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.  

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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.

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-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.

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When's the public hearing for new charter school applications?

As recently reported in The Notebook, charter school applications must have a review that is open to the public. The first round of reviews are now scheduled.

We strongly encourage educators and community members to look up whether charter schools are targeting their zip code with their application -- and then attend that application's meeting to let the School District of Philadelphia know that we are committed to our public schools in these neighborhoods.

We know that educators are working during most of these meetings, but we urge you to contact your parents and community members so that they can turn out and represent your school.

Let the review board know -- charter schools are not a sustainable option for our district!

The only reason that charter applications are even being considered again is due to an add-on clause to the Cigarette Bill Tax. Parents at Steel and Marin showed the District last spring that they did not want charters in their neighborhoods. Now there are 40 applications that need the same kind of community input.

The meetings will be held at the School District Central Office, 440 North Broad Street.

Proposed School Name Initial hearing date Time Area of City Zip Code
Germantown Community Charter School 8-Dec 11:45 AM Germantown 19144
Liguori Academy Charter School 8-Dec 12:25 PM unkown unknown
Philadelphia Career and Technical Academy 8-Dec 12:05 PM Germantown 19144
String Theory Charter School - East Falls 8-Dec 1:50 PM East Falls 19129
String Theory Charter School - Greys Ferry 8-Dec 2:05 PM South Philly 19146
String Theory Charter School - Southeast 8-Dec 2:30 PM South Philly 19148
The Partnership School for Science and Innovation - MaST Community Charter School 8-Dec 12:45 PM Center City 19106, 19146
Urban STEM Academy 8-Dec 1:30 PM NW Philly 19138
ASPIRA Ramon E. Betances Charter School 10-Dec 11:30 AM North Philly 19120
Congreso Academy Charter High School 10-Dec 11:50 AM North Philly 19133
Esperanza Elementary Charter School 10-Dec 12:35 PM North Philly 19140
Friendship Public Charter School 10-Dec 10:50 AM North Philly unknown
KIPP North Philadelphia Charter School 10-Dec 10:30 AM North Philly 19132
Leon H. Sullivan Opportunities Charter School 10-Dec 12:55 PM North Philly unknown
Mastery Charter School - Gillespie Campus 10-Dec 2:25 PM North Philly 19140
Mastery Charter School - North Philadelphia Campus 10-Dec 2:45 PM North Philly 19132
New Foundations Charter School - Brewerytown 10-Dec 11:10 AM North Philly 19121
PHASE 4 America Charter School 10-Dec 1:15 PM North Philly unknown
TECH Freire Charter School 10-Dec 1:35 PM North Philly 19132
The Pavilion Charter School for Exceptional Students 10-Dec 2:05 PM North Philly 19132
ACES Business Entrepreneur Academy Charter School 11-Dec 12:55 PM West Philly 19151
Belmont Charter High School 11-Dec 10:10 AM West Philly 19104
Girls' Latin of Philadelphia Charter School 11-Dec 10:30 AM West Philly 19143
Global Leadership Academy International Charter School 11-Dec 1:15 PM West Philly 19131
Green Woods Charter School at Overbrook Farms 11-Dec 10:50 AM West Philly 19151
Independence Charter High School 11-Dec 11:50 AM West Philly 19104
Independence Charter School West 11-Dec 11:30 AM West Philly 19142
Innovative Dimensions STEAM Academy 11-Dec 11:10 AM West Philly unknown
KIPP Dubois Charter School 11-Dec 2:25 PM West Philly 19131
KIPP West Philadelphia Charter School 11-Dec 2:45 PM West Philly 19143
Philadelphia Music and Dance Charter School 11-Dec 1:35 PM West Philly 19139
PHMC Preparatory Charter School 11-Dec 2:05 PM West Philly 19143
Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School II 11-Dec 12:35 PM West Philly 19143
American Paradigm Charter School (Oxford Circle) 12-Dec 2:25 PM NE Philly 19111
American Paradigm Charter School at Port Richmond 12-Dec 2:05 PM Richmond 19124
Franklin Towne Charter Middle School 12-Dec 1:45 PM NE Philly 19137
Keystone Preparatory Charter School 12-Dec 1:25 PM NE Philly 19135
MaST Community Charter School - Roosevelt Campus 12-Dec 12:55 PM NE Philly 19116
String Theory Charter School - Port Richmond 12-Dec 12:35 PM Richmond 19134
Sustainable Roots Academy Charter School 12-Dec 12:20 PM Richmond 19125
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Corbett's out. Now on to the bigger fight.

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Ghandi famously said "be the change you wish to see in the world". At this weekend's Working Educators First Annual Convention, we'll be sharing our visions for vibrant public schools and communities- and figuring out together how we can 'be the change' in our schools and communities to get there.

Please join us to share your ideas and energy to defend public education and save our schools from the ground up!

 

Working Educators First Annual Convention

***Newly added!: Lunchtime Tabletop Conversations. Topics will include our pre-service teacher campaign, opt-out, charter school teachers, and more.

Ready to make change in your school? To defend and transform public education in Philly and beyond? 

This convention is NOT your typical education or organizing event -- it will bring together stakeholders from across the city to help transform our public education system. 

We will be discussing issues relating to all educators and allies fighting for our communities and schools- parent and student involvement, charter schools, and organizing skills for everyone, just to name a few (see full program below).

Featuring organizers from Labor Notes, special guests from NYC's MORE Caucus, and Keynote Speaker Dr. Yohuru Williams.

Join us to build educator power in Philly through practical organizing skills, strengthening our community, and planning for the future:

Working Educators First Annual Convention
November 8th, 10am-3pm
Old First Reformed UCC
151 N 4th St (at Race)
Philadelphia, PA 19106
 
Childcare and lunch provided. Come for an hour or all day!
 
Please RSVP on our website or facebook to help us plan. But definitely show up whenever you can, even if you can't RSVP!

***Full Convention Program***

10:15-11:00: Opening Plenary: Creating the Schools our Children Deserve
Featuring Yohuru Williams

11:00-12:15: Discussion Sessions:
~More than just Health Care!
The Corporate Takeover of Public Education

~Lessons from Chicago
How to Reinvigorate Our Union from Below

~Taking Back Our City
Communities Standing Up for Democracy and Accountability

12:15-1:00: Lunch & Tabletop Discussions
-Pre-Service Teacher Campaign
-Charter School Teacher Allies
-Stories from MORE
-Opt-Out Philly
-Start your own!

1:00-2:15: Training Sessions:
~Are You a Social Justice Unionist?
Changing the Culture in Your School

~Parent Power!
Parents and Teachers Working Together

~Beating Apathy
Secrets of a Successful Organizer

2:15-3:00: Closing Plenary: What's Next? Building the Movement

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Convention Preview: Social Justice Unionism

In advance of our first annual convention on Saturday, November 8th, we're previewing some of the day's sessions on our blog. This preview comes from Amy Roat, who works at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences and will be leading the session on Social Justice Unionism.

Many teachers consider themselves committed to social justice in their classrooms, but don't connect that to their Amy_Roat.jpgunion. Why do these two things go together?

Simply put, our working conditions are children's learning conditions.  I know people, especially teachers, tend to be squeamish about publicly voicing their needs and  rights because it may be perceived as selfish or self-serving.  Teachers are sensitive to public opinion because we are human, but also because we have been mocked and blamed for the last ten years from many sides.  It is humiliating, and I think good teachers fear the inevitable cat-calls and jeers of the "reformers" and their supporters. We are a tough group of teachers in Philly, but we are not immune to the onslaught of criticism. It hurts.

You've been quoted by practically every news publication in Philadelphia, and the New York Times, too. Many people are in awe of your work, but might feel intimidated by all that you do. Can you describe what the first steps are to becoming a more outspoken union member?

A year ago in August, PFT Communications Director George Jackson called me a few days before school. Our local Fox News was looking for a regular teacher to speak about the tragic cuts we were facing in 2014.  I was recommended by my staffer who had to listen to a lot of my views at the monthly Building Rep Meetings.  I was terrified of sounding dumb and nearly balked.  George had a PR guy call to prep me and talk me into it. after we talked for a bit he said, "Hey, you're the expert, you know what you're saying and you sound knowledgeable and sincere.  You can do it."  

After a protracted wardrobe consultation with my sister and a pep talk from my husband and brother, I was at Fox studios early in the am. You know what? They told me the same thing before I went on air. "You are the expert.  Tell us what you know. Be yourself."  The interview went well, and here I am today.  This is what I would say to teachers who want to speak out - be it at a Chapter Meeting, to a reporter, or at an SRC Meeting - "You are the expert. Tell them what your know. Be yourself. (And wear a solid color if you are going on television.)

Based on your experience, what's one change that you think people should make to improve how their union operates in their building?

The teachers in my school are friends - We go to happy hour. We eat cake when someone has a birthday. We have a shower if someone gets married or has a baby. If someone is sick, we ask after them. If someone needs a ride, we drive them. This is how we build our relationships and our school-based union. We actively include new members. They become family.

When there is discord, peace-makers step up.  It is a labor, but it is a labor of love.

Change the way you think about THE union. The union is not just the people who work on Chestnut Street. We are the union. The teachers in this school. We meet monthly, including, secretaries, counselors, paras and the nurse. We talk to the principal as a Building Committee about our mutual concerns and possible solutions. We develop our own game plan for pickets or actions. Together. No one on Chestnut Street needs to tell us what, when, why or how we do it. We are professional,  we do it all together because we are THE union!

