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.

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