Last week, Caucus of Working Educators members and their colleagues at Central H.S. organized a rally outside of back to school night, bringing attention to overcrowded classrooms, lack of custodians and counselors, and other ways that drastic education cuts affect our daily lives in schools. Placing 59 desks outside the school to demonstrate how many students 59 to a class really is, teachers and students handed out flyers (including in Spanish and Chinese) and spoke to families. Lois Weiner even gave a huge shout-out for the event.
What you probably haven't heard is that this action was put together over the course of only a few days, by full-time teachers teachers, counselors, and nurses. Here's the report from Central Biology Teacher KD Davenport:
A few weeks ago a friend shared an article on Facebook about teachers at Ridley Middle School holding a demonstration publicizing their contract situation at Back to School Night. I thought it was cool, and I thought, "wow, too bad we're not doing something like that." It wasn’t for another three days that I suddenly realized—Oh wait--we can!
With less than a week to go, I emailed a few other teachers at my school and asked if they’d be interested. “I know none of us have time to organize this,” I said, “but we will never again see as many parents as we will on Back to School Night.” On this night, I wanted parents to know about all the staff and resources that were NOT coming back to school because of the budget crisis.
I got an immediate positive response from my colleagues. With every response to my email, it seemed, another staff member was copied. People were amazing about contributing their gifts: One creative colleague suggested that we line up 59 desks to represent the number of students in an Algebra class on the first day of school; another put together a flier of facts and figures about the recent cuts; still others translated that flier into Spanish and Chinese for parents who may not speak English. Once we had a flyer made up, we adapted it into a press release and sent out a blast via email and Twitter to the media. Word quickly spread and on Back To School Night we were joined by reporters and photographers from NBC 10, ABC 6, The Inquirer, and WHYY Newsworks.
Our PFT building committee was incredibly supportive and publicized the event to the entire staff. Our administration was also on board. President McKenna came outside and spoke to the press, and we even got our Alumni and Home and School associations involved. Helen Gym from Parents United showed up, as did Jerry Jordan. And we did it all in a matter of days!
And even if you only have 5 minutes of spare time, you can do the same for your back to school night!
Here are some of the ways the WE members are speaking out about the state of education in Philadelphia --and what we can do to change it-- at their schools. Whatever the size of your school or the time you have available, these are some ideas to help you take action:
If you only have 5 minutes: Add a slide to your back to school night powerpoint about how budget cuts are affecting your school this year. See Central's flyer below for inspiration.
If you only have 15 minutes: Turn that slide into a flyer, and ask 2 of your supportive colleagues to hand them out as well!
If you only have an hour: Get a group of teachers at your school together to develop talking points and talk to families, just like Feltonville teachers did earlier this year.
If you have more than an hour: Organize an informational picket outside of your school! After a Central teacher came up with the idea, a small group put together some details, and pitched it to their colleagues at professional development.
What's your idea? Let us know! WE is here to support all educators in standing up for public education in Philadelphia.
Are you a member of the Penn community? Know somebody who is?
Spread the word about this lunchtime discussion, organized by three Caucus members who are also students and faculty members of the university. Tuesday, September 24th at noon, GSE Room 322!
The British Columbia Teachers' Federation has been in a contract dispute with their government, and spent several days striking in advance of the school year. Their members recently voted to enter binding arbitration -- now their elected officials must agree to it!
Below is our letter:
September 12, 2014
Dear Premier Clark and Minister Fassbender,
WE write in support of our sisters and brothers in the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and ask that the BC Government agree to arbitration of the collective agreement. Teachers are currently striking in order to improve classroom conditions for their students: as a striking teacher said this week, "The primary point is getting funding for students, for getting more staff, for getting correct class sizes." Teachers, school staff, and honest education researchers know that these things are extremely important in order to give students the education they deserve.
The BCTF has reasonably asked for this long-term dispute to go to binding arbitration. Binding arbitration is a fair and standard labor-relations practice that allows an impartial third party to mediate contentious disputes and guide fair solutions. If the government would agree to this, the schools could open quickly and students and teachers could get back to work.
Most stakeholders in British Columbia are behind this rational solution—everyone from teachers to parents to mayors and newspapers support sending this labor dispute to binding arbitration. Why does the government resist a fair and neutral process?
As fellow working educators and social justice unionists, WE respectfully ask that the government of British Columbia agree to put these issues to binding arbitration so that teachers and students can get back to teaching and learning.