 

Amy is just one of many Caucus members who will be sharing her wisdom and skills at the convention. Register now and learn more from her on November 8th!

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SRC Testimony: Diane Payne

I am speaking today to Stand Up For The Truth!  This Commission took an unprecedented action in a deceitful manner and with the support of this whole body.  It was most disturbing that the newest member, Mrs. Neff, was in full cahoots with this plan since a lot of people viewed her appointment with hope.  That hope was dashed on Monday when Mrs. Neff joined Mrs. Simms as silenced speakers of truth.  Ms. Simms' audacious comment “We have to stop playing games with children”  would have been laughable except for the harm it causes. The largest players of a game are sitting right here in front of us and in Harrisburg, Mrs. Simms.

I am picking one truth to talk about today.  The truth that what the SRC did on Monday is only a piece of a bigger plan that has been in place for 13 years and is succeeding amazingly well.  That truth is close down public education and hand it over to private, corporate interests.  Accomplish that mission by asserting that public education is failing.

Doc. Hite was a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.  This Academy is funded by billionaire Eli Broad, who is a member of the 1%.  Eli Broad is one of an influential group of billionaires who believe they can control the landscape of education for their own profit, benefit and ideology.  The method they use is simple.  Control the dialogue!!  Put out the sound bites of what sounds reasonable and wrap those sound bites, slogans and messages in myths and lies.  Get mainstream media to print it, politicians to support it (because they bankroll the politicians)…then implement policy.

Dr. Hite, this commission and a large number of our politicians are implementing the policies that support the ideology of the Broad Academy.

*Slash and burn public schools and open charters in the name of choice

*Attack and attempt to weaken unions

*Strangle budgets to help the illusion of schools failing and make it easier to promote your slash and burn policy

*Implement the business model of chaos and disruption

*Introduce high stakes testing and tie it to school and teacher evaluation and high school graduation

*Force Common Core Standards onto schools, standards that are mired in controversy and debate

*Enlist TFA recruits who enter the classroom with 5 weeks of training and who rarely stay in the profession for more than a few years in place of fully accredited, qualified, dedicated teachers

Here’s the thing about all of these policies - they are built on the premise that public schools are failing....our public schools are not failing!!  Zip codes are failing.  This commission does not use evidence or research…here are just a few respected authors that refute your policies with evidence and research.  But, hey, that is not the dialogue that will allow you to pillage and plunder our schools and neighborhoods. Our urban schools are a reflection of the larger problems in our society and deserve unfailing support in every sense of the word and honest dialogue about ways to improve that are carried on with educators and community members AT THE TABLE. 

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Convention Keynoter Speaks out about Philadelphia

yohuru-williams-200.jpgOn Saturday, November 8th, The Caucus of Working Educators will be hosting their first annual convention.

One of the many reasons to join us on that day: keynote speaker Yohuru Williams, who recently wrote about the situation in Philadelphia for the LA Progressive. Here's a taste of his analysis:

In spite of Commonwealth Foundation and various other entities efforts to paint teachers as the bad guys, a poll conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts in September of 2013 found that 31 percent of residents placed responsibility for the crisis in the Philadelphia School District on the Republican-controlled state legislature and Governor. Another 31 percent blamed the Democratic Mayor and City Council and 21 percent blamed school administrators and the state-controlled State Reform Commission. Only 11 percent of those surveyed held the union or teachers responsible.

This is ultimately why the Commonwealth Foundation likely felt the need to hire counter protesters. The fact that they were willing to go to this extreme was of little surprise to Philadelphia teachers. They know that much of the drama in the city has been orchestrated by shadowy behind-the-scenes organizations, with popular sounding names, but funded by billionaires who have been very clear about the agenda to destroy the teachers union on their road to dismantling the public schools. Their broad reach extends through state and local politics and knows no party bounds. Both Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, have received support from them — apparently in exchange for supporting the corporate education reform agenda including privatization of schools in the city of Brotherly Love.

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In Response to Sylvia Simms

As educators, we know that "high expectations" is more than just a slogan -- it's a necessity. If we want our students to succeed and go on to great things, we need to show them every day that we believe in them, and give them the encouragement they deserve.

For this reason, we are appalled by the actions of SRC Commissioner Sylvia Simms, who responded to nonviolent student activists with a verbal assault -- telling students that "You belong in jail," and "You must go to failing schools."

We believe that respect for students must begin at the top. We are ashamed of the actions of SRC Commissioner Simms, whose actions dishonor her role overseeing our schools.

To us, this incident reinforces our call for a publicly accountable School District. Her refusal to apologize only strengthens our call to eliminate the SRC.

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How to Host a Rally at Your Back to School Night in 5 Minutes or Less

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.

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Caucus Stands with Teachers in British Columbia

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.

 

Sincerely,

The Caucus of Working Educators

A Caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

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