The Caucus of Working Educators believes that purposeful action needs to be taken in order to eliminate the adverse outcomes derived from perpetual structural racism evident in public education.
- WE want public school based policies that resist the criminalization of students of color.
- WE want curriculum and pedagogy that recognizes the collective contribution of all groups to modern society.
- WE want a full and fair funding formula that can provide for all of the needs of our students and schools.
- WE want standardized testing to end and no longer be used as the criteria to shutter schools since these tactics adversely affect low income, Black, and Latino communities.
- WE want to attract, develop, and retain more teachers of color.
WE are aware of the barriers that all of our students and families face that limit their chances and opportunities to achieve academic success and a positive sustainable quality of life. WE support all organizations and collective work that are against stop and frisk policies, support the fight for fair and safe housing, support a living and sustainable wage for all citizens, and the right for all to have access to affordable and equitable healthcare.
The Caucus of Working Educators believes that this Racial Justice Statement promotes equity, human life, educational and social justice, and will develop the necessary knowledge and actions necessary to eliminate the barriers created by prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination and bias in Philadelphia and beyond.
Dear Mr. Mckesson,
As the social justice caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, we were surprised to see that you are coming to Philadelphia to speak alongside leaders of Teach for America (TFA). The Caucus of Working Educators (WE) is committed to racial justice in our schools and society, and we stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
We see Teach for America as working in opposition to the goals of publicly funded education for all students in Philadelphia and to the goal of increasing the number of teachers of color and teachers who are committed to building relationships with communities over the long term, which we see as an integral component of culturally responsive teaching. We view the hiring of cadres of racial, cultural, and geographical outsiders with very little teaching preparation as part of a larger neoliberal effort to privatize education and replace unionized teachers (many of whom are teachers of color) with young, inexperienced teachers (most of whom are white and do not intend to stay in the teaching profession and commit to the long-term improvement of their teaching practice).
This practice of displacing African American teachers, in particular, is already underway. While Philadelphia’s teaching force increased by 13 percent from 2001-2011, the percentage of Black teachers dropped by 19 percent. This has contributed to Philadelphia having the greatest disparity between the race and ethnicity of the student body and those who teach them. Only 31 percent of Philadelphia teachers are of color compared to 86 percent of the student body they are teaching. This is unacceptable.
TFA has ties and parallels with the charter school movement, which we see as undercutting public education. The mass charterization of public neighborhood schools has led to the outsourcing of public school management to private operators. Just weeks ago Philadelphia Public Schools announced yet another wave of school closures and conversions of public schools into charter schools affecting upwards of 5000 students. This is in addition to the 23 public schools that were closed in Philadelphia in 2013.
The decision to turn a district school into a charter is often made by the highest levels of administration without consulting with the school community, including parents, teachers, students, and leaders. Your support of Teach for America represents a support of these same kinds of outsourced and contracted paradigms for educating our children. Rather than hiring experienced professionals that will stay in the profession for a long period of time, Teach for America hires individuals with little or no experience in classroom settings via external channels such as private universities and corporately sponsored recruitment. Teach for America and charter schools both represent a failure of public leadership to lead and create change in our public schools, and prioritize outsourcing teaching and school governance over public responsibility to realize every student’s right to a fully funded, culturally relevant, education in their neighborhood.
Instead, TFA contributes to the dangerous and misleading discourse that claims poverty and structural inequality have little to no impact on educational outcomes. This irresponsible explanation provides Democrats and Republicans alike with a pretext to continue vicious budget cuts to public services and institutions under the guise that “personal responsibility” and “grit” are the main factors in determining a child’s success or failure.
We live and work in state that has the largest funding disparity between wealthy and poor districts and in a city whose externally appointed school governance commission is proposing to continue to close down schools that primarily serve low-income African American families. In Philadelphia where 79 percent of the city’s students are Black and Latino, $9,299 is spent per pupil compared to the $17, 261 spent just across the city line in Lower Merion where 91 percent of the students are white. This is the civil rights crisis of our generation.
In this context, we believe that it is essential that those who are committed to racial justice take a critical stance against organizations that aim to further privatize education and/or replace fully prepared unionized teachers with underprepared novices who are likely to leave the teaching profession in two to three years.
The Black Lives Matter movement has served as an inspiration and instruction on how to confront racism and inequality throughout our country. Part of that inspiration is the way that the movement has looked at the connections between police violence and racism and other inequalities faced by African Americans. We consider the attacks on public education to be a part of the “state-sanctioned violence” that the movement has done so much to highlight over the last year. We do not believe that the white billionaires that bankroll Teach for America and the corporate education “reform” movement are any more interested in the education of poor and working class Black and Latino children than we believe they are interested in ending police violence in Black and Brown communities. If they were, these crises would no longer exist.
We are glad that you are visiting Philadelphia, and we hope that you will use your platform to engage in a critical dialogue about whether TFA supports – or as we believe undercuts – the goals of a fully funded education for every student in Philadelphia with teachers who know their community and are committed to staying for the long haul.
For more information please contact email@example.com.
Earlier this month, we brought you the story of Mifflin Elementary organizing their Work To Rule Campaign. Their week-long action is now complete -- here's how it went, from caucus member Pamela Roy.
Last Friday, after participating in a week of work-to-rule, the staff at Mifflin went out to happy hour. There, we shared some of our successes and desires for improvement.
On a positive note, many of the parents of our youngest students became aware of the amount of time the teachers at our school spend watching their children after hours. Most kindergarten and first grade parents became very aware of the drop-off and pick-up times with the understanding that there would not be adults present to watch their child. Some parents expressed their displeasure that they could not drop their child off as early (some drop them off up to 45 minutes before school starts). We hope that parents will continue to realize the importance of timely drop-off and pick-up times, for the safety of their students.
We also felt the roll-out and notification of parents was successful. In most cases, parents were aware of what we were doing- and why. However, we perhaps didn’t achieve the intended result, which was for students to contact the district and SRC and complain about the lack of resources in our school. Apparently, they were not inconvenienced enough to communicate this message to the decision-makers in our district.
As a staff, we wondered: what if there had been district-wide buy-in? Would that have been more effective? Participation from all schools and all members would have sent a more powerful message. Additionally, we asked: Would this have been more effective if it had started on the first day of school?
Ultimately, we agreed that if we were to do it all over, we would make the following modification: we would have stayed in the building outside of contractual hours to have time to prepare for our classes.
Most teachers would agree that things like lesson planning, making copies, grading papers and the like are a part of the job, and those things usually take place outside of contractual hours. We would have liked more time and space to do those things in the building, with the understanding that we would not be watching or working with students outside of those hours, nor communicating with administration or parents. On a do-over, we would have still upheld our lunch periods as student-free time, and cancelled after-school activities.
In the end, the work-to-rule protest helped create solidarity amongst staff, while raising awareness with families that we have been stretched quite thin as professionals and our schools are sadly under-resourced.
Did you know that the PFT Constitution calls for an internal election every 4 years? Federal law requires that the members of all unions democratically elect their leaders, and the next PFT elections are due in early 2016. Here's who we will vote for:
9 Executive Officer positions (including President),
27 Executive Board members
260 delegates to AFT conventions
The Collective Bargaining (CB) Team is the caucus that has held the leadership of our union for almost 30 years. Because they “ran” unopposed in a ceremonial election in 2012 and 2008, many of our colleagues have never participated in an actual internal election! However, as PFT members, we can nominate candidates, form slates, and run for these seats. Our involvement is essential to protect our rights and maintain a healthy and strong democratic union.
The timeline for this election is set by the current leadership. We are waiting for the current PFT Executive Board to adopt new nomination and election procedures and release them to the membership.
However, there is a template for how this election should go. Based on the 2012 Nomination and Election Procedures published by the PFT, here is the potential timeline:
An election committee will be formed, with members of any group presenting a slate included.
Nominations for candidates will be due in early January 2016.
Slates will be drawn up, and ballots will be mailed to members in early February.
Members will then mail their secret ballots to the American Arbitration Association to be counted.
If you're interested in learning more about how PFT elections work, read over the 2012 Nominations and Elections Procedures. Then get involved to help build a member-driven PFT!
What has your building organized around the work to rule campaign? No matter how you are approaching that initiative, we encourage your staff to take the next step and start reporting how much extra time you put into your job each day beyond what's mandated by our contract -- that's both what you do for your own work, and what you do to close the gaps due to layoffs and budget cuts (that do not fit in your job description.)
Try it for just one day using this quick and easy form, and then we can send you a toolkit to calculate the number for your entire building!
We also encourage you to share the ways that you and your colleagues go above and beyond for our schools every day using the hashtag #beyondthebell. Writing college recommendation letters at midnight? Finding a full parking lot when you get to school at 6:30am? Rushing to the store for a copy-paper sale? It's time to lift the curtain on everything that we do!
In the November election, Philadelphia voters can choose five candidates for City Council At-Large. Five candidates will be elected from the Democratic Party. In addition, the two highest vote-getters from all other minority political parties will also be elected and take their place on City Council. Traditionally, that has always been two Republicans.
On November 3rd, instead of using all five votes for Democrats (who are virtually certain to be elected), vote for Kristin Combs -- public school teacher running for an at-large seat on Philadelphia's City Council with the Green Party.
