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    The TEACHED Blog


    Our Broader Concern

    Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King, jr., I am thinking about the continuing plight of black boys and men in America, especially the issue of unequal treatment by our school system—including with regard to discipline and punishment—and the related reality of our nation maintaining a massive prison complex disproportionately filled with black and brown men.

    Click to read more ...


    Race + Poverty = How You're Treated in American Education

    These days, it has become totally acceptable for education leaders to blame poverty for our nation's achievement gap; to in effect say that all those kids can't learn in school because they're hungry, their families are dysfunctional, they are so far behind when they start Kindergarten that there's just no catching up, etc. These sweeping generalizations are very effective in removing all blame from the school system and preventing education reform efforts that could ensure that EVERY child receives the same quality of schools and teachers that wealthy students enjoy.

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    Happy Holidays from the TEACHED team!


    Happy Holidays from the TEACHED team!

    As 2014 nears, we wanted to give our many friends a SNEAK PEEK at what we've been working on and thank all of you who support our efforts to bring social justice and education equality to the forefront through film.

    The TEACHED films are independently-produced, made possible through contributions from supporters like you. So please DONATE to TEACHED today and help us continue to develop films that engage individuals and communities towards social change.

      Watch the SNEAK PEEK of the films we've been working on (two new TEACHED films and a short documentary about a fabulous program called HealthCorps):

    We believe short films provide great tools for bringing diverse communities together for interactive events and candid dialogue. We thank the fifty-plus groups that organized TEACHED screenings this year and look forward to working with more of you in 2014!

    Best wishes to you and your families for a safe and joyous holiday season,
    The TEACHED Team

    TEACH(ED) for America: Partnership Drives Candid Conversations Across the Nation


    As a Teach for America (TFA) Charter Corps teacher, TEACHED Producer/Director Kelly Amis taught in an elementary school in South Central, Los Angeles. That is where her passion and commitment to education equality began. The TEACHED film series is a reflection of that continuing drive to help the general public “see” what goes on in urban public schools every day and hopefully become inspired to join the fight for transforming the education system so it serves all children well.  

    Over the last year, Kelly has found new levels of support from the organization she credits with steering her career towards work in social justice and equality. First, there was the Teach for America Social Innovation Award, which Kelly won (!). This competitive award gave Kelly $50,000 to further develop TEACHED and many additional gifts including a free Dropbox business account and pro bono advice from a dynamic duo of non-profit development experts called Arbor Brothers.

    Since the award was announced last spring, more Teach for America members have stepped up to host TEACHED screening events, including in New York, Chicago and Sacramento.

    TFA New York hosted a screening of The Path to Prison as part of their "What if we..." series. The night included a panel discussion and small group sessions where audience members brainstormed and then shared strategies for change around the question: “What if we….eliminated the school to prison pipeline”? TFA-NYC then worked with Leadership for Educational Equity to organize a follow-up event for interested attendees to further develop and begin implementing a plan of action for change in NYC.

    We are thrilled to watch these variations and ideas develop on how best to use the TEACHED films to organize communities for making change and are excited to share this alternative—showing one film at a time, going into the issues it raises deeply and over several meetings—with those planning screenings in 2014.

    If you are interested in hosting a TEACHED screening, go here for more details or questions contact Cristina Moe Salanova at

    TFA Sacramento hosted a packed-house screening of The Path to Prison at the Guild Theater followed by a panel discussion and audience Q&A on California's issues with the under-education and over-incarceration of minority males in particular. We've heard from many Sacramento parents and community leaders since the screening who plan to organize their own grassroots events and look forward to working with them. The TFA Sacramento team is planning events around the other two TEACHED Vol. I films for 2014 with some incredible guest speakers lined up. Check our events page for details as we get them.

    To learn more about Teach for America, go here. 

    TFA Chicago hosted two TEACHED Vol. I screenings, one at a local school for parents, teachers and TFA alumni, the other at Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy. Thanks to all the TFA staff who helped organize these events and Student for Education Reform's Tanesha Peeples for participating.  Read an article in The Chicago Bureau about the Northwestern screening HERE.

    The TEACHED team is very grateful this holiday season to have partnered with such an exceptional organization.  Thank you to all the TFA members that helped share the films and discuss education equality within their communities!



    Clarity and Commonsense on Charter Schools

    By Kelly Amis

    Public school systems had been failing for decades -- especially in poor, urban neighborhoods. This is not news. When the idea of charter schools came along-- public schools that would 1) run themselves independently of the bureaucracies that were/are a huge part of the problem, 2) would get to hire their own staff members ensuring 'fit' with the school, AND 3) would be held accountable for results in educating students -- many amazing people stood up and said they would create and run great public schools where they were needed the most. You can see some great examples of these leaders and schools in our film Unchartered Territory. Some not-so-great charter schools have been launched as well. The difference is that when chartered public schools fail, they are required to improve or close; they don't get to keep operating for generations of failure.

