The PFT Fails Philly’s Students and Teachers

Who is standing up for good teachers and poor children in the School District of Philadelphia? If you guessed “the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers,” you’d be wrong.

That’s why my colleagues and I went into the midst of 3,000 PFT protesters last week to talk about how PFT leaders are keeping millions of dollars from the classroom and have been harming poor children and high-performing teachers for years.

We explained how PFT leaders are blocking education reforms that will dramatically improve the SDP for both educators and kids alike. To say things got heated would be an understatement. Sometimes the truth hurts, but in this case, it could also set Philadelphia free.

Here’s how the PFT hurts good teachers and the city’s neediest children.
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Philly Principals Are Hungry for Money

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

If you want to get a better idea of the financial squeeze Philly’s public schools operate under, just take a look at how some of them were going to use money freed up by the SRC’s unilateral cancellation of the teachers’ contract.

Central High School was going to hire teachers.

Commodore John Barry School was contemplating the same.

And Greenfield Elementary? More paper and pencils.

Those plans are on hold now that a judge has halted the School Reform Commission’s decision this week. Before that happened, though, the SRC announced that the cancellation had freed up $15 million — money that had previously been spent on health insurance premiums for teachers — to give directly back to schools, to be used as they choose. (A spreadsheet of each school’s cash expected disbursement can be found here.) And the principals were happy to choose.

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Helen Gym and Bill Green Try to Find Common Ground (or Not) on Education in Philadelphia

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He’s chairman of the School Reform Commission. She’s co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. They have very different ideas about how to run the district. In mid-September — a month before the SRC voided the district’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers — Bill and Helen sat down for a lengthy chat. Here, their (abridged) conversation about trying to see eye to eye.

PHILLY MAG: Helen, what do you think the advocate’s role is when dealing with the SRC? Is it to convince them? Is it to pressure them? How do you attempt to influence the SRC’s decisions?

BILL: Sometimes she calls me and yells at me, and sometimes we …

HELEN: He loves it.

BILL: … have a very cordial conversation.

HELEN: I’m his voice of whatever. I think about a lot about this question of who really has power. When we’re looking at large, complicated systems … it makes me think a lot about how we listen to one another, and how we define power and decision-making and authority, and in some cases I think that we haven’t always had governing authorities that are really aware of, responsive to or reflective of the things that parents and community members care very deeply about. I think we should agree that we’re in an extremely undemocratic governance structure. The School Reform Commission is a state takeover body, it’s an unelected body, and — this isn’t, you know, personal or anything like that.
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23 Best Signs From the Philadelphia Teachers’ Protest

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Thousands of teachers jammed Broad Street before a meeting of the School Reform Commission late Thursday afternoon, protesting the SRC’s unilateral cancellation of teachers’ contracts last week.

Speakers at the protest spent a few hours railing against the SRC, Bill Green, Gov. Tom Corbett, and SRC member Sylvia Simms — who students said told them they “belong in jail” at a movie screening Simms hosted Wednesday night. There were many signs supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, Gov. Corbett’s opponent in next month’s election.

The speakers also had strong words for the counter-protesters hired by the Commonwealth Foundation, who were also demonstrating near the front of the School District building.

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Commonwealth Foundation to Demonstrate at Schools Protest

Update: Challenging the characterization of the event as a “counter-protest,” the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives confirmed it has hired a team to appear at the Philadelphia Federation for Teachers’ protest outside School District headquarters on Thursday.

The Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank in the state, says its PFTFails.com website will be up Thursday morning. Spokeswoman Cindy Hamill wrote the site would be “informing people about how Jerry Jordan and the PFT leadership are standing in the way of tens of millions of dollars going back into Philadelphia classrooms.” The Commonwealth Foundation also registered PFTFails.org and PFTFails.net earlier this week.

“Their selfish agenda fails children, fails teachers, and fails the poor,” Hamill continued. “They fail us when they put personal political scores ahead of what’s best for children, teachers and the poor.” She said the workers have not been hired to “counter-protest” but to pass out information and hold banners. “We will be there to inform, not to counter protest,” Hamill said.

ORIGINAL: A group calling itself “PFT Fails” has hired a marketing team to hire counter-protesters for Thursday’s Philadelphia Federation of Teachers protest, Philly blog The Declaration reported last night.

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School Boards, Elections, and Philadelphia’s Utterly Failed Democracy

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Maybe democracy in Philadelphia isn’t working so well.

That’s not a novel observation, I realize, but it takes on new urgency with the growing campaign to dissolve the School Reform Commission. What would replace it? Maybe a mayoral-appointed panel — not too different from the SRC, but with more local accountability — but maybe, maybe an elected school board.

You know: One accountable directly to the voters and taxpayers of Philadelphia.

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Crowdfunding Has Consequences

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Over two weeks this past summer, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge poured millions of gallons of frigid water over people’s heads and millions of dollars into the ALS Association’s coffers. (“Coffers”: one of those words used only in writing, never in conversation.) The combination gag phenomenon/act of charity caused a social media tsunami and quadrupled the foundation’s usual fund-raising take, drawing 70,000 new donors to the cause.

I thought about the Ice Bucket Challenge when I read in the New York Times about the “Table of Peace,” a nifty little jewel-bedecked item of 18th-century French furniture (see close-ups here) that made a guest appearance in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way. (Fancy!) The table was in the Times because it’s the latest item the august Louvre is attempting to buy through crowdfunding. Turns out the French government has had to downsize financial support for cultural institutions for two years straight, so the museum launched a campaign to raise a million euros of the $12.5 million euro price tag set by the current owners, the family of the Baron de Breteuil, from the people. (Let them eat cake off of that, amirite?)

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Philly Schools Shedding Students Faster Than Expected

Philly classrooms aren't quite this empty this fall, but they're shedding students more quickly than expected.

Philly classrooms aren’t quite this empty this fall, but they’re shedding students more quickly than expected.

Philadelphia officials expected there would be fewer students in public schools this fall — but even then they underestimated just how quickly the district would shed students.

“Total enrollment now tallies just under 128,000 instead of the 130,000 officials had been projecting,” The Notebook reports. “That’s a loss of 4,300 students compared to last school year.”

As a result, The Notebook reports, the district is cutting 24 teaching positions immediately — just days after the School Reform Commission canceled its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and imposed terms that requires teachers to contribute payments for their own health care plans.

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