Posts tagged #teachers

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:

I'm not Finnish'ed Yet

I think we need a service that helps the public read between the lines of education-related articles (and highlights the incredible jumps in logic that appear so frequently). Maybe Google can develop a new "translation" app: you could just paste in any article, hit send, and a new version would appear with what the writer is REALLY saying. Red flashing lights would reveal statements that contradict each other (or reality), and links would magically appear to take you to what the research actually says.



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.

How Much Do Good Teachers Matter?

The answer is a LOT.

It always surprises me that we need more and more research to prove this to many people, given how intuitive and obvious it should be to anyone who has ever attended school. Regardless of what children bring with them to school in terms of home experiences, previous learning, expectations -- WHATEVER -- if the teacher in the classroom IS NOT teaching, or is not teaching effectively, or -- and this does happen -- is actually telling the students that they are not capable of learning .....well, NO learning will happen. 

Whereas a good or great teacher, armed with only paper and pencils can do amazing things. Give those teachers even better resources and they will arrange miracles. Fortunately, most teachers fall in this category (and are feeling quite dispirited by the polarized discussion that labels all participants as either "anti-" or "pro-" teacher, as if all teachers are equal in quality). 

Alas, today's education debates are such that we need hardcore research to prove that the quality/ability/effort of the teacher in the classroom has a tremendous impact on whether kids learn or not. 

Additional research is showing that when there are ineffective teachers in the system, they are disproportionately placed in front of low-income, minority students in communities where the parents have the least power to do something about it. Then we blame those parents, students and communities for the resulting lower academic performance. 

The question is, why do we allow this to continue? 

Some reading on the matter:



Posted on January 13, 2012 .


This issue of publishing teachers' names alongside their students test scores (or, more specifically, analyses of those scores to see how much their students progressed in a given period = "value-added" analysis) is of course tied to the current debate about whether student test scores should be used at all, and if so, how, in evaluating teachers. And while I may disagree with some very smart people (and yes this makes me nervous) about how they should be used (I lean towards principals using them on a micro level, districts and beyond using them at the macro, ie not to evaluate individual teachers, but schools, districts, etc) I don't think anyone can disagree on this hard fact: not every K-12 classroom will be tested every year in a way that is rigorous or consistent enough for value-added analysis.
Posted on October 26, 2010 .