Mutual Consent, Priorities, and Nonsense

This is not a post about policy.  It’s about priorities

Over the summer a chief selling points by the various advocacy groups was the idea of “mutual consent”.  In any hiring, the Teacher and Principal would agree on the final decision.   This would replace the current system of Seniority and transfers.

According to groups like PennCan, The Philadelphia School Partnership, and the Coaltion for Effective Teaching [sic], mutual consent should be the major change in the next teacher’s contract.  You can read there logic here, here, and here.

From “A Way Forward for the District”

Ensuring mutual consent – meaning both principal and teacher must agree in all hiring and transfer decisions – while not a silver bullet, is the best way to recruit and keep great leaders, and to ensure that teachers work in jobs where each can have the greatest impact.

OK, I follow.  Clearly, we need some sort of new hiring process that allows Principals a greater ability to choose their staff.  This must be something brand new, right?  Innovative enough to propel our schools to success?

For your consideration:  Here’s the text from page 72 of the “current” PFT/SDP contract:

The Principal, in consultation with the Staff Selection Committee, shall
establish appropriate, objective criteria and procedures to identify candidates
for filling vacancies.
The Staff Selection Committee will follow the established procedures
to screen candidates. The Principal and the Staff Selection Committee will reach
consensus on the most qualified candidate for each available position. In the
event that the Committee fails to reach consensus, the Principal shall make the
selection from among the three (3) most qualified applicants as ranked by the

So the teacher must consent to meet with the committee and the Principal, advised but not terribly constrained by a committee of stakeholders, must consent.  It’s almost as if we already have a system where parties must mutually consent to hiring of teachers.  On paper.  From 2009.

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16,000 Reasons Why SB1085 is Terrible

Police are currently searching for answers in a case of $16,000 removed from a safe in a West Philadelphia Achievement Charter School.  According to the Principal, the money was earned in a student-run candy sale.  And it was kept in the school because that’s where you keep $16,000 dollars in one of the poorest areas in one of our poorest cities.



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The Education Election

UPDATE:  Election season!

A few updates:

1.  Both McCord and Schwartz responded to our report card.  The Schwartz response was published here, while McCord’s objections were in email form.  Kudos to the McCord campaign for a sustained, well-thought stream of objections.

2.   There have been very few reasons to update the report card (except, sadly, to remove Hanger).  All 4 remaining Democractic candidates have continued to support more funds to education and abolishing the SRC.  McCord gets a gold star for his explicit support of teachers in the current Supreme Court petition.

And, despite contacting Governor Corbett and his sympathizers, there has been no response to our survey from Harrisburgh.

3.  There are, however, red flags for McCord, and Wolf.  Feel free to read and comment.

If you’re still reading, here’s what matters:  Tell people to vote.  Give information and your opinion, but mostly we need to get people in the habit of going to the polls.  When Philadelphians come to vote, good things happen.


The the biggest issues in Philadelphia’s upcoming elections must be education.  Education is at the heart of our tax collection, our population base, our future economy.  The city’s resurgence depends on strong schools.  And the first step to any discussion is figuring out exactly what all sides believe.

Part of the problem with this discussion is that if you didn’t look too closely you might believe that all of our politicians1 believe the same thing.  Children first, improve learning, support schools.  Disastrous.  Behind the platitudes we face real differences; beneath the banal statements are deep and serious implications for our families and our city.  We have to talk about it and we have to be honest.

What’s the problem?  Our Education Mayor gets a shot on national television to promote fair funding and instead calls the whole debate “esoteric“.  No, Mr. Mayor.  The conversation about what schools should look is difficult.  It’s nuanced.  It requires telling people things they might not want to hear and having the moral courage to stand it by it. 2

That’s why I’m proud to be part of the team within Philly’s Teacher Action Group that has created a Candidates’ Final Exam.  We are pushing candidates to establish base positions, to firm up the ground on which we walk.  It’s not perfect.  It’s simply a point where we can discover what is is we are actually talking about.

Look, maybe you think schools should be run by networks of quasi-private enterprises.  Maybe you think test scores should be used to measure teachers, evaluate students, and close schools.  Maybe you think replacing teachers and guidance counselors with electronic resources is a fine way to educate children3 .  Be honest and stand by it.  And the hope is that when parents, teachers, and taxpayers walk into the voting booth they will understand what is actually being discussed.

