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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,, 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.

Seven Questions for the Candidates

Last month, TAG released its 2014 Candidate Report Card, based on a ten-question survey that six candidates responded to.

As we prepared the report card results, we realized that we needed some more information. Many candidates were “strongly in favor” of policies that we agreed with–but as governor, what would they do to make those policies a reality?

We sent out seven follow-up questions to our candidates last week, and we need your help telling the candidates that we need more details and commitments from them. It’s easy to make claims during an election. If they want our votes, we need to know how they will follow up on those promises!

You can e-mail the document of questions to the candidates, or send individual requests and questions to them via Twitter.


The questions:

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?

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?

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?

  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 Action, Post-Gazette). What effect do you think this new system will have on teaching and learning in public schools?

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?

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?

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

Flipping the Script: Still No Library

TAG is pleased to present a student voice speaking out about the ongoing lack of resources at their school.

To whom it may concern:

If you were to sweep your finger across the covers of one of the books in our school’s library, you would have a dirty hand. The dust would gather as your finger glides across the ancient covers. Covers that would be worn and torn out. Don’t look for Dan Brown or James Patterson- most of the books were published before the year 2010. However, outdated books are not the major problem. If you were to walk in our library in the first place, you wouldn’t. The library remains locked- as students, we are prohibited to enter a library. Ironically, one would consider a library a place of knowledge, silence, and a helpful location- especially for students.

Maybe a practical teenager prefers Instagram or Facebook, but believe me when I say I am not a practical teenager. I love to read books, the scent of books excites me. What is a “kindle” and a “nook”? A book is a binding of papers, and on those papers are the words, the words that create a story. I told you I am not a practical teenager, I prefer Mitch Albom to Ellen Hopkins, and I like the crisp of noise a book makes when you turn the page.

My classes are parched from the lack of textbooks. My teacher resorted to sharing the textbook online for the sake of the class. His 90 students need 90 textbooks. We only have 40.  As I read the pdf based file, my eyes strain and the pages no longer create sound. The “pages” are just white backgrounds compiled by miniscule pixels. I no longer read a textbook, but a textfile.

People write letters to high authority figures, criticizing them for not doing enough. My intention is not that; my intention is to inform you how bad conditions are. They are not the worst, but they are not the best either. We could have many situations that are far worse than books, but I hope you understand. Books are vital to me as much as libraries are. I get lost in tragedies that make my life seem better, characters are real people to me, and a “theme” is not an English 1 vocabulary word for me- they are real notions I obtain from stories.

I do only have 161 school days left, 3,864 hours, or 231,840 minutes. But to the younger kids who will soon enter themselves into a place they prepare to become adults, they have much to worry. What will they read? The textbooks that have been scribbled on? The textbooks that lost their covers? Or how about the textbooks that don’t exist? They have 724 school days to transform into open minded young adults. In my opinion, books are an essential for students. Without knowledge, action is useless.

                             Aimen Ahmed  — Senior, Northeast High School



Before Schools Open…

On the weekend before schools open, the situation is dire.  Our elected officials are still holding hostage money that should have been directed toward ensuring our schools are better staffed to meet students’ real needs.  The teachers’ contract is still being held up in negotiations, as the District would rather aim to squeeze as much as they can out of our city’s unionized workforce than to actually work toward making schools safe places for Philadelphia’s students to learn and grow.

As the chaos unfolds in the schools over the next couple of weeks, TAG’s Summer of Action is taking aim at the fall! Here’s what you can do:

Make The Stories Public

We need to make sure that the public is still focused on our schools in order to pressure elected officials for more funding. It is important that you document and share the problems in your schools. Here are some ways to collect and share the injustices and inequities you witness.

  • Share your stories with us via Twitter (@TAGPhilly) and our Facebook page
  • If you need your report to be anonymous, send it to and we can protect your identity.
  • Bring your stories to the TAG Back-To-School Story Slam on Sept. 26 at 6PM (location TBA)
  • For union documentation, send your stories to:
  • Write letters to the editor: The Inquirer, The Daily News, Newsworks, The Notebook, your neighborhood paper!

