Education ‘Day of Action’ set Monday in 60-plus cities

(AFT)
(AFT)

A coalition of education, labor, civic and civil rights organizations, led by the American Federation of Teachers, is staging a “National Day of Action” on Monday with dozens of coordinated events in cities across the country that are aimed at building a national movement to fight corporate-influenced school reform and offer alternative ways to improve public education. The AFT is buying $1.2 million in radio, print and online ads to get out the message.

Protests have been building this year in different parts of the country against the education reform movement that is dominated by the use of standardized test scores as the chief “accountability” metric and school “choice” that has led to the growing privatization of public schools. The AFT says that Monday will be the first time so many events — protest marches, news conferences, and town halls scheduled in 60 cities including Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Austin, Houston and other Texas cities, Boise, Los Angeles and several locations in Florida — have been coordinated to send a message to policymakers that school reform should be focused not on closing schools, punishing teachers and deluging kids with tests but on providing teachers and students with the resources they need to teach and learn.

“Teachers, parents, students and community members are banding together to demand a new direction for public education,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “In some ways, this Day of Action is years in the making. Parents, students, teachers and community members have been coming together in places like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York to call out what’s not working and create solutions that do. Text-fixation, austerity, privatization, division, competition are not working for our students – as we saw in the PISA results this week. Our schools need evidence-based, community-based solutions like early childhood education, wraparound services, professional autonomy and development, parent voices and project-based learning. That’s what this Day of Action is about. That’s what reclaiming the promise is about. These are our schools and they need our solutions.”

Dozens of organizations representing parents, educators, clergy, civil rights activists, and community groups are participating in the event, which is being sponsored nationally by these groups:  Alliance for Educational Justice,  American Federation of Teachers, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Dignity in Schools Coalition, Gamaliel Network, Journey for Justice Alliance, Leadership Center for the Common Good, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Education Association, National Opportunity to Learn Campaign and the Service Employees International Union.

In October, a number of organizations came together to come up with a strategy to build a national movement around shared principles, which you can read find here. Among the principles:

Public schools are public institutions.

Our school districts should be committed to providing all children with the opportunity to attend a quality public school in their community. The corporate model of school reform seeks to turn public schools over to private managers and encourages competition — as opposed to collaboration — between schools and teachers. These strategies take away the public’s right to have a voice in their schools, and inherently create winners and losers among both schools and students. Our most vulnerable children become collateral damage in these reforms. We will not accept that …

Our voices matter.

Those closest to the education process — teachers, administrators, school staff, students and their parents and communities — must have a voice in education policy and practice. Our schools and districts should be guided by them, not by corporate executives, entrepreneurs or philanthropists. Top-down interventions rarely address the real needs of schools or students …

Strong public schools create strong communities.

Schools are community institutions as well as centers of learning. While education alone cannot eradicate poverty, schools can help to coordinate the supports and services their students and families need to thrive. Corporate reform strategies ignore the challenges that students bring with them to school each day, and view schools as separate and autonomous from the communities in which they sit.

• “Community Schools” that provide supports and services for students and their families, such as basic healthcare and dental care, mentoring programs, English language classes and more, help strengthen whole communities as well as individual students …

Assessments should be used to improve instruction.

Assessments are critical tools to guide teachers in improving their lesson plans and framing their instruction to meet the needs of individual students. We support accountability. But standardized assessments are misused when teachers are fired, schools are closed and students are penalized based on a single set of scores. Excessive high-stakes testing takes away valuable instructional time and narrows the curriculum — with the greatest impact on our most vulnerable students.

Quality teaching must be delivered by committed, respected and supported educators.

Today’s corporate reformers have launched a war on teachers. We believe that teachers should be honored. Teaching is a career, not a temporary stop on the way to one. Our teachers should be well-trained and supported. They should be given the opportunity to assume leadership roles in their schools. Highly qualified teachers and school staff are our schools’ greatest assets. Let’s treat them that way …

Schools must be welcoming and respectful places for all.

Schools should be welcoming and inclusive. Students, parents, educators and community residents should feel that their cultures and contributions are respected and valued. Schools that push out the most vulnerable students and treat parents as intruders cannot succeed in creating a strong learning environment. Respectful schools are better places to both work and learn …

Our schools must be fully funded for success and equity.

More than 50 years ago, in Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that African-American students were being denied their constitutional right to an integrated and equitable public education. We have not come far enough. Today our schools remain segregated and unequal. When we shortchange some students, we shortchange our nation as a whole. It is time to fund public schools for success and equity, for we are destined to hand off the future of our nation to all our young people.

• We must end the practice of funding our schools based on local property wealth. Only when we take responsibility for all our schools, and all our children, will schools succeed for all our society …

The events planned for Monday’s National Day of Action include a town hall in Washington, D.C., at which teachers and parents will develop a community-driven vision for public schools, starting at 6 p.m. at Eastern High School.  In New York City, union, community and youth partners fighting to win universal full-day prekindergarten will host a rally marking the start of a joint labor-community campaign to support new education initiatives as part of a “new day for public education in New York City” under Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.

In Houston, union and community partners will hold a news conference and rally outside the school board offices, where they will call for an end to an overreliance on tests and for fair teacher evaluations. In Chicago, organized parents, teachers and youths will hold a news conference at City Hall and a march to the headquarters of corporate agents such as Loop Capital to demand equitable funding and a public voice in education. In Boise, Idaho, parents, teachers and several community organizations will gather around the state Capitol to support school funding for Idaho public schools, which have some of the lowest state funding in the country.

Here’s how an action in Philadelphia is described on the event list:

A powerful contingent of community and youth groups, parents and labor unions will rally outside Gov. Tom Corbett’s Philadelphia office in coordination with partners in Pittsburgh, followed by a march to the corporate office of Loop Capital, an Illinois bank that has contributed to the privatizing of schools in Chicago and handed out bad interest loans that have crippled Philadelphia’s school system. The union-community alliance is fighting to restore statewide education funding, establish a new equitable education funding formula in 2014, and demand that Loop Capital pay back the bad loans.

The sponsors are the National Day of Action are planning more action in the spring.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · December 6, 2013