Posts filed under by Kelly Amis

Kelly Speaks: Time to End Default Thinking on Race

As this year comes to a close, my heart breaks for Tamir Rice's family and to all the many others who have lost children to such senseless and violent acts with little to no accountability or justice to follow.

How could anyone watch the video of police driving up directly in front of Tamir and instantly shooting him without feeling the force of that bullet in one’s own chest?

A Creative Solution to Getting More Girls into STEM

We have entered and are gaining equality in many fields that were male-dominated just a few decades ago—medicine, law, business and economics to name a few—and we are now earning more college degrees than men, but we remain behind in attaining careers in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs in America.

Girls may bring natural ability and curiosity to math and science, but somewhere between Kindergarten and high school they lose their enthusiasm and leave the more advanced classes to the boys. Research suggests that even teachers may unconsciously discourage them.  

Education Posting


In DeRay Mckesson on Why Blackness is Not a Weapon, TEACHED creator Kelly Amis sits down with the young civil rights crusader who, since driving to Ferguson, Missouri to take part in the protests surrounding the police shooting of Michael Brown, has since become one of the nation's go-to visionaries on how a future America would look if equality became our true priority.

The "Silent Holocaust"

I recently watched President Obama giving his beautiful eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of those dear souls shot in Charleston, and it inspired the following writng. I'm not feeling very eloquent after two weeks of deep sorrow about what's happening in our country (there have been so many horrific tragedies, but what happened to those in's impossible to fathom what those innocent people went through) plus personal reasons (suddenly losing a very dear friend, also in a way terrible to imagine). I can barely remember what day it is. But maybe that's why I want to speak honestly and without filter and challenge myself and others to consider the following.

Baltimore 2015

By Kelly Amis

Last night as protests and riots were unleashed in Baltimore, 
I avoided Facebook knowing what would be out there. Someone actually tagged me in a ridiculous statement just to start a fight (I didn't take the bait).

These are tragic times -- and they are a consequence of generations (of CENTURIES' worth of an entire people) experiencing the same racism, injustice, belittlement, a million daggers at the soul and body, and the severe, relentless consequences of economic opportunity inequality (which I think is worse in a society when there is SO much wealth and so little concern for how anyone makes it -- for example, using loopholes and placing your "headquarters" offshore to avoid paying taxes. That's also looting, but it impacts everyone, everywhere.) 

I am GRATEFUL that I was teaching in South Central during the 1992 riots, because I knew the reality of what was happening there every day (though the media only focused on the Rodney King verdict, which was the match that lit the kindling): behind every insane story
we hear on the news, like the King beating and now the Freddie Gray murder, there are a million big to small injustices we the general public doesn't hear about. It is tragic that we are still seeing this, but the underlying causes haven't changes (maybe they've even gotten worse). 

Where does anger go when it must be swallowed for so long? I don't promote violence. But this is a reaction to violence, too.


What would you do?

Have you ever heard a white person say something like: slavery is over, why don't blacks ____ (fill in the blank)? I wonder the opposite: how does anyone continue to have spirit, strength and hope in a country where this story can happen (and where Trayvon can happen, and Walter Scott can happen, and millions and millions of stories known or unknown to the public can happen...over centuries)?

I know. I talk about this a lot. It's because I have had the honor of teaching and working in black communities (not to mention being "adopted" by my second family in DC) but also because I know HISTORY. On the black-white issue, we have comparisons to make to South Africa's apartheid, but another comparison we need more people to see has to do with Germany and the Holocaust. Michelle Alexander calls what is happening to black men in America a "silent holocaust," and I agree. (Read her book The New Jim Crow if you haven't).

The important question is, I think: if you could go back to Germany in the 1930s, recognizing what was happening around you (or to you), what would you do? Today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. what a good day to reflect on history and change the future.

What will you do?


Here's the link:

Yom HaShoah:

Working seven out of six hours!

This is interesting, from Education Week (article follows):

"One in 4 (American) teachers report leading class longer than the length of the school day, according to a new analysis of a national survey"...."That's only possible...if teachers are lecturing in empty classrooms, have no lunch breaks, team-teach, or teach students in overlapping shifts. While the last two do happen—rarely—the first is ridiculous...and the second would typically run against teachers' contracts."