    To argue that charter public schools are taking money from the traditional public school system doesn't make sense; they are a part of the public education system. If parents are choosing them -- and children are benefitting from them- - it's even an odd argument to make. In most cases, the charter schools are spending less but doing more with the funding they receive.

    How is that possible? Because their funding actually gets into the classroom -- to the school level. It's not sucked up by huge bureaucracries, or to pay salaries of people who are no longer in the classroom but can't be fired due to contract terms, or to work around archaic and indifferent policies that have evolved over time to protect adult interests over the students'.

    The charter school design is an alternative public school model. Students' lives and future generations of families are being postively impacted by having these alternative schools appearing in their neighborhoods. The question shouldn't be "How do we stop funding from going to the alternative schools that parents are choosing for their children?" but "What do we need to do to streamline and improve the traditional system so that funding and control gets to the school level and is used effectively and in an accountable way in every school"?

    To learn more, please read this great article by Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund:

    Moody's Report on Charter Schools Misses the Real Problem

    The link:      Follow Mashea on Twitter: @Mashea

    Moody's Investors Service recently released a report claiming the rise in enrollment in public charter schools could pose a dangerous financial risk for traditional public schools, especially in urban areas with weak economies. Yet blaming charter schools for financial woes in the school district is unfair, and it drives a poisonous wedge between administrators, educators and the broader community, who should be working together to provide kids with access to high-quality education.

    Public charter schools have long been the scapegoat for traditional public schools' woes. Moody's report follows the usual line of reasoning: charter schools have seen increasing enrollment, which means students are leaving traditional public schools. Because the students are leaving, those schools are losing funding, and they are struggling to stay open.

    It's easy to blame schools' problems on a lack of funding. But that twists the issue. Basic fairness dictates that public funds should follow the students to the schools that are best able to provide a quality education, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools. (And in practice, charter schools are the ones getting the shorter end of the stick, on average receiving 70 percent of the per-pupil funding expended by district schools.)

    The Moody's report highlights a couple of school districts with serious financial health issues predating charters that are struggling to adapt, but essentially ignores the many other urban districts where public charters and the district are able to grow together and thrive in fine financial health. The simple truth is that the schools that are failing are failing for other reasons, such as counterproductive policies, entrenched bureaucracy and a refusal by stakeholders to work together to find solutions that result in the best education for kids.

    Outdated policies keep kids trapped in underperforming schools. For instance, hiring and firing policies in 11 states still adhere to Last In, First Out (LIFO), which rewards teacher tenure, not ability or success rates with student performance. Too many underperforming schools are allowed to remain open year after year, draining resources and using up space that could be allocated to schools that actually meet students' needs. It's problems like these that lead parents and students to look to charters for better educational opportunities in the first place. In Newark, N.J., support for public charter schools is overwhelming, with 71 percent of respondents supporting expansion of the sector.

    These are very real challenges that face many urban school districts across the United States. Slowing the growth of charter schools won't solve the problems, though; it will only trap students in failing schools by taking away viable, affordable options for high-quality education. That's the main point Moody's report seems to miss. The true tragedy of failing public schools is that they're failing our children, who deserve better.

    While resources and government relations can play an important role, they should never take precedence over the students themselves. It's important to remember that the funds raised through state and local taxpayers for education are dedicated to children, not districts, charters or any particular bureaucracy. Leaders in these struggling communities need to stop pointing fingers and start working together to expand access to high-quality education. Every legislator, bureaucrat, administrator, educator, reformer and parent should be asking how we can provide a system of great schools -- not a great school system -- to best serve our children.


    How to Make $...

    We are thrilled that the first TEACHED short film The Path to Prison is being screened this week along with a new feature-length documentary film titled How to Make Money Selling Drugs, thanks to a great non-profit organization called React to Film.

    React to Film has chapters at universities and colleges across the nation -- it helps the student-led groups organize film events with a social justice aspect. RtF also has a high school film/advocacy program, sharing films and producing curricula with high school teachers.

    I will be speaking at the Berkeley RtF chapter's How to Make $/Path to Prison screening this Friday; links to that event and all the other chapter events are here.

    If you want to organize your own screening event around The Path to Prison and/or our other short films, go to the Host a Screening page.



    I'm baaaaack

    by Kelly Amis

    I took a brief hiatus from this blog -- just never seem to have enough time to write as much as I would like to! -- but I'm baaaaack. I'll write when I can!

    Today I read about California Assembly Bill 375 and couldn't believe my eyes.

    Last year, when photos were found of a Los Angeles elementary school teacher blindfolding and feeding students his sperm (I'm not making this up), the rules around teacher firing were so ridiculous that LAUSD ended up PAYING HIM to leave. This is with PHOTO EVIDENCE.

