. When the employee retires, he or she can begin to withdraw from his or her individual fund. If the fund has grown considerably, the employee gets all of the benefit of that growth. But if it has not grown substantially enough to pay for the employee’s expenses during retirement, then the employee is responsible for making up the difference in whatever way possible.

PSERS is a defined-benefit system. It promises to provide a set payout no matter the current growth or status of the fund.

Many private companies have shifted their retirement benefit plans away from defined-benefit and toward defined-contribution because these are less expensive for the employer and create more cost certainty. As many public employee pension funds have faced large gaps between the money they expect to have and the money they are expected to pay out (aka, an unfunded liability), some lawmakers have tried to force this shift.

PSERS currently has a significant unfunded liability. One study estimates that there is an almost 70% chance that PSERS will run out of money in the next 15 years. Two laws passed in the last fifteen years help explain the situation.

  •  Act 9 in 2001 increased the contribution that workers made during their employment and also increased the benefit that they would receive when they retired. Employees at the time had the choice of retaining the old lower contribution and the corresponding lower benefit; employees who started working on or after July 1, 2001 automatically were put in the higher group. Employees who kept the old contribution and payout are in Class T-C. Employees who make the higher contribution and receive the higher payout are in Class T-D.
  • Act 120 in 2010 created two new groups of employees. Employees who join PSERS after July 1, 2011 choose to become part of Class T-E or Class T-F. Members of Class T-E make the same base contribution as members of Class T-D, but their pension benefit is the lower amount received by members of Class T-C. Members of Class T-F pay a higher employee contribution, but get the higher benefit associated with Class T-D. In addition, members of Classes T-E and T-F are subject to a shared-risk adjustment to their contribution. If the pension fund’s investments have not performed well over a three-year period, creating a larger unfunded liability, these employees must make a higher contribution in order to help make up the difference. So far, since Act 120 passed, this has not been required.

How do I know which category I fall into? Use the chart below to figure out which group you belong to. The PSERS website does have an online tool that will allow you to look up your member statement, but you must register in order to use the tool and it will take several days after you register for you to receive your password. The tool can be found at http://www.psers.state.pa.us/interaction/default.htm . The School District of Philadelphia Office of Human Resources also maintains a website with retirement information that can be found at http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/r/retirement , or you can call 215-400-4680 for more information.


Pensions Flowchart 1.jpg

Act 9 was passed in part because the pension systems were in good shape after the high stock market returns of the 1990s. Between Act 9 and Act 120, there were two major stock market crashes, and school districts made smaller contributions in order to balance the budget. Many districts have experienced job cuts and or salary freezes and reductions since the 2009 recession, which means that current employees are putting less money than originally expected into the fund in order to pay for the benefits of current retirees. Act 120 also set caps on the rate at which school district contributions to the pension funds will increase, which can increase the gap between what the fund has on hand and what it needs to pay future benefits.

With PSERS facing such a large unfunded liability, it is very likely that the state government will make additional changes in the future. These changes could include changes to future benefits, changes to current contributions, or a conversion from the current defined-benefit system to a defined-contribution system. In fact, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that would have required all new employees to join a new defined-contribution system that would eventually replace the existing defined-benefit system. Governor Wolf vetoed this bill, but we should expect changes to the pension system to be a continued subject of negotiations between the governor and the legislature.

It is also important to note that even though the bill vetoed by the governor would have left current members’ benefits and contributions unchanged at present, it would still have an effect on the health of the system. If all future employees are moved to a new defined-contribution system, that means that their payroll contributions will not go into the fund for the existing defined-benefit system. This would have the potential to increase the unfunded liability in the future.

As the negotiations continue, we will provide updates on this blog.

Dave Thomer teachers at Parkway Center City.