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Veteran educators form a caucus and call for member-driven teachers’ union

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Seeking to fortify the ranks of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which is currently waiting out contract negotiations with the School District, a number of veteran teachers and school staff have announced the formation of a group within the union called the Caucus of Working Educators.

The caucus, which also includes nurses, counselors, librarians, and other support staff, says it wants to make clear to a district seeking major salary and work-rule concessions that teachers’ working conditions translate as students’ learning conditions.

The group’s platform lists six guiding ideals, the first of which is a union empowered by a strong member base, not by top-down leadership. Other principles include educational equality, transparency, and teacher autonomy.

"The objective of the caucus is to support and further the mission of the PFT by tapping into the energy of its members," said a Friday press release announcing the group’s launch.

“We want to build a member-driven union whose mission is to ensure a great education for our students and ensure the viability of teaching as a lifelong career,” said member Peggy Savage, a longtime teacher and PFT building representative.

Other rank-and-file teacher groups with a social justice focus include CORE in Chicago — whose members were elected to leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2010 — and MORE in New York City.

Here is the platform of the Caucus of Working Educators:

Member-Driven Union
WE work to respond to, represent, and amplify the voice of our members. We believe that the true power of our union to make change comes from strengthening the web of relationships between members, not from waiting for or responding to top-down decisions.

Transparency, Accountability & Shared Decision-Making
WE believe in open governance, communication, and information exchange within the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and all institutions that influence public education. Those most affected by the decisions concerning public education must be at the table as decision-makers, namely educators, parents, students, and school community members.

Defense of Publicly Funded Public Education
WE support measures that ensure every student has access to a high quality, fully-funded public education, regardless of family income, racial background, or neighborhood. We demand increased funding to meet students’ actual social, emotional and academic needs, as well as make up for the lasting impact of racial discrimination and economic disinvestment that has left our schools under-resourced.

Transformed Curriculum and Autonomy to Teach, not Test
WE support the reclaiming of teacher autonomy and professional discretion to develop a transformative curriculum and pedagogy that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and compassion in our students. We work to stop the over-reliance on state-mandated high-stakes testing and curriculum as a means to sort, label and punish students, teachers, and schools.

Education for All
WE are a social justice caucus that opposes institutional racism and organizes with students, parents, and other working people to hold schools and government accountable for providing a quality education for all students. We work to stop the attacks being waged on low-income students and communities of color, massive layoffs of school staff, and the punitive policies which push students into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Strong Contract + Rights of Members
WE believe that our working conditions are students’ learning conditions. We must have a strong Agreement between the PFT and the School District that ensures that we are respected, supported, and compensated fairly to provide for the best learning environment for our students.

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