The Caucus of Working Educators
A Caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA
In a little less than two weeks, activists, educators, and unionists from around the country will be gathering in New York City for the largest environmental march in the history of the United States. The Caucus of Working Educators will be there, marching alongside other unions and activists from Philadelphia (plus our hot new WE banner!).
350 Philly and Action United have organized low cost buses to and from Philadelphia next Sunday, but they're going fast.
Reserve your ticket now. Buses will be leaving at 8am and will return by 7pm that evening. Please let us know that you're coming, or if you have any questions, by emailing max.rosenlong [at] gmail.com. We will follow-up with a meeting place and time in NYC.
Our current economic model is not only waging war on workers, on communities, on public services and social safety nets. It’s waging war on the life support systems of the planet itself. The conditions for life on earth.
...[Climate Change is] a powerful message – spoken in the language of fires, floods, storms and droughts – telling us that we need an entirely new economic model, one based on justice and sustainability.
In Philly's public schools we're all too familiar with the effects of this unsustainable model, as we begin yet another year of budget crises and cuts. Join WE on Sunday, Sept. 21st to stop global warming and to build a just and sustainable economy.
Why Unions Need to Join the Climate Fight, Naomi Klein
Photo Courtesy of Jerry Roseman / City Paper
The Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH) has organized a petition that calls on the Mayor, City Council, and the SRC to require the school district to cooperate with a federal study about health hazards in Philly public school buildings. The study could greatly benefit students, teachers, and other staff, but School District has declined to participate. Unless the district reverses its decision by September 30, the study will be canceled.
Opt-Out Philly has written a beautiful letter for parents that want to refuse Pennsylvania's standardized testing regime this year.
Opting out is a very personal decision every family has to make. However, this letter makes it clear that parents and teachers need to find ways to work together against the "damaging policies that use high-stakes test scores for purposes for which they were never intended."
If you’d like to learn more about opting-out your own children, or how to talk to parents who might be interested, please contact email@example.com. Read more about Opt-Out Philly's organizing work so far in this great Inquirer profile.
- - -
Dear (school principal),
We, the parents of (child’s name), an (?) grade student enrolled at (school name), are writing to state that standardized testing is against our religious and philosophical beliefs. We will be refusing all standardized testing for (child’s name) during the upcoming school year.
Our refusal includes, but is not limited to, the English, math, science, and writing PSSAs; benchmark testing; CDT (Classroom Diagnostic Tools) testing; any tests associated with PVAAS teacher evaluations; NAEP testing; as well as field testing of standardized test items.
We realize that we may be required to come in and review the testing materials and reconfirm our decision to refuse the tests. In that event, we request that you contact us at least two weeks prior to their scheduled administration so that we may set a time to do the review and complete that process. We can be reached at the phone number and emails provided above. During times in which standardized tests are being administered or standardized test preparation exercises are taking place, please allow (child’s name) to pursue alternate educational activities such as independent reading, a research project, or volunteering in the library.
I hope you understand that it is not our intent to harm (school name) or its staff. We hold the school and its teachers in high regard, and for that reason we are taking a stand against damaging policies that use high-stakes test scores for purposes for which they were never intended. Such purposes include: rating teachers, closing or turning schools over to private management, and withholding diplomas from students who have otherwise earned them. High-stakes standardized tests also pose significant problems for students not fluent in English and those with individualized education plans.
We believe in a broad curriculum that supports the individual needs of children and helps them develop their talents to become critical thinkers and contributors to a more just and democratic society. It is incomprehensible to us that during times of such austerity, when schools cannot even afford current textbooks, Philadelphia’s students are being ranked and sorted against children in affluent districts who have every advantage. It is a broken and corrupt system, and our conscience will not permit us to have our child be a part of it any longer.
Please let us know if we need to be in touch with her teachers individually, or if that is something you will do in your capacity as principal. We would appreciate it if you could provide a written confirmation that you have received this letter. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Huge props to all the WE members who represented at the PFT General Membership Meeting on Tuesday night and helped spread the word about how the Caucus is working to strengthen our union!
Nat Bartels, Klint Kanopka, Amy Brown, Mark Stern, Diane Payne, Sam Mastriano, Shaw MacQueen, Tom Quinn, Sheila Myers, Eileen Duffey, Pam Roy, Chris Palmer, Tom Hladchek, Kristin Leubbert, Amy Roat, Ray Porreca, Peggy Savage, David Hensel, George Bezanis, Tatiana Olmeda, Max Rosen-Long, Lou Borda, Anissa Weinraub, Sam Reed, Bob Fournier, Mike Bernstein, Larissa Pahomov, Kelley Collings...
