Opt Out Philly to take part in National Parent Strike on Sept. 17

Opt Out Philly will be a part of the National Parent’s Strike. It’s not just a day it’s a national movement for parents to take back public education one test score at a time!


On Thursday, September 17, Opt Out Philly is participating in the National Parents Strike by asking parents, teachers and community members to do the following:

  • Wear Red
  • Submit your Refusal letters to your child’s school
  • Change your profile pic to that of your children or an Opt Out image
  • Use the following hashtags when you Tweet or share on social media: #optoutphilly #phillyparentstrike #welovephillyteachers #weloveourteachers #weloveourchildren and #nationalparentstrike

A press conference will be held in front of the School District of Philadelphia at 440 North Broad Street between 4:45 pm and 5:30 pm.

Last year, parents opted out at nearly twenty schools in the Philadelphia School District, in suburban districts like Quakertown, Lower Merion, Abington, and Lower Moreland, and in several of the state’s cyber charter schools.

"There is a strong correlation between standardized test scores and household income. It is simply unethical for Pennsylvania to spend $58.3 million annually on high-stakes tests that punish students living in poverty, English Language Learners, and special needs students. We want joy and curiosity, not compliance and discipline." Alison McDowell, parent of a Philadelphia School District 8th grader.

Parents are especially alarmed by how these tests affect English Language Learners and children with IEPs. Further, parents are heeding the warning of educators and researchers that the obsession with standardized testing is simply being used to label kids, teachers, and schools as failures.

“I am opposed to these tests being used simply to sort and separate students, rather than help them learn,” said Robin Roberts, School District of Philadelphia parent. “My child is more than a score.”

Parent leader Tonya Bah who has children at Wagner Middle School and Widener Memorial School says, “We, as parents and students, deserve to know our rights. We are here to break the code of silence surrounding standardized testing in Philadelphia. Every parent has a right to opt their child out of the test. Every student has a right to refuse the test.”


For more information, please visit the Opt Out Philly Blog, Facebook, or call 267-283-8273 (Tamara Anderson).


Defend Public Education During Back-to-School Night

At back-to-school night this year, we need to remind our city we are still fighting for fully funded schools. This letter from a Central High School teacher has tips for how to host a "What's NOT Back to School" Night at your school:


[Photo from Central's 'What's NOT Back to School' Action last year.]

Dear fellow PFT & WE Caucus members,

As we begin yet another year of less than adequate funding for Philadelphia’s school children, it becomes imperative that we continue to tell the narrative. Class sizes are still too large, schools still lack fundamental staff such as NTAs, counselors, and nurses (now add substitute teachers into the mix), and basic supplies such as copy paper and textbooks are still lacking. 

At the same time, the Caucus is now embarking upon its listening campaign for the internal PFT elections. The one platform issue I would like to see included is that we become a PRO-ACTIVE union, not a RE-ACTIVE one. We shouldn’t simply wait for one slight after the other being to be lobbed at us by corporate reformers, Harrisburg and the SRC – only to reactively challenge them in court. We need to get in front of the train wreck and take the fight TO THEM.

It is in that spirit that we at Central High School have decided to launch our second annual “What’s NOT Back-to-School” rally this year. Central staff will be lining the sidewalk prior to Back-to-School night this Thursday evening, informing parents of these attacks on public education. 

The highlight of our rally will be a “Professional Development Textbook Resale Fundraiser” that we hope will raise over $1000 in order to buy much needed supplies for our school. Teachers are encouraged to donate their District-purchased Driven By Data books from this year (retail value $36.00) and Charlotte Danielson’s Enhancing Professional Practice (retail value $29.95) for resale through various online textbook buyback programs (click here). How DARE the district pay over $60 per teacher on corporate reform textbook garbage while our schools go without basic supplies.

When austerity has become the new norm, it’s vital to show that we’re still fighting for fully funded schools. I hope that you feel emboldened and choose to follow Central’s example by hosting your own Back-to-School rally and PD Textbook Resale Fundraiser. Feel free to use the flyers and press releases I have come up with. They are all in .doc format so that they can be easily adapted to suit your school’s needs.

In solidarity,

George Bezanis
WE Caucus member
PFT Building Representative
Central High School

P.S. Here are all the docs you need to get started:

What's NOT Back to School Night- Flyer for Parents: PDF / google docs

What's NOT Back to School Night- Press Release: PDF / google docs

What's NOT Back to School Night- Poster Ideas & Mailbox Inserts: PDF / google docs



Our Listening Campaign & Bid for Union Leadership


From Left: Amy Roat, Yaasiyn Muhammad, Ismael Jimenez, Kelley Collings.

[UPDATE: Read about the launch of our Listening Campaign in The Notebook, The Examiner, and Raging Chicken Press.]

We are thrilled to announce our first-ever citywide listening campaign!

Over the next several months, the campaign will ask the 11,000 rank and file members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) to weigh in about what they need most from the district and the union so  they can best serve the students of Philadelphia in the city’s public schools.

