All posts by Teacher Action Group Philadelphia

Submit an ItAG Proposal by December 1st!

Interested in starting a conversation with colleagues about a social justice topic in education that relates to your practice?  Submit a proposal to facilitate an Inquiry to Action Group.  ItAGs are 6 — 8 week spaces for educators from across the city to learn and take action around a theme.  All are welcome to facilitate.  Complete this form by December 1st to propose an ItAG for 2016.  Questions? Contact us at tagphilly@gmail.com.

The WE Convention on Nov 14th: Organizing Skills, Union Lessons, and Announcing the 2016 Election Slate and Platform!

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Without a doubt, this is probably the most exciting time in WE’s brief history:

  • In September WE announced its Leadership Bid and Listening Campaign; and have been covered by most major papers in the city. (The Notebook here and hereThe Tribune here and hereThe Daily NewsCity PaperRaging Chicken Press here and here).
  • Through the listening campaign, the Caucus has heard from educators from every part of the city about what they love about their jobs, the obstacles they face, and their ideas for how we can strengthen our union.
  • All that data is currently being compiled into a platform that truly represents the democratic power of educators in Philadelphia.

And on November 14th, The Caucus of Working Educators will host its Annual Convention. Every educator and education advocate is invited to join us for a day of skill-building, workshops from education and union experts from across the country, and…kicking off the official 2016 election platform and slate!

The 2nd Annual WE Convention
November 14, 2015 at 9:30am – 3:30pm
Old First Reformed UCC
151 N 4 St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Lunch, childcare, and parking provided free of charge.

Please RSVP through the website or on facebook.

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WE are working to build a member-driven, democratic union that can defend and transform public education– but your ideas and passion are needed to make it possible. Join for the whole day or any part of it (make sure you get some lunch, too). Even if you can’t make it, please forward this info to a Philadelphia educator you know that might be interested.

 

Tentative Program:

9:30-10:00am- Breakfast and Registration

10:00-10:45am- Opening Plenary: “Race, class and the future of our union”, Brian Jones (NyCORE/MORE)

10:45-12:00pm- Workshop Session 1
  • Organizing to Win: How to Have Effective Conversations that Move People to Action
  • #WEarethePFT: Carrying our Message through Social Media and Beyond
  • Internal Union Elections: Know Your Rights

12:00-1:00pm: Lunch (catered by school employees from Taggart Elementary)

1:00-2:15pm- Workshop Session 2

  • Organizing to Win: How to Have Effective Conversations that Move People to Action
  • Lessons from Recent Labor Victories: Open Negotiations, Hunger Strikes, Charter Protests, and more
  • It Takes More Than a Strong Caucus: Grassroots Fundraising for Our Election Campaign

2:15-3:30pm- Closing Plenary: Announcing the 2016 Leadership Slate and Election Platform!

ItAG Facilitators Interest Meeting

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When? Thursday, November 5. 6-8pm

Where? Science Leadership Academy, 55 N. 22nd St.

What? Part of buiding the collective power of students, teachers, families, and community is leading our own engagement into the work together. Inquiry to action groups are spaces for all invested in education for liberation and social justice to learn alongside each other around a theme, and plan actions for communal sharing and uplift at TAG’s annual conference this April. If you are interested in leading, facilitating, and/or co-creating a space, join us to learn about past itags, writing a short proposal of your idea, and how to mobilize community within and outside of your school to participate. Share the word and see you soon.

Past ItAGs have included…
•Black Music as Rebellion * Hip Hop: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly * Queer Issues in Education * • Social Justice Unionism * Content Focus Groups ** Teaching Ferguson *

RSVP on Facebook.

After Reading Between The World And Me, Consider What Must Be Done Between Philadelphia and You. We Welcome You to Join Us.

In leading up to the October 16th event at the Free Library, Teacher Action Group Philadelphia convened two community roundtables for the truths and stories provided by Ta-Nehisi Coates to emerge significant lessons for local students, educators and the greater Philadelphia community. Through our inquiry, we seek to urge audience members to recognize that the issues that make Between The World and Me such a powerful text is more than a true human story, but a present living history that is actively plundering, assaulting, and burdening Black life in Philadelphia. There is much work to be done to transform cross-sector public policies that have collided to create and collectively reinforce the conditions that underwrite the undeserved suffering in many Black and Brown neighborhoods within Philadelphia. This stands beyond yet inextricably intertwined with the personal necessity of interrogating and transforming harmful attitudes and beliefs that make such policies justifiable. Furthermore, let this be a reminder that there are many local organizations, with only a few named below, who have deep histories of organizing Philadelphia community members to reckon with many of the concrete realities that his book draws to the surface.

Click below to read the entire piece by TAG member Chris Rogers at Medium.

After Reading Between The World And Me, Consider What Must Be Done Between Philadelphia and You.

Announcing the 2015 Mayoral Report Card

Philadelphia 2015 Mayoral Report Card on Education (1)

Every candidate talks about great schools – that’s not hyperbole, education is the #1 issue among likely voters in Philadelphia. That’s great. What’s not-so-great is politicians who love talking about great schools but loathe talking about what makes them great. These men and women are trying to get elected, so the goal is to present their ideas as broadly as possible.

For those of us in the actual schools, that doesn’t work. Does a great school support their teachers’ rights to organize? Do they suspend children who opt-out of high stakes testing? This matters a lot, but is rarely discussed.

As a sequel to our 2014 Governor’s Report Card, here’s our assessment of the current Democratic Mayoral Field, based on their responses to our survey. You can read the survey, the responses, and our reasoning.

If you want to share it, please use our PDF or JPEG.  If you want to be part of what we do, just ask.

-The Candidate Report Card Inquiry to Action Group

Developing Cultural Competency Among School Staff

The members of the Inquiry to Action Group Social Justice Educators on a Path of Cultural Relevancy would like to share their collaboratively created module, “Developing Cultural Competency Among School Staff.”

This module is meant to empower school personnel to lead a professional development series that centers on confronting issues of language, culture, and race in educational contexts. There are six sessions designed to be flexible enough for facilitators to adapt the module to suit participant needs and school schedule. The session topics correspond to the partner text: Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice.

It has been shared in part at multiple workshops, and implemented in its entirety at Stetson, where the candid, meaningful discussions about language, culture and race continue as participants strive to provide a more relevant and socially equitable learning environment.

Please share widely!

Developing Cultural Competency Among School Staff

Announcing the 2015 Education for Liberation Conference!

6th Annual Education for Liberation Conference:

#BlackLivesMatter: 

Centering Racial Justice in Our Fight for Public Education

 Saturday, April 25th, 2015
9:30 — 4:00pm

At this year’s TAG conference, we invite participants to connect the national fight for racial justice to the local transformation of Philadelphia’s education system. Together we will reflect on our practice and experiences, imagine new possibilities, and activate ourselves to do the work that will create the school system Philadelphia students deserve. Join us.

Currently, the fight for racial justice is at the forefront of our national conversation. There’s a reinvigorated movement to address the systemic racism within the nation’s criminal justice system.  How is this mobilization and raised consciousness informing our fight for quality public education?  What are the implications for changing the foundations of our schooling system and re-energizing our classroom practice?

Meanwhile, the fight for quality public education is at the forefront of our local conversation.  Debates rage over excessive standardized testing, charter vs. public schools, fair funding, and local control.  How does a racial justice analysis shape our approach to these issues? In a city where we are educating mostly low-income students of color, how are we ensuring that we center our work on their lived experiences, needs, and successful futures? 

This year’s conference highlights include a panel that lifts up the voices of young people of color, a diverse set of workshops that highlight a range of education topics, and a gallery of student work from around the city.

Register today and spread the word!

Announcing the 2014 Education for Liberation Conference!

We’re proud to announce

TAG’s 5th Annual Education for Liberation Conference! 

Featuring Keynote Speaker Lois Weiner
Saturday May 3rd, 2014
9:30AM – 3:30PM
Folk Arts and Cultural Treasures School
1023 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123
Register Today!
/ Volunteers, Tablers, Workshop Proposals: Click here!

This year’s conference will build the power and impact of on-the-ground educators across Philadelphia by creating space for you to learn, connect with each other and develop the skills necessary to transform education in our city, both within classrooms and beyond those walls.

Registration (9:30-10:00)

Keynote Address (10:00-10:45)

Social Justice in Classrooms and Schools: Why We Must Transform Teachers’ Unions

Lois Weiner, author of The Future of Our Schools, is a life-long teacher union activist and educator and has been an officer of three union locals. She is internationally known for her work on urban teacher education and is a powerful voice for the possibility of teacher unions to transform public education landscapes.