(Names are in no particular order. Sorry if we missed anyone!)
Wish that your colleagues participated in building meetings and other PFT events? Looking for inspiration as well as expert tips and tricks? Want to be more pro-active than reactive?
Then this boot camp is for you! RSVP now for our event.
Thursday, October 2nd / 4:30 – 6:30pm
IAFF Local 22 / 415 N. 5th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Parking can be found on the 400 block of Willow St.
Childcare and snacks provided!
On August 19, Research for Action (RFA) launched the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC) in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, the city’s charter school sector, and the three largest universities in the city. With a 3-year $900,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation, the Consortium will “provide research and analyses on some of the city’s most pressing education issues.” The release can be found on RFA’s website.
The Caucus of Working Educators recognizes the need for a more coordinated research effort to understand and address the needs of Philadelphia’s public schools, but so far the Consortium raises some concerns.
In its design, the Consortium will have both a Steering Committee, composed of two District officials and two representatives from the charter school sector, and a Research Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Drexel University. The Steering Committee will set the agenda so that research is not driven by the interests of researchers. However, WE is concerned that the partnership ignores most important stakeholders of public education - students, parents, and teachers, who do not seem to have any agency in this partnership.
Moreover, the William Penn Foundation has previously played a very partisan role in education, providing grant money to the pro-charter Philadelphia School Partnership. They also faced ethics complaints for directing anonymous funds towards the Boston Consulting Group, whose “blueprint” advocated for school closure and privatization.
RFA sites that it will receive strategic guidance from the Chicago Consortium of School Research (CCSR), among other similar consortia. Let’s take Chicago as an example.
- From its inception in 1990, the CCSR had an advisory board that consisted of representatives from community based groups, the Chicago Teachers Union, the school district, and other research organizations and universities in the city. This broad-reaching committee set the agenda and accepted proposals from other groups as well. They also brought in varied stakeholders to reflect on drafts of the findings.
- Charles Payne, Professor at the University of Chicago, said the following of the CCSR: “Its early reports were attacked by the powers that be in the city. They were attacked not on intellectual or mythological grounds, but because they were criticizing policies that people were invested in. So, in that period people saw the Consortium beaten on all the time by the powerful and they [the CCSR] stuck to their guns.
- The CCSR engaged many important stakeholders at various steps of the research process, was steadfast even as its findings criticized existing policies by those in power, and maintained independence from the school district though its representatives sat on the advisory board.
Recent news reports state that the research agenda of this new group has not yet been set. The Caucus hopes that the group will prove themselves to be the unbiased research group that Philadelphia could really use – and urges this city’s education community to pay close attention to their future work.
On August 21 and 22nd, PFT President Jerry Jordan made himself available for one-on-one meetings with members in front of 440. Below are the comments from one member who spoke with him.
You invited teachers to come to the table today and air their thoughts, feelings and very real experiences in the face of unprecedented budget cuts, ongoing contract delays, a demand that teachers be a funding source for our struggling schools and a continued lack of concern or political will to honestly address these issues.
I have come today as a retired teacher. I retired in June, 2013, as the lack of a contract resolution continued to loom and budget cuts were going to directly affect my ability to do my job effectively. I taught kindergarten in a culturally diverse neighborhood in a building that was so overcrowded it was recording 169% enrollment. In my last year of teaching, 12 out of my 30 students were ELL students from a very diverse background. Two of those students came into kindergarten speaking no English at all. I was fortunate to have a part-time classroom assistant that fully supported and enhanced my kindergarten program. I was able to offer a developmentally appropriate, differentiated writing component known as Kid Writing and a math component with daily small group instruction that assured the children were getting the best possible start because of this support.
I learned at the end of the 2013 school year that the classroom assistants would be cut. The contract was still unresolved. Politicians and School District administration were demanding that teachers become a funding source. Evaluations were to be built around the junk science of value added measure. Basic contract issues, which are students learning conditions, were being violated. Schools were continually threatened to be closed and there was nothing on the horizon that signified positive change.
So, I became one of those statistics of experience and professional expertise that opted to retire. I wasn’t quite ready to retire and felt that I still had much to offer the teaching profession but I knew the quality of what I could do had been and was continuing to be eroded by sources beyond my control.
Thank you for allowing me to “come to the table” today.