If you have connections or just want to bother some candidates, please share it.  If you have a better idea for the next one, tell us.  Help us make the governors’ race the first in a long series of a elections where we call can agree that education is on the ballot.

(As of 11/21, 3 candidates have expressed interest in the survey.  I will update this as needed)

(As of 12/12, we have commitments from 6 Democratic candidates and surveys from 5.  Will Corbett take our test?)

  1. short of Daryl “SEPTA is the same as welfare” Metcalfe 

  2. But I’m really excited for your next rant about how the kids need to pull those pants up.  Really 

  3. Not your children, oh no.  But somebody’s children. 

Teacher’s Voice II – Weaponization

A couple weeks back, the refomers in Philadelphia were in full “sell” mode on hiring issues – full site select and mutual consent.  Jon Cetel, of the advocacy group PennCan, took to Twitter:


Whoa!  Look at all these diverse groups who support this reform.  I’m sure they will respond thanking Mr. Cetel for uniting them on on this issue.


Yeah…no.  Turns out that most of the groups do not support Full Site Select as Cetel lays it out and even the groups who do find his tactics, a polite golf clap as the governor starves our schools, as absolutely horrific.  While he was writing Op-Eds, they were marching and going on hunger strikes against PennCan’s actions.  Advocacy, indeed.1

And this wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t so utterly common.  I’m starting to worry that being part of the conversation means being part of the problem.

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  1. And just FYI:  Count me among those who support real site select. This isn’t a policy issue, it’s a process one 

Teacher’s Voice part 1 – Let me in

I wrote a letter to a few of the education reform groups here.  I got some great responses. What follows is part one of my reflections. 

Over the summer, Philadelphia School Partnership head Mark Gleason was nice enough to ask me to coffee.  He had no reason to do so and, in fact, I’m kinda a jerk to his organization.  He even bought the coffee1 and avoided the PSP’s usual arsenal of weaponized cliches2.  To add to the pleasantries, we spend most of our time agreeing.

Gleason started off with a pretty damning criticism:  Was teacher voice and agency, my biggest complain with PSP’s agenda, taken seriously in my school and my union?   Nothing to say there but agree.  And hey!  He’s not in love with test scores and teachers should decide a lot of things.  But, every time I brought up ideas like “and I think we should have a well payed building engineer” things got awkward

It’s tempting to end this with “good talk, agree to disagree”.  It was a good talk, and I like agreeing.  But I can’t.  I don’t need or want people to agree with me 100% of the time.  I’m not angry because people don’t agree with me.  I’m angry because the same people calling for “more teacher input” are equally committed to making sure we have no input on what’s most important.  Offering a false choice and calling it “input” is recklessly disingenuous.

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  1. However!  He ordered water for himself.  At 7:30am, on a Monday.  Cyborg-Vampire CONFIRMED 

  2. “Why are you chasing an anti-union agenda” “The only agenda WE are chasing is for great schools.” “Ok but you have a sketchy funders” “The ONLY sketchy thing here is why schools only graduate 50% of their kids.” “But what about peer reviewed research saying the schools you support are shams” “The only peers WE are interested are the peers of children who used to be in failing schools and are now going to college.” Make it stop.  

Re-post: An Open Letter to PennCan and PSP

Teacher and friend Brian Cohen (current drinking martinis and hobnobbing with bigshots in New York City) was kind enough to publish this on his blog.  You should really read his stuff and, if you must, you can read this too.  The following was published during the summer of 2013, as Corbett was denying the schools needed funds and the city was scrambling to come up with $50 million.


I read your letter to the people of Philadelphia.  I agree that we should be happy schools will open, and I like how you opposed pay cuts.  I didn’t like how you neglected your own role in this crisis – how you ran internal polls for Corbett suggesting that he could win votes by attacking teachers’ job security and working conditions.  But it was your call for more teacher voice that really caught my eye.

For the last few years, hard working educators all types of schools have been part of a grand conversation on building a better school.  This conversation has been boundless – online, over beers, in conferences and on the street.  Groups like Teachers Lead Philly and Teacher’s Action Group have been holding seminars for the sole purpose of creating teachers who can and will speak on improving schools.  These are teachers, and they are speaking.

I don’t believe you were listening.  Because you would have read Brian Cohen, a teacher, who has been diligently writing about his students dealing with the tumult in Philadelphia (to which your groups contributed).  Tim Boyle, another teacher, has spent the entire summer explaining that the majority of schools in Philadelphia pick their own teachers – and therefore questioning your motives in making that your cornerstone policy.  I hope you read Dan Ueda’s letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer on how the current crisis, a crisis that you furthered, creates an environment that is hostile to the incredible work he is doing at Central.

So why the call for more teacher voice?  Philadelphia is overflowing with teacher who speak out.  The problem is that you don’t like what they are saying.

Philadelphia teachers do not oppose any and every change to our contract.  There are a lot of ways we can make schools better through changes in how we teach, what we teach, and how we structure our schools.  I see no reason why the adopted hometown of Ben Franklin shouldn’t lead the country in re-modeling education.

Except that you, specifically the Philadelphia School Partnership and PennCAN, collaborated hand in glove with a Governor who has shown nothing but the bitterest contempt for the children and teachers of our city. You made robo-calls (the lowest form of activism) supporting his plan to starve the schools.  When City Council flailed in an attempt to find money and regular people took to a hunger strike and teachers marched in the streets of Harrisburg demanding the government cease using our children as hostages, you sat on your hands.

Your message was crystal clear:  Your students will get what they need after our groups get what we want.  Instead of the great compromiser Ben Franklin, you chose another Philadelphia luminary,  Beenie Sigel. “You can either get down, or you can lay down”.

And now you cheer as the SRC guts the best vehicle for teacher’s voice – our Union.

On August 16th, with virtually no comment, the unelected School Reform Commission gutted teachers’ job security, a move you supported.  In March, the same commission voted, against the will of thousands of teachers, to close 22 schools, again with your blessing.  Teachers spoke adamantly and passionately against these moves – you chose to ignore it.

Curb-stomping teachers’ rights while asking for more input is like pushing someone off a cliff but letting them pick the color of the body-cast.  Here’s your prison cell, feel free to decorate.

Teachers are willing to talk about how we are paid, how schools are run, and how we educate children in the 21st century.  We are not willing to do it with our kids held hostage.   Did you check out  Broad Street on August 22.  Teachers spoke loud and clear that this process, a process you have used or circumvented when it suits your needs, is unacceptable.  And I’m willing to bet they don’t see your groups as a solution.

It’s not The System.  It’s not apathy or lack of grit.  It’s not a biased media.  It’s because we’ve learned that bringing our honest voice to the power centers of education reform ends the same way – at gunpoint.

I know some teachers are going to work with you – you have some good ideas, you employ  some talented people, and most notably you are the only game in town.  But if you want real “teacher voice” then we must have voice on every question, not merely the ones you deem acceptable.  And if you don’t let us in, we’ll find people who will.

It’s not us, it’s you.

One Extra Hour

Teachers are told that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the School District administration are working hard to negotiate a new contract.  But teachers are not allowed to participate.  So “negotiations” is a series where I bargain with the only person who would listen – myself.

[Hite]:  “Most of our teachers already work eight-hour days,” he said. “Most work weekends, holidays and into the evening. … I applaud the teachers for putting in whatever time it takes to make sure students are successful.”

But, he added, “The [teacher] workday is defined as not just standing in front of children, but a time for teachers to develop themselves, collaborate, analyze data, and learn best practices.” The Notebook

Sweet, sweet words.

I like developing my craft.  I originally joined Twitter follow #engchat and #edchat1.  I’m for the intelligent use of data, sharing best practices, and cross-curricular collaboration.  Yes, this is this is a backdoor pay cut which comes on the heels of an actual pay cut, but I’m not horrified.  And in 2013, “not horrified” is pretty good.

 But this is not my first rodeo.  There are some pretty serious household cleaners I would rather imbibe than sitting through 60 minutes of District mandated development.  So, you want an extra hour?  Here are my demands:

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  1. and all the characters from “The West Wing”