Tables with curriculum resources (10:45-11:15): These will also be available throughout the day.

Morning Workshops (11:15-12:45):

  • Black Music As Rebellion
  • Removing the Blindfold from the Elephant in the Box under the Rug:  Valuing Multicultural Identities in Schools
  • Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship
  • Telling Untold Stories in the Fight for Public Education
  • Freak Ladies Fight Back: How art can help us liberate our souls and liberate our peoples
  • Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project

Lunch Time Meet-Ups (1:00-1:30):

  • Social Studies
  • ELL & Bilingual
  • Charter Accountability/Organizing
  • WE Caucus
  • TAG Future Leaders

Afternoon Workshops (1:45-3:15):

  • VISUAL THINKING:  think + draw + learn
  • History Making Productions: Learning Through Media
  • The Power of Student Voice
  • Teacher Facilitated Professional Inquiry Groups
  • Listen Up!: Youth-Produced Media in the Classroom
  • School Discipline 101: Know Your Rights!
  • Caucus 101:  What is the Caucus of Working Educators?

See you there!

 

Education Follow-Up: Allyson Schwartz

We are pleased to present PA gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz’s responses to our follow-up questionnaire. She is the first current candidate to respond to the second phase of our Candidate Report Card Campaign. We will post additional responses as we receive them.

1. Philadelphia schools are struggling to make up for a $304 million dollar budget gap this year, and the prognosis for next year does not look good (The Notebook). What do you think the best solution(s) are for the School District of Philadelphia’s financial problems?

The financial crisis in the School District of Philadelphia has been driven largely by two factors:  (1) the extreme budget cuts imposed on the district by Governor Corbett, and (2) the rapid growth of charter schools, which has drained vital resources.

As the former Democratic Chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee, I fought for fair funding for our public schools. As governor, I will restore the almost $1 billion that Corbett cut from school subsidies by the end of my first term in office. I was the first Democratic candidate for governor to call for a 5 percent tax on Marcellus Shale gas production, and I will use the profits from this tax to recommit Pennsylvania to public education.

I will establish a data-driven funding formula that provides fair, adequate and sustained funding for every school district. My formula will take into account a district’s economic and demographic profile, including variances in income and learning capabilities (including students with special needs), and the local community’s ability to raise local funds. My funding formula will consider the particular needs of Philadelphia schools.

In addition, I will improve charter school transparency and accountability to guarantee that public dollars are used wisely, to prevent fraud, and to guard against unacceptable conflicts of interest. This includes ending state funding for cyber-charter schools in Pennsylvania.

2. You identified yourself as “strongly in favor” of replacing the School Reform Commission with a locally elected school board. If elected Governor, what concrete steps would you take to making this belief a reality?

As a state Senator in 1998, I voted against the state takeover of Philadelphia schools that led to the School Reform Commission. I later fought in the Senate to establish an independent oversight panel to monitor the Commission’s actions.

Because the School Reform Commission was created by an act of the Legislature and Governor, it will take legislative action to abolish the School Reform Commission. Working with legislative leaders and local stakeholders, I will make it a top priority of my administration to repeal Act 46 and return the School District of Philadelphia to local control.

I will listen to all Philadelphia stakeholders in determining whether it is best to establish a locally-elected school board or have an appointed board as prior to the state takeover in 2001.

3.  Groups like the Commonwealth Foundation are seeking to undo union rights in Pennsylvania, specifically by taking away their ability to collect dues directly from member paychecks. If elected, how would you respond to this kind of legislation? What concrete steps would you take to protect unions in Pennsylvania?

Paycheck withholding of union dues is a matter determined in collective bargaining, as it ought to be. I will protect this right.

I am strongly committed to protecting the right of our workers to form a union and collectively bargain without pressure or interference from their employer. That is why I co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress. I have repeatedly opposed efforts by congressional Republicans to undermine the National Labor Relations Board and opposed instituting mandatory waiting periods before an election to form a union.

I have stood up to defend the right to collectively bargain to secure fair wages, to ensure equal pay for equal work, and to extend job protections. Working families need a governor who has a long, documented history of standing up for them – and working with them – to tackle the biggest challenges facing our communities, state, and nation.

I strongly agree with TAG’s stated position that, “Unions should be a place where teachers have a voice in creating and protecting an educational system that is set up in the best interests of students, families, and teachers.”

As long as I am the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth will never become a “right to work” state.

4. The new state-wide system for teacher evaluation (PVAAS) bases at least 30% of a teacher’s total rating on standardized test scores (Research for ActionPost-Gazette). What effect do you think this new system will have on teaching and learning in public schools?

Pennsylvania teachers are relentlessly focused on improving student performance and we must ensure they have the tools they need to succeed.

We cannot judge performance on standardized tests alone, which encourages schools to teach to the test and narrow the curriculum.  We must ensure that performance review systems are implemented fairly and successfully, including multiple measures to track valid and reliable data, with a clear ability to provide meaningful feedback to teachers, school leaders, and students and parents.

As governor, I will partner with the Commonwealth’s teachers and educational stakeholders to ensure that tests are implemented fairly, that schools have the resources they need to succeed, and that all Pennsylvania’s students receive a high quality education, not simply take test after test.

We must focus on improving achievement, and a cornerstone of being able to do so successfully is to ensure districts have the resources, support, and flexibility they need to meet their students’ particular needs.

Children do not remember the test, they remember the teacher. We will fail our children if we lose focus of how vital a well-rounded education is to children’s academic and personal success.

5. This new evaluation system does not apply to teachers in charter or independent schools. Do you support this exemption? If not, what would you do to change it?

Charter schools should be held to standards identical to traditional schools, and as Governor I would ensure that our state wide evaluation methods hold charter school teachers accountable to the same metrics as traditional public school teachers.

6. Pennsylvania currently allows a “religious exemption” for state standardized testing, which many families use as a back door to opting out (Newsworks). Do you support the rights of all families to opt their children out of state standardized exams?

Granting a religious exemption may be appropriate in some cases, but we must ensure that it is not over-used.

7. Is there anything else you would like to tell the public about your views on education?

Nothing that state government does is more important than providing quality public education. As the mother of two Philadelphia public school graduates, I know how important public education is to our families. I’m the only candidate with a proven record of accomplishment in standing up to the old boys club in Harrisburg to make a difference in the lives of Pennsylvania families, and as Governor, I will bring that same sense of mission and determination to ensure that we recommit Pennsylvania to public education

During my service in the Pennsylvania Senate, I served for a decade as the Democratic Chair of the Education Committee. I pushed for greater investment in education, including fair funding for public schools, helped lead fights against school vouchers, and voted against the state take-over of Philadelphia schools, which led to the creation of the SRC.  As a longtime champion of early education, I also introduced State Senate legislation to provide state reimbursement for full-day kindergarten. In Congress, I am working closely with Senator Bob Casey, on the Prepare All Kids Act which creates a Prekindergarten Incentive Fund to award grants to states to establish, expand, or enhance voluntary high-quality pre-K programs.

You can read my complete comprehensive education plan on my website, allysonschwartz.com, but I wanted to highlight the foundation points of the plan.

A Strong Start

Keystone Kids. Success in school begins with early education and that it is one the best opportunities for a return on public investment. Decades of research proves that quality preschool narrows the achievement gap, increases high school graduation rates, decreases the need for special education, helps prepare children to succeed in today’s competitive economy, and reduces health care and social welfare costs over time. One study found that every dollar invested in early education generates a $7 to $8 return on investment. As Governor, I will launch Keystone Kids – a landmark initiative to make access to pre-­‐kindergarten universal for all four year olds within a decade.

Full-­Day Kindergarten. In the State Senate, I successfully fought to expand access to full-­‐day kindergarten. As Governor, I will make full-­‐day kindergarten accessible to every child in Pennsylvania and ensure that school districts have the support that they need to achieve this goal.

Reducing Class Sizes. As a State Senator, I championed efforts to reduce class size in the early grades. Because of Corbett’s draconian budget cuts, many of our schools have been forced to increase class sizes across the board, hurting student achievement. As Governor, I will enable school districts limit class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Reversing Tom Corbett’s Education Cuts In My First Term

I have released a plan to enact a moderate, 5-­‐percent severance tax on natural gas production that will raise billions of dollars to support transformational investments, especially in public education and early education. By growing the economy, re-­‐prioritizing the existing budget and drawing upon new resources from the shale tax, I will reverse Governor Corbett’s extreme cuts of almost $1 billion during my first term.

Fair Support for All of Pennsylvania’s Schools
It is unacceptable that investment to our schools is determined by political calculations in Harrisburg and not by school and student need. Current funding is not adequate, predictable, or fair, and we see the devastating consequences here in Philadelphia.

The quality of a student’s education should not depend on where they live in our state. As Governor, I will partner with all stakeholders to determine the necessary level of state support to ensure that all students receive a quality education. I will establish a transparent funding formula that recognizes student and school district characteristics, considers local effort and provides sustained, adequate and fair funding to every school in the Commonwealth.

The LEARN Conference: A Philly Teacher’s View

By Yaasiyn Muhammad

On March 1st, The LEARN Network hosted their annual conference at UPenn, and graciously provided a few passes for TAG teachers to attend. The conference brings together different viewpoints about education reform in Philadelphia. Below are one teacher’s impressions of the day.

The theme of the 3rd annual L.E.A.R.N. conference was “Achievement Gap or the Education Debt? Combating Racial Inequalities in Our Public Schools.” This theme acknowledges the existence of racial inequalities in the nation’s public school systems, a premise that I completely agree with, but some of the solutions proposed specifically by State Senator Anthony Williams are currently creating more inequality in the public schools of Philadelphia.

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 10.57.00 AMWilliams, as the afternoon keynote speaker, supported his positions in favor of charter schools, cyber schools, and private school vouchers, each of these measures are taking funds away from the public schools of Philadelphia, in an attempt to provide parents with options. Williams claimed that these options are for the very families who are suffering because of this achievement gap, or as Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Dr. Camika Royal would put it, educational debt.

Interestingly, when an audience member presented data that stated that families with the highest needs were not tapping into these options, Williams quickly dismissed that notion. A member of the morning panel validated the point that the audience member was making–Ms. Kia Philpot-Hinton spoke on one of the benefits of charter schools. She stated that she placed her child in a charter school because she understood that the parents of children in charter schools were much more active in their kids’ education.

Williams even dismissed the notion that increased funding correlates with academic achievement. Williams touted himself as someone who is in the middle on this issue, acknowledging that there is an achievement gap, that he understands there is an historical context as to why it exists, and that he is open for any suggestions.

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 10.56.56 AMDr. Royal, as a participant in the morning panel, presented the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings when addressing the theme of the achievement gap. Royal espouses the belief that the term achievement gap is a misnomer that works to compare racial minorities to their white counterparts, in a way that blames racial minorities for their shortcomings. Royal prefers the term “educational debt” explaining that there has been a debt ran up in our society, a debt caused by structural racism, racism that aimed to prevent minority groups from accessing quality education everywhere in this nation. From her statements, it seems that Dr. Royal would like for politicians and the public to understand this issue in light of that historical truth and shift the conversation about funding and academic achievement, in a way that it focuses on addressing inter-generational effects of discrimination.

By contrast, Senator Williams made a statement in his address that told everyone in the audience that he is not focused on addressing historical inequities. Williams said that a teacher who was a C student in their school of education was more likely to be an ineffective teacher. That statement is a reflection of the hyper grade-conscious, test-oriented culture that has infected our students, politicians, and even our teachers. This culture exists in public schools and is expanding the empathy gap present in our schools.

At a late morning session addressed the notion of an empathy gap, one of the most memorable panelists was Philadelphia teacher (and TAG member) Jaimie Stevenson. She saw the empathy gap as her inability to build and develop a relationship with all of her students because of her inability to appreciate his values. She pointed to the lack of flexibility in her lessons and assessments because of the test oriented focal points of her curriculum, therefore, the student who is interested in art can never express that interest in his English class, much worse, his teacher can never express an appreciation in his diverse talents.

Just as Williams sees teachers with C’s as hurting the educational achievement of their school system, our schools see the students who are tactile and art-based as not helping the school’s test scores, because the politicians running the school system are focused on test scores and not the diverse contributions students and teachers bring to education.

Yaasiyn Muhammad has been teaching history for 5 years. Last year he was laid off from Northeast High School after 4 years there. He currently teaches at Central High School.