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 . The School District of Philadelphia Office of Human Resources also maintains a website with retirement information that can be found at , 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. 


Our First-Ever Meme Competition: The Cost of Standardized Testing...

We're very excited to announce our first-ever meme competition! The focus: high-stakes standardized testing.

The annual cost of testing in PA is $58,291,000. But educators, parents, and communities know the costs to our students and schools are much greater. Help communicate the harms caused by high-stakes standardized tests and the privatization of our public schools: 


Meme creator link:

1)Simply follow the link above, click the green "create" button, and add your text! Click "generate" to complete the meme.

2) Make sure you save your image by right-clicking it and then selecting "save image as", or by sharing on social media. Make sure to tag it #‎OptOutMemeCompetition

3) Submit your meme to us by posting it on our facebook thread, or by emailing it to All submissions will be credited.

(This photo was taken as part of the Philadelphia Opt Out Day of Action with Jesse Turner on July 7th, 2015. Click here for more photos from the event:



An Open Letter in Defense of Art Class at Bartram H.S.

Dear Philadelphia,

I want to give you an update of conditions at Bartram. Perhaps you can spread this piece of positive news, even though it is mixed with some negative. Chris Palmer, John Bartram’s art teacher extraordinaire, has been CUT. After this year there will no longer be an art program at Bartram High School even though current Art Education Coordinator, Deborah Klose, states that all high schools should have at least two expressive art classes. There will still be CTE programs of graphic design and video production that are offered to a select group of hand-chosen students. However, the rest of the school will be left with one elective--music.

The district has predicted that Bartram’s enrollment will drop below 600 students, and thus requires less teaching staff. But, the elimination of a studio artprogram is the wrong target. Studies show that the integration of the expressive arts into school curricula has a measured positive effect in core subjects. Students need these expressive arts classes in order to aid their critical thinking and problem solving skills. Art is an essential and vital part of any high school. It breathes life into classrooms and provides yet another way for students to connect to their learning experiences. It “creates a unity of spirit and imagination,” and can help alleviate stress in an at-risk environment. Students need a chance to un-wind, express themselves, and regenerate in a district that only seems to value core subject proficiency. Studio Art, Dance, Music, and Drama are areas in which all students can express their thoughts and abilities in ways that use multiple intelligences.

Despite the lack of funding and lack of resources, Mr. Palmer, in his 7 years of tenure at Bartram, has created a strong art department worthy of any institution. He is an amazing artist who inspires students to create their own original pieces. I know that the students, their families, and staff have greatly appreciated his efforts. So, with art disappearing from the course selection at Bartram, I am extremely concerned about the detrimental effects this will have on the already distressed community of Bartram. I have seen students who are frustrated with their lack of academic success who thrive in art class.

In Mr. Palmer’s art class, I see English Language Learners, Special Education and regular education students working together in a collaborative classroom environment towards common goals…complete with differentiated instruction. I see “problem” students engaged and focused while working on their projects. I have also witnessed the undeniable therapeutic value ART has had on many of the troubled teens in the Southwest section of the city. Isn’t it ironic that this summer the PSD is offering PD for teachers in recognizing and dealing with victims of trauma?

As his farewell to the Bartram community, there will be an exhibition of pieces completed by his students of positive women role models titled, “Mothers, Daughters, Sisters.” The artwork is the companion show to his previous exhibition of positive male role models. You can see the positive impact of these previous exhibit on the lives of students in this video:

I do hope that you can spread this news on our efforts to maintain an art class at Bartram and retain Mr. Palmer as an exemplary art instructor.


Bartram High School Staff



Stand Up for Certified School Nurses

The School District of Philadelphia continues efforts to undermine the nationally recognized school health program offered for over one hundred years by seeking proposals to outsource certified school nurse positions.

Certified school nurses of Philadelphia have gained national and international attention in courageous advocacy for our students over the past three years since 100 nursing positions were eliminated.

Unlike the providers who will replace us if the district has its way

PFT certified school nurses provide:

  • Assessment and/or treatment and referral for every student, regardless of insurance status
  • Professional care with the utmost attention to privacy, coordinating care with families and primary care providers as needed
  • Evidence-based best practices, allowing students to remain in their classrooms to ensure optimal learning opportunities
  • Longstanding knowledge of our communities, families, and students
  • Stability as permanent, committed members of our school team
  • Advocacy for every child’s health and wellness        

STAND UP FOR PHILADELPHIA'S CERTIFIED SCHOOL NURSES! Share this information widely and contact for more information and to help out.                         


Class of 2015, Pledge to Vote Philly!


Congratulations Seniors of Philly's Class of 2015!

Whether you stay in Philly, or you go away for work or college, your city needs your vote! A strong turnout of youth on Election Day can have a great impact on our city and the state. On November 3rd, which party will win Mayor, City Council, and the majority on the powerful Pennsylvania Supreme Court? Here's how you can decide:

1. Take the Class of 2015 Vote Philly! Pledge

We’ll keep you updated on important voting info. 

2. Register to Vote

If you will be 18 by November 3rd, download, print, and mail the completed form to:

The Philadelphia Voter Registration Office
520 N. Columbus Blvd, 5th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19123

The deadline to register to vote is 30 days before the election (October 4th, 2015) 

3. Apply for an absentee ballot (if you will be away at college or out of town on election day)

It's recommended that you wait at least 2 weeks after you register to vote before submitting your absentee ballot application to make sure you're on file as a voter. Check your registration status here: Am I Registered to Vote?

Complete the following sections NEATLY:

    A. Enter your Ward and Division [find them here].

        Check "ABSENTEE - Absent From County" 

    B. REASON FOR ABSENCE - Enter "College" (or another reason).

        SIGNATURE/DATE - Sign an date it!

    D. Complete all lines. 


Enter your college mailing address. If you don't know it yet, then enter your home address and ask your parents to forward it to you in October OR wait until you have the address to complete the application.

Stamp and mail the application to the Philadelphia County Board of Elections, City Hall Room 142, 1400 John F. Kennedy Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19107

4. Research the ballot.

Start with these nonpartisan resources:

-Committee of Seventy

-Philadelphia City Commissioners


Then research media coverage and endorsements from organizations you trust. 

5. Election Day!

Your election official will mail you a ballot before Election Day.  Complete the ballot, sign it, and mail it back. Your ballot must be received by the Friday before Election Day (October 30th) ... OR if you live in Philly find your neighborhood polling place and show up to the polls on November 3rd! 

We are proud of your accomplishment and wish you the best of success and fun in your continued studies and careers!

Keep Philly in your heart and VOTE!



Can Book Clubs Save Public Education?


When educators and communities are isolated and devalued, every time we come together to share ideas, analyze, and build community is a radical act. That's how Kathleen Riley, Pd.D, describes last year's summer social justice reading series in her essay "Reading for Change: Book Groups as an Organizing Tool":

In participating in WE’s book groups, I could feel the educators of Philadelphia using their power and authority to better know themselves, their worlds, and their circumstances. I could see people building relationships with each other and also making connections between books, as participants in one book group shared analyses developed in other groups.

This summer, we hope to continue bringing together educators from all walks of life and all parts of the city- parents, teachers, nurses, counselors, activists, community members, students, and anyone else!

Sign up for a book (or five) today!

Summer scheduling is hard, so after you sign up your facilitator will be in touch to pick 3-5 meeting times over the summer that work for everyone.

We have selected 11 books for this summer that address many issues in education, from racial justice pedagogy to charter school politics to organizing lessons from the SNCC. Sign up now!


(Action shot from last summer's book club for
"Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia")