The battle for public education has many fronts. And we’ve been seeing incredible grassroots resistance across the country along many of those lines. Here’s a quick report from the trenches to remind you of just how powerful our movement is and how many colleagues we have:
Fighting School Closure
Over 200 mostly African American parents and students from 21 cities across the country went to Washington, D.C. last week to tell U.S. Secretary of Education that school closures are causing immense damage to kids and communities. They have filed several Title VI civil rights complaints with the Education Department saying that closing schools – such as the 37 on the chopping block in Philadelphia – hurt minority students. The Education Department provides School Improvement Grants to districts, promoting school “turnarounds” (which often involve firing entire teaching staffs) or outright closure. Jitu Brown, an organizer from the South Side of Chicago, said school closures that leave neighborhoods without schools is a “a violation of our human rights.” He pointed out that, “We are not Astroturf groups … We are not people who are paid by private interests to appear.” [Huffington Post 1-29-13]
Lawsuits Target State Budgets
A lawsuit in Kansas targeting inadequate state funding of public education has been making headway. In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court actually ruled that legislators must fund a “suitable education” for every child, but the state went back on its promise to students during the Great Recession (sound familiar?). Judges just ruled under a new lawsuit that the state must increase funding by at least $440 million, and actually “criticized legislators for claiming to do all they reasonably could for schools while approving massive income tax cuts last year.” The state is appealing and now conservative legislators there are trying to re-write the state constitution to invalidate the basis of the lawsuit. [Lawrence Journal-World, 1-31-13] We will stay tuned, as parents and education law centers in other states are working on similar lawsuits.
As you may recall, legislators in Texas have had enough and are trying to stop paying for high-stakes-tests. Now in our neighboring state of Maryland, the superintendent of that state’s largest school district has called for a nation-wide three-year moratorium on standardized, high-stakes testing. Montgomery County superintendent Joshua Starr said the country “needs to ‘stop the insanity’ of evaluating teachers according to student test scores because it is based on ‘bad science.’” [Washington Post, 12-10-12]
Students Speak Out
In Portland, Oregon, students themselves are organizing an Opt-Out movement, to opt out of taking high-stakes tests. The Portland Student Union opposes having teachers and schools evaluated based on test results. Lincoln Senior Alexia Garcia proposed, “The ideal solution would be to eliminate high stakes standardized testing and replace it with a more comprehensive evaluation system developed by the community.” Since schools must get test at least 95% of their students in order to be scored by the state, the Portland Student Union intends to get enough families to opt-out so that every high school in the city “fails” and earns an “In Need of Improvement” grade. Garcia says, “The fact is we do not need a standardized test to tell us that our schools are in need of improvement …The system is what really is in need of improvement.” [Portland Student Union, 1-26-13] We know that when students advocate for their own educations, powerful things happen.
More Teachers Opt Out
Meanwhile, teachers at now a fourth school in Seattle have joined the opt-out movement, started there when the entire teaching staff at Garfield High School announced they would not administer a high-stakes-test to their students. The district itself admitted the test was not a valid measurement of high school student achievement and there are serious ethics questions about the district’s contract with the testing company. [Seattle Times, 2-2-13] Why are we spending millions upon millions of dollars on these tests, when our children are losing art, music, and library?
Education Advocates Offer Help
The Seattle school district is threatening to fine teachers who do not administer the high-stakes-test ten days of their pay. Education historian and public education advocate Diane Ravitch told a Seattle radio reporter that the teachers can win this if educators at other schools come on board. She reminded listeners that Martin Luther King “taught us the power of collective action. He taught us that unity of large numbers of people can defeat money and political power.” Then Ravtich offered: “if they are fined, I will personally lead a campaign to raise money to make up what they lose. I urge the Garfield teachers and their friends to open a bank account. I will gladly make the first contribution.” [Diane Ravitch, 1-31-13]
No More False Choices
And back closer to home, the Post-Gazette’s political cartoonist, Rob Rogers, lampooned Governor Corbett’s proposal to link education funding and liquor sales reform in his piece today. Last week we called this a false choice, on par with his prior suggestion that we pit students against teachers in the pension debate. [See “Kids or Booze.”] You know your movement is hot when Rob Rogers covers your issue.