Posts tagged #Education Reform

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.

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


As aTeach 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.

TEACHED Screening-Teach for America.jpg

TFA New Yorkhosted a screening ofThe Path to Prisonas 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 Equityto organize afollow-up eventfor interested attendees to further develop and begin implementing aplan 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 TEACHED Screening.jpg

TFA Sacramentohosted a packed-house screening ofThe Path to Prisonat 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 twoTEACHED Vol. Ifilms for 2014 with some incredible guest speakers lined up. Check our eventspage for details as we get them.

To learn more about Teach for America, go here. 

Chicago School to Prison Pipeline Pic.jpg

TFA Chicagohosted two TEACHED Vol. I screenings, one at a local school for parents, teachers and TFA alumni, the other atNorthwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy. Thanks to all the TFA staff who helped organize these events andStudent for Education Reform's Tanesha Peeplesfor 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 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.

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.

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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:


My last blog post inspired this op-ed, an exclusive for TakePart. It's getting some strong feedback, so clearly I've touched a nerve. Change is hard, but isn't it time for us to RETHINK the education system and the structures that surround teaching if they aren't benefitting anyone??

What We Need to Ask is: Does Unionization Still Make Sense?

Read it here: TAKE PART Op-Ed 9-18-12 




Over the last few months, we've had the opportunity to try out our interactive screening model at three different venues in front of three very different audiences:

  • A prestigious film festival; 
  • A community screening organized by friends at their local public library; and,
  • A screening and panel discussion organized by and for college students.

At each event, we brought "stars" from the films and/or other guest speakers to present their views and answer questions from the audience. I also shared some of my background and described how the project came to be.


The feedback on all three events has been over-whelmingly positive. Audience members tell us they learned much they did not know before, and we in turn have learned a lot about how these events can have the greatest impact. We plan to fine-tune our model every step of the way.

But there has been one surprise. I wasn't prepared for the feeling of hopelessness audience members would share with me, their frustration in the belief that our education system can't be changed. BUT IT CAN, and in fact, it must be. So what can you--what can we--do?

- VOTE. 

The number one thing you can do to improve our education system and, especially, make sure every student receives the same opportunities, is to VOTE FOR CANDIDATES who are not owned by the powers-that-be, that are independent-minded and that believe that all children can learn. THiS STARTS AT THESCHOOL BOARD LEVEL. If more people would vote in school board elections, there would be a greater diversity in those who get elected and serve. 

For whatever reason, many school board elections are held at off-times (in the spring), not along with the other big races you would probably never ignore (ie, the President!). MAKE IT HAPPEN. Find out who's running, what they are promising to do, ask questions of and about them (especially where their funding comes from), AND VOTE. (If you need help finding information about candidates and elections in your area, feel free to contact us, we will help.)


...especially between the lines. There is so much misinformation out there, so many people who benefit from the system remaining exactly as it is, that you must apply commonsense to the opinions you read and hear.

Compare what you hear -- the excuses-- to the statistics: do you really believe that ALL the parents of ALL those kids don't care? Do you really think that in today's world, THAT many kids believe dropping out of school is a great idea? Why might so many students decide it's not worth it to stay in school?

Also think about how you and your family are impacted by the realities behind the outrageous statistics. Do you think our nation is able to remain a global leader if THAT many children aren't finishing high school? How does it impact our economy, your personal saftey, the nation's progress? And what kind of potential are we missing out on when so many kids aren't even close to realizing theirs? 

Keep up on the facts, and keep your commonsense at the forefront. If you find yourself getting caught up in the same old tired arguments others give for why the system can't be changed, don't accept them. This is America. We can vote, we can change policy, we can demand something better. And when we do, students, teachers, families and our national community will benefit.


It's becoming an overused phrase but one I love: BE THE CHANGE. Be the one in your circle of friends or community to keep the fight for educational equality alive, to make sure people are paying attention to the elections that matter and voting in them. Better yet, help find the best candidates to run for elected office and support them, or run yourself. Serving on a school board is rarely glamorous or well-compensated, but it can and will make a huge difference if more independent thinkers and activists for education equality run for elected office and serve. 

I created TEACHED to document the sad race and income-based injustices that continue to plague our education system and to inspire and motivate more people to demand change. Consider the TEACHED short films as tools you can use to bring people together to focus on and discuss thse issues. We are in the process of making the TEACHED VOL. I DVD available for public screenings; we hope you will organize a screening in your community and bring in your own speakers (for instance, invite you local school board candidates to present their views and take questions from your audience). Email us at if you are interested in organizing a screening event.

And don't give up.

Posted on January 31, 2012 and filed under by Kelly Amis, Screenings.


Public Impact is one of the most reliable resources in education reform. Check out this great new report about how we could ensure that EVERY student is taught by excellent teachers.

 Here's a blurb:

In Seizing Opportunity at the Top, we show what policymakers must do to: 

  • speedily improve the identification of excellent teachers – here we show how;
  • clear the policy barriers that keep them from reaching more students – here we offer a clear, simple list of new, more effective policies; and
  • catalyze the will for schools to put excellent teachers in charge of every student’s learning. Here we propose bold solutions to create this will—including a new right to excellent teachers and strong financial incentives for excellent teachers to reach more students—and we invite others to add to these ideas. Without will-enhancing actions, other policies and education changes will continue to fall short of their potential.
Posted on October 11, 2011 .