The campaign will develop a platform and slate for the Caucus of Working Educators to run for  internal PFT executive leadership. At Wednesday’s meeting, four “officer candidates” were presented to the Caucus membership. These candidates come recommended by the Elections Committee of the Caucus, who worked over the summer to organize the campaign and begin identifying candidates. They are not yet slated in any particular order.

  • Kelley Collings is a math teacher at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences with fourteen years teaching in the School District of Philadelphia.
  • Ismael Jimenez is a history teacher at Kensington CAPA, with seven years teaching in SDP.
  • Yaasiyn Muhammad is a history teacher at Central High School, with seven years teaching in SDP.
  • Amy Roat is an ESOL teacher at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, with thirteen years teaching in SDP and twenty years experience as a teacher.

Over the course of the campaign, we will organize listening sessions around the city, to reach every school building and neighborhood, with these four candidates at the center of the work.

“We are not coming to you with a set agenda or platform,” Collings said to the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting. “Instead we are listening to all PFT members across the city and building a platform that reflects our collective vision for the schools Philadelphia’s students deserve.”

We will be presenting the final slate to the Caucus membership for confirmation at our annual convention on November 14th. According to PFT bylaws, internal elections will take place between January and April of 2016.



Why are Philly parents opting out of standardized testing?

Philadelphia parents talk about why they decided to opt their children out of the PSSA and Keystone tests.

Watch the video here


Testing is ruining public education.

You have the power to stop it.

Get all the information you need to opt out of the PSSA and Keystone tests in the Opt Out Organizing Toolkit

Like the Opt Out Philly facebook page https://www.facebook.com/OptOutPhilly



Parents Speak Out: The new PSSA and Keystone scores are ‘loaded guns’ aimed at our kids


Parent activists call new PSSA and Keystone cut scores “loaded guns” that rob schools of resources and kick the school-to-prison pipeline into overdrive. Parents are intensifying organizing efforts to increase opt out rates during the 2015-2016 school year.

Philadelphia parents are urging students and families across the city to refuse PSSA and Keystone standardized tests by legally “opting out”. Families across PA are outraged by significant drops in PSSA scores and similar projections for yet-to-be-released Keystones scores. Administrators claim more ‘rigorous’ standards are the cause, but parents see it as setting the bar out of reach for the students who are most at risk.


“It is calculated and predetermined that kids who are raised in poverty, who have english-language differences or special education needs, don’t pass these tests,” explains Philadelphia public school parent Robin Roberts. “It’s orchestrated. It has nothing to do with the kids or the teachers.”

Parent Tonya Bah maintains, “The Keystone state exams are ‘loaded guns’ aimed at taking any shred of opportunity from our children and their future, while widening the gap between the haves and have not’s.” A new law requires students to pass the Keystone exams in order to graduate. The drop in scores will prevent students from graduating, increase drop-outs, and wreck havoc at schools. “If high school students do not pass the Literature, Biology, and Algebra exams they will be denied high school diplomas,” explains Bah, who was instrumental in getting 171 families to opt of out the PSSA’s at one of her children’s schools.

“Those tests determine the number of jail cells that are built. I don’t want my children or any other child to feel like there’s anything built for them but success,” says Shakeda Gaines, Philadelphia public school parent and Member at Large of the Philadelphia Home and School Association.


The pattern of introducing “more rigorous” tests, followed by a huge drop in performance and subsequent implementation of punitive measures against schools, students, and teachers is one that has played out in other states -- most recently New York and New Jersey. In both states, drops in test scores led to massive parent-led opt out mobilizations.



Opt Out Philly – a coalition of parents, teachers, and students formed last year to organize opt out campaigns at local schools across the city and suburbs – is intensifying outreach efforts targeting community events, street fairs, and back-to-school events to inform parents about their legal right to opt their children out of the test. Movement leaders expect opt out rates to soar during the 2015-2016 school year.

More information can be found at: http://www.workingeducators.org/opt_out_philly_hits_the_streets_in_2015_2016 


Opt Out Philly members include: the Caucus of Working Educators of the PFT, Action United, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, Parents United for Public Education, Asian Americans United, Philadelphia Student Union, Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign, and Teacher Action Group.


Opt Out today! 
For more info:

Community Power Survey: 3-5 Minutes to Build Grassroots Power!

There's never been a more exciting time to be a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. We've built a base of educators, parents, and community members that have taken Opt Out to the streets, fought to Reclaim our PD, and brought together almost 200 people from around the city to discuss racial justice and education for this summer's book clubs-- and that's just this summer!

But this has only happened because individuals have come together to share their knowledge, skills, and passion with one another. Jane McAlevey, who visited us in April, explained that as we build relationships with one another, we begin to recognize collective resources --personal relationships, social networks, and knowledge--which can be mobilized to build power and transform our communities.

As the next step in building power, we've created a survey that will allow us to better understand and map our collective power across the city. 

Please take 3-5 minutes to fill out this Power Survey (especially if you're in an all-day 'Driven by Data' PD!). We want all WE supporters to take this, no matter what your role or involvement so far:

Just to get you interested, here's our starting map of all Philadelphia public schools. Yellow dots are elementary schools, orange are middle schools, and blue are high schools:

If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about power mapping, please email [email protected] to get in touch.



