What Education Activism Looks Like

Public education advocates come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it feels like we are all in a rather large tent, with some fighting school closures, teacher layoffs, and privatization efforts, while others battle for fair state and federal budgets, and still others push for charter school reform, smaller class sizes, and an end to high-stakes-testing. While grassroots movements are messy like this, it may help to remember when this tent starts to feel like a three ring circus, that we are all advocating for the same thing: public education as a public good. At its very essence, that means we are united by the common goal of great schools for all our children, with adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding. So here is some of what public education activism looks like this week.

Rally for Public Education

Remember last February when we got over 250 people outside in the middle of a snowstorm to Rally for Public Education? There is much talk in the Yinzer Nation trenches about organizing another Rally – only this time, inside, and warmer. Mark your calendars now for Sunday afternoon, February 10th. This will be an opportunity to celebrate our many achievements this past year and the timing will allow us to respond to Governor Corbett’s budget announcement (which he will make February 5th).

Yinzercator Jonathan Mayo has a line on bringing in the producers of the terrific new pro-public-education documentary, “Brooklyn Castle,” (about the below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country yet was threatened to be closed down due to budget cuts). And Dr. Tim Slekar, Head of the Division of Education, Human Development and Social Sciences at Penn State Altoona, and founding member of United Opt Out, has offered to come to Pittsburgh to lead a conversation about the opt out movement.

We envision a lively afternoon of rallying; strategic conversations about the state budget, where the grassroots movement is headed, and opting out of high-stakes-testing; a play area for kids; and a showing of the film. What do you think? This can only happen if a group gets together to organize, so please leave a comment on the blog or Facebook page to let everyone know you are in and if you can help plan.

Seattle Opt Out Update

Meanwhile, the opt-out movement is heating up in Seattle. Last week, all of the teachers at an entire high school in that city announced that they would not administer a high-stakes-test which they feel is wasting their students’ learning time, is being used incorrectly to evaluate teaching, and which the district itself acknowledges is flawed. [The Answer Sheet, Washington Post, 1-11-13] Teachers at two more schools have joined Garfield High School in refusing to give the test. [Q13Fox Seattle, 1-15-13] A Facebook page, “Solidarity with Garfield High School testing boycott,” created just last week already has 3,786 fans. And a change.org petition to support those Seattle teachers has nearly 3,000 signatures from people all over the country as of this morning.

The movement is drawing celebrity attention, with support from actor/director Matt Damon and his mother, Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood educator. Dr. Carlsson-Paige is Professor Emerita at Lesley University, where she founded the Center for Peaceable Schools, and says, “I hope the Seattle teachers’ courage spreads across the country and ends this national obsession with testing.” [Petition to Support Seattle Teachers] You can hear more about the Seattle situation on the most recent @the ChalkFace blog-talk-radio program, featuring Jesse Hagopian, one of the leaders of the teachers’ movement there.

The state of Washington may just become a key player in the national opt-out movement. Last spring, parents of over 550 students in Snohomish, Washington, refused to let their children take high-stakes-tests, protesting budget cuts to education. [SchoolsMatter, 5-12-12; The Herald 4-9-12] But even in Texas – yes, Texas – over 100 school districts last year “passed a resolution saying that high-stakes standardized tests are ‘strangling’ public schools.” High school students there are spending up to 45 out of 180 school days taking tests and even the youngest students are spending 19 – 27 days a year on them. Robert Scott, the Texas state education commissioner, “said the mentality that standardized testing is the ‘end-all, be-all’ is a ‘perversion’ of what a quality education should be.” [The Answer Sheet, Washington Post, 3-23-12] And these are just a couple examples of what has been happening nationally with opt out.

Youth Activism at Work

Philadelphia families are reeling from the announcement that the state-controlled school district plans to close 37 more neighborhood schools this spring, while opening more privately operated charter schools. But students themselves are organizing and fighting back. The work of the Philadelphia Student Union is inspiring. If you want to feel uplifted and have your hope restored in the power of the grassroots – and especially of young people advocating for their own education – check out the students who produced a flash zombie mob on Tuesday. With Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” playing behind them, dozens of students lurched together in zombie fashion while others held up signs saying, “RIP Philly’s Schools” and chanted “No Education – No Life.” [The Inquirer, 1-15-13]

Indeed. From zombies to brave teachers refusing to give high-stakes-tests, this public education advocacy tent is large and full of wonderful people committed to the idea of public schools as a public good.

8 thoughts on “What Education Activism Looks Like

  1. I love to see student activism in any form, but I would say there is a flip side to the Philadelphia school closings. The city has lost a tremendous amount of students over the last decade or two due to the population shifts. Keeping all those buildings open and operational is unsustainable, especially considering the district just borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to stay afloat this year. The school closings are an unfortunate necessity as Philadelphia reshapes the district.

    Love the blog!

    • Dan, Pittsburgh is in the same boat as many other post-industrial, rust belt cities with population decline — and obviously districts have to do some right-sizing. However, the problem in Philly (as I understand it from our grassroots colleagues there) has much more to do with students lost to charter schools than overall shrinkage. These students are correct to point out that their neighborhood schools are being closed and turned over to private charter operators! Also, I worry that right-sizing becomes an easy cover for privatization efforts. What do you think?

      • I absolutely agree-student loss to charter schools is definitely another factor besides the population dynamics. I also agree right-sizing can become cover for privatization efforts, and much be watched closely. In Philadelphia, the cat is out of the bag on the charters-it’s been 15 years. You can debate the legitimacy and wisdom of the decision endlessly, but they decided on charters over comprehensive overall years and years ago. Trying to close those schools and reabsorb those students now is unrealistic, and is a political non-starter. Too many parents and students like their charter schools, not to mention all the teachers etc.. that would join the fight. Contraction is probably the only viable way to navigate the solvency issue this far down the road as far as I can tell. But, I am willing to consider any others if you have heard of any?

  2. I really appreciate the “big tent” and circus metaphor here. There are so many crazy problems with the political climate around schools it make sense that some of our responses look equally chaotic. But what you do so well on Yinzercation is to educate the rest of us, bringing the struggles around the country into sharper focus, so we can decide what we want to do/should do/can do. I’m from Seattle and I’m very proud of the opt out actions there. I’m also very excited about the action on the 10th. I’ll be there!

    • Gary — nope, we need a committee to organize this event! We have several people interested and many ideas (including several good suggestions for venues). But this can’t happen unless folks step up to help get it together. Are you interested? 🙂

  3. Pingback: Who’s In to Opt Out? | Change the Stakes

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