I couldn't have said it better myself. This short essay from Kati Haycock, founder of the Education Trust, frames the current education issues perfectly:

Look to Schools to Solve the Achievement Gap

Kati Haycock //Sep. 27, 2011 // 8:00 AM  from the Education Nation blog:

The shameful truth about America’s public schools system is this: If you’re a young person of color or come from a poor or working-class family, you stand a pretty high chance of getting a second-rate education.

In fact, the latest national data show that more than half of all African-American and Latino fourth-graders are unable to read at even a basic level. And, math skills of low-income eighth-graders are more than twice as likely to be below basic as those of their more affluent classmates.

This is an enormous problem, not just for these kids, their families and their communities, but for all of us. Low-income students and students of color together make up the majority of kids enrolled in our nation’s schools. A sub-par education at the K-12 level leads to lower college degree attainment, which, in turn, poses a direct threat to our nation’s future security and prosperity.

Certainly, a lot of students enter school already behind their peers. Most of us know that and are outraged that we allow so many American children to grow up in difficult circumstances. But instead of giving these kids more of what they need in order to catch up, our education system gives them less of everything that matters for academic success.

Consider this:

We spend less on their schools. Research and common sense both tell us that it costs more to educate disadvantaged students. But in high-poverty school districts, we spend an average of $773 less per student than we do in more affluent districts. And in high-minority districts, that funding gap is even greater: $1,122 per student.

We expect less from them. Far too often, students attending high- poverty schools receive A’s for work that would earn C’s in a more affluent school on the other side of town. And high school graduates of color are about half as likely as white graduates to have completed a college-prep curriculum.

We staff their schools with the least prepared teachers. We take the kids most likely to face outside-of-school challenges and put them in chemistry classes taught by English majors and algebra classes led by first-time teachers. In fact, low-income students and students of color are about twice as likely as other kids to be assigned to out-of-field or rookie teachers.

It’s easy to blame low achievement among these students on uninvolved parents or the burdens of poverty and race. But while the achievement gap has roots outside of schools — serious ones that we must address — it has solutions inside the school walls. When educators refuse to let a student’s circumstances become an excuse for poor performance, they can, quite literally, change his whole life for the better. And we’ve met thousands of these educators.

Every year, with our Dispelling the Myth award, The Education Trust recognizes schools that have doubled down in their determination to help kids learn and have yielded astonishing outcomes. These schools and the educators who staff them prove that low-income students and students of color can and do achieve at the highest levels, so long as they are taught at high levels.

Take George Hall Elementary School with a student enrollment that is almost entirely African American and low-income. Despite being in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Mobile, Ala., the strong leadership of a new principal transformed the school into a leading example of teacher collaboration and careful attention to student performance. Teachers at George Hall ensure that their lessons are rich, effective and broaden the students’ horizons; they use field trips and outside materials to provide the kinds of experiences that allow them to transcend poverty. Now, more than 95 percent of its students at least meet state standards in reading and math.

Then there’s Griegos Elementary School in Albuquerque, N.M. where three-fourths of the students are Hispanic and more than half are low-income. Despite its demographics, Griegos is one of just a handful of schools in New Mexico where most students are meeting state standards in math, reading and writing. Nearly four out of five Griegos fourth-graders meet state math standards, as compared to just 44 percent of students statewide. Like George Hall’s outcomes, these results are no accident – they’re the product of high expectations and rigorous assignments. As one Griegos educator said, “We don’t care if you’re rich or you’re poor. You’re going to do the work. Both for work and for behavior, they’re all accountable.”

George Hall and Griegos are just two of the schools bucking the trend and proving that all students can succeed. Our nation’s economic strength hinges on our deeply held belief that hard work and education are the keys to the American dream. And that, in turn, means we need to learn from the schools that are lifting student achievement and replicate their lessons all across the country. We have neither a mind nor a moment to waste.

Kati Haycock is president of The Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college.

Bright Glimmers of Commonsense

Few people realize that even while thousands of "last hired" teachers are getting laid off, especially in big states like California and New York, there are thousands of other teachers who aren't even teaching, but will continue to receive their full salaries and benefits until the system finds a principal who will hire them. These "excessed" teachers aren't necessarily bad (but many are), however the point is that it is crazy that non-working employees stay on the payroll...especially when budgets are in the red!
Posted on July 6, 2010 and filed under Education Equality.

The Tide is Turning

This op-ed from the WSJ nails the tenure issue: The Trouble With Teacher Tenure: We can't make progress if bad teachers have jobs for life. By TIMOTHY KNOWLES Colorado did right by its kids recently when Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law groundbreaking education reform to overhaul teacher tenure and evaluation. The bill elicited an outcry from many teachers. But the many states now considering similar measures must not be cowed by the firestorm.
Posted on June 28, 2010 and filed under Education Equality.

We Need to Lay-off Seniority-Based Lay-offs

This spring, thousands of young/new teachers will receive pink slips (especially in NY and CA), regardless of their ability, while tenured teachers will be immune from lay-offs even if they are clearly ineffective. We could effectively lose an entire generation of teachers in some places (imagine how many others will chose NOT to go into teaching because of this policy).
Posted on May 28, 2010 and filed under Education Equality.