    A state legislator then introduced a bill that would make it easier to fire teachers who have abused children. That bill died because legislators "owned" by the very powerful teachers' unions cowardly refused to vote either way on it. Btw, before you get your so-and-so's all in a bunch, it's not "anti-union" to call this for what is is: insane. awful. anti-child. take your pick.).

    But it gets worse: now the CA legislature has passed a new bill, AB 375, as a guise for facilitating the firing of abusive teachers....but it actually makes it HARDER to do so! Are we living in a George Orwell novel? Do leaders in this state have NO concern for children's welfare?

    Ya know, many unions fight for the "underdogs": in battles around living wages, for instance, between low-level employees and huge corporations that want ever more profits funneled away from the workers and into the hands of the already-insanely-wealthy leaders at the top. But in education, the teachers' unions do not represent low-skilled, minimum wage, easily-replaced workers: they represent professionals who are paid to SERVE CHILDREN. We're not talking about producing cars to make profits, we're talking about educating CHILDREN.

    Hard-working teachers do not want bad, ineffective or, especially, abusive other teachers around the kids they serve. Are our teachers unions representing THEM anymore? OK, so the unions don't represent children or their parents -- we get that -- but do they even represent good teachers? Or just the worst of the worst?

    My guess is this inflexibility with regard to making it easier to fire teachers (no matter WHAT they do) is bound up with the teachers' unions wanting to keep the incredible level of power they have achieved over the last few decades no matter what it takes. I'm sure those at the top rationalize it along the lines of "If we do not retain and control the billions of dollars we now have to invest in political campaigns (and a whole slew of random non-profit organizations and programs -- you gotta see it to believe it), that money will end up elsewhere and could be used against us. And we can't retain and control those billions (that come from teachers' dues) if we allow any changes to how teachers are hired and fired. We must control it from A-Z even if it means sacrificing a few kids to the bigger picture of the unions controlling the teaching profession."

    It hasn't always been this way, but it's where we are today, and it's time to bring some checks and balances (and commonsense and balance) into the processes surrounding teacher hiring, retention and firing.

    More reading about the California story here:


    From one of our interns

    This speaks for itself:

    Rest in peace, prayers go to the Martins.
    Racial profiling, that's the way that it started.
    You say it's not a problem,
    it happens way too often.
    Don't believe me? Then here's a story that I took part in.
    I remember I was brought in.
    Death threats is what they was talkin.
    One of two students accused,
    but I was slightly darker.
    We in a room with an officer for questioning.
    The focus was on Keenan, not the kid next to me.
    Only elementary, the cop had turned and said to me,
    He knew I was lying the moment I walked in, and I did it most definitely.
    With no proof, the man assumed..he didn't have no evidence.
    Said I was guilty without investigation, if that's not prejudice,
    someone tell me what the definition is.
    Cuz when I don't look like them other kids,
    I'm treated differently.
    It's in my history.
    When they say that it's a myth it really gets to me.
    To say it doesn't exist  that really don't make sense.
    To say we are all treated equal, is not the way it is.
    So let’s not pretend,
    and not be colorblind, cuz that ain't the way.
    Cuz we must recognize the race,
    Embrace and celebrate.
    Yet, not separate ourselves from one another
    And not be afraid to love each other for our differences.
    The next week they discovered a different kid that was guilty.
    Yes, another kid that definitely was not me.
    I didn't get an apology from the police,
    and I was never in any court room,
    but from the moment I walked in,
    that police man he was judging me.
    And from that day on it stuck with me.
    And it still does this day too.
    So to say there isn't an issue with race,
    is simply not stating the truth.
    Maybe one day we can live King’s dream to the full extent yes, you and I.
    We've come a long way, but we've got a ways to go and I still have hopes to unify.

    - Keenan Trevon Serrano, July 13, 2013


    Upcoming San Francisco Screening!

    I usually write something for this blog on the weekend, and frankly, I never run out of topics to write about. However, I have been working on a new post for weeks now and it is turning into a rather long piece. Maybe it's the start of that book that is waiting to be written.

    In any case, I have been remiss in keeping this baby going but I think a redesign of our website (coming soon!) will help with that. Meanwhile, all I have to share today is the nice news that Education Pioneers Alumni of the Bay Area and Teach for America Bay Area are co-hosting a TEACHED Vol. I Screening & Discussion on July 31st, 6-8:30 (with food!) that should be really interesting. If you're in the area, please join us! Details and tickets here:


    Using Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers

    Today I'm thinking about how and why we got to this point in the evolution (painfully slow as it is) in K-12 education that we need to put so much emphasis on the test scores of students within an individual teacher's room, in a sense to force accountability for good performance from the outside of the school (i.e. we're not increasing the power of the principal to make staff decisions from the inside).

    Click to read more ...