The goal is for one of the minority party seats to instead go to the Green Party and bring a much needed progressive agenda to City Council. Five democrats and one green will help move Council to the left on a variety of issues affecting working people across Philadelphia.
Combs' platform includes fully funded public schools, local school control, charter school reform, an end to school closings, restorative justice, a living wage, paid sick leave, collective bargaining rights for all workers, fully funded pensions, an end to private outsourcing of public sector jobs, and an end to corporate welfare. For more information:
Below is the original Work-to-Rule Campaign proposal from WE that was proposed at a meeting between the Caucus of Working Educators (represented by Yaasiyn Muhammad, Kelley Collings, Larissa Pahomov, Ismael Jimenez, Delilah Washington, and Amy Roat) and the PFT leadership (represented by Jerry Jordan, Dee Phillips, Evette Jones, Hillary Linardopoulos, and George Jackson) on July 24, 2015.
The original plan details a 5-month-long membership-driven organizing campaign -- involving parents, community members, and other unions in our buildings -- that galvanizes a united front against the resource starvation and budget crises faced by our schools under the 15-year-long SRC rule.
Instead, what the PFT leadership handed the membership was an eleventh hour email the Friday before the so-called work-to-rule actions were to occur.
Let's be clear on the difference between deep organizing and shallow mobilizing. Deep organizing makes us stronger as a union. Deep organizing demands that we have solid relationships with each other as PFT members. Deep organizing requires that we develop authentic power-sharing partnerships with parents and community members as we fight for the resources our students and school deserve. The Caucus of Working Educators is committed to deep organizing that leads to effective direct actions. Anything less than that does a disservice to our students and our schools.
Effective work-to-rule actions take months to organize. The campaign at Mifflin Elementary is an example of effective, authentic, thorough organizing and should be lifted up as such.
As we struggle at our schools to decide how to respond to the PFT leadership's last minute work-to-rule directive, let's look for ways to honor and support each other as rank-and-file members engaged in grassroots organizing in our schools. Any schools seeking advice on planning an action can contact Mifflin Teacher firstname.lastname@example.org or Caucus Co-Chair Kelley Collings at Kelley.Collings@gmail.com.
Contract campaign proposal for work-to-rule actions
The contract campaign will run from August through November 2015.
The purpose of the campaign is:
(1) to build consensus among all public education stakeholders (rank-and-file teachers, parents, community members, and students) about what has been taken away from Philadelphia public schools over the last 15 years;
(2) to build consensus among all public education stakeholders about what all stakeholders have done to fill the void left by the budget cuts;
(3) to build political will among all stakeholders to wage a week-long work-to-rule action that will demonstrate publicly what Philadelphia public schools would be like without the extra volunteerism of teachers, parents, and community members.
The structure of the campaign is as follows:
1. Chapter meetings:
Each school will hold a PFT Chapter meeting as soon as possible after Sept 2 (with teachers, paras, counselors, nurses). Rank-and-file members will use butcher block paper to answer the following questions: What did schools look like 15 years ago (even 5 years ago)? What do we do now as educators to fill the void? What do we do now for free – in the name of the students – to compensate for the systematic starvation of our schools.
2. Community/parent/student meetings:
Each school will hold a meeting with parents, community members, and students in late September or early October. Parents, community members, and students will use butcher block paper to answer the following questions: What did schools look like 15 years ago (even 5 years ago)? What do we (as parents, community members, and students) do now to fill the void? What do we see educators doing to fill the void? Where possible, these meetings can happen at Back-to-School Night. If it’s not possible to make this part of the official Back-to-School Night, PFT members can use Back-to-School Night to distribute flyers and turn folks out for upcoming meetings (that can occur onsite/inside or offsite/outside of schools) that would be scheduled within a week of Back-to-School Night. At the end each meeting, we pose the question: “What would it look like if we all stopped doing these extra things for one week to send a message to the politicians that we refuse to be starved anymore?” We use the opportunity to get folks on board for the week-long work-to-rule action.
3. Week-long Work-to-Rule Actions
In mid-October schools across the district will stage a week-long work-to-rule action co-organized by educators, parents, community members, and students. Specific actions will be decided at the local school level and will be designed to demonstrate the devastating effects of systematically starving our schools of the funds and resources they so desperately need.
4. Culminating action
The week of local school work-to-rule actions will culminate in a huge city-wide action (rally, march, or other type of direct action) in mid-October designed to publicly and visually display unmistakable unity among educators, parents, community members, and students for what Philadelphia public schools need.
- We could kick off the campaign at a PFT general membership meeting in August with a direct action immediately following the meeting. For example, we could all pour of the meeting into the streets with picket signs and march to a strategic target with a demand. (Another possibility is to kick off the campaign on a Tele-townhall call. This is less ideal since it won’t capture the kind of energy and momentum that a meeting & direct action will capture.)
