Posts filed under Education Equality

Why I'm Calling the NAACP Today

If you've had or have a child in a charter school, or otherwise support them, you might consider calling the NAACP today to tell them you oppose the moratorium on charter schools that they are considering this Saturday. The number is 202-759-6227.

I'm sure our TEACHED friends and supporters represent many different views on charter schools, but for those of you who have seen the positive systemic change they can bring about (as in Washington, DC), or who have seen a child's or entire family's lives changed from having more choices than their assigned neighborhood schools, please consider calling the NAACP to say so.

TEACHED on Vimeo-on-Demand!

We are happy to announce that our first three short films, TEACHED Vol. I, are now available for streaming on Vimeo-on-Demand!  We made these films because we believe that more people need to understand how and why we still have a race-based "achievement gap" in the U.S. More people to understand the consequences of inaction especially for low-income urban youth who are hit hard by our failure to provide every student with an excellent educational experience.

Fatima Speaks: Meeting David Johns

At the beginning of February, the Loudspeaker Team had the great joy and honor to fly out to Washington, D.C. to hold an interview with David Johns, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans! I could tell from his Twitter page that I was going to enjoy meeting him, but those tweets did not prepare me fully for how much of an inspiration Mr. Johns truly is.

Zachary Speaks: Parent Power

The area in which a child lives should not determine where he/she goes to school. After watching the our new video entitled "Because They Can: A Parent's View", I realized that the methods of teaching carried out in the area that a child lives may not match his/her learning style or satisfy their desire to learn different things.

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?

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.

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.

On the Loudspeaker: Vergara v. California

Students Matter Black Young Man.jpg

Court resumed this week in the Vergara v. California case, a statewide lawsuit of nine California public school children looking to strike down the laws that limit schools from often doing what’s best for kids when it comes to assigning who is teaching them.

The case is being lead by the organization Students Matter, a non-profit founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, which is dedicated to promoting equal access to quality public education.

The Students Matter goal is to see a transformation of the teaching profession in California so that hard-working, effective teachers are rewarded and retained, and others who are not up to the job are not kept in the classroom and on the payroll. Ultimately, Students Matter seeks to create an opportunity for lawmakers, teachers, administrators, and community leaders to rethink the current system so it works rationally for teachers and students alike.

We are honored that the TEACHED Vol. I short films are included as trial exhibits in this potentially game-changing lawsuit. We have seen far too many amazing teachers booted from the classroom due to lack of seniority while others who are not able to manage a successful classroom remain for years, sometimes decades. We have even seen teachers who have abused children (with clear evidence to prove it) paid to leave because the system we currently have in place makes it nearly impossible to fire even them.

Some argue that efforts to rethink tenure and seniority are really about making it easier to fire older teachers (who are farther up on the salary scale) and replace them with younger "less expensive" teachers. Ironically, the polar opposite is the reality: when California's economic woes required laying off teachers over the last few years, teachers were pink-slipped according to seniority only, and because those who have been in the system for fewer years are lesser-paid, i.e. the newer, younger teachers, many more of them had to be laid off to save the required amount. For kids, that is a lose-lose situation.

Not only did California push out thousands of new-ish teachers who had devoted themselves to teaching (unlike many other professions, new teachers must pay for their own training in the form of a teaching credential, so it is a time and financial commitment before you ever get hired), it also convinced college students here who had been thinking about going into teaching to look elsewhere.

There is much to read on the Students Matter website to better understand this case; don't miss their timeline, trial tracker, short clips of the teacher's testimonies, their blog and their Twitter account for the lastest updates. People say that "as California goes, so goes the nation". If this case succeeds here (my guess is it will reach the U.S. Supreme Court), it could spark a national movement to transform the teaching profession.

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.

Random Thoughts on Random Readings

Every morning I peruse the edreform stories of the day, including in Education Week and the Washington Post. The first two random articles I read today would both get 'D's" in a high school writing class (if I was teaching it anyway, snap!). The first one is about something the new-ish Education Chair of DC's City Council, David Catania, is pursuing in DC. He's hired a law firm to do research and help write legislation that would take all that's happened in DC education to the next level (it sounds like, from the article that is linked to in this essay). The entire essay is based on this generalization stated early on: "hiring a small team of lawyers is the least likely path towards achieving imaginative and effective policy."
Posted on April 27, 2013 and filed under by Kelly Amis, Education Equality.


This is the first in what will be a series of personal recommendations for those who watch the TEACHED films and want to get involved in making a difference in their city or state. 

In honor of UCLA's "Academic Inequality Awareness Week" and our TEACHED Vol. I screening there tonight, I will share some links below to a few organizations that are doing amazing work in Los Angeles and state-wide (and a few national groups).

YOU CAN BE THE CHANGE by following, supporting and joining these organizations (there are many more, but this would be my initial go-to list):

Democrats for Education Reform - LA

Students for Education Reform - Various

Teacher groups:

Educators for Excellence - LA

Teach Plus - LA

Teach for America - LA

National groups (but hopefully venturing into CA sometime soon):

Black Alliance for Educational Options

Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options

Stand for Children 

Great place for education reform analysis:

Dropout Nation

Posted on April 15, 2013 and filed under Education Equality.

Change in the Heart of the Heartland

I was born and raised in a small town outside of Omaha, Nebraska and recently took the opportunity to spend about two months there with my family. It turns out a lot of education reform is happening in Omaha that could make major, positive changes for the low-income, minority students who have not benefitted from great schools as much of the rest of the city has.
Posted on February 25, 2013 and filed under by Kelly Amis, Education Equality.


I am very proud to see amazing teacher and L.A. pilot school founder Pearl Arredondo--featured in the second TEACHED short film "The Blame Game: Teachers Speak Out--writing as a teacher fellow at TeachPlus! Pearl, a first-generation college graduate from East L.A., is not just a great teacher but a natural leader. I have said it many times already: I highly expect to see her as Superintendent of L.A. Schools in the not too distant future.

Read her op-ed on the notion of introducing a teacher "bar exam" to the field: 

Seriously, A Bar Exam for Teachers? This is Not the Answer

Posted on February 21, 2013 and filed under Education Equality.

SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK asked me to write a column during this year's School Choice Week, which celebrates parents accessing new educational options for their children, mostly through charter schools and publicly-funded private school vouchers. I was happy for the chance to reflect on where we are today in the fight to give more children the opportunities that are normally reserved for wealthy parents only. Please read:



Posted on February 1, 2013 and filed under Media Coverage, by Kelly Amis, Education Equality.


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