"More Teaching, Less Testing!": Ways to Support Feltonville #OptOut Families and Teachers

Do you believe in limiting high-stakes testing's influence on our classrooms and communities? Even if you're not in the position to opt-out at your school, you can support the families and teachers at Feltonville- and help build a movement!


1. This is a growing movement led by individual parents and teachers who are tired of how over-testing negatively effects students and keeps precious resources from going to schools that need them.

It all starts with simple, individual conversations with your colleagues and families about their experiences with testing, and their visions for more pedagogically and culturally-relevant assessments. Check out some of the many news articles on Feltonville and use one to start a conversation.

2. Sign and share the petition to support Philadlephia Parents' Right to Opt Out! As of this posting we're at almost 700 signatures; help us get to 1,000 this week!

3. Inform yourself! The Philadelphia Educator Law Center has created this fact-sheet on opting out in PA, and APPS Philly has this handy opt out form-letter and guide. Remember that in PA, we don't encourage students to opt out during years (3rd and 7th) that might affect middle- and high-school admissions.

3. Tweet and email your support of Philly's parents to Superintendent Hite and SRC Chairman Bill Green:

Sample Tweets: 

I am a #phled ____ [parent, teacher, student, supporter] and I stand with #optout students & parents at Feltonville! @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite #optoutPHL

I urge @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite to request testing waiver from state! Stop attack of #FeltonvilleStrong teachers #OptOut

Inform parents of #optout rights! @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite  Stop intimidation of #FeltonvilleStrong teachers!

4. Let the world know why you support assessments that help our students and children grow and learn! Post/tweet your own #WhyOptOut ideas.

5. Write a Support Statement, or take a "solidarity selfie" with your family, community, and colleagues! Post them widely, but please also email Feltonville Teacher kelleycollings@gmail.com so she can share your messages and photos with the school. Check out some of the many organizations and individual support letters here.

6. Are you in Philly? Join Feltonville Teachers and Families for an Opt Out Workshop on Thursday, February 5th on how you can build momentum to opt out at your school! 

7. What's your idea? Let us know! This movement will be built by the little actions of millions of families and educators!



Feltonville Teachers Attacked by District



Parents at Feltonville and across the district stand in support of teachers

Dissatisfied with how standardized testing is eclipsing their children’s education, 20% of parents at  Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences -- with the support of teachers -- have opted their children out of standardized testing. And that number is growing despite disciplinary actions taken last week against teachers involved in informing parents of their rights.

Teachers were issued letters compelling them to attend investigatory conferences on Thursday of this week.  The district move follows this City Paper article announcing that 17% of students at Feltonville School of  Arts and Sciences refused to take the PSSAs and other assessments. News of the action prompted Council members María Quiñones-Sánchez, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell to issue a public statement of support for Feltonville families on Thursday saying “Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville. We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children.”

With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, Council members Quinones-Sanchez, Squilla, and Blackwell called upon the School Reform Commission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform the use of standardized testing.

“We, as parents, have a right to say no to the test”, says Heidey Contrera, the mother of 8th grader Natalie Contrera, who, having moved to Philadelphia from the Dominican Republic in 2011, is designated an English Language Learner at Feltonville. “The test is not a good measure of my daughter’s ability. It is not a fair way to judge her. And we’re not taking it.”

“Parents have the right to opt out – that is an indisputable right,” said Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, one of the groups to come out publicly in support of parents and teachers at Feltonville. “The District has an opportunity to work with parents and teachers on an issue of common gain rather than once again being on the wrong side of the table.”


 News and Support:


City Council Supports Opting Out

City Council Members Express Support for Families ‘Opting Out’ of Standardized Testing in Feltonville

Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District), Councilman Mark Squilla (1st District), and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell (3rd District) expressed support today for families who have chosen to ‘opt out’ of standardized testing. “Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville,” said Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez. “We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children,” said Councilman Squilla.

Parents of 17% of students enrolled in the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences have decided their children will not participate in standardized testing this year, according to reporting today by Philadelphia City Paper’s Daniel Denvir.

Use of standardized testing has dramatically increased in recent years, taking up an increasing amount of school learning time, and interfering with educators’ efforts to focus on students’ development in areas of critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Tests such as the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assesment) are now used for ‘high-stakes’ decisions about the future of individual students, their teachers, and their entire schools. Pennsylvania is planning to implement additional new Keystone Exams as a high school graduation requirement as of 2017.

Feltonville Arts and Sciences, a public middle school, has a significant rate of students who are “English Language Learners” (ELL), who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) due to disability or special needs, and who are impacted by trauma. Children report stress, anxiety, and even physical illness caused by this high-stakes testing. “Over-reliance on standardized testing disproportionately harms our most vulnerable students,” said Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez.

Philadelphia City Council adopted Resolution #140997 on December 11, 2014, calling on 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.

With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, Council members Quiñones-Sánchez, Squilla, and Blackwell call upon the School Reform Comission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform our use of standardized testing.


Where Do The Candidates Stand? A Political Platform for 2015

Elections are upcoming for mayor, city council, and city commissioner in Philadelphia. But where do the candidates stand on education issues?

See our platform items below to get an idea of where the candidates should be. If you are attending any meet and greets or public forums, use these items to get the opinions of those who are running!


The Caucus of Working Educators of the PFT believes that ALL Philadelphia school children have the right to a thorough and efficient education. To those ends, WE ask all candidates for public office in Philadelphia to adopt the following platform:

1. Adoption of a fair funding formula that creates equal funding for districts across Pennsylvania, as well as securing of additional revenue sources specifically for Philadelphia. This would include a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program for institutions of higher education within the city limits, closing tax loopholes for corporations that do business in Philadelphia, as well as state-wide 5% tax on shale drilling, to be split equally between education and public employee pensions state-wide.

2. Restructuring of district debt. In 2015, debt servicing is projected to eat up 9% of the annual budget, or $280 million dollars (http://schoolbudget.phl.io/). Banks must be approached directly to forgive or at least restructure this debt.

3. Local control of our school district, specifically a school board elected by the citizens of Philadelphia.

4. A moratorium on the closing or transitioning of public schools until the district establishes complete financial transparency and oversight for all charter schools.

5. A reduction of the importance of standardized testing, including working to eliminate district-based exams, supporting families that refuse standardized testing for their children, and advocating for the use of multiple measures to evaluate student and school success.

6. Integration of wrap-around services into our schools, including social workers, medical professionals, and universal pre-kindergarten.

7. Equal rights to due process and collective bargaining for all teachers and school staff members across the state, even those in “cities of the first class.”


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.