- This could be shared in Building Representatives meetings in Sept with rank & file leaders introducing the campaign alongside PFT staffers. This would signal to the Bldg Reps that this is a membership-driven campaign.
- Explore the possibility of getting an article in the Notebook’s fall issue around this campaign. Have a teacher/parent/student/community member write an editorial.
- We need to come up with a name for the campaign. Possible campaign messaging:
- Stop the Starvation
- Then & Now (posters & flyers)
- The slow death/ruin/decimation of public education
- We’ve been in the pot on the stove for 15 years now, and the water is boiling
- Remember school when…
- Remember when public education was…
- Remember when public education meant…
- Public education: THEN & NOW
- We need a tool to harness stories (from educators, parents, community members, and students) publicly using social media
- We need to pull in the Kenney and Gym campaigns
- We need to pull in parent groups: H&S; Parents United; Action United; POWER
- We need to pull in student organizing groups: YUC; PSU; Phila Youth Poetry Movement; Philly Youth Commission
- We need to pull in other unions within the SDP: 1201; 634; CASA
On Thursday, September 30th, SDP Superintendent William Hite announced that he will continue to continue to disrupt the education of thousands of Philadelphia students by implementing Action Plan 3.0.
Superintendent Hite claims that the plan to “phase out” two schools and turn three more over to Renaissance Charter operators must be implemented in order to “deliver on our vision of equity.” Why does that vision include closing or causing upheaval in schools that are in struggling neighborhoods and have been denied adequate resources for years?
Here are a few ways that this new plan is anything but equitable, and examples of how things could be done differently:
Two years ago, the school communities of Steel and Munoz-Marin had the chance to vote on whether to accept outside charter operators. By contrast, this new plan was designed without any teacher, parent, or community input. Schools were only informed of their fate early Thursday morning.
When Steel and Munoz-Marin faced their vote about possible charter takeover, the current staff were given an opportunity to present their own plans for the school. Why are no district teachers being given the opportunity to speak for their own schools?
The three schools suggested for Renaissance charter takeover--Cooke, Huey, and Wister--are all in neighborhoods where the educational fabric has already been cut to pieces by encroaching charters. That they would also eventually be put up for charterization is not an accident.
The possibility of naming up to three turnaround schools means that all of the staff will automatically be removed from the school, and only 50% can return. By contrast, when a school applies for a “redesign,” they can keep all of their staff. Why does a “turnaround” require that students be separated from the teachers they trust?
Hite’s letter to teachers also claims that the SDP has “made progress obtaining the necessary resources to adequately serve our students and families.” Unfortunately, the biggest new resources are ones that push teachers towards more assessment, such as the “Driven by Data” handbooks that teachers at Central High School collected to resell so that they could raise funds for paper.
In fact, most educators can tell you that since 2013, there has been a consistent stripping of resources, both human and material. Most school lack a full time nurse and school counselor. Most schools lack safety personnel to supervise students before and after school, as well as in the halls during the school day. Most schools have one secretary and most principals struggle without an assistant principal to guide their schools. The district does not have the right to label schools as failing and ripe for overhaul in these conditions.
Philadelphia’s Caucus of Working Educators is already working to support students, teachers, and community members who wish to defend their schools from takeover or closure. Any educators who are looking for support can reach us at email@example.com.
On Tuesday, September 29th, the PFT leadership voted against the endorsement of public school teacher and PFT member, Kristin Combs, who is running for an at-large seat on city council as a Green Party candidate.
In rejecting one of their own members, the PFT leadership failed to endorse the only teacher candidate running on a strong education and labor platform.Combs' platform includes fully funded public schools, local school control, charter school reform, an end to school closings, restorative justice, a living wage, paid sick leave, collective bargaining rights for all workers, fully funded pensions, an end to private outsourcing of public sector jobs, and an end to corporate welfare. The Caucus of Working Educators is outraged that such a strong teacher leader would not receive the endorsement of the current PFT leadership.
Rather than support a teacher whose campaign is dedicated to creating the schools Philadelphia’s children deserve, the PFT leadership instead voted to endorse an Independent with no labor support, as well as a Republican who pledges to maintain the SRC as-is.
The responsible thing – both for its own members, as well as for the future of public education in Philadelphia – would have been for the PFT to endorse Combs’ candidacy.
The PFT leadership failed its members by their refusal to endorseCombs’ for city council. As members of the PFT, the Caucus of Working Educators is organizing to enhance, not ignore, teacher leadership. We vehemently reject this decision and proudly support Kristin Combs for city council.