This is a call to action regarding the crisis in the School District of Philadelphia.
We are teachers at the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences in North Philadelphia. Our school is predominantly Latino and has a large population of special education and ESL students. This is our story, but it is not exceptional.
We know our problems are similar to other schools throughout the District. We don't have basic resources such as supplies and updated textbooks. We lack valuable programs and the appropriate staff, including a full-time counselor, nurse, non-teaching assistant, librarian, and cleaning staff. Classrooms are dirty, and we're unable to get toilet seats replaced. Students do not have enough staff who can relate to them in ways that promote safety and avert crises. The resulting environment is one in which turmoil reigns, as staff and teachers cobble together an inadequate education for students.
We hold the School Reform Commission responsible for these inadequacies. By extension, the blame lies with Gov. Corbett and the state legislature that created the SRC and continues to willfully underfund schools throughout the commonwealth. Mayor Nutter is also complicit in this crisis. He has appointed SRC members who have made poor decisions for years and have not been effective in securing more funds for the District.
To help bring attention to this crisis, the Caucus of Working Educators launched a website in April called Philly Teachers Sound the Alarm. It's a place where Philadelphia teachers and staff have been posting stories of how underfunding and mismanagement by the SRC has damaged their schools. Through the final days of school, we are calling on teachers across the city to add their stories and a photo to sound the alarm about the working conditions in our schools.
When looking at the current crisis in the District, many people fail to understand how we got to this place. The SRC has systematically damaged and dismantled the District for almost 13 years, while simultaneously bemoaning the conditions they created. The citizens of Philadelphia must have the same rights as all others throughout the Commonwealth – to elect their own school board and plan their own future together. For democracy to flourish in Philadelphia, schools need to be institutions that are governed in a democratic fashion. This should include honoring all contracts and state education laws that protect and support students and teachers. Horace Mann, an early advocate for free education for all, said, “Education is our only political safety.”
Parents, students, and citizens of Philadelphia must unite and call for the District to be returned to our control. These stakeholders must bond with teachers in order to ensure that all students receive an equitable education. Our mutual support and collective voice is needed to repair the damage that has been done. We must question a system that allows wealthy philanthropists and private companies to make decisions that affect the education of our children, with no input from citizens. We must question the motives of these outsiders who have no ties to our city or our schools, yet have a paternalistic claim to our fellow citizens and their well-being.
Parents United and the Philadelphia Student Union are two other groups that are waging a fight to save the District and the city. They have petitioned the city and state government to increase school funding and have called for the District to regain control over its own schools.
Teachers must speak out and shed light on the injustices that are occurring in our schools every day. Understandably, teachers have felt humiliated and threatened by the countless attacks over the last decade. Subsequently, many feel powerless and have remained silent. But now is the time to find your courage and speak out. Teachers are privileged to the daily activities within schools in a way that parents, community members, and politicians are not. We have the power to sound the alarm and raise public ire. We must individually and collectively decry what has been happening in our schools due to chronic underfunding.
We exhort our colleagues with the words of Noam Chomsky: “Resistance is feasible even for those who are not heroes by nature.” The time to act is now because the future of Philadelphia hangs in the balance. Visit phillyteachers.org today.
Amy Roat, Ray Porreca, and Kelley Collings are members of the Caucus of Working Educators.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors.