The TEACHED Blog
by Kelly Amis
We were honored to be included as a trial exhibit in the historic Vergara v. California court case which, in essence, declared that the unique and powerful job protections that California's public school teachers have long enjoyed ultimately hurt the very kids who could most benefit from great teachers, especially low-income students and students of color, who 60 years later still have not received the equal education promised to them by Brown v. Board of Education. Read more about our small role in this hugely important case here.
In our short film, The Blame Game: Teachers Speak Out, several public school teachers explain these policies (tenure, seniority-based placements and "LIFO") and how they negatively impact students, good teachers and school systems alike. We have long needed a transformation of the teaching profession and Vergara could be the turning point that gets us there. Many national leaders, like Washington, DC's Chancellor Kaya Henderson (watch our interview with her on our Youtube channel, TEACHEDTV) have been successfully transforming the profession in innovative ways in their cities and states; Vergara could provide momentum to make those exceptions the norm.
Of course those that have been building these job protections and policies into what they are today -- especially our teachers' unions -- are not happy. They will have you believe that making teaching more professional will somehow turn even more qualified people away from the profession; I believe it is the opposite. I know so many professional people who would teach if the work environment were better and more professional. ie, if it required and inspired every teacher to do a great job every day, and held those accountable who are not up to the task.
There was a time when the teachers unions fought for job protections that made sense, namely to protect women and teachers of color from discrimination. Federal law now provides those protections to everyone, yet the unions have continued to fight for ever-stronger job protections uniquely for teachers to the point where now, in 2014, it is nearly impossible to fire any teacher without spending thousands of dollars and hours in legal battles, even when there is proof of student abuse! This is insane. But the teachers unions are uniquely powerful, for one, because of their numbers: 3.2 million members in the NEA alone, making it THE largest professional organization in the nation. Secondly, while teachers may not be well-paid compared to lawyers and doctors, compared to many other unionized jobs (farm and factory workers, for instance), they are relatively well paid--they are college graduates after all. This means that teachers unions have enjoyed a lot of steady money coming in from teachers' pockets year after year, and the political influence that money buys (one of the most interesting examples to me is the faux "Op-Ed" the AFT has bought in the New York Times editorial section since the 70s, I believe). And they are not happy when anyone else brings money to the education policy table to fight on behalf of students.
As Star Parker explains in this article: Kids Captive of Nation's Teachers Unions, a successful entrepreneur from Silicon Valley funded the legal team behind the Vergara case. The unions say he "bought it" and criticize the support. But if David Welch hadn't had the foresight and generosity to fund this effort, who would have? The poor kids it will benefit? The unions, for far too long, have been able to dictate policy exactly because those who receive the brunt of any negative consequences lack the political power and funding to fight back. I, for one, believe Vergara will usher in a new era of education transformation to turn our system into one in which both students and teachers experience success and joy on a daily, if not hourly, basis. It is time!
Vergara v. California Verdict
We are also proud that we were able to educate more Californians about the Vergara case through TEACHED interactive screening events, introducing audiences to Students Matter lawyer Joshua Lipschitz, great teachers who explain the policies in question in our short film The Blame Game: Teachers Speak Out, and other courageous leaders like principal Bill Kappenhagen, who became a witness in the case as a result of participating in TEACHED screenings (go Bill!).
You can watch Joshua, Bill, Kelly Amis and TNTP's Aleka Calsoyas in this panel discussion at a screening organized by Education Pioneers alumni. If you would like to host your own TEACHED Vol. I screening, go here. We will help you plan a high-impact event.
We thank Students Matter, the plaintiffs and witnesses for your courage in fighting for education equality for all students and for letting TEACHED be a small part of this historic effort. To learn more about the case, read these articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Dropout Nation and the Los Angeles Times, and peruse some of our relevant blog posts here, here and here. For more information contact: email@example.com
Tomorrow is the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling that required public schools to integrate. Despite the ruling, districts by and large didn't make it happen and by the 70s were ordered by courts to create complicated busing schemes.
We know now that this did not work. White parents fled in huge numbers to the suburbs to avoid busing/integration for their children, leaving many cities with high percentages of minority communities.
The public school system has mostly failed to provide those urban minority communities with the same quality of educational opportunities as their white peers, and in the early 90s policy leaders of both parties said enough was enough and began to support the charter school concept: public schools that would be independent from school district bureaucracies, free to innovate and more accountable for results.
When you hear the charge today that charter schools are responsible for *segregating* students, please question that logic. Charter schools are serving more minority students because that is their mission: to open in under-served neighborhoods to provide a better education for kids that are not being served well by traditional public schools. Our cities are still remarkably segregated; charter schools reflect, but did not create, that truth.
See what some of the best urban charter school leaders have to say about why they do what they do (and how they achieve such great results in their inner-city schools) in our short film Unchartered Territory; click on the photo to watch this short film on SnagFilms.com for free. And join us in supporting schools that know and believe every child deserves the opportunity to achieve their full potential, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin.
In so many ways, the TEACHED film project is about the importance of teachers: the crucial role they play in the lives and futures of our children at the individual level and, when you zoom out, the role they play in the nation as a whole in maintaining and imparting the values and dreams of our democracy and beautiful melting-pot of our citizenry.
Think this is overstating it? For some perspective, there are more than 3 million public school teachers serving our children and youth today. This is more than TWICE the number of active military personnel in all the U.S. armed forces combined (1.4m)! Looked at this way, teachers represent an "army" of citizens who have taken on the responsibility of protecting the American Dream and our shared values of equality and justice via knowledge. From the inside out!
Lofty words for a Thursday morning, but sometimes given today's heated debates around the how/why/who/what of teachers in America, we might need a reminder of what an important job this is -- the power and responsibility that teachers have! We believe it should be a difficult job to get and keep, and it should be compensated and honored as such.
For National Teachers Appreciation Week, some of us here at TEACHED wanted to share our thoughts about the teachers who impacted our lives the most. Feel free to add your own teacher-appreciation-story below!
Honoring Joel Plummer
by Ashley Johnson
My life would be completely different had it not been for the influence of Joel Plummer, a teacher at Plainfield High School in New Jersey. Mr. Plummer was my U.S. History I teacher, my African American History teacher, and my basketball coach. Inside the classroom, I will never forget how he instilled in me a sense of confidence and pride about my culture. He was adamant that his students, nearly all of whom were African American and Hispanic, understood their heritage and past and were able to think critically about racial and social issues. However, my bond with Mr. Plummer grew much deeper. He became my mentor, and I looked to his advice on everything from family issues, work issues, and relationships.
Neither of my parents, or any of my siblings, made the choice to attend college. I was determined that I would be the first in my family to do so, but was quickly overwhelmed by the process. Mr. Plummer was instrumental during this time, helping me look at schools, editing my admissions essays, and helping me apply for financial aid. Without his guidance, I would not have been able to attend New York University.
Mr. Plummer has inspired a lot of students at Plainfield High School, but the effect he’s had on my life has been immeasurable. Today, more than 7 years since I’ve left his classroom, I still call him at least weekly to chat, catch up, or ask advice. I cannot let Teacher Appreciation Week pass without honoring the man who has impacted my life so greatly.
Honoring George Evans
by Vanessa Mehaouchi
My outlook on writing and my education in general was certainly enriched by my professor George Evans. Professor Evans frequently introduced me to the beauty of writing and sharing ideas, developing a voice and respecting the right and ability to write whatever we want for everyone to read and, as a result, respecting and cherishing our literacy. Prof. Evans always encouraged us to write in a way that we would be proud of seeing published. Keeping that idea in the back of your mind changed the way I wrote everything.
Prof. Evans is with the times, encouraging us to blog our ideas and read other blogs, and understand that our right to a lack of internet censorship should not be taken for granted (we may have to fight for it someday!) Anyone anywhere in the world can now post pictures, videos, and ideas from anywhere exposing the truth and documenting the whole truth. Evans encouraged us to read broader news and be aware; staying away from too much partisan news like CNN and FOX and consider other large scale news like Al Jazeera and BBC. Awareness and the ability to share go hand in hand, so thank you George Evans for not only being an excellent writing professor who never wasted a minute of class but also for putting my university experience into a different perspective with new feelings of anger, frustration, appreciation and curiosity.
Honoring Ogden "Yogi" Martin
by Kelly Amis
Today is a very special day: I'm taking my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Martin, to lunch. I have not seen him since I was in junior high in a small town in Nebraska, so I am really looking forward to telling him in person what an impact he made. The timing of National Teacher Appreciation Week makes this even more special.
Mr. Martin was one of those teachers who was so clearly and perfectly made for the job. He was smart, entertaining, fair, hard-working and fun. I remember many of the lessons he taught distinctly, mostly in science because he made it come alive (sometimes, almost literally: we dissected quite a few critters that year). I appreciate so much that Mr. Martin pushed me to my limits in math. Especially realizing now how rare that was (and sometimes still is, sadly) for girls to be pushed to achieve in math, I credit Mr. Martin with the fact that I ultimately reached AP Advanced Calculus in high school (yes I'm bragging a bit - that was probably my greatest accomplishment in high school)! It also helped me to believe I could and can do anything I put my mind to, even in areas traditionally dominated by men.
Living in a small town with one elementary and one jr-sr high meant that everyone pretty much knew everyone, especially all the teachers. They weren't just part of the community -- they WERE the community. They were our heroes and they were like family. When I became an elementary school teacher, I looked back to my own-- at the top of the list was Mr. Martin--to try and be as good as they were.
Thank you Mr. Martin - I know I speak for MANY others when I say, you are an exceptional teacher and we love you!
TEACHED is a not-for-profit project produced by Loudspeaker Films, an independent film company with a social justice mission. TEACHED addresses some of today's most challenging education issues, from the under-education and over-incarceration of minority youth to the fight over teacher tenure.
The first set of TEACHED short films, TEACHED Vol. I, has been screened over 60 times across the country at interactive, community-based events that bring people together for candid discussion, response and action-planning. These screenings have featured speakers ranging from teachers, former gang members, parents and local leaders to national figures including BAEO Founder Howard Fuller, former Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and Dropout Nation's RiShawn Biddle. TEACHED Vol. I won two film festival awards and was named by TakePart as one of 10 Education Documentaries Not to Miss. The TEACHED Vol. I films plus our ancillary video content (such as our "On the Loudspeaker" interview series and videos we've produced with students) have been viewed online nearly 300,000 times.
When you support TEACHED with a donation, your money goes towards:
- Production and post-production of the films. We currently have six new short films and our first feature-length film in production. Donations we receive right now will help us finish TEACHED Vol. II before the end of the year.
- Organizing interactive screenings of TEACHED Vol. I for university students, teachers, parents and other audiences seeking education action in their community. We require a modest screening fee from groups hosting a TEACHED screening, but provide them with much more than the fee covers, including collateral art and planning assistance to ensure a successful, high-impact event.
- Outreach. Your donations support staff to update our website, social media and marketing; develop relationships with targeted groups; and build a strong foundation of support for TEACHED now and into the future.
We have been overwhelmed by the response to TEACHED Vol. I and the incredible support we have received from parents, community leaders, donors, film and marketing professionals (providing their services pro bono or at reduced rates), and non-profit groups of all sizes. Because of this support, we know the time is right for TEACHED: for putting new voices "on the Loudspeaker" and for helping the public understand why and how education in America must be transformed.
We thank you for your support and helping us share the stories of students, parents, teachers and education leaders on film. If you'd like to make a donation today, please click below.
READY TO BID? CHECK OUT THE 2nd ANNUAL
TEACHED FINE WINE & ART AUCTION
-- Ends Tomorrow! --
Proceeds from the online auction will help us finish production on the next three TEACHED short films, or TEACHED Vol. II, hopefully before the end of 2014! Please support our efforts and treat yourself by bidding in the auction. If you have an item to donate, please contact Ashley Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information contact: email@example.com
We are proud to be presenting TEACHED and our interactive screening model at this year's Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) Symposium being held in New Orleans. We will be showing clips from our films and talking to the Emerging Leaders of BAEO's Bailey-Sullivan Leadership Institute on how to organize communities and advocate for educational equality using our short films.
BAEO’s Annual Symposium has convened for 14 years to inform, inspire, and empower emerging leaders (age 16-35), parents, educators, elected officials, community leaders, and clergy from across the country as they work to increase access to high-quality educational options for Black children by actively supporting transformational education reform initiatives and parental choice policies and programs that empower low-income and working class Black families. The Symposium remains the largest gathering of Black education reform supporters in the nation, drawing as many as 1,000 participants.
Court resumed this week in the Vergara v. California case, a statewide lawsuit of nine California public school children looking to strike down the laws that limit schools from often doing what’s best for kids when it comes to assigning who is teaching them.
The case is being lead by the organization Students Matter, a non-profit founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, which is dedicated to promoting equal access to quality public education.
The Students Matter goal is to see a transformation of the teaching profession in California so that hard-working, effective teachers are rewarded and retained, and others who are not up to the job are not kept in the classroom and on the payroll. Ultimately, Students Matter seeks to create an opportunity for lawmakers, teachers, administrators, and community leaders to rethink the current system so it works rationally for teachers and students alike.
We are honored that the TEACHED Vol. I short films are included as trial exhibits in this potentially game-changing lawsuit. We have seen far too many amazing teachers booted from the classroom due to lack of seniority while others who are not able to manage a successful classroom remain for years, sometimes decades. We have even seen teachers who have abused children (with clear evidence to prove it) paid to leave because the system we currently have in place makes it nearly impossible to fire even them.
Some argue that efforts to rethink tenure and seniority are really about making it easier to fire older teachers (who are farther up on the salary scale) and replace them with younger "less expensive" teachers. Ironically, the polar opposite is the reality: when California's economic woes required laying off teachers over the last few years, teachers were pink-slipped according to seniority only, and because those who have been in the system for fewer years are lesser-paid, i.e. the newer, younger teachers, many more of them had to be laid off to save the required amount. For kids, that is a lose-lose situation.
Not only did California push out thousands of new-ish teachers who had devoted themselves to teaching (unlike many other professions, new teachers must pay for their own training in the form of a teaching credential, so it is a time and financial commitment before you ever get hired), it also convinced college students here who had been thinking about going into teaching to look elsewhere.
There is much to read on the Students Matter website to better understand this case; don't miss their timeline, trial tracker, short clips of the teacher's testimonies, their blog and their Twitter account for the lastest updates. People say that "as California goes, so goes the nation". If this case succeeds here (my guess is it will reach the U.S. Supreme Court), it could spark a national movement to transform the teaching profession.
We are thrilled that TEACHED Vol. I will be screened at the innovative SXSWedu Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas this year.
If you are attending, please join us on March 4th at 2pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to watch the TEACHED Vol I trilogy of short films and hear from Producer/Director Kelly Amis and our amazing lineup of guest speakers including former Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty:
Pearl grew up in East Los Angeles, the daughter of a high-ranking gang member. Explaining that she was written off by teachers when she was a student, Pearl is now inspiring both other teachers and students with her work as the founder of a teacher-run pilot school and education advocate.
RiShawn Biddle is the Publisher and Editor of Dropout Nation, a website of commentary and analysis of American public education that is required reading for anyone who believes in education equality for all children.
An acclaimed reporter and current columnist with The American Spectator, RiShawn now has over 20,000 unique readers visiting Dropout Nation each month to learn about the policies and practices that contribute to the achievement gap, the depths of our nation's dropout crisis and related issues including juvenile justice.
Adrian Fenty, recent Mayor of Washington, DC, has much to be proud about for the reforms he ushered into a long-dysfunctional and failing education system, reforms that have proven effective and are still evolving today under Mayor Vincent Gray and DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
On his first day as mayor, Adrian introduced legislation to assume control of the public school system; once approved, he brought in founder of The New Teacher Project Michelle Rhee to serve as Chancellor. Together, they pursued a difficult but necessary reduction of the system's central office staff and underused school facilities as well as a new performance-based compensation plan for teachers.
Kalimah Priforce runs Qeyno Labs, which works with local schools and partners to make "career day" an everyday experience for the millions of students that cannot afford private college and career guidance.
An Echoing Green/Black Male Achievement Fellow, Kalimah is committed to empowering the minority-led startup community throughout the country and is also educator-in-residence for the Oakland-based "Hidden Genius Project", a program that trains black male youth in entrepreneurial thinking, software development, and user experience design
We hope to see you in Texas with plenty of questions for our esteemed panelists. For more details about our screening event at SXSWedu go HERE.
Since its premiere, TEACHED Vol I has been screened more than fifty times coast-to-coast by groups and individuals committed to educational equality. Education champions are using this trilogy of short documentary films to engage their communities and provoke thoughtful debate around education issues, especially the school-to-prison pipeline, teacher quality and charter schools.
Whether your screening is for 8 or 800 people, we can assist you in making sure your event has maximum impact. Here are some ways you can use the TEACHED Vol. I films to raise awareness around education inequality nationally or in your community:
Show All Three Short Films At Once
We can assist you in securing speakers at your event and help you create an agenda to possibly include a reception, live entertainment, audience Q&A, information tables and more!
Screen Each Film Individually
Screening the films individually gives you time to more deeply immerse your audience in the issues each one addresses and discuss how they effect your community locally.
Interactive screenings are effective ways to group together and find solutions for education equality within your hometown. Consider ending your event with time for group brainstorming and action-planning.
Have Your Local Library Purchase the TEACHED DVD for Screenings
Ask your local library to purchase the DVD for screening use and encourage your colleagues and friends to (literally) check it out. You can have the screenings in your home, in your dorm or practically anywhere!
Your library might even help you host a screening onsite as well. This is an excellent way to really get the word out and host many intimate screenings.
Be sure to take advantage of the many resources we have including staff to help you plan your event, marketing materials such as posters and flyers, our email and social media community where we can promote your screening and even tee shirts and swag for you to purchase.
We have met a lot of amazing people through TEACHED interactive screenings and we look forward to connecting with you and your community.