Not much has changed about the leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers over the last 30 years.
President Jerry Jordan, a former vice president, succeeded Ted Kirsch as president. Kirsch, also a former vice president, succeeded Marvin Schuman as president — all as easily and naturally as a tributary flows into the ocean.
Now comes the Caucus of Working Educators, a newer, younger group vowing to challenge the old guard of union executives by running its own slate of candidates for PFT leadership.
We welcome the challenging group as a source of new ideas and energy injected into the staid way of doing things — a way that ultimately affects the education of our children, who have been shortchanged by inadequate funding at the state level, by top-down management at the district level and, at the union level, by the continued channeling of least-experienced teachers to classrooms filled with our most disadvantaged children.
Unseating established leaders is no easy task, and won’t be for the 18-month-old Caucus of Working Educators — despite the PFT being stuck in a three-year stalemate with the district over contracts, and during which time hard-working teachers saw no new raises. In the PFT’s defense, contracts are a complicated matter.
Still, education newspaper The Philadelphia Public School Notebook called the challenge “the most robust and coordinated effort since the 1980s to unseat the dominant Collective Bargaining Team that has run the PFT” for the last three decades.
It said the challenge reflected the same “spirit of internal dissent that has ousted long-term union leadership in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Milwaukee.”
The Caucus of Working Educators, which claims about 200 members, has focused particular interest on educational inequality and social justice and has perhaps most distinguished itself with an aggressive campaign encouraging parents to “opt out” of standardized tests for their children.
The group said it seeks “professional discretion to develop a transformative curriculum and pedagogy that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and compassion in our students.”
Those are worthy goals, but particularly attractive is group members’ point that, “We don’t believe essentially that a one-party union is good for the teachers of Philadelphia.”
More active and stronger participation from the grassroots membership is always good.
On its website, the group said it is embarking on a “listening tour” to reach all 11,000 PFT members to hear “what they need most from the district and the union so they can best serve the students.”
And that’s music to our ears.