At the School Board Meeting this Thursday, WE members took a stand against top down policies that interfere with educator autonomy and the retaliation that takes place when they questions these unreasonable policies.
When educators in one area of the city started receiving demands to complete overly extensive and uncontractual lesson plans and reports, they worked together to ask questions and fight back. They wrote a public letter signed by over 150 educators from more than 10 different schools. They set up meetings with administrators. And when one of the educators was bullied by an administrator with unfair retaliation, they spoke out about these issues at the school board.
Instead of giving in to these fear tactics, their testimony was so well received by the board that Dr. Hite immediately approached them and asked to speak further on the matter. He stated to the room that, "this is policing and it will end now!". Additionally, a few board members along with Dr. Hite asked follow up questions to testimonies, asking about the extent of administration retaliation and to be put in touch with the specific teachers mentioned. Dr. Hite was observed a few times shaking his head in disgust, hearing about the unnecessary obstacles we are facing.
When we work together to fight for our schools and students, we can overcome fear and win! Watch their testimony below, along with the community letter.
(Photo: Victorious educators from the affected network after the school board meeting!)
Update: Check out our new overview video from the School Board Meeting!
Public Letter signed by more than 150 members:
To the Members of the Philadelphia School Board,
We are writing to ask that you reconsider the current language changes being proposed around lesson plans. The language, as it currently stands, continues to leave the door open for punishing busywork and unnecessary documentation. This is not a small concern; teacher stress and burnout is a leading reason that talented teachers leave the profession. And in Philadelphia, this is an enormous problem. According to the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium, an average of 27% of teachers are leaving their schools every year. With 14.6% of teachers leaving the classroom permanently each year, Philadelphia has a significantly higher rate of teachers leaving teaching permanently than other cities across the country.
Forward thinking countries like the United Kingdom and Finland have placed a specific emphasis on reducing teacher workload. Specifically, they view ANY formal daily or weekly lesson plan reports to be of minimal use, focusing instead on creating space for collaborative planning time for teachers. Instead, we seem to be going in the wrong direction, demanding that teachers create more detailed lesson plan reports, which eat into their preparation time and reduce possibilities for collaborative planning. The group impacted by this workload the most are new teachers, the very group most likely to leave the district each year.
Currently in the district several schools have reported having to create lesson plans that conform to detailed rubrics. These rubrics highlight concepts and details that teachers find minimally useful for the actual implementation of their lessons. We know that due to budget cuts and severe underfunding of our schools that our teachers are taking on more professional responsibilities than ever. Teachers are managing office work, administrative duties, hallways, and cafeterias. They are acting as counselors and some of us are even called in to assist with the role of the school nurse.
Our district is in crisis and our staffing levels are close to the lowest they have ever been. While we know the school board cannot immediately pay to make these problems go away, you can have a big hand in helping to reduce teacher stress by protecting us from bureaucracy and meaningless paperwork. Every minute spent on unnecessary paperwork comes from somewhere, often the things that benefit students the most! Providing feedback, planning with our colleagues, communicating with parents -- all of these things are important and we need time to do them! Please help us on our mission to reduce stress and improve teacher retention. Please vote “NO” on the current lesson plan language.
The Undersigned Educators
Kaitlin McCann’s testimony on unnecessary paperwork, teacher bullying and retaliation:
Good Evening Dr. Hite and Members of the Board,
I speak on behalf of my staff and fellow educators of Network 3 when I say that this year has made us feel discredited, mistrusted, disrespected and down right devalued. I am here tonight, to ask you, as our last line of defense, to help restore the dignity and moral that has been crushed this year. A few months ago, I was present at a meeting facilitated by Dr. Brooks regarding a new lesson plan mandate, given only a few Networks, including Network 3. The new guidelines require hours of time in order to receive a satisfactory rating. Hours of time we don’t have, hours of time that are needed for things beneficial to students, like actually prepping our lessons, not creating a document for administration.
However, at the meeting, I felt heard by Dr. Brooks and appreciate the time she, and others in the room gave to understanding and resolving this issue.
More concerning however, in the school board policy meeting notes, there is a clause that follows policy 111:
"Delegation of Responsibility: To facilitate more effective instruction, lesson plans must be prepared in advance. Plan books Lesson plans will be inspected reviewed and must conform to the guidelines established by the principal or his/her designee."
To my knowledge, this clause is not in our current contract. This language is too ambiguous and allows for more busy work and time away from implementing meaningful lessons. Please vote no on amending policy 111 to include the delegation of responsibility clause. Network 3 has already experienced what this can cause, hours of busywork to create a document solely for administration. The lesson plan document has no benefit to students. Rather, how we create, prepare and implement our lessons does.
Beyond lesson plans, Network 3 has been mandated to complete a benchmark distractor analysis. Completing this report is redundant, as the data requested is already available in a SchoolNet generated report. Doing this for one class took an hour to complete and many teachers have 3 or more classes. We were offered extra prep time, which many of us refused because we do not want to lose more teaching time. We were also offered 2-hour PD compensation with no training. Reputable teachers across the network have been issued memos and 204’s with recommendations of one-day suspensions as retaliation for incorrectly completing this excessive paperwork. This retaliation is teacher bullying. You will lose competent, dedicated teachers if this continues. According to the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium, 15% of teachers have left the SDP entirely last year.
We use benchmark data, but not when the test is unreliable and invalid. Passages on the Quarter 2 benchmark were a grade level above and some questions completely invalid. Furthermore, a 5th grade passage explicitly described JFK being shot in the head. Also, an 8th grade passage mentioned rape. We push for trauma-informed education but present students with passages detailing this content? This is irresponsible. Our students are feeling the effects. I am asking you to end the excessive paperwork and retract the amount of testing time you put our students through. Especially with assessments that set them up for failure.
The excessive paperwork mandates are directly taking time away from creating and preparing lessons, creating and grading assignments/assessments, giving constructive feedback, communicating with parents, holding grade group, IEP, and parent meetings, meeting with students, creating instructional aids, organizing before/after school activities, etc. These are my priorities because these are the things that benefit my students. Trust us as the professionals we are.
Furthermore, I am asking you to knock down the hundreds of hurdles we need to clear to plan trips this year. Many opportunities for students, some that we’ve done for years, have been lost because of the limited contracts allowed. Please look into this. Lastly, I am pleading for building-specific, teacher-led professional developments. Trust us as the professionals that we are to meet the needs of our staff and students.
Ultimately, the excessive paperwork and lack of trust is insulting and demeaning. Working at one of the best schools in the city, I feel punished and bullied. This sentiment is felt throughout all of Network 3. Please listen to our pleas of voting no on amending policy 111 in March and limit the busy work and hierarchy of bullying in order to rebuild the moral in Network 3. Allow us to feel like the accomplished, successful and dedicated educators that we are.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
6th Grade ELA
Student Council Chair
Building Committee Member
Social Studies Curriculum Writer