State of Emergency Book Share

In Philadelphia, teachers must beg, borrow, and (hopefully not) steal books and materials to start the school year. Until the Pennsylvania legislature, releases a budget that fairly funds public education in our state, City Council releases funds they have allocated for schools, and the SRC prioritizes teachers and students over administrators and data, our students will go without many of the materials they need to learn effectively.

WE members have been hearing from teachers across the district about desperate lack of supplies. This spreadsheet is an emergency response to post books that are needed to start classes, and any surplus books that may be hiding in book closets around the city or nearby suburbs:


Please take a look to see if you have anything to offer, and if you know of someone in need make sure they post here as well.


Then contact your State legislators [www.pa.gov/Government] to demand and end to starvation budgets in Philly!


It's Time to Take Back Our PD!

If you're tired of the "Driven By Data" agenda of corporate ed reformers, why not take back your professional development days? This year's PD from 440 was designed by administrators that have since left Philly for more money. What they left is a mess. What school staff have always known is that we can do much better because we know what our students, families, and school communities need. Working Educators are growing the idea of grassroots collaboration in schools as an alternative to top-down PD. 

September 3rd and 4th are professional development days and the chaos at 440 has left a vacuum of leadership. Many principals may be willing to shorten the district-mandated materials if there is something worthwhile or site-specific for their staff to engage in. Ask your principal to carve out some staff-led PD time - an hour, a day - for staff to design and lead meaningful and inspiring workshops and collaborations before school starts! Here are some suggestions to offer your colleagues:
  • Present a book or article you read over the summer.
  • Plan ways to address the needs of your ESL students and families.
  • Discuss how to facilitate dialogues on race and #BlackLivesMatter.
  • Invite community-based organizations to partner with school staff.
  • Choose your top 3 priorities for the year as colleagues.
  • Share strategies and cool things to use in the classroom.
  • "Turn-around" a training that you took over the summer.
  • Explore ways to engage teachers and youth in critical pedagogy.
  • Develop a year-long PD plan that staff can build on each PD day.
  • Address any real needs at your school site. Who knows best what solutions to try!

Once you've created the space for staff-led PD, share the great things you're doing with the Caucus blog or Facebook page. Take photos, video, and share materials to build momentum! Later this year, the Caucus of Working Educators will start to grow and share quality cross-school collaborations on district PD days. Think about the possibilities for upcoming staff-led workshops on all of these days!

  • October 28th (1/2)
  • November 3rd 
  • November 25th (1/2)
  • December 18 (1/2)
  • January 22nd (1/2)
  • February 16th (1/2)
  • February 26th
  • March 14th (1/2)
  • April 26th
  • May 10th (1/2)
In Solidarity and Collaboration,

Member-driven Caucus of Working Educators


Weekly Update 8/31: Reclaim Our PD and End-of-Summer Invitations


As students and educators across Philadelphia prepare for the first days of school, we have several invitations for you. The first is to participate in an easy campaign that will help you and your colleagues make your professional development meaningful:

Reclaiming PD

If you're tired of the "Driven By Data" agenda of corporate ed reformers, why not take back your professional development days? This year's PD from 440 was designed by administrators that have since left Philly for more money. What they left is a mess. What school staff have always known is that we can do much better because we know what our students, families, and school communities need. Working Educators are growing the idea of grassroots collaboration in schools as an alternative to top-down PD. 

September 3rd and 4th are professional development days and the chaos at 440 has left a vacuum of leadership. Many principals may be willing to shorten the district-mandated materials if there is something worthwhile or site-specific for their staff to engage in. Ask your principal to carve out some staff-led PD time - an hour, a day - for staff to design and lead meaningful and inspiring workshops and collaborations before school starts! 

For a list of great teacher-led activities, check out our blog. 

End of Summer Happy Hour / Book Series Finale

This summer, hundreds of educators participated in twelve different book clubs. Celebrate the end of the summer, and hear back about the intersectional explorations of the summer reading series!

  • Celebrate a summer of learning and organizing together with TAG and the Caucus of Working Educators!
  • Learn about the books people read in the 2nd Annual Summer Reading Series
  • Meet other passionate educators and allies
  • Share your ideas and get energized about the movement to defend and transform public education.

Thursday, September 3rd // 3-5 PM
Tierra Columbiana
4535 N. 5th Street, Philadelphia 

RSVP on Facebook

Caucus General Membership Meeting

A must-attend event for all caucus members (and anybody who would like to join -- you can sign up at the start of the meeting!) Several committees will be sharing their summer work with suggestions for the coming year. 

Wednesday, September 9th // 5-7 PM
Calvary United Methodist Church
815 S. 48th Street (at Baltimore Avenue), Philadelphia

RSVP on Facebook


Opt Out Philly hits the streets in 2015-2016

“They don’t have a counselor, they don’t have a nurse, they can’t go to the bathroom, but they gotta take this test."

-- Philadelphia public school parent

Watch the video here

Opt Out Philly parents, community members, & teachers hit the ground running this school year doing outreach at community meetings, block parties, and back-to-school events throughout the city.



Start recruiting parents and students today -- Opt Out for Justice!

Download the flyer here and the sample opt out letter here.