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.
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.
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.
While WE would like to see this as a sign that the SDP actually recognizes educators as capable of leadership and positive transformation, several of the initiative’s features raise red flags. The initiative may be an improvement over charter takeover and Promise Academies, both of which strip teachers of their professionalism and autonomy. However, the SRI is a long way from a comprehensive, sustainable redesign, and it undervalues both the communities it serves and the educators it employs.
- If this initiative valued educators, it would turn to schools first and work with that building's staff directly. Instead, it lets any group apply for control of any school, pitting current staff against any number of outside interests. (Groups must prove they have a “connection” to the school, but what exactly that entails is unclear.) Moreover, a winning group can force out all of the current staff.
- If this initiative valued local communities, it would allow those communities to select a redesign model for themselves. (Like the families of Steel and Munoz-Marin, who overwhelmingly voted for the plan proposed by their current educators!) Instead, it hands the decision off to a "panel" with no explanation as to how the members will be selected or how the group will reach consensus.
- If the district valued collaboration between educators and community members, it would have set the first deadline a month or two into the school year. This would give stakeholders time to listen to each other, share ideas, and make plans that best serve their students before forming a team. Instead, the letter of intent is due August 19th, less than a month from the announcement of the initiative, and in the middle of summer break.
- If this initiative believed in teacher professionalism and autonomy, it would allow all schools to create "redesign" programs. Instead, the initiative will only accept between two and ten proposals. These groups will receive a relatively small grant (around $30,000) and, more importantly, a three year "grace period" where they are exempt from district assessment and closure. Of course, the grace period doesn't cost a penny -- why not award this autonomy and safety to all schools, and trust teachers to be the professionals that they are?
Most importantly, this initiative distracts from the big picture in Philadelphia schools: without adequate funding, our schools will continue to be a shadow of their former selves. Any attempt at transformation before funding is restored is overconfident at best, and purposefully misleading at worst. Educators have been asked to "do more with less" for years while their colleagues are being laid off by the thousands -- and those same educators have been putting together redesign plans for years, in response to threats of closure and charter takeover. The initiative is our city's version of "Race To The Top," where a lucky few will win a small prize while all schools continue to struggle.
The rapid timeline, lack of transparency in its development, and unveiling in the midst of a funding crisis all lead us to consider the SRI with skepticism. As always, working educators in our schools are yet again being given the message that we are targets for takeover, turnover, and removal. If your school is eligible (see pages 32-35 of the PDF), please talk with your colleagues and mobilize your school community to defend itself from outside “reform.” Proposal letters for the SRI are due August 19th.
It doesn't take that many protestors to make waves! On July 13th, the Caucus turned out a group to protest Arne Duncan's recent appearance in Philadelphia, and the press took notice.
"We are protesting the high-stakes testing that are a part of this 'Race to the Top' [grant] damaging our schools," said Academy at Palumbo nurse Eileen Duffey, who held a poster that read, "School nurse says 'no' to Arne Duncan's high-stakes test."
Caucus members learned earlier that Secretary of Education Duncan will be visiting Philly tomorrow, and Philly teachers will be there to tell him what we think of his pro-testing, anti-public education policies.
Working Educators is encouraging people to join us at the DoubleTree Hotel (Broad and Locust) to protest Duncan's policies from 12-1pm. However, if you are unable to make it, there will be Caucus members at CCP from 10-11am as well.
Duncan will be making two stops, first at CCP from 10-11am, and then from 12-1pm at the DoubleTree Hotel at Broad and Locust. These visits were just announced publicly today via a City of Philadelphia press release.
Duncan has been an avowed supporter of corporate education reform interests. At last week's national NEA Conference, the country's largest teacher union officially called for Duncan's resignation.
Bring signs, sign-making supplies, noisemakers, and most of all- your passion and vision for a robust and equitable public education system in Philadelphia.