Parents United statement: Contracts should advance teaching & learning, not degrade them

Negotiating with 440? Source: New Yorker, March 2013


Parents United for Public Education: Statement on Philadelphia Teachers contract

Parents United for Public Education believes that the upcoming contract negotiations with the teachers’ union are an important opportunity to advance a vision of quality teaching and learning across the city.

While we recognize the dire financial situation of the District, we are appalled at suggestions to eliminate class size caps and other proposals that will further degrade the quality of education in Philadelphia schools and our children’s opportunities to learn. Moreover, the focus on cutting essential services and personnel not only endangers the quality of education but would also put children in harm’s way.

It alarms us as parents to see the importance of class sizes, counselors and librarians, and “safe and healthful conditions” so casually dismissed. While the District says there should be no limits to class size, parents do not support any proposal to increase already excessive classroom levels of 30 and 33 for children. When the District calls for elementary school lunches to be limited to 30 minutes, we see our five and six year olds hustled through essential mealtimes. When the District says teachers are no longer entitled to “sufficient” textbooks, water fountains, copy machines, and supplies, we see our children’s classroom experiences undermined. When they say they want to take away space for accommodation rooms and deny privacy and adequate services for counselors, nurses, and professionals assisting students with special needs, we find such things not only pedogagically unsound but inexplicably cruel and damaging for children and young people. And when they say teacher qualifications and skills won’t be valued, we see a devaluation of experienced teaching and an effort to drive away the very type of quality experienced teachers we value. As parents, we believe these proposals not only fail to demonstrate any attention to teaching and learning across the district but demonstrate a level of disinvestment in schools that is, frankly, shocking.

It is worth reminding the District that we find it ironic that public schools are asked to bear the brunt of budget deficits, while the District continues to expand charters. Last June it voted to increase charter expansion at a cost of $139 million over five years. Recently it announced it intends to turn over more schools to charter operators.

This was not just a negotiating message to teachers but a message sent to every parent in the public schools. In a time of crisis, the District has a responsibility to establish clear educational priorities informed by parental values and pedagogical intelligence, develop and support the personnel in our schools, and build community investment in a vision that will carry us far beyond our current situation.

We also believe that parent voices must be represented in collective bargaining negotiations. Parent interests are not necessarily the same as District and union interests, and too often our voices are missing to the detriment of advancing important efforts to improve teaching and learning in our schools.

As parents, we ask the District to uphold a message that quality teaching and experienced teachers are an essential component to any vision for our schools, that inequity in pay between Philadelphia professionals and those in districts surrounding ours needs to be addressed, and that teachers’ working conditions are our children’s learning conditions. We also ask the District to include collective parent voices in the collective bargaining process to ensure that a parent vision helps shape and guide priorities.