So American teachers have been over-reporting how many hours they spend in front of a classroom (over-reporting to a degree that can't be argued: 25% claim they are working longer than the actual school day itself). And these numbers don't even begin to look at the massive variation in what teachers are actually doing when "leading class," only how long they say they are doing so.

We love good teachers. We honor good teachers. Good teachers and schools are arguably the most direct way to eliminate inequality and promote democracy in America. But we also see that the profession has become one dominated by a culture of non-accountability, negativity and refusal to acknowledge reality that is sometimes, as this article reflects, truly unbelievable. How did the research mentioned below get used so much (U.S. teachers were supposedly teaching class up to 73% more than in other countries?!)?

Posted on March 18, 2015 and filed under by Kelly Amis.

Injustice in America

Dear Readers,

Most of my writing of late has been on my Facebook page, and in discussions with friends & colleagues who are as outraged and saddened by the verdicts in both the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases as I am. Below are a few of the things I have written plus suggested articles by others:

Dec. 6, 2014

I am really honored to be mentioned in this article by one of my favorite writers, RiShawn Biddle, in his must-read blog Dropout Nation(.net): Silence of Reformers on Ferguson is Deafening

I worked in education reform for years before the term became politically-loaded; it meant anyone trying to improve our public education system. The traditional public system was in dire need of improvement then, and it is today, especially with regard to education equality: urban, minority students continue to be blamed (along with their parents & communities) for lower academic achievement instead of given the same educational opportunities, funding and expectations as their peers.

The parallel second-class treatment by U.S. law enforcement and our judicial system via racial profiling, harassment, unwarranted violence and even lethal treatment, disparate sentencing patterns and the over-incarceration of males of color (black males in particular) is the other side of this coin. In our public institutions and policies, we -- the U.S. -- are systematically under-educating and over-incarcerating people of color, but especially black males. Given recent verdicts, it appears that a police officer can do anything to a black male-- including killing him with his bare hands, on video, in front of witnesses-- and there will be no consequences.  

Please read the article below and also this one-- Stop Bad Cops & Bad Teachers  - by RiShawn, which discusses the lack of accountability that pervades both the law enforcement and teaching professions. These are both difficult jobs. Police officers put themselves at great personal risk. We all know that. But for our institutions to protect individuals no matter what they do once they enter those careers is insane. Nobody is forced to become or remain a teacher or a police officer, but the "cultism" that RiShawn refers to includes a sense of entitlement to keeping a job regardless of the outcome in the classroom or on the streets.

Please also read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow if you haven't, and watch my first short film, The Path to Prison. In the coming year, maybe you will consider organizing a community screening of The Path to Prison and a new film Think of Calvin (coming soon) about a young black father unduly arrested in front of his two sons and the unbelievable no-win situation he is then presented by our law enforcement and judicial systems. Synopses of all the TEACHED short films are here Volume I and Volume II (coming soon). 


Dec. 3, 2014

For anyone who thinks I or anyone else is overly consumed with race issues in our country, I just want you to watch the Eric Garner video. An officer literally killed this man with his bare hands, while several other law enforcement officials looked on, and all over whether the man was selling cigarettes or not. It is hard to watch knowing that he is going to die. These stories make the news because the consequences were actually lethal (e.g. Eric Garner, Mike Brown & Trayvon Martin), but for every one of these stories there are, what, hundreds? thousands? millions? of stories of race-based injustice in America that you don't hear about in the news, and that don't involve any hint of criminality whatsoever on the victim's part.

"Strange Fruit, Eric Garner Edition" by Rishawn Biddle.


November 25, 2014

(from Omaha, Nebraska)

This is me, reporting from a corner of the world where the concept that you could be walking down the middle of the street in your own neighborhood, and a cop would pull up next to you and say "Get out of the f'ing street," is just not something you can fathom happening. Because it wouldn't. And where what happens next is your multiple-shooting death wouldn't happen (if you are white). Or if somehow it did, it would go to court. This is also where the media tells everyone (at least reading the primary newspaper) some parts of the story, but not all. Where the front page of this newspaper on any given day --- but especially today -- tells you all you need to know about race and equality in America. (And weirdly that paper is owned by Warren Buffett, who many people know is from Omaha....but somehow no one knows that Malcolm X was born here??....and there's no museum about it?! One of the most world-famous historical figures from the U.S.???). I'm just reporting at this point. It is easier and less frightening I guess to "believe in" the police, and "believe in" a race-blind and fair society (that doesn't exist in the view of many of us) especially when the media is making it easier for you to do so.



Posted on December 7, 2014 and filed under by Kelly Amis, Race Matters.

Why More Men Aren't Teachers

by Kelly Amis

I think this op-ed in Sunday's New York Times was really interesting; it's almost as if the answer to the title's question "Why Don't More Men Go Into Teaching?" was right there on the page, but writer Motoko Rich isn't quite ready to see it.

Here's the article:

Below is a quick Letter to the Editor I wrote in response. Two things I left out of the letter for brevity's sake were:

  • OF COURSE more women go into teaching because they are still the primary caregivers in families and the schedule aligns with their children's; that's not a "maybe."
  • The New York Times itself (although I adore it!) plays a role in safeguarding the current policies and structures around teaching that keep lots of qualified people out if it. How? The NYT has provided the nation's 2nd largest teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, with paid-for, "faux" op-ed space in its Sunday opinion section since the 1970's. To my knowledge, there is nothing else like it (there were some faux-peds by a testing company awhile ago but they didn't last long, can someone confirm who had those?). I wonder what the AFT pays for these and why it receives such special privilege? I wonder if anyone can buy the same faux-ped space (and yes I just coined "faux-ped"!). I would love to see someone investigate this, because this is prime policy analysis real estate and it doesn't seem to follow journalistic ethical standards that it be sold to only one special interest group. Hmm.

Anyway, here's the letter:
"Why Don't More Men Go Into Teaching?" asked Motoko Rich on Sept. 7, 2014. Good question. More men are entering nursing and becoming stay-home dads; for the latter, it should follow that more would like the school schedule of a teacher's job. As a former teacher and long-time education equality advocate, I have an explanation. Teaching requires a college degree, knowledge and talent that not everyone has, but it is unionized along the lines of a factory job. Why should teachers have such strong job protections that even abusive or chronically absent teachers can not be fired? Until that changes neither prestige nor compensation will increase considerably, and men--having relatively better-paid and more prestigious options available to them--will continue to look outside of the classroom for work. If we want men to rethink teaching, we need to transform it first.


Posted on September 9, 2014 and filed under by Kelly Amis.

Transforming Teaching = Transforming Education

by Kelly Amis

We were honored to be included as a trial exhibit in the historic Vergara v. Californiacourt 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


In a historic ruling yesterday, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge declared California's laws around teacher tenure, seniority and related policies to be unconstitutional. We are very proud that TEACHED Vol. I was included as a trial exhibit in this case--Vergara v. California--because urban minority students are dramatically impacted by the indirect consequences of these laws.

   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.

SF Panel TQ

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:

Posted on June 23, 2014 and filed under by Kelly Amis, Education Equality.

60 Years Since Brown v. Board of Education

by Kelly Amis

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 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.

Posted on May 16, 2014 and filed under by Kelly Amis, Education Equality.

In Honor of Teachers

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!



Posted on May 8, 2014 and filed under by Kelly Amis, TEACHED Interns.


Thanks to all of you who participated in our LIVE GoogleChat with React to Film. To learn more, we highly recommend:

- Reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

- Watching 12 Years a Slave, notice how one of the slave owners' greatest fears is their slaves learning how to read and write.

- Watching videos on our Youtube page, TEACHEDTV.

- Organizing a screening of TEACHED Vol. I to bring more people into the conversation. Go to our Screenings Page. We will help you organize a meaningful event.

- Checking out the organizations we've listed on our Take Action Page. These are just a few of the best organizations working for education equality today.

- VOTE for and support candidates for public office who will demand change in our education and judicial systems.

Missed the Google LIVE Chat? Watch it now:

Posted on February 5, 2014 and filed under Media Coverage, by Kelly Amis.

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.

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.

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 bureaucracies, 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 positively 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.

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:

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).
Posted on May 4, 2013 and filed under by Kelly Amis, Education Equality.