Organize Teachers, Parents, and Students
We need to get the word out to more people in order to build up the power to intervene and change what’s happening in our schools.  Here are some ways to connect and take action:

Thank you for everything you do.  In this moment of crisis, TAG is sending you, your schools, and our city the strength we will need to make it through the first day and beyond.

In response to Dr. Hite’s Proposal

On Thursday, August 15th, the School District of Philadelphia is having a hastily announced meeting in an attempt to suspend a part of the PA school code. Their goal is to eliminate seniority for teachers — which includes freezing all pay increases for teachers, and bypassing seniority when hiring back laid off staff.

Dr. Hite claims that these steps are necessary, but to put it simply, they are not. Not only are the tactics of the school district underhanded and misdirecting, the core premise of their claim–that teacher seniority hurts schools and students–is patently false.

The seniority system–used in some shape or form by the vast majority of school districts in the country–attracts and retains talented teachers as well as gives schools continuity and stability. SDP especially needs to preserve its pay scale, as Philadelphia school teachers already make 19% less than their immediate suburban counterparts. Losing good talent to districts that pay more is already a problem, and eliminating the pay scale will continue that trend.

For the school district to stage an attack on this system in the midst of a “crisis” does nothing to advance teaching and learning. It is simply an attempt to advance the political and private interests that would benefit from a weakening of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and uses the crisis as an excuse to do so.

The timing makes it look like that teachers are the “hold-outs” in this situation, but only if you believe that school staff are in any way responsible for either causing or resolving this funding “crisis.” They are not. Moreover, the immediate funds that might be gained from gutting teacher salary and benefits are small change in comparison to the lasting damage that it would cause in our schools.

Philadelphia can’t afford to have a second-class teaching force. See this move for what it is, and let the School Reform Commission know that you are not buying what they are selling.

In Response to The Verdict

999041_10151814579608755_1197451166_nOn Saturday July 13th, 2013, a jury of six women found George Zimmerman not guilty on all charges in the murder of Trayvon Martin, a young Black man who was racially profiled, considered “suspicious” simply because of the color of his skin, and then murdered on the street by a neighborhood watch vigilante.  We are outraged and disgusted by this verdict. It highlights the enormous injustices of our system, indeed forcing us to question the idea that “justice” even exists within the legal system of our country.

The deep racism and historic inequality of our legal system is mirrored in the systemic inequality of our education system. It is no coincidence that the majority of schools being closed in Philadelphia, and across the country, are schools with majority Black and Brown students in low income neighborhoods. As educators, we have a responsibility to discuss, address and develop an analysis around not only this case, but also other forms of oppression and institutional racism, so that we can be prepared to have real conversations with our students.

We must talk about race. When the majority of educators in Philadelphia are white and the majority of our students are students of color, we have to be willing to talk about that dynamic. When the default in our schools is to punish, suspend, expel and arrest our students when they violate our school norms, rather than help them learn from their mistakes and repair the harm they’ve caused, we have to see this as a direct extension of how black and brown people are criminalized in all parts of society. When our state is the leader in sentencing youth, mostly youth of color, to life without the possibility of parole, we have to be willing to talk about race and the connections to the school-to-prison pipeline.  When we hear our colleagues blaming “those parents” for the dysfunction in our schools, we have to be willing to confront the implicit racism in their attitudes.

The killing of Trayvon Martin reminds us that we do not exist in a post-racial society. We must be willing to challenge ourselves and move outside of our comfort zones. As educators, we know that growth often comes from being uncomfortable.  Therefore, we have a responsibility, as educators, to push ourselves, our colleagues, and our schools to confront racism, engage in difficult and honest discussions, and help validate and heal the pain that is still too real in our students’ lives.

Talk with your colleagues about the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Talk with your colleagues about ways to discuss the pain and betrayal of Trayvon Martin’s murder with your students. Talk with your colleagues about the role race plays in the classroom. And, of course, push yourself to think deeply about your own personal beliefs and stereotypes that you may hold as a result of living in an unequal, racist society.

Trayvon Martin’s death was an atrocity. We must learn from it and push ourselves to act so that the next Trayvon Martin — one of our beloved students or a member of our own family — can walk safely home without fear of being gunned down.

One thing you can do right now is sign the NAACP’s petition requesting that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman.

Additionally, here are some links to places to begin the self-education we all need to be more effective